Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme [PSR&T] was the third studio album from Simon & Garfunkel [S&G] and was released in October 1966. Compared to their earlier albums which were mostly rush jobs to capitalize on the growing popularity of folk music, this time the record company gave S&G significant freedom and control during the album’s creation.
I heard “Scarborough Fair / Canticle” at a friend’s house for the first time and was intrigued by the simple acoustic music and the harmonious mingling of the vocals and melody. While I continued to explore other S&G albums, “Scarborough Fair” remains the perennial favourite.
Poetry Set to Acoustic Melodies
The album opens with “Scarborough Fair / Canticle.” A lovely song that sets the tone for the album. S&G combine a traditional English folk song “Scarborough Fair” with an earlier anti-war song composed by Simon called “The Side of a Hill” [rechristened as “Canticle.”] The two songs and the two singers combine beautifully to bring out multiple meanings – the grief of a person who has passed away and can now only be reunited with his or her lover if certain impossible tasks are completed [“make a cambric shirt with no seams or needles work, find an acre of land between saltwater and sea strands”] and the stoic silence of soldiers being called to fight in a war for a cause that they have long forgotten.
The next song “Patterns” continues the questioning of life – Are we caught like “rats in a maze?” What can we control in life? – Our birth, skin colour, anything at all, or are we stuck till death? After the first two heavy numbers, appears the breezy “Cloudy” where they sing about taking time out, taking things lightly – thoughts are like clouds, float in & out of our minds, no borders, no boundaries – “They don’t know where they are going and neither do I.” S&G convey that even with all the grief, lack of control over life, and ever-changing thoughts/desires we can still enjoy the sights, sounds of nature, and arts, etc.
In “Homeward Bound” Simon captures the feelings of all the homesick individuals who miss their personal space – migrants, refugees, and soldiers fighting wars overseas. Garfunkel could be singing for any of us “Every day’s an endless stream of cigarettes & magazines/ and each town looks the same to me, the movies and the factories.” The need of every person to be themselves without any pretence and have loving relationships is expressed very well. “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” is the song of the album for me. Simon’s poetry and Garfunkel’s playful singing captures the thought – life is short, everything changes. The only way is to live in the moment, at least for a brief time with – “No deeds to do, no promises to keep.” Yes, despite everything, this life is groovy.
Soaring Vocals, Erudite Lyrics
Moving on to “The Dangling Conversation” which is a pensive, thoughtful song on the troubled relationship between two individuals/lovers. When I first heard it I thought it was profound poetry about a couple growing apart but now I feel a young Simon was going through a particularly bad phase in a romance or was it about the breakdown between Simon and Garfunkel themselves? As people who grow old together could develop different tastes/hobbies and may not talk so much. It is still great poetry though “we note our place with bookmarkers/ that measure what we lost.”
“The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine” is a heavy rock and roll number, sarcastic on prevailing consumerism where folks may buy the above machine to solve all their life problems – low self-esteem, financial trouble, and love difficulties. “Flowers Never Bend with the Rainfall” is a short song where Garfunkel sings about the contradiction where we know life is short but we still pretend that life will never end.
“A Simple Desultory Philippic (Or How I was Robert McNamara’d into Submission)” is a parody [Desultory Philippic means a random tirade] of 1960’s pop culture and specifically of Bob Dylan’s writing & music [Simon imitates Dylan both vocally and with the harmonica]. It is quite different in tempo from the other songs and is a fun listen with lines like “nearly branded communist, cause I am left-handed.” Garfunkel’s fantastic vocals blend with Simon’s excellent acoustic guitar in “For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her” to give us a soft, sweet song about the yearning/dreaming for love.
The album comes full circle with “7 O’Clock News/Silent Night” where a Christmas carol is combined with a daily news report. While the Christmas carol conveys tenderness, love and peace, the news report covers death, destruction, discrimination, and the civil rights protest. A reminder by S&G of both the sublime heights and despairing depths of human capability.
A Thing of Timeless Beauty
In PSR&T, S&G were able to create beautiful music with amazing vocals, wide-ranging themes, and thought-provoking poetry that seems relevant even today. S&G were a special duo in the way that they combined to create harmony and magic which is unique.
There was a dispute about “Scarborough Fair” which is an English folk song but was credited on the album to Simon & Garfunkel as the co-writers.
The single was a hit across the world and peaked at number 4 on the Billboard Pop Album chart.
PSR&T was certified triple platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).