Simon & Garfunkel The Complete Albums Collection

“Exciting new sounds in the folk tradition.” So went the saying on the sleeve of the 1964 debut album by Simon & Garfunkel, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. And how telling that seemingly innocent but steadfast declaration was, as over the course of five studio albums and one soundtrack released during those heady days of 1964-70, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel forged a singular sound that mixed the core tenets of folk with the then-burgeoning pulse of rock. The duo were masters of blending their pitch-perfect harmonies on a cornucopia of intimate tales that concerned matters of both the heart and the state. Not bad for a pair of schoolboys from Queens originally known as Tom & Jerry.

That initial body of work alone—buttressed by producer/engineer Roy Halee’s tireless dedication to capturing the best in-studio sound possible—cemented the pair’s place in pop-music history, as well as in audiophile hearts and minds alike. Subsequent live recordings, from both archival-retrieval (1967, 1969) and reunion-chronicling (1981, 2003) perspectives, served to add further dimension to the original magic studio blueprints. Now, all 11 S&G studio and live releases have been brought together by Legacy on 12 discs in The Complete Albums Collection, a meticulously remastered set overseen by reissue producer/wizard Steve Berkowitz (who co-helmed the recent, and quite astounding, box sets of The Beatles in Mono on vinyl and Bob Dylan & The Band’s The Basement Tapes Complete!—The Bootleg Series Vol. 11) and mastered by Vic Anesini. What could have been another me-too money-grab kind of collection is instead a benchmark for how to restore, preserve, and enhance the audio blueprint for the oeuvre of historically important artists on the level Simon & Garfunkel occupy.

The template is set with 3 A.M.’s “Sparrow,” as Simon’s acoustic guitar and vocals take root in the right channel and Garfunkel’s just-a-beat-behind counter vocal is in the left, with the emphasis lines properly and dramatically centered. It’s beautiful in its simplicity, and, well, simply beautiful. The original, acoustic version of “The Sound of Silence” that appears on 3 A.M. splits the harmonies again, with the proper amount of reverb on the lead vocals lending a clear sense of space. In this version, the song’s building drama comes from the shift in the intensity of Simon’s guitar strumming and the ever-increasing passion arc of S&G’s vocals. The electrified version of “Sound” that serves as the title track of their second album (1966) features a more unified, centered vocal take, and the drama of the track instead comes when the first drum beat kicks in at 0:40 in the left channel and electric guitar line rings out in the right. Both versions maintain a clear visceral impact, albeit in differing ways.

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme (1966) shows just how, er, seasoned the duo had already become. “Scarborough Fair/Canticle” opens with Simon’s fingerpicked acoustic in the left and Garfunkel’s lead vocal centered. The four-note clang of the chimes that are slightly back in the left channel and the harpsichord in the right are flawlessly positioned when Simon’s counterpoint vocal enters. Hypnotically engaging—and ever more poignant when the song adds its own special spice to The Graduate (1967).

S&G continued to weave a seamless sonic tapestry across all corners on Bookends (1968), where they explore the enigmatic topographic promise of “America,” insert an insistent propulsion to the intoxicating gusts of a “A Hazy Shade of Winter,” and give a playful pop thrust to “Mrs. Robinson.” But the pinnacle of the pair’s collaboration comes with the epic title track to Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970). A graceful, anchoring piano intro leads into Garfunkel’s gentle first verse, where he delicately extends the syllables in “eyes” and “all” just enough to show vulnerability. He becomes more forceful on the second verse, extending the note in “down” concurrent with Hal Blaine’s cymbal crash at 2:10, followed by strings and persistent echo-chamber percussion that only enhance the building drama. The duo’s faultless harmonies lead up to the full payoff of Garfunkel’s impassioned extension of “mind” into the empowered Wall of Sound stratosphere. Long after we are no longer citizens of the planet, this recording will be around to lay down anyone’s pain or suffering.

“360 Sound” is a phrase you’ll find emblazoned on each disc—and indeed, with the aural template of this Complete Collection as the fulcrum, the indelible legacy of Simon & Garfunkel is fully secure. Earmark this collection as “Homeward Bound,” where you’ll find endless hours of aural enjoyment thanks to a pair of beloved, sonically impeccable Old Friends.

Label: Columbia/Legacy
Audio Formats: 44.1-kHz/16-bit PCM Stereo
Number of Tracks: 166 on 12 CDs
Length: 8:14:58
Producers: Tom Wilson, Bob Johnston, Ted Macero, Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel, Roy Halee, Phil Ramone, Bob Irwin, Steve Berkowitz (reissue producer), Vic Anesini (reissue mastering)
Engineers: Roy Halee, Ray Moore, 6 more