“And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon God they made
And the sign flashed out it’s warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said
The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls
And whispered in the sounds of silence”
Taken from the album Wednesday Morning, 3AM
Also released on Sounds Of Silence, The Graduate: Original Soundtrack, Simon & Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits, The Concert In Central Park, Collected Works, 20 Greatest Hits, Old Friends, The Best Of Simon & Garfunkel, Tales From New York: The Very Best Of Simon & Garfunkel, Live From New York City 1967, The Essential Simon & Garfunkel, Old Friends: Live On Stage, Live 1969 and Watchmen: Original Soundtrack
I’m seeing a pattern here, that songs with surreal dream sequences in their lyrics are scoring high positions on this list. Maybe I like the slightly frightening escapism of it all, maybe I’m more impressed by deeper imagination. When it comes to films and TV shows I like real life, when it comes to music I like my real life with a heavy dose of metaphor and symbolism. Simon & Garfunkel’s classic ‘The Sound Of Silence’ does both of those very well.
The song makes very little literal sense, but is heavy on weird imagery and recounting of nightmarish visions. Verse one starts with the famous line “Hello darkness, my old friend”, setting the tone for the rest of the song. The next three sections detail three interconnected scenes, with the first being a seemingly harmless but strangely creepy dream of being alone on a street at night.
The second scene speaks of “ten thousand people maybe more” who are talking without speaking, hearing without listening, sharing songs written by the sounds of silence. The narrator tries to reach them through a frustrated rant but can’t break through the wall of silence, and he doesn’t succeed. For the finale, quoted above, the silence becomes a cult, with the God they have created telling them to look to the subways walls for inspiration and truth – sending them back to being human, to the very foundations of society. Interpretations can vary wildly for a song so complex and strange, but the feeling behind ‘The Sound Of Silence’, that vision it puts across so well, cannot be argued with.