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

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. 1

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 had been re­leased in 1964.

But in the UK, the title of the same song on most (all?) records was The Sound Of Si­lence—sin­gular. I had first be­come 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. 2

Did Paul Simon write “The Sounds Of Si­lence” but CBS Records in the UK mis­tak­enly re­leased it as “The Sound Of Si­lence” in 1965?

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 with 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. and 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. In fact, 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.” 3

I could not find an exact date for this record’s re­lease but it ap­pears to have been is­sued prior to 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. But 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 week’s time, 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 prior to 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. 4

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. 5

 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 prior to 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 that 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 . . .

Did Paul Simon write the song as 'The Sound Of Si­lence' but Co­lumbia Records mis­tak­enly re­leased it as 'The Sounds Of Si­lence' or did he just change his mind about the spelling after the record was a hit? Click To Tweet

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.

 


FOOTNOTES:

1   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).

2   Finding used or new copies of records man­u­fac­tured in other coun­tries in record stores in the US was not a common ex­pe­ri­ence in most Amer­ican cities until the ’70s.

3   The back cover of CONTEMPORARY FOLK lists the writers of The Sound Of Si­lence as “Jenkins; Simon,” which is prob­ably an­other in­ter­esting story.

4   This is odd as few AM radio sta­tions played LP cuts in the ’60s.

5   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.

 

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