The Harmonious, Combative Story Behind the Songwriting Duo Simon & Garfunkel

Pop quiz! What is your favorite cat and mouse cartoon duo? Second pop quiz! What is your favorite ’60s harmony-driven songwriting duo? Well, if your answer is the same for both questions then you’ve earned a treasure trove of gold stars. However, if all of that doesn’t make any sense to you, it all soon will.

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Tom & Jerry

Formed in 1956 by two high school friends in Queens, New York, Tom & Jerry became a household name. But it was the 1940 cat and mouse cartoon that actually became famous by that moniker, created by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera.

Despite the cartoon already existing, Paul Simon and Arthur Garfunkel didn’t mind starting their first band with the name, not Simon & Garfunkel, but Tom & Jerry. Indeed, when the two golden-voiced singers met in high school, they took on fictional names for themselves, John Landis and Tom Graph. Then they shortened those and started their group, even earning some success with the 1957 song, “Hey Schoolgirl.”

[RELATED: Paul Simon Gives Update on Hearing Loss]

At first, the friends thought they wouldn’t be taken seriously if they led their careers with their real, Jewish names. But in the end, their desire for truthful representation won out. As Paul Simon said of their moniker, “Our name is honest.”

Kane & Garr

After the two graduated high school in 1958, they went on to pursue college educations. But at one point, Simon cut a solo track, “True or False,” which Garfunkel felt was a betrayal of their bond as a duo. Simon recorded it under the name True Taylor. The two stayed in touch but also recorded solo material after that.

It wasn’t until 1963 that they began to seriously perform as a duo again, doing so under the pseudonym Kane & Garr. At an open mic in Greenwich Village during the boom of the New York City folk scene, which included the likes of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, the duo performed songs including “The Sounds of Silence.”

Simon & Garfunkel

Simon & Garfunkel released their debut album in 1964, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. The album sold decently but didn’t yet make them stars. In fact, the two went back to their places of higher learning, Brooklyn Law School and Columbia University. Simon also recorded his first solo album, The Paul Simon Songbook.

In today’s binary social media sphere, nuance can be difficult. But it was leaning into the complexity that the duo thrived. Namely, their lilting harmonies and cerebral lyrics became their signature. The duo first rose to fame thanks to its 1964 song, “The Sounds of Silence,” which was less a bubblegum pop smash and more poetry sung by angels. But it took some time, first hitting the airwaves in a meaningful way with college students in 1965, then topping the Billboard Hot 100.

The duo’s 1966 album, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, reads as much like a greatest hits record as a normal LP release, with thoughtful, heady songs like “Scarborough Fair/Canticle” and “Homeward Bound.” In 1967, they provided music for the now-iconic film, The Graduate, with songs like “Mrs. Robinson,” further increasing their reach in popular culture.

A Bridge Over Troubled Water

The duo released their album, Bookends, in 1968, which also included a number of hits (like “America”) and delivered their most well-known album cover, complete with beatnik black turtlenecks. But it was two years later in 1970 with their album and titular single, Bridge over Troubled Water, that cemented their status as Hall of Famers. Along with the song, “The Boxer,” the album’s namesake single featured Garunkel’s swelling voice, emotive and crisp, wounded and courageous.

The album was the best-selling record for three straight years, from 1970-72. It was the best-selling album of all time, in fact, until Thriller overtook it in 1982.

The Breakup

The duo split not long after that, with Simon saying he just needed to get out. It was the culmination of a great deal of small and large arguments, as well as perhaps a history of jealousy. It was rumored each favored the other’s talents since Simon wrote the songs but Garfunkel had the better voice.

In the end, Simon & Garfunkel split and went on to pursue their solo careers. Simon’s attempt did better, thanks to songs like the 1975 hit, “Still Crazy After All These Years,” but nothing quite matched the power the duo had together.

In 1981, when their careers were perhaps at their lowest, Simon & Garfunkel reunited for a concert in New York City’s Central Park. That show attracted a whopping half a million fans and the audio recording that was released as an album went platinum. The footage is available on HBO, purchased then for $1,000,000.

After popular tours, the two thought about making an album together in 1983, but disagreements surfaced and they scrapped it. That material became Simon’s LP, Hearts and Bones.

Hall of Fame

The duo was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. Since then, the duo has toured on occasion, played shows together on occasion, and earned many prestigious awards. In 2018, Simon announced his retirement from touring. And, as he said, “That’s that.” Their legacy as perhaps the Platonic Ideal of duo-male harmony will, however, last forever.

Photo by Pictorial Parade/Getty Images

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