In 1964, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel got together and made Wednesday Morning, 3AM, a mixture of original Simon compositions and folk standards like 'Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream'.
It flopped, and Paul sloped off to England in disgust. There he played the folk circuit up and down the country's pubs and clubs, achieving moderate success, and there he cut an album called The Paul Simon Songbook, whose cover featured Paul and his English then-girlfriend, Kathy, squatting on a damp pavement playing with what I suspect may be gonks. For Paul, 'living in London in 1965 and having your girlfriend on the cover of your album' was the epitome of cool.
(Incidentally, even in these days of miracle and wonder when the real Peggy Sues and Dear Prudences have been extracted from the woodwork to have TV documentaries made about them, Kathy has never come forward or been traced. I often wonder about her: is she still alive? Have I sat next to her on the Tube? Does she give a secret smile when she hears Paul on the radio - or perhaps a secret sigh?)
Songbook features many songs that would go on to be Simon & Garfunkel numbers - 'I Am A Rock', 'Leaves That Are Green' and of couse 'Kathy's Song' - the original 'Simple Desultory Philippic' (Andy Warhol won't you please come home?) and a simplistic anti-war piece, 'The Side Of A Hill', which would mutate into the 'Canticle' part of 'Scarborough Fair'.
The album was produced by the UK arm of CBS. It sold reasonably well, but wasn't released in North America. Then a DJ back in New York slapped a drum track on top of the Simon and Garfunkel cut of 'The Sound Of Silence', played it on air, and the rest is history.
As the duo's fame spread, fans started clamouring for new material, or indeed old material. But Paul the perfectionist wouldn't allow a reissue of Songbook. Nor did he allow it to be released on tape when cassettes came in, nor on CD after that.
It was recorded in an hour, and is nowhere near as polished vocally or musically as later albums. But there's emotion and intensity in the performance, and for many fans the tracks represent the purest and best versions of these songs.
It's not quite the Holy Grail of the Simon collector; I got a copy fairly easily for about a tenner in the late '90s. It's probably one of the rarest records to have the words 'Paul Simon' on the cover (as opposed to, say, 'Tico and the Triumphs'), however.
Why Paul's sudden change of heart? I checked with alt.music.paul-simon, the repository of all PS knowledge (I may have made one or two posts myself) and apparently he approves of the release. Has he finally capitulated to his fans after almost three decades of whining? Has he mellowed enough to decide that the tracks aren't too cringeworthy after all? Or is it simply time to start thinking about the old retirement fund?
Whatever, I can't wait to hear the 20-year-old angry young Paul in crispy-clear audio.