is it “the sounds of silence” or “the sound of silence”?

Estimated reading time is 15 minutes.

IN THE FINAL WEEKS OF 1965, Top 40 stations around the country started playing a new record by a not-so-new duo with the oddly intriguing name of Simon & Garfunkel. (At least it was odd if you weren’t Jewish or didn’t live on the East Coast.) The record was The Sounds Of Silence.

The opening lines (“Hello, darkness, my old friend. I’ve come to talk with you again”) didn’t sound like any other record that had made the Top 40 before. The song’s lyrics, the record’s sound—it would get placed under the folk-rock umbrella—and the duo’s harmonizing made for an intriguing addition to most AM radio station’s playlists.

Did Paul Simon write The Sound Of Silence but Columbia Records in the US mistakenly released it as The Sounds Of Silence in 1964?

In early 1966, The Sounds Of Silence spent two weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 but only one week at the top spot on the Cash Box Top 100. The record was also a hit in other countries, making Simon & Garfunkel international stars. It also made them the third major act on Columbia Records in the new folk-rock genre. (While not as important in establishing the genre as Bob Dylan and the Byrds, the duo would eventually rack up eight Top 10 hits on the Cash Box Top 100, as many as Dylan and the Byrds combined, who managed four each.)

Somewhere along the way from its initial popularity to the present, the son’s title underwent a subtle change, from plural The Sounds Of Silence to the singular The Sound Of Silence. In this article, I look at various pressings of The Sounds Of Silence on singles and albums by various artists.

I started this article way back in October 2020. While it was very much an “in progress” piece, I accidentally pushed the PUBLISH button and sent it out onto the internet! I deleted the text of the article and replaced it with a notice alerting readers that the article was still a rough draft.

I then promised that “I will have the piece completed and properly published by tomorrow.” The promised tomorrow in that statement was October 24, 2020, which means I am a little late on delivering this.

 

Sounds of Silence: photo of Simon & Garfunkel's " Sounds of Silence" single on red vinyl.
The first pressings of the electrified version of The Sounds Of Silence were probably the special promotional copies on translucent red vinyl. These were probably shipped to radio stations in September 1965 although the record didn’t dent the national pop charts until November 20, 1965.

Hello Darkness, my old friend

From 1964 through 1971, the title of the song on all the records released in the US and on most of the records released in most of the world was the plural The Sounds Of Silence. This includes Paul and Artie’s first album, WEDNESDAY MORNING, 3 A.M. album, which was released in 1964.

But in the UK, the title of the same song on most (all?) records was The Sound Of Silence—singular. I first became aware of this decades ago when I bought a used copy of Paul Simon’s first solo album, THE PAUL SIMON SONG BOOK, which was released in 1965 in the UK and a few countries with ties to England. (Finding records manufactured in other countries in record stores in the US was not a common experience in most American cities until the ’70s.)

On the Simon album, the title had been changed from the plural to the singular. Why had Simon done that? Or had he? Could CBS have made a mistake with their releases in the UK? If not, could Columbia have made a mistake with their releases in the UK?

Believe it or not, the impetus for this article was an article titled “Hello Darkness, My Old Friend” in Mark Manson’s weekly Mindf*ck Monday newsletter from July 6, 2020. Aside from the title, Manson’s article has nothing related to Simon & Garfunkel but it did make me play the record again.

 

Sounds of Silence: advertisment for Simon & Garfunkel records in Record Retailer magazine in 1966.
During the ’60s, most records listed the title as The Sounds Of Silence (plural). But in the UK, CBS Records listed it as The Sound Of Silence (singular). The image above is an 11 x 17-inch poster that was included in the March 31, 1966, issue of Record Retailer & Music Industry News magazine. If the use of the singular title was an error, CBS hadn’t corrected it by this time.

“Sound” or “sounds” of silence?

Listening to The Sounds Of Silence made me want to write down the lyrics and add appropriate punctuation. This led to wanting to write about the song’s title and which was correct: the plural version or the singular. So, I wanted to answer two questions:

•  Did Paul Simon write The Sound Of Silence but Columbia Records made a mistake and released it as The Sounds Of Silence and thereby triggered a string of errors around the world?

•  Did Paul Simon write The Sounds Of Silence and then changed his mind and retitled it The Sound Of Silence in 1965, which was too late to put a halt to Columbia Records using the plural version?

