WHILE RESEARCHING THE ARTICLE that I just published, I amassed almost 5,000 words of information and more than three dozen images. I deleted almost one-third of those words and images and titled the completed article “Is It The Sounds Of Silence or The Sound Of Silence?” What was left behind—the flotsam and jetsam—is what you will find below: an addendum to the original article!
The first section of “Is It The Sounds Of Silence or The Sound Of Silence?” contains a transcription of the lyrics to The Sounds Of Silence. The second section is an “International Gallery of Picture Sleeves” which collects the picture sleeves for various seven-inch along with 45 rpm singles and EP albums. The final section looks at a pair of unusual interpretations of the song.
“Look—I quit and I’m not giving you my new song, The Sound Of Silence.”
The lyrics to The Sounds Of Silence took shape in late 1963 and early 1964. In an interview with Terry Gross for National Public Radio in 2000, Simon said:
“It was just when I was coming out of college. My job was to take the songs that this huge publishing company owned and go around to record companies and see if any of their artists wanted to record the songs. I worked for them for about six months and never got a song placed, but I did give them a couple of my songs because I felt so guilty about taking their money.
Then I got into an argument with them and said, ‘Look, I quit, and I’m not giving you my new song.’ And the song that I had just written was The Sound Of Silence. I thought, ‘I’ll just publish it myself,’ and from that point on I owned my own songs, so that was a lucky argument.”
Please note that the title of the song was plural—The Sounds Of Silence—from its original release on Simon & Garfunkel’s first album WEDNESDAY MORNING 3 A.M. in 1964 through most records released in most countries around the world. In 1972, Simon changed the song’s title to singular—The Sound Of Silence—which is how he addressed it in his remarks above.
For more on that matter, read the original article by clicking here.
Hear my words that I might teach you
Here are the lyrics to the song as originally recorded by Simon & Garfunkel for their 1964 debut album. I matched the lyrics to the original 45 rpm single and added necessary—at least, necessary as I hear it.
Hello darkness, my old friend,
I’ve come to talk with you again.
Because a vision, softly creeping,
left its seeds while I was sleeping.
And the vision that was planted in my brain
still remains within the sound of silence.
In restless dreams, I walk alone,
narrow streets of cobblestone.
‘Neath the halo of a street lamp,
I turn my collar to the cold and damp,
when my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
that split the night and touched the sound of silence.
And in the naked light, I saw ten thousand people, maybe more.
People talking without speaking.
People hearing without listening.
People writing songs that voices never share.
No one dare disturb the sound of silence.
“Fools,” said I, “I do not know!
Silence like a cancer grows.
Hear my words that I might teach you.
Take my arms that I might reach you.”
But my words, like silent raindrops, fell
and echoed in the wells of silence.
And the people bowed and prayed
to the neon god they made.
And the sign flashed out its warning,
in the words that it was forming.
And the sign said the words of the prophets
are written on the subway walls
and tenement halls
and whispered in the sound of silence.
I can find one basic argument for both the use of the singular and the plural form of the word silence. As the plural sounds does not appear in the lyrics at all while the singular sound appears three times, one can reasonably argue that the author intended the title to be singular.
But there are three lines about failed attempts at communication: “People talking without speaking. People hearing without listening. People writing songs that voices never share.” Since I was 14 in 1965, I have always heard these as three versions of the sounds of silence.
How did the sign flash its warning?
In the final verse of the original version of The Sounds Of Silence on WEDNESDAY MORNING 3 A.M.—the vocals of which were used on the hit single—Simon & Garfunkel sing, “And the sign flashed out its warning, in the words that it was forming.”
But in the final verse of the solo version of The Sound Of Silence on THE PAUL SIMON SONG BOOK, Simon drops “out” from the line and sings, “And the sign flashed its warning, in the words that it was forming.”
In their famous “Concert in the Central Park” from September 19, 1981, Simon & Garfunkel used the singular title of the song and dropped “out” from the line.
