The Coolies were an alternative band out of Atlanta during the mid- to late 1980s with a jokey sensibility reminiscent of generational confrères the Dead Milkmen, Stormtroopers of Death, Camper Van Beethoven, etc. They didn’t last too long, but they put out two albums before folding in 1989, and they were a beloved band in their hometown while they lasted.
Audaciously, the Coolies’ first album, dig..?, which came out in 1986, consisted entirely of nine punky Simon and Garfunkel covers and a bruising rendition of Paul Anka’s 1974 #1 hit “(You’re) Having My Baby.” The strategy was perfect for a band with its roots in punk but just maybe, without all that much to say. Recalling David Letterman’s early days, it was a viable strategy of the moment to throw real pencils through fake windows.
The Coolies’ charismatic frontