The Sound of Silence (Original Version from 1964)
The Sound Of Silence
Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Within the sound of silence
In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone
‘Neath the halo of a street lamp
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence
And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never shared
No one dared
Disturb the sound of silence
“Fools,” said I, “you do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you”
But my words like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence
And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its 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 sound of silence”
The Sound of Silence
This is the original version from 1964 from the album “Wednesday Morning, 3 AM.” Just Simon’s guitar and the vocals. The famous version was released in 1966. After “Wednesday Morning, 3 AM” flopped, they split up. Without either their knowledge, electric guitars and drums were added and that version of The Sound of Silence became very popular, reaching #1 on the charts in America on New Years Day, 1966. Because of this, Simon and Garfunkel teamed up again and created three more studio albums, one of which one a Grammy award for album of the year and song of the year (Bridge Over Troubled Water).
“The Sound of Silence“, originally “The Sounds of Silence“, is a song by the American music duo Simon & Garfunkel. The song was written by Paul Simon over a period of several months in 1963 and 1964. A studio audition led to the duo signing a record deal with Columbia Records, and the song was recorded in March 1964 at Columbia Studios in New York City for inclusion on their debut album, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M..
Released in October 1964, the album was a commercial failure and led to the duo breaking apart, with Paul Simon returning to England and Art Garfunkel to his studies at Columbia University. In the spring of 1965, the song began to attract airplay at radio stations in Boston, Massachusetts, and throughout Florida. The growing airplay led Tom Wilson, the song’s producer, to remix the track, overdubbing electric instrumentation. Simon & Garfunkel were not informed of the song’s remix until after its release. The single was released in September 1965.
The song hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for the week ending January 1, 1966, leading the duo to reunite and hastily record their second album, which Columbia titled Sounds of Silence in an attempt to capitalize on the song’s success. The song was a top-ten hit in multiple countries worldwide, among them Australia, Austria, West Germany, Japan and the Netherlands. Generally considered a classic folk rock song, the song was added to the National Recording Registry in the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important” in 2013 along with the rest of the Sounds of Silence album.
Origin and original recording
Simon and Garfunkel became interested in folk music and the growing counterculture movement separately in the early 1960s. Having performed together previously under the name Tom and Jerry in the late 1950s, their partnership had since dissolved when they began attending college. In 1963, they regrouped and began performing Simon’s original compositions locally in Queens. They billed themselves “Kane & Garr”, after old recording pseudonyms, and signed up for Gerde’s Folk City, a Greenwich Village club that hosted Monday night performances. In September 1963, the duo performed three new songs, among them “The Sound of Silence”, getting the attention of Columbia Records producer Tom Wilson, who worked with Bob Dylan. Simon convinced Wilson to let him and his partner have a studio audition, where a performance of “The Sound of Silence” got the duo signed to Columbia.
The song’s origin and basis remain unclear, with multiple answers coming forward over the years. Many believe that the song commented on the John F. Kennedy assassination, as the song was released three months after the assassination. Simon stated unambiguously in interviews however, “I wrote The Sound of Silence when I was 21 years old”, which places the timeframe firmly prior to the JFK tragedy, with Simon also explaining that the song was written in his bathroom, where he turned off the lights to better concentrate. “The main thing about playing the guitar, though, was that I was able to sit by myself and play and dream. And I was always happy doing that. I used to go off in the bathroom, because the bathroom had tiles, so it was a slight echo chamber. I’d turn on the faucet so that water would run (I like that sound, it’s very soothing to me) and I’d play. In the dark. ‘Hello darkness, my old friend / I’ve come to talk with you again’.” In a more recent interview, Simon was directly asked, “How is a 21 year old person thinkin’ about the words in that song?” His reply was, “I have no idea.” According to Garfunkel, the song was first developed in November, but Simon took three months to perfect the lyrics, which he claims were entirely written on February 19, 1964. Garfunkel once summed up the song’s meaning as “the inability of people to communicate with each other, not particularly internationally but especially emotionally, so what you see around you are people unable to love each other.”