One way to answer the question would be to ask the songwriter, but that’s a tricky one: Any answer Simon gave would have to involve an accurate memory—and if you’re over 50 then you’ve probably learned to chuckle at that thought—and a desire to tell the truth. (Paul could have reasons for wanting the facts kept to himself.)

To try and answer that question by relying on artifacts, I made a select discography of versions of the song released on various records by various artists in various countries. Below are listed a dozen records that act as a timeline for the variations of the title. There are seven albums (one by another artist) and five singles (two by other artists).

The release dates are accurate although some may be off by a few weeks in either direction of the linear flow of time. (If time flows, of course.)

Links

If you click on the title of an album, it will take you to a listing for that album on Discogs. There you will find some basic information on the album, including a listing of its contents. If you click on the title of a single, it will take you to YouTube where you can listen to that single.

 

1964

 

Sounds of Silence: cover of Simon & Garfunkel's WEDNESDAY MORNING 3 A.M. album from 1964.

Sounds of Silence: side 1 label of Simon & Garfunkel's WEDNESDAY MORNING 3 A.M. album from 1964.

Simon & Garfunkel
Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.

Columbia CL-2249 (mono)
Columbia CS-9049 (stereo)
Country: United States
Released: November 1964

When Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel signed with Columbia Records, they were placed under the guidance of staff producer Tom Wilson, who was handling Bod Dylan at the time. In March 1964, the duo recorded all twelve tracks for their first album in one day, not an unusual occurrence at the time.

The recordings were folk-based with Paul and Artie’s vocals backed by acoustic guitar and double bass. The album was titled WEDNESDAY MORNING, 3 A.M.; it was first listed in the New Album Releases in the November 21, 1964, issue of Billboard. This indicates that it was probably released no later than the first week of that month.

It was a nice (if inconsequential) album that sold a few thousand copies—mostly in Greenwich Village, the folk music capital of the world—and then sank like a stone. Sales were so dismal that the album wasn’t released in most of the world, including the UK. Its failure caused Simon & Garfunkel to split up, with Paul moving to England to see if he could make something happen there.

The Sounds Of Silence

It is unlikely that anyone recorded The Sounds Of Silence before Simon & Garfunkel so we can probably assume that this is the first released version of the song. The record’s label and the back cover of the jacket list the song as The Sounds Of Silence.

There are liner notes by Art Garfunkel on the back cover in which he refers to the song twice in the plural: “The Sounds Of Silence is a major work” and refers to the “heightened intensity of The Sounds Of Silence.”

 

 

1965

 

Sounds of Silence: cover of Paul McNeill's CONTEMPORARY FOLK album from 1965.

Paul McNeill
Contemporary Folk

Decca LK-4699
Country: England
Released: May-July 1965

British folk singer Paul McNeill championed Paul Simon by including five songs on his first LP album, CONTEMPORARY FOLK (Decca LK-4699). They were April She Will Come, A Church Is Burning, The Leaves That Are Green, Sparrow, and the track that opened the album, The Sound Of Silence.

The liner notes on the back cover state that Simon’s songs “were all passed on to him by their author and close personal friend, Paul Simon.” The back cover of CONTEMPORARY FOLK lists the writers of The Sound Of Silence as “Jenkins; Simon,” which is probably another interesting story.

I could not find an exact date for this record’s release but it appears to have been issued before the Paul Simon album and could even have been released before Simon recorded his album.

The Sound Of Silence

The record’s label and the back cover of the jacket list the song as The Sound Of Silence. If this album was released before THE PAUL SIMON SONG BOOK (below), then this was the first time that the singular version of the title was used on a record.

While it has long been assumed that Simon’s version was the second recording of the song to have been released on record, it seems that this Paul beat that Paul to the studio and to the record shops.

 

 

Sounds of Silence: cover of THE PAUL SIMON SONG BOOK album from 1965.

Sounds of Silence: side 1 label of THE PAUL SIMON SONG BOOK album from 1965.

Paul Simon
The Paul Simon Song Book

CBS BPG-62579 (mono)

CBS SBPG-62579 (stereo)
Country: England
Released: August 1965

According to most sources, THE PAUL SIMON SONG BOOK was recorded in June and July of 1965 and released in August. However according to the Paul Simon website, the album was released on June 23, 1965. The album consists of twelve tracks featuring Simon’s voice and acoustic guitar. 