Having a great time
In the wake of the song’s success, Simon promptly returned to the United States to record a new Simon & Garfunkel album at Columbia’s request. He later described his experiences learning the song went to No. 1, a story he repeated in numerous interviews:
“I had come back to New York, and I was staying in my old room at my parents’ house. Artie was living at his parents’ house, too. I remember Artie and I were sitting there in my car one night, parked on a street in Queens, and the announcer [on the radio] said, ‘Number one, Simon & Garfunkel.’ And Artie said to me, ‘That Simon & Garfunkel, they must be having a great time.’ Because there we were on a street corner in Queens, smoking a joint. We didn’t know what to do with ourselves.” (Marc Eliot: Paul Simon – A Life, 2010)
For his part, Garfunkel had a different memory of the song’s success:
“We were in L.A. Our manager called us at the hotel we were staying at. We were both in the same room. We must have bunked in the same room in those days. I picked up the phone. He said, ‘Well, congratulations. Next week you will go from five to one in Billboard.’ It was fun. I remember pulling open the curtains and letting the brilliant sun come into this very red room and then ordering room service. That was good.” (Pete Fornatale: Simon And Garfunkel’s Bookends, 2007)
Here is a selection of picture sleeves for Simon & Garfunkel’s The Sounds Of Silence. There are nineteen sleeves from nine countries covering a seven-year period. The record companies in most countries did not spend the extra penny per record and issue them with picture sleeves. This is not a complete selection of these sleeves, but a representative one. And note that the title on all the sleeves is plural.
The picture sleeves for The Sounds Of Silence / We’ve Got A Groovey Thing Goin’ from France, Holland, and Norway above have a slightly cheesy, low-budget look to them. Most websites state that they were released in January 1966, but as they are all CBS records, it’s possible that they were issued in December 1965 at the same time as CBS released the record in the UK.
This sleeve for The Sounds Of Silence / We’ve Got A Groovey Thing Goin’ was issued in Japan and is the only sleeve that used the photo from Simon & Garfunkel’s first album, WEDNESDAY MORNING 3 A.M.
This sleeve is from the seven-inch, 45 rpm EP album SOUNDS OF SILENCE from Australia. It features a black and white photo (where the guys look cold) and was probably issued in 1966.
These two sleeves are from seven-inch, 45 rpm EP albums titled THE SOUNDS OF SILENCE from France and Spain. Each calls attention to the fact that the title song reached #1 in the U.S.A.
These sleeves are from seven-inch, 45 rpm EP albums titled SOUNDS OF SILENCE from Germany, Italy, and Japan and were and probably issued in 1966. Each uses the same Guy Webster photo that appeared on Simon & Garfunkel’s second LP album.
With the enormous success of the movie The Graduate in 1968, CBS reissued The Sounds Of Silence in several countries with various B-sides. The six sleeves above are from France, Germany, Italy, Japan (two sleeves with the second from 1971), and Norway.
These picture sleeves from Holland (1968) and Germany (1970) collect the A-sides from two hit singles, The Sounds Of Silence and Homeward Bound.
This picture sleeve for The Sounds Of Silence is the standout: It was issued in Angola in 1972 when the country was still under the dominion of Portugal. I don’t think I have ever seen a sleeve from this African country before. And I don’t think the artist that designed this attention-grabbing sleeve ever saw a photo of Simon and Garfunkel.
An addendum to the addendum
This last section is the oddest and really doesn’t fit in with anything in this article or the original article. It’s really a kind of addendum to the flotsam and jetsom of the “addendum” article. It involves two takes on performing The Sounds Of Silence, one a straight reading of the lyrics from 1965, the other a political parody from 2017.
Hundreds of other artists have recorded The Sounds Of Silence. Since 1972, most of them have recorded it with the singular version of the title. There are many fine renditions and many odd renditions, but there are two I find, let’s say, refreshing:
• Marti Shannon recorded Sounds Of Silence in a ’60s folkie-typestyle, which is more declamatory than the song usually receives. Weirdly, she drops the entire section that begins “ ‘Fools,’ said I!” It’s not just weird that she dropped the verse, but that she dropped the verse that would seem to benefit most by her declamatory style.
• More timely is a bloody marvelous (and bloody straightfaced) parody (including costuming) of the song titled Confounds The Science by Don Caron and Linda Gower. The work is the brainchild of Caron and his Parody Project, which was founded in 2017 “as a means of surviving the current political and social mire by laughing and helping others to do the same.”
FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page of Art and Paul in the Los Angeles area was taken by Guy Webster in late 1965. Webster also did the photography for the jacket of the SOUNDS OF SILENCE album.