I will forever associate Simon & Garfunkel with vinyl. Not just the sound of it, but the experience of it, the deliberate process of listening to music in twenty-minute chunks. As a kid, it struck me that their album sides had dramatic ebbs and flows to them, very carefully paced, in order to build up to a coherent feeling by the end of the side. Sounds Of Silence is practically a rock opera in need of a little dialogue – I mean, not even Suicidal Tendencies has two songs about suicide IN A ROW on any of their albums. That’s serious commitment to continuity right there.
And it’s those memories of childhood that resonate when I hear the albums today. They made a big impression on me as a pre-teen, the collision of dark imagery with sweet, inviting music. More personal than the Beatles, easier for a kid to grasp than Dylan, they were just easy to get into. And like the Beach Boys, there are subtle pleasures in the production that may have escaped notice when hearing their big hits on the radio, but come into focus when listening deliberately. Album tracks like “Richard Cory” and “So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright” just sound so very peculiar, sitting right next to some of the most mainstream American pop ever made. They’re equally comfortable with hamming it up with grandiose arrangements blaring behind them as whispering in near-silence.
So, it makes sense to me that you would want this heavy set of six albums in a box, over a thousand grams of vinyl if you stack em all on the record player at once. It’s the right way to own it and experience it. The 180-gram remasters sound great, rich and detailed. There’s a 20 page booklet and a poster suitable for your smoking room. There are no outtakes or funny stuff, but it does include a copy of their 1972 Greatest Hits set that has some performances not heard on the LPs. The vinyl set is missing the multiple live concerts that stretch the equivalent CD package into twelve discs, but let’s be honest – you maybe could use that stuff, but you don’t really need it. (They have also released the 1981 Concert In Central Park as a 2-LP set, if you must.) I think you need the original albums, though, in good condition, and here’s your chance to find nice sounding, un-scratched copies of them all in one place.
Quick: name another major act to emerge the late 60s, one known for being really good on stage, that’s never had a proper live album release of any kind. Sly and co. owned that dubious honor prior to the release of this set, which makes up for lost time by presenting four complete concerts from the tour supporting Dance To The Music. All recorded in excellent quality, it’s a lot of fun hearing these events as they transpired, each having its own unique character based on the particular mix of adrenaline, high spirit and intoxication happening across all the band members at the moment.
Highly disciplined in the studio, these concerts are notably looser and more stretched-out, but instead of endless soloing on the longer tracks, they get into some of the funkiest, wildest hambone you’ve ever heard in your life. The rhythm section is particularly noticeable as soon as you pop the thing in – Gregg Errico’s drumming so precise and fluid, and Larry Graham’s bass booming with a deep, distorted bottom end only hinted at in their studio recordings. But all the band members get a chance to shine and do things you never heard on the records, Cynthia Robinson’s wailing trumpet on “St. James Infirmary”, Freddie Stone’s futuristic funk guitar at full volume throughout.
It also allows the listener to spend some time with the material from Sly’s first three albums, which is often overlooked relative to the hits that followed. It’s good stuff, some of it great even, though not as pop-savvy as their later work. In hindsight, I can understand why the band wouldn’t have wanted this set released right when “Everyday People” was storming the charts and Stand was about to be recorded – the past became the past over just a few weeks in the 60s. But even after the end of the fourth disc, I’m left wanting more. I certainly hope that later live recordings from the vault might start to see release – their appearance in Woodstock proves they were still an unstoppable force the following summer, with a completely revamped setlist.