It’s conceivable that a simple album of a singer and a guitar could be recorded, mastered, etc., and released in a few weeks, but it is not the normal record industry routine. If it was released in June, then it could have beaten Paul McNeill’s CONTEMPORARY FOLK (above) to the record stores.

Two songs, The Sound of Silence and He Was My Brother, had appeared on the first Simon & Garfunkel album. Others would be recorded by the duo for future albums, including their second hit single, I Am A Rock. This means that Paul Simon was using the singular title The Sound Of Silence in early 1965.

Interestingly, Paul’s vocals are much more assured here than they were on the Simon & Garfunkel album, making his solo album a much stronger outing than his work with Art Garfunkel.

The Sound Of Silence

The record’s label and the back cover of the jacket—including the liner notes by Judith Piepe—list the song as the singular The Sound Of Silence. This appears to be the third version of The Sounds Of Silence released before its becoming a hit record.

 

 

Side 1 of Simon & Garfunkel's "The Sounds of Silence" US single from  1965.

Simon & Garfunkel
The Sounds Of Silence / We’ve Got A Groovey Thing Goin’

Columbia 4-43396
Country: United States
Released: September 1965

According to legend, radio station WBZ (1030-AM) in Boston began playing The Sounds Of Silence from WEDNESDAY MORNING, 3 A.M. sometime in 1965. Then several other stations along the East Coast added the song to their playlists. This is odd as few AM radio stations played LP cuts in the ’60s.

This caught Tom Wilson’s attention and he took the master tape of the version on WEDNESDAY MORNING, 3 A.M., and back into the studio. With a small band, he overdubbed a few electric instruments onto it, creating a folk-rock single. 

Apparently, he did this on his own without consulting either Simon or Garfunkel and possibly not even any of his bosses at Columbia.  If this is true, he got his bosses to okay the release of the new recording as a single with little effort.

 This new, jingle-jangle-zed version was quickly issued as a single, which was quickly added to the playlists of most Top 40 stations. This version of The Sounds Of Silence eventually reached #1 on all three major, national surveys: Billboard, Cash Box, and Record World.

This record’s success caused Paul to return from England, hook up with Artie, and reform Simon & Garfunkel. Needless to say, they went on to become the most successful duo of the ’60s.

 

 

Side 1 of Simon & Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence" UK single from  1965.

Simon & Garfunkel
The Sound Of Silence / We’ve Got A Groovey Thing Goin’
CBS ‎201977

Country: England
Released: December 1965

Months after being released in the US, The Sounds Of Silence was issued in the UK by CBS Records. Two things differentiated the UK record from the US original:

•  The title was singular instead of plural.
•  The record was a dud instead of a hit.

The inexplicable failure of this record was matched by a similar failure of the Byrds’ magnificent Turn! Turn! Turn!, which was released at the same time in the UK.

 

 

Side 1 of Rupert & David's "The Sound of Silence" UK single from 1965.

Rupert & David
The Sound Of Silence / Reflections Of Our Love

Decca F-12306
England
Released: January 1966

The Sound Of Silence was released as a single by Rupert & David, a folk-based duo consisting of Rupert Hine and David MacIver. They recorded the side on December 15, 1965, so it is conceivable that a single could be recorded, mastered, etc., and released before the end of the year, but it is unlikely.

This folk-lite version of The Sound Of Silence was vying for radio airplay at the same time as Simon & Garfunkel’s record. Neither received much. On his website, Hine states, “Both versions of The Sound Of Silence were released in England at the same time. Neither of them sold more than 2,000 copies.”

This appears to be the fourth version of The Sounds Of Silence and the first recorded after Simon & Garfunkel’s version had “gone electric” and become a hit in the US.

 

1966

 

Original cover of Simon & Garfunkel's SOUNDS OF SILENCE album from 1966.

Side 1 label of Simon & Garfunkel's SOUNDS OF SILENCE album from 1966.

Simon & Garfunkel
Sounds Of Silence

Columbia CL-2469 (mono)

Columbia CS-9269 (stereo)
Country: United States
Released: January 1966

With the success of the single, Paul and Artie went back to Columbia’s Los Angeles studio in December 1965 and recorded enough material to complete a second album. Like the single, most of the tracks were in the folk-rock mold and featured electric backing.

As Tom Wilson had left Columbia, he was replaced by Bob Johnston, who had recorded most of HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED with Dylan. Unlike the first album, this record sold very well and was the first step in establishing Paul and Art as important “album artists.”