To promote the release of their debut album, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M., the duo performed again at Folk City, as well as two shows at the Gaslight Café, which went over poorly. Dave Van Ronk, a folk singer, was at the performances, and noted that several in the audience regarded their music as a joke. “‘Sounds of Silence’ actually became a running joke: for a while there, it was only necessary to start singing ‘Hello darkness, my old friend…’ and everybody would crack up.” Wednesday Morning, 3 AM sold only 3,000 copies upon its October release, and its dismal sales led Simon to move to London, England. While there, he recorded a solo album, The Paul Simon Songbook (1965), which features a rendition of the song, titled “The Sounds of Silence”.
The original recording of the song is in D♯ minor, using the chords D♯m, C♯, B and F♯. Simon plays a guitar with a capo on the sixth fret, using the shapes for Am, G, F and C chords. The vocal span goes from C♯4 to F♯5 in the song.
Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. had been a commercial failure before producer Tom Wilson was alerted that radio stations had begun to play “The Sound of Silence” in spring 1965. A late-night disc jockey at WBZ in Boston began to spin “The Sound of Silence” overnight, where it found a college demographic. Students at Harvard and Tufts University responded well, and the song made its way down the East Coast pretty much “overnight”, “all the way to Cocoa Beach, Florida, where it caught the students coming down for spring break.” A promotional executive for Columbia went to give away free albums of new artists, and beach-goers only were interested in the artists behind “The Sound of Silence”. He phoned the home office in New York, alerting them of its appeal. An alternate version of the story states that Wilson attended Columbia’s July 1965 convention in Miami, where the head of the local sales branch raved about the song’s airplay.
Folk rock was beginning to make waves on pop radio, with Bob Dylan‘s “Like a Rolling Stone” and the Byrds‘ “Mr. Tambourine Man” (also a Dylan song) charting high. Wilson listened to the song several times, considering it too soft for a wide release. Afterwards, he turned on the Byrds’ “Turn! Turn! Turn!“, which gave him the idea to remix the song, overdubbing rock instrumentation.[dubious – discuss] He employed musicians Al Gorgoni (and Vinnie Bell) on guitar, Bob Bushnell on bass, and Bobby Gregg on drums. The tempo on the original recording was uneven, making it difficult for the musicians to keep the song in time. Engineer Roy Halee employed a heavy echo on the remix, which was a common trait of the Byrds’ hits. The single was first serviced to college FM rock stations, and a commercial single release followed on September 13, 1965. The lack of consultation with Simon and Garfunkel on Wilson’s remix was because, although still contracted to Columbia Records at the time, the musical duo at that time was no longer a “working entity”. It was not uncommon at the time for producers to add instruments or vocals to previously existing recordings and re-release them as new entities.
In the fall of 1965, Simon was in Denmark, performing at small clubs, and picked up a copy of Billboard, as he had routinely done for several years. Upon seeing “The Sounds of Silence” in the Billboard Hot 100, he bought a copy of Cashbox and saw the same thing. Several days later, Garfunkel excitedly called Simon to inform him of the single’s growing success. A copy of the 7″ single arrived in the mail the next day, and according to friend Al Stewart, “[Paul] was horrified when he first heard it … [when the] rhythm section slowed down at one point so that Paul and Artie’s voices could catch up.” Garfunkel was far less concerned about the remix, feeling conditioned to the process of trying to create a hit single: “It’s interesting, I suppose it might do something, It might sell,” he told Wilson.
“The Sound of Silence” first broke in Boston, where it became one of the top-selling singles in early November 1965; it spread to Miami and Washington, D.C. two weeks later, reaching number one in Boston and debuting on the Billboard Hot 100.
Throughout the month of January 1966 “The Sound of Silence” had a one-on-one battle with The Beatles’ “We Can Work It Out” for the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100. The former was No. 1 for the weeks of January 1 and 22 and No. 2 for the intervening two weeks. The latter held the top spot for the weeks of January 8, 15, and 29, and was No. 2 for the two weeks that “The Sound of Silence” was No. 1. Overall, “The Sound of Silence” spent 14 weeks on the Billboard chart.
