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© Bernd Weissbrod/dpa/Corbis
Recalling the music of his youth, in particular the early rock 'n' roll hits that he heard disc jockey Alan Freed spin on WINS (1010 AM) in New York City, legendary singer Art Garfunkel is at no loss for superlatives.
“It was an incredible time," he says. "It was as exciting as the dawn of sex." He laughs and then elaborates: "You have to remember, prior to this, it was Patti Page and The Four Aces. Things were mono and not so exciting. Yes, the ‘50s were still mono, but with this new music you had grooves, and you got down and dirty."
In fact, Garfunkel was such a loyal listener to Freed's show that he even remembers one fateful broadcast when a new term was coined, one which would rapidly travel across the globe. "I was listening when Alan Freed said, ‘I’m gonna call it rock ‘n’ roll, because that’s what it is,'" he says. "And that was it, because it really summed up the music we were hearing, the grooves that got to us. It’s lovemaking after midnight."
Garfunkel developed his love of music early, ever since his father exposed him to the famed Italian opera star Enrico Caruso. "From the time I was five years old, I've been a devoted music man," he says. "If there was melody and a strong voice behind it, I loved it and wanted to sing it. Of course, once I heard the great rhythm and blues songs, I was carried right away. They blew away corny, buttoned-down Eisenhower America and added danceable music that we kids thought was really the happening stuff. And we were right. It was an export that the entire world fell in love with."
With his Forest Hills High School friend Paul Simon, Garfunkel formed the duo Tom and Jerry. Inspired by The Everly Brothers, the two recorded a song called Hey, Schoolgirl, which clicked with the public in 1957. When other attempts to hit the charts failed, the two drifted apart for several years, but they reunited in the early '60s. Signed by Columbia Records, the two rechristened themselves Simon & Garfunkel and recorded the classic folk album Wednesday Morning, 3 AM. A rock 'n' roll version of their song The Sound Of Silence (with electric guitars, bass and drums added by producer Tom Wilson) took the world by storm in 1966, and for the next few years, Simon & Garfunkel ruled the pop charts, turning out a series of albums that rivaled those by The Beatles in terms of melodic reach and lyrical depth.
"I had a lot of fun making albums," Garfunkel says. "To be honest, I was chasing The Beatles – once there was Rubber Soul and Revolver, I saw the model. Paul and I were in love with the 12-song album and how we could work with this new thing – how to sequence it, how to put a nice cover on it and make it an entity. On the other hand, what’s wrong with a great three-minute and fifty-second song? You can’t say there’s anything less exciting. River Deep, Mountain High by Ike & Tina Turner – who needs 11 other songs?”
While he occasionally reunites with Simon, Garfunkel has, over the years, established himself as true renaissance man – he's logged numerous Top 10 solo hits, has acted in an impressive collection of notable films (nabbing a Golden Globe nomination for Carnal Knowledge) and released a well-received book of poetry called Still Water in 1989. Currently, he's touring the US for the first time in four years (click here for dates and cities) and has just announced UK tour dates for September (click here and here for more info).
On the following pages, Garfunkel discusses what he considers to be 10 "life-changing" records.