The front cover was modified in late 1966: Both the name of the artist and the title were now in upper and lowercase and were much larger. Columbia also added the titles of the other tracks on the record, highlighting the second hit single pulled from the album, I Am A Rock.

The Sounds Of Silence

The record’s label and the back cover of the jacket list the song as the plural The Sounds Of Silence. The back cover of the jacket has snippets of lyrics from the album’s eleven tracks, which lists The Sounds Of Silence. At the bottom of the cover, it reads, “Copyright 1966 by Eclectic Music.” Eclectic Music is affiliated with Paul Simon, so shouldn’t they have known the correct spelling of the title?

 

 

Side 1 of the Bachelors' "The Sound of Silence" UK single from 1965.

The Bachelors
The Sound Of Silence / Love Me With All Your Heart

Decca F-12351
Country: England
Released: March 1966

Neither Simon & Garfunkel nor Rupert & David had been able to set the British charts afire with their readings of The Sound Of Silence. This did not stop the Bachelors from taking a shot at it and this was the third version by a British artist using the singular title. This Irish trio had already scored seven Top 10 hits in the UK, so they were a known act, which guaranteed airplay.

The Bachelors used an easy-listening arrangement and complementary production to great effect and this version of The Sound Of Silence became the group’s eighth big hit, peaking at #3. While this version of the song is well known to the generation of British pop music fans of the ’60s, it is almost unknown in the US.

 

 

Side 1 label of Simon & Grafunkel's "Sounds of Silence" on Hall of Fame reissue series.

Simon & Garfunkel
The Sounds Of Silence / Homeward Bound

Columbia 4-33096
Country: United States
Released: December 1966

In late 1966, Columbia paired Simon & Garfunkel’s first two hits as part of their Hall Of Fame series. The title remained plural.

 

 

1968

 

The Sounds of Silence: cover of THE GRADUATE soundtrack album from 1968.

The Sounds of Silence: side 1 label of THE GRADUATE soundtrack album from 1968.

Simon & Garfunkel
The Graduate

Columbia Masterworks OS-3180 (stereo)

Country: United States
Released: February 1968

Released toward the end of December 1967, The Graduate was one of the biggest movie hits of 1968 and made Dustin Hoffman an overnight star. The soundtrack included eight tracks by Simon & Garfunkel (including The Sounds Of Silence twice), effectively making it a Simon & Garfunkel compilation album (of sorts). The Sounds Of Silence opened and closed the album.

The Sounds Of Silence

On the back cover of the jacket, the title is listed as Sounds Of Silence without “The.” On the record’s labels, the title is listed as The Sounds Of Silence with “The.”

 

 

1970

 

Second printing cover of Simon & Garfunkel's SOUNDS OF SILENCE album from 1966 with song titles.

Side 1 label of later pressing of Simon & Garfunkel's SOUNDS OF SILENCE album from 1970s.

Simon & Garfunkel
Sounds Of Silence

Columbia CS-9269 (stereo)
Country: United States
Released: 1970

In 1970, Columbia changed its label design. The hard red label with “Columbia” in white at the top and an “eye” logo on each side was replaced with a soft red label with “Columbia” in gold repeated six times around the perimeter. During the next few years, all of the company’s albums issued in the ’60s that were still selling were issued with his new label.

The Sounds Of Silence

The record’s label and the back cover of the jacket continued to list the song as The Sounds Of Silence.

 

 

1972

 

Sounds of Silence: cover of SIMON & GARFUNKELS' GREATEST HITS album from 1972.

Sounds of Silence: side 1 label of SIMON & GARFUNKELS' GREATEST HITS album from 1972.

Simon & Garfunkel
Simon And Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits

Columbia KC-31350 (stereo)

Country: United States
Released: June 1972

Two years after their break-up, Columbia collected nine of Simon & Garfunkel’s Top 40 hits along with five other tracks and released a greatest hits album.

The Sound Of Silence

The record’s label and the back cover of the jacket list the song as The Sound Of Silence. This is the first time a US pressing used the singular title. While it would remain plural on all pressings of records that had originally been released before 1972, new LP and CD albums used the singular title.

 

Sounds of Silence: cover of promotional pressing of Simon & Garfunkel's WEDNESDAY MORNING 3 A.M. album from 1964.

