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Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme is the third studio album by American music duo Simon & Garfunkel. Produced by Bob Johnston, the album was released on October 24, 1966 in the United States by Columbia Records. Following the success of their debut single “The Sound of Silence”, Simon & Garfunkel regrouped after a time apart while Columbia issued their second album, a rushed collection titled Sounds of Silence. For their third album, the duo spent almost three months in the studio, for the first time extending a perfectionist nature both in terms of instrumentation and production.

The album largely consists of acoustic pieces that were mostly written during Paul Simon’s period in England the previous year, including some numbers recycled from his debut solo record, The Paul Simon Songbook. The album includes the Garfunkel-led piece “For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her”, as well as “7 O’Clock News/Silent Night”, a combination of news reports of the day (the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, the death of comedian Lenny Bruce), and the Christmas carol “Silent Night”.

Many critics have considered it a breakthrough in recording for the duo, and one of their best efforts. “Homeward Bound” had already been a top five hit in numerous countries and “Scarborough Fair/Canticle” performed similarly. The album peaked at number four on the Billboard Pop Album Chart and was eventually certified triple platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.

Track Listing:

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Recorded Length
1. “Scarborough Fair/Canticle” Traditional, arr. by Simon, Art Garfunkel July 26, 1966 3:10
2. “Patterns” June 8, 1966 2:42
3. “Cloudy” Simon, Bruce Woodley June 10, 1966 2:10
4. “Homeward Bound” December 14, 1965 2:30
5. “The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine” June 15, 1966 2:44
6. “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” August 16, 1966 1:43

Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Recorded Length
1. “The Dangling Conversation” June 21, 1966 2:37
2. “Flowers Never Bend with the Rainfall” December 22, 1965 2:10
3. “A Simple Desultory Philippic (or How I Was Robert McNamara’d into Submission)” June 13, 1966 2:12
4. “For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her” August 22, 1966 2:04
5. “A Poem on the Underground Wall” June 13, 1966 1:52
6. “7 O’Clock News/Silent Night” Josef Mohr, Franz Gruber August 22, 1966 2:01

Review: Simon & Garfunkel’s first masterpiece, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme was also the first album on which the duo, in tandem with engineer Roy Halee, exerted total control from beginning to end, right down to the mixing, and it is an achievement akin to the Beatles’ Revolver or the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album, and just as personal and pointed as either of those records at their respective bests. After the frantic rush to put together an LP in just three weeks that characterized the Sounds of Silence album early in 1966, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme came together over a longer gestation period of about three months, an uncommonly extended period of recording in those days, but it gave the duo a chance to develop and shape the songs the way they wanted them. The album opens with one of the last vestiges of Paul Simon’s stay in England, “Scarborough Fair/Canticle” — the latter was the duo’s adaptation of a centuries-old English folk song in an arrangement that Simon had learned from Martin Carthy. The two transformed the song into a daunting achievement in the studio, however, incorporating myriad vocal overdubs and utilizing a harpsichord, among other instruments, to embellish it, and also wove into its structure Simon’s “The Side of a Hill,” a gentle antiwar song that he had previously recorded on The Paul Simon Songbook in England. The sonic results were startling on their face, a record that was every bit as challenging in its way as “Good Vibrations,” but the subliminal effect was even more profound, mixing a hauntingly beautiful antique melody, and a song about love in a peaceful, domestic setting, with a message about war and death; Simon & Garfunkel were never as political as, say, Peter, Paul & Mary or Joan Baez, but on this record they did bring the Vietnam war home.

The rest of the album was less imposing but just as beguiling — audiences could revel in the play of Simon’s mind (and Simon & Garfunkel’s arranging skills) and his sense of wonder (and frustration) on “Patterns,” and appreciate the sneering rock & roll-based social commentary “The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine.” Two of the most beautiful songs ever written about the simple joys of living, the languid “Cloudy” and bouncy “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy),” were no less seductive, and the album also included “Homeward Bound,” their Top Five hit follow-up to “The Sound of Silence,” which had actually been recorded at the sessions for that LP. No Simon & Garfunkel song elicits more difference of opinion than “The Dangling Conversation,” making its LP debut here — one camp regards it as hopelessly pretentious and precious in its literary name-dropping and rich string orchestra accompaniment, while another holds it as a finely articulate account of a couple grown distant and disconnected through their intellectual pretensions; emotionally, it is definitely the precursor to the more highly regarded “Overs” off the next album, and it resonated well on college campuses at the time, evoking images of graduate school couples drifting apart, but for all the beauty of the singing and the arrangement, it also seemed far removed from the experience of teenagers or any listeners not living a life surrounded by literature (“couplets out of rhyme” indeed!), and understandably only made the Top 30 on AM radio. “For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her” was a romantic idyll that presented Art Garfunkel at his most vulnerable sounding, anticipating such solo releases of his as “All I Know,” while “Flowers Never Bend With the Rainfall” was Simon at his most reflectively philosophical, dealing with age and its changes much as “Patterns” dealt with the struggle to change, with a dissonant note (literally) at the end that anticipated the style of the duo’s next album. — Bruce Eder

Schill Score: 7.75/10

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