Although the design is not the same, but I believe the same label in the United States, Sparks had their photograph done by Richard Avedon for their "Big Beat" album, who also took this iconic image of Simon and Garfunkel for "Bookends." After that, the comparisons end. Still, I never heard this album till I bought it yesterday at my fave record shop, Mono, bordering on Silver Lake/Echo Park. To be honest, the only reason why I bought it was for the song "A Hazy Shade of Winter," which has an incredible sense of energetic pop. Still, I know so many people who had this album in their home, yet, I totally ignore it when it came out. Either the music was too sophisticated for me, or their image was totally bland. Now, I find it quite interesting. And this is the only Paul Simon item in my collection as of now.
The beauty of the album is the arrangements but also the songwriting skills of Simon and the blending of both their voices. They must have used the studio as a laboratory of sorts. For sure, there is a Beatle influence that runs through the album, especially Sgt. Pepper. Side one is very much a concept narrative of childhood to old age - but so fragmented one can miss it. And I think it's rather a poor side of songs, except for their classic "America," which is awesome. Not as great as Bowie's live version of this song, it is still a work of mystery and yearning, that is very romantic. I find it very sincere in its mixture of early 1960s American fiction in that Richard Yates notion - everything is good till the disappointment which will happen shortly. You can sense it in that song.
Side two is the hits side. "Mrs. Robinson," my beloved "A Hazy Shade of Winter," and "At The Zoo." To hate "Mrs. Robinson is not really possible. Any songs that have 'hey hey' in it, are always good, if not classic pop songwriting. As this album was being recorded, somewhere within the five miles radius, Velvet Underground were making their second ("White Light White Heat") or third album. In theory, and for some odd reason, I think of the Velvets when I hear "Bookends." Lou Reed and Paul Simon are both hardcore New Yorkers, and both are observant songwriters. So the territory is the same, but perhaps the people are different in that landscape. But the time is the same, and I find that intriguing. Simon & Garfunkel, at least on this album, is not smooth, there are rough edges in their music. The arrangements have a lot of space - not everything is filled with sound. "At The Zoo" reminds me of a sad Lou Reed tune. At one time, they did share a record producer, the legendary and quite mysterious Tom Wilson. "Bookends" is very much a New York 'pop' album. Lovin' Spoonful, the Velvets - they cover the same territory - and it's fascinating how an artist portray that location and time.
- Tosh Berman