All of Paul Simon's solo albums ranked

Every Paul Simon solo record reviewed.

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No. 9 - THE PAULSIMON SONGBOOK (1965)

It is virtually impossible to fairly critique Simon’s first solo effort, recorded in London during a break from the rising Simon and Garfunkel tide. Of the twelve songs he originally released, nine of them would be re-recorded with Garfunkel on subsequent albums. One of those songs – “The Sound of Silence” – would get multiple renditions.

Those nine songs are outstanding. They reveal a young singer/songwriter bursting with talent and youthful energy. He can be angry – “I Am a Rock,” “Patterns.” He can be tender – “Kathy’s Song” – or snarky – “A Simple Desultory Phillippic (or How I Was Lyndon Johnson’d Into Submission).” Above all, he displays a remarkable sense of impermanence, the theme he would return over and over again throughout the various stages of his career.

“Leaves That Are Green” and “April Come She Will” rival the early songs of John Prine in their mature-beyond-their-years lyrical concerns. He also serves up several topical songs, a la Dylan, which make direct references to civil rights. Those are the songs that Simon and Garfunkel never recorded, and they are not nearly as strong as the rest of the album. Simon could be pedantic when writing about current events.

The reason it is so difficult to evaluate the Songbook today is that virtually every single song was made better by Art Garfunkel’s presence. “The Sound of Silence” needed the haunting echo that Art provided. “Leaves That are Green” moves from austere in this incarnation to a life force on the Sound of Silence album. “Patterns” is much sharper on Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.

This remains a remarkable collection of songs, but most of them showed room for improvement.