On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenging of reading 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die by Robert Dimery (ed.) and following the book’s advice to the letter. I’ve previously read 1001 Films… and started 1001 Albums… but felt 1001 Songs… would be a sensible place to start for what I have in mind here.
My challenge is to read about one song per day and listen to it (YouTube and Spotify, I need you tonight!) before sharing my own thoughts. Some songs I will love, others I’ll hate, and I’m sure there will be those that leave me perplexed but listen to them I shall.
I’ll also try, and most likely fail, to pinpoint the best song from the 1001 on offer but I’m nothing if not foolhardy. Instead of one song, I’m predicting I’ll have about 100 favourites by the end and may have to resort to a Top 10 so far to maintain any semblance of sanity.
So long as I post everyday (including Christmas) then this challenge should come to an end on Wednesday 8 November 2021. Staying with the Barney Stinson theme I am hoping that the whole experience will prove to be…
Simon & Garfunkel – The Only Living Boy in New York (1970)
We’re staying in the US, dear reader, and making our way over to New York. Simon and Garfunkel previously appeared on our list with The Sounds of Silence and America. In 1970 the duo were working on what would be their last studio album, Bridge Over Troubled Water. Creative differences had led to numerous arguments between the two and that became manifest in a track that 1001 Songs has selected from the album – The Only Living Boy in New York.
The Only Living Boy in New York was written by Paul Simon in response to Art Garfunkel leaving him alone in the studio writing material for their new album. Garfunkel had landed a part in an adaptation of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 and flew down to Mexico to begin filming. In the song, Simon addresses a man named Tom, which was Garfunkel’s role when the duo first performed together as Tom and Jerry. Simon wishes Tom well filming in Mexico and talks about his feelings of loneliness being in New York. The song grows increasingly sad as Simon calls on Tom/Garfunkel to be sincere in his feelings and not elusive as he currently is being, a testament to the growing distance between the two friends. Paul Simon sings the vocals but he and Garfunkel provide the beautiful backing melodies, achieved by recording in an echo chamber and multi-tracked. It’s a near celestial experience.
Bridge Over Troubled Water was a critically acclaimed masterpiece of an album, its title track being one of the duo’s greatest hits and a surprise absent entry from this 1001 Songs list. The Only Living Boy in New York is a beautiful and personal song, with Paul Simon unburdening himself about how hurt he is at Garfunkel’s absence and the void between them that would prove irreparable.The duo would split up in 1970 to pursue solo careers, with Simon being the more successful of the two. Although they have appeared live together many times in the years since, Simon & Garfunkel would never unify again to record a new album. Songs such as this remain a stunning testament to the perfection they could achieve when working together but also convey the pain that stopped them creating new magic one more time.
Favourite songs so far:
The Animals – House of the Rising Sun (1964)
Simon & Garfunkel – The Sounds of Silence (1965)
The Beach Boys – God Only Knows (1966)
The Doors – The End (1967)
The Beatles – A Day in the Life (1967)
Procol Harum – A Whiter Shade of Pale (1967)
The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Voodoo Child (Slight Return) (1968)
The Kinks – Days (1968)
King Crimson – The Court of the Crimson King (1969)
Derek & The Dominos – Layla (1970)