In the wake of the song’s success, Simon promptly returned to the United States to record a new Simon & Garfunkel album at Columbia’s request. He later described his experiences learning the song went to No. 1, a story he repeated in numerous interviews:
I had come back to New York, and I was staying in my old room at my parents’ house. Artie was living at his parents’ house, too. I remember Artie and I were sitting there in my car one night, parked on a street in Queens, and the announcer [on the radio] said, “Number one, Simon & Garfunkel.” And Artie said to me, “That Simon & Garfunkel, they must be having a great time.” Because there we were on a street corner [in my car in] Queens, smoking a joint. We didn’t know what to do with ourselves.
For his part, Garfunkel had a different memory of the song’s success:
We were in L.A. Our manager called us at the hotel we were staying at. We were both in the same room. We must have bunked in the same room in those days. I picked up the phone. He said, ‘Well, congratulations. Next week you will go from five to one in Billboard.’ It was fun. I remember pulling open the curtains and letting the brilliant sun come into this very red room, and then ordering room service. That was good.”
In 1999, BMI named “The Sound of Silence” as the 18th most-performed song of the 20th century. In 2004, it was ranked No. 157 on Rolling Stone‘s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, one of the duo’s three songs on the list. The song is now considered “the quintessential folk rock release”.
In popular culture
When director Mike Nichols and Sam O’Steen were editing the 1967 film The Graduate, they initially timed some scenes to this song, intending to substitute original music for the scenes. However, they eventually concluded that an adequate substitute could not be found and decided to purchase the rights for the song for the soundtrack. This was an unusual decision for the time, as the song had charted over a year earlier and recycling established music for film was not commonly done.
With the practice of using well-known songs for films becoming commonplace, “The Sound of Silence” has since been used for other films, such as Kingpin (1996), Old School (2003), Bobby (2006), Watchmen (2009), and Trolls (2016). In the German TV movie Ein Drilling Kommt Selten Allein the song was sung by grandparents to calm down crying triplets. It appeared on the fourth season of the television series Arrested Development in 2013 as a running gag of characters’ inner reflections. It was also used as part of the soundtrack of episode 4 of the 2017 documentary on the Vietnam War by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick
The Rush song “The Spirit of Radio” ends with a satirical homage to the final lines of “The Sound of Silence”: “For the words of the profits were written on the studio wall, concert hall, and echoes with the sounds of salesmen”.
Charts and certifications
|US Billboard Hot 100||54|
|US Cash Box Top 100||2|
|Preceded by |
“C C C” (ja) by The Tigers (ja)
|Japanese Oricon Singles Chart number-one single |
September 9 – 16, 1968
|Succeeded by |
“Koi no Kisetsu” (ja) by Pinky & Killers (ja)
|Preceded by |
“Over and Over” by The Dave Clark Five
|Billboard Hot 100 number-one single |
January 1, 1966
|Succeeded by |
“We Can Work It Out” by The Beatles
|Preceded by |
“We Can Work It Out” by The Beatles
|Billboard Hot 100 number-one single |
January 22, 1966
|Succeeded by |
“We Can Work It Out” by The Beatles
|“The Sound of Silence”|
|Single by Disturbed|
|from the album Immortalized|
|Released||December 7, 2015|
|Disturbed singles chronology|
A cover version was released by American heavy metal band Disturbed on December 7, 2015. A music video was released on December 7, 2015. Their cover hit number one on the Billboard Hard Rock Digital Songs and Mainstream Rock charts, and is their highest-charting song on the Hot 100, peaking at number 42. It is also their highest-charting single in Australia, peaking at number 4.
David Draiman sings it in the key of F#m. The chord progression is F#m, E, D, A. The first two verses are almost an octave lower than the original and jumped up an octave for the last three verses. His vocal span goes from E2 to A4 in scientific pitch notation.
