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Album Review: Greatest Hits

Greatest Hits is the album that first got me hooked on Simon and Garfunkel. For the first four months of my fangirlism, this was the only S&G I knew, but it was enough to show me that I wanted to hear more. This albumís a mix of live tracks and studio tracks. Itís got all their well-known pieces, but itís missing some of their better works that didnít make it as hits. Hence the title, Greatest Hits. This album takes nothing from Wednesday Morning, 3 a.m., which is a shame, but the truth of the matter is that Wednesday Morning, 3 a.m. didn't have any hits.

Simon and Garfunkel look particularly weird on the cover art. Paul had been growing his hair out at the time Bridge Over Troubled Water was released, as seen on that album's cover art, but during the two years between Bridge and Greatest Hits, Paul had grown a mustache and let his hair grow to shoulder-length with a bushiness rivaling Art's. Topped off with a white beret, it's a little hard to tell that it's him.

On to the music.

This album starts off with one of the classics, "Mrs. Robinson." Its bounciness is a good way to start off an album. In fact, this album is generally good at those choices. Because I first listened to this album on a cassette rather than a CD, I got a little bit of the LP experience in having to switch sides to continue the album. So I'm especially aware of how nicely that transition's handled on here. "Scarborough Fair/Canticle" is a great choice for finishing off side one, with its slowness and gentleness, and side two picks up with "Homeward Bound," which feels like a fresh new beginning. Excellent selections for switching to the flip side.

Right, so I said that it's "generally good at those choices." Well, here's the exception. See, it's obvious that some effort was put forth to make this album flow when it was mixed; the applause at the end of "Feelin' Groovy" is faded into the beginning of "Sounds Of Silence," and the applause on "Homeward Bound" is overlapped into the album cut of "Bridge Over Troubled Water." Those are still good choices. But if you want an album to flow, you don't put "Cecilia" right after "Bookends," and you especially don't do it at the end of the album, when the listener's expecting more "Bookends"-style gentleness to finish it up. Granted, "Cecilia"'s a great song to close off an album, but not when you haven't been set up for it. The jarring contrast between the soft, sweet "Bookends" and the loud, lively "Cecilia" just doesn't do it for me. Of course, I'm also not pleased that they stripped "Old Friends" from "Bookends," but that's life.

Since it's mostly album tracks, there isn't much to be said outside of song selection and track order. But the four live tracks leave room for comment. I'm not sure where any of the live tracks are from. I've compared them to the versions from Lincoln Center '67, and none of them match up, but I do know that the live version of "For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her" is from a November 1969 concert. I don't always care for live tracks; mixed in randomly, as on this album, they seem awkward. These have been faded to remove too-long applause and any banter or introductions. I don't mind, since it reduces the awkwardness somewhat, but, for example, the end of "Kathy's Song" on here is so sterile that the cropping and fading is obvious. Live tracks are better suited to full-on compilations or as bonus tracks. Given that, these are some good choices.

"For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her" is lovely to begin with, and the nuances of a live performance make it even better. Whether live or in a studio, this song really serves to highlight the beauty of Art's voice.

"The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)" is as bouncy and cheerful as it's ever been. The track opens with audience laughter from something one of the boys said. Then there's some whispering between the two, the opening notes of the song, and more cheering from the audience, starting off with a woman's soft, gleeful "Aww!" and rising into applause. The song is quick and to the point, complete with smiles in their voices and scripted scatting at the tail end of the song.

I prefer live versions of "Homeward Bound" over studio versions, and this album has one of my favorites. It's fun and gentle, but even in the light way they sing it, you're aware of the meaning behind the words. With some songs, you get so caught up in the tempo and melody that you don't realize a song is sad or contemplative, but that's never a problem with "Homeward Bound."

With "Kathy's Song," we get a solo from Paul, one of the quintessential singer-songwriters of the middle and late twentieth century. I love the image of the rain carried all the way through the song, and the way the song - words and music alike - evoke pictures, sounds, and smells of a cool spring drizzle. It's also a chance to hear loving emotion in Paul's voice, since so often the only emotions we hear from him are cynicism, glee, sadness, and preachiness.

Overall, 3 out of 5 stars. For the most part, it's the big batch of songs that everyone recognizes anyway, and some of their other songs are better. Much as my entire fanhood of S&G owes its existence to this album, it could use a more varied trackset or a tighter sense of flow. It's nothing spectacular. But there's nothing terrible about it, either. Worth a listen, but if you're not a collector, shell out the extra $5 or $10 and get Best Of instead.

All reviews © 2000-03 Andrea L. Robinson.
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