Editor’s Note: The Albumism staff has selected what we believe to be the 100 Most Dynamic Debut Albums Ever Made, representing a varied cross-section of genres, styles and time periods. Click “Next Album” below to explore each album or view the full album index here.
It probably didn’t occur to anyone who initially bought Simon & Garfunkel’s first album, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M., upon its inaugural release in October 1964 that twenty-two year-olds Paul and Arthur—posing unostentatiously on the 5th Avenue/53rd Street subway platform in Manhattan on its cover—would become two of the most prominent musical voices of their generation within just a matter of months.
But when needle meets wax on the opening track—a brisk cover of Bob Gibson’s 1961 classic “You Can Tell The World”—the artistic chemistry that would make Simon & Garfunkel icons (and eventually undo their creative union just half a decade later) is readily evident. Although the album sometimes takes less-than-inspired detours through revamped standard folk fare—“Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream,” “Go Tell It On The Mountain,” and “The Times They Are A Changin’”—it’s hard to dismiss how beautifully their fledgling voices work together. “Benedictus” and “Peggy-O” serve them better by showcasing their vocal contrast, and ear candy doesn't come much sweeter than Garfunkel’s mellifluous tenor floating above Simon’s steadfast baritone.
When the set finally lands on Simon’s original compositions, it’s absolutely stunning. “Bleecker Street” and “Sparrow” are shining examples of why he’s also regarded as one of the most agile guitarists in the industry, as his fingers maneuver the strings in a seemingly effortless cascade. As a writer, Simon is a master of vivid imagery and honest narrative. His tongue sharpens on “He Was My Brother,” a tribute to one of his Queens College classmates, Andrew Goodman, who had been abducted and killed in the Freedom Summer murders in Mississippi in June 1964 (“freedom writer / they cursed my brother to his face / go home outsider / this town's gonna be your buryin' place”).
But it’s on “The Sounds of Silence” (the ‘s’ was later dropped from the title)—in its original acoustic, and some would insist definitive, form—that Simon-as-poet really emerges. It’s dark, brooding and pungent; the kind of era-defining anthem that most artists don't achieve in a lifetime of recording, much less on their debut. Despite its now rightfully distinguished place in history, the track, along with its parent album, was essentially ignored until Columbia Records brass decided to remix it with a rhythm section and release it as a single in September 1965. Cashing in on the song's momentum after it climbed the Billboard Hot 100 steadily to the chart's summit in January 1966, the label also reissued Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M., which consequently rose to an improved chart peak in the top thirty.
Wednesday Morning 3 A.M. isn’t Simon & Garfunkel’s strongest album by far, but its ability to accurately capture a prolific partnership in the making is still immensely satisfying. To anyone out there who ever had the good fortune of seeing them grace a Greenwich Village club in the early ‘60s when their halcyon days were still ahead of them, I am truly and eternally envious.