In April 2016, Paul Simon endorsed the cover. Additionally, on April 1, Simon sent lead vocalist Draiman an email praising Disturbed’s performance of the rendition on American talk show Conan. Simon wrote: “Really powerful performance on Conan the other day. First time I’d seen you do it live. Nice. Thanks.” Draiman responded, “Mr. Simon, I am honored beyond words. We only hoped to pay homage and honor to the brilliance of one of the greatest songwriters of all time. Your compliment means the world to me/ us and we are eternally grateful.” As of September 2017, the single had sold over 1.5 million digital downloads and had been streamed over 54 million times, estimated Nielsen Music. The music video has over 327 million views on YouTube, while the live performance on Conan has over 70 million, making it the most watched video from the show.
|United States||2015||Loudwire||20 Best Rock Songs of 2016||1|
|10 Best Rock Videos of 2016||2|
|Chart (2016)||Peak |
|Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)||1|
|Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)||23|
|Canada (Canadian Hot 100)||40|
|Czech Republic (Rádio Top 100)||48|
|Germany (Official German Charts)||2|
|Germany (Airplay Chart)||28|
|Hungary (Single Top 40)||36|
|New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)||32|
|Portugal Digital Songs (Billboard)||1|
|Scotland (Official Charts Company)||8|
|Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)||12|
|UK Singles (Official Charts Company)||29|
|US Billboard Hot 100||42|
|US Hot Rock Songs (Billboard)||3|
|US Rock Airplay (Billboard)||8|
|US Alternative Songs (Billboard)||22|
|US Mainstream Rock (Billboard)||1|
|US Hard Rock Digital Songs (Billboard)||1|
|Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)||3|
|Germany (Official German Charts)||14|
|Australia (ARIA)||2× Platinum||140,000^|
|Austria (IFPI Austria)||Gold||15,000*|
|Canada (Music Canada)||Platinum||10,000^|
|New Zealand (RMNZ)||Gold||7,500*|
|Norway (IFPI Norway)||Platinum||10,000*|
|Sweden (GLF)||3× Platinum||120,000^|
|Switzerland (IFPI Switzerland)||Gold||15,000^|
|United Kingdom (BPI)||Silver||200,000|
|United States (RIAA)||3× Platinum||1,502,000|
|*sales figures based on certification alone |
^shipments figures based on certification alone
sales+streaming figures based on certification alone
Other cover versions
- Dutch singer Boudewijn de Groot included a Dutch translation of the song (“Het geluid van stilte”) on his self-titled 1965 debut album.
- In 1966, Spanish rock band Los Mustang recorded a Spanish-language cover of the song, entitled “El Ritmo Del Silencio”.
- Irish pop music trio The Bachelors recorded a cover version of the song in 1966, and this earned the group their last top 10 hit in both Ireland (#9) and the UK (#3). The original version by Simon & Garfunkel has never charted in either Ireland or the UK.
- In 1966, South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela included the song to his album Hugh Masekela’s Next Album.
- In 1967, Jamaican reggae bands The Soul Vendors and The Gaylads recorded a cover of the song.
- Jazz singer Carmen McRae covered the song for her 1968 album of the same name.
- Mercy released a version of the song on their 1969 album, Love Can Make You Happy.
- Swedish singer Anni-Frid Lyngstad recorded a Swedish-language cover of the song, entitled “En ton av tystnad”, which was featured on her 1971 debut album, Frida.
- Serbian and former Yugoslav acoustic music duo Vlada i Bajka recorded a Serbian language version of the song, “Zvuk tišine”, released on a single in 1971.
- Israeli duo The Parvarim recorded a Hebrew-language version on their 1972 LP The Parvarim Sing Simon & Garfunkel. The lyric was translated by Ehud Manor.
- Los Angeles punk band The Dickies recorded a cover of the song, released on a single in 1978.
- French singer Gérard Lenorman in his 1981 album D’amour, featured a rewritten lyrics of this song, and he named it “Chanson d’innocence”.
- In 1986, Stanley Jordan recorded an instrumental version on his Standards, Vol. 1 album.
- In the late 1980s, The Fools often covered “The Sound of Silence” at their live performances. One such performance was released on the band’s 1987 live album Wake Up… It’s Alive!!!. The album was re-released with more tracks in 1993 as Wake Up… It’s Alive!!! (Again).
- American heavy metal band Heir Apparent covered “The Sound of Silence” 1989 album One Small Voice.
- In 1990, Brazilian singers Leandro e Leonardo covered “The Sound of Silence”, re-written as the love song “É Por Você que Canto” (“It is For You That I Sing”). This version has since been re-covered by other groups.
- In 1996, Filipino singer Regine Velasquez interpolated the song as a “Prologue” and an “Epilogue” for her album Retro.