Sounds of Silence: back cover of Simon & Garfunkel's WEDNESDAY MORNING 3 A.M. album from 1964.
White label promotional pressings of WEDNESDAY MORNING, 3 A.M. often included a title & timing strip affixed to the front cover to assist in programming tracks for radio play. All strips list the plural title. On the back cover of all printings of the jacket, the plural title is mentioned in the liner notes by Art Garfunkel.

The question remains

Simply, it appears as though every record company in the world followed the US example and printed the title of the song as The Sounds Of Silence regardless of the artist who recorded it. The exception appears to be the UK, which went with The Sound Of Silence. This seems to be true through 1972 when the title was changed to the singular for all subsequent new releases.

So, the two questions asked above remain as I could not find a definitive answer to them using the artifacts available to me. The best argument seems to be that the original, “correct” title of the song is The Sounds Of Silence. That is based on the assumption that both the song’s writer and the song’s publisher approved the copy that Columbia Records used on the first release of the song on Simon & Garfunkel’s first album in 1964, which was plural. 

Either the publisher responsible for licensing the song in the UK got it wrong when they used the singular version of the title in 1965, or by 1965 Simon had changed his mind about the song’s title and wanted it to be singular. If this is so, apparently he couldn’t do anything about Columbia and the American publisher’s commitment to using the plural version until 1972.

Of course, the best way to determine the intended title would be to see the actual publishing registration forms that Paul Simon okayed and signed with the song’s publisher in 1964.

I’m not holding my breath waiting for that to happen . . .

 

Sounds of Silence: Guy Webster photo of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel in Franklin Canyon, California, in 1965.

FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page of Art and Paul in Franklin Canyon in southern California was taken by Guy Webster in late 1965. Webster also did the photography for the jacket of the SOUNDS OF SILENCE album, also taken at Franklin Canyon.

 


 

2 thoughts on “is it “the sounds of silence” or “the sound of silence”?”

  1. Hi, Neal

    I found this article of yours regarding “Sound” or “Sounds” while I was browsing the web looking to see if the actual words to the first line of the second verse were “I walked alone” (as virtually every reference on the web seems to be) or “I walked along” (which I can’t find anywhere).

    If I was just listening to the song on the album Sounds of Silence, I would logically assume that the word was “along”. The sentence, “In restless dreams I walked alone narrow street of cobblestone” doesn’t really make sense, but “In restless dreams I walked along narrow streets of cobblestone” certainly does. 

    Because of the way the music is played, it seems impossible to me to tell which word it is. (Maybe some sophisticated analytic software can parse the words, but I can’t hear the words well enough to tell which word it is. I’d love it if you could shed any light.) 

    So, with regard to “Sound” or “Sounds”... isn’t it important to know how it is sung? I hear “sound”, not “sounds”, but it would be interesting to know if Paul Simon ever sang “sounds”.

    Anyway, thanks for listening and please let me know if you think the word was actually “along” rather than “alone” and that got lost somewhere in history.

    Reply
    • Trying to figure out the lyrics to 45s that were often heavily compressed or had echo0 added (brilliantly or cumbersomely) on cheesy speakers on a car radio while listening to AM radio was, for me, one of the chores/delights of the ’60s! 

      The electronically-enhanced “rock” version of “The Sounds of Silence” that was issued as a single in late 1965 and was a chart-topper in early 1966 is the same recording as the just-voices-with-an-acoustic-guitar on S&G’s first album, Wednesday Morning 3 A.M., that attracted almost no listeners in 1964.

      I fell in love with the electronic version of “The Sounds of Silence” the first time I heard it but for a while, I misheard several lines:

      • I thought “In restless dreams” was “in restless streams,” although I couldn’t figure out why the singers would be walking in water.

      • I thought ” ‘Fools,’ said I, “you do not know” was ” ‘Who?’ said I, “I do not know” and wondered what the hell the singers meant by that bit of crypticism.

      • And, yes, I sometimes heard “In restless dreams I walked along” while others times I heard “In restless dreams I walked alone.

      As the vocal track for the acoustic version of the recording is the same as the electronic version, listening to it when I finally bought S&G’s first album cleared everything up:

      Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l0q7MLPo-u8

      For any even clearer reading of the lyrics, give Paul Simon’s original version of the song on his 1965 solo album from the UK:

      Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xUZgM96XY7s

      Hope this helps!

      NEAL

      PS: You might enjoy another article of mine, “Traveling Through Time at 45 RPM (Time Travel Records)”:

      Link: https://www.ratherrarerecords.com/time-travel-records/#Time_travel_records

      Reply

Leave a Comment