- In 1996, Icelandic singer Emilíana Torrini covered “The Sound of Silence”.
- In 1997, South African metal band The Awakening covered “The Sound of Silence” on their debut album Risen. Another version was recorded for their 2014 compilation album Anthology XV.
- In 1999, Gregorian covered “The Sound of Silence” on their album Masters of Chant.
- In 2000, Atrocity covered “The Sound of Silence” on their EP Sounds of Silence.
- In 2000, Nevermore covered “The Sound of Silence” on their album Dead Heart in a Dead World.
- In 2005, Italian singer Andrea Parodi, together with American guitarist Al Di Meola, covered the song, writing new lyrics in Sardinian language and renaming it Deo ti Gheria Maria (The Sound of Silence). This version is featured in his live album Midsummer Night in Sardinia.
- Italian classical singer Michéal Castaldo recorded an Italian version of this song on his 2010 album Aceto.
- In 2007, rock duo Shaw Blades covered “The Sound of Silence” on their second album, Influence.
- In 2007, New Zealand singer Brooke Fraser, released a live cover version on the deluxe edition of her album Albertine.
- In 2008, the band Ascension of the Watchers covered “The Sound of Silence” on their album Numinosum.
- In 2009, Bananarama covered “The Sound of Silence” on their tenth album Viva as an iTunes bonus track.
- In 2010, Polish singer Ania Dąbrowska covered “The Sound of Silence” on her album “Ania Movie”.
- In 2010, Sharleen Spiteri covered “The Sound of Silence” on her album The Movie Songbook.
- In 2010, Sufjan Stevens included lyrics from “The Sound of Silence” in his song “All Delighted People” from the album of the same name.
- In 2010, the duo Peixoto & Maxado recorded a smooth ska version of “The Sound of Silence” on their album “I Wanna Shoyu”
- In 2011, Phil and Tim Hanseroth covered “The Sound of Silence” on Brandi Carlile‘s album Live at Benaroya Hall with the Seattle Symphony.
- In 2011 Kina Grannis covered “The Sound of Silence” on the deluxe edition of her album Stairwells.
- In 2011, jazz guitarist Pat Metheny opened on his Grammy Award-winning solo cover album What It’s All About with “The Sound of Silence”.
- In August 30 of 2011, Bobaflex
released Hell In My Heart with their version of “The Sound of Silence” as track 15.
- Two of Celtic Thunder‘s principal singers Keith Harkin and Colm Keegan covered the song for their 2013 album Mythology.
- In 2013, husband-wife duo Jenny & Tyler recorded the song as a part of their cover album For Freedom, the proceeds of which they designated for the International Justice Mission.
- In 2015, Allison covered “The Sound of Silence” for the soundtrack in the 2015 French television series L’Emprise. The song charted on the official French Singles Chart, the SNEP.
- In 2015, James Blake covered “The Sound of Silence” and released the track on his official YouTube channel.
- British musician Passenger regularly plays the song live following his own song “Riding To New York”.
- In 2016, American Idol finalist Dalton Rapattoni covered the song on Top 5 night.
- A cover of this song was used on the TV series Timeless.
- In 2016, the movie Trolls featured a cover in its entirety by Anna Kendrick.
- In 2017, Jew in the City released a music video covering “The Sound of Silence” featuring The Maccabeats with visuals drawn from a reinterpretation of the lyrics, such as “People talking without speaking” and “the people bowed and prayed / To the neon god they made,” to refer to modern communications technology and mobile phone overuse.
- In February 2017, Todd Hoffman from Gold Rush released his own cover version on social media recorded by Black Diamond Recording Studios. The cover version went viral later on in the year and as of January 2018 had received over 6 million views.
- In March 2017, American a cappella artist Peter Hollens released a cover version on YouTube featuring Tim Foust of the band Home Free. As of February 2018, the video has reached over 2 million views.
- In early 2017 a cover version featuring young Canadian singer Jadyn Rylee was released on the compilation album “Your Songbook”, a collection of tracks recorded by German drummer Sina. As of March 2018 the YouTube video of this cover had reached over 7.5 million views.
- In 2018 Jess & Matt covered the song on their album Songs from the Village. It featured Chris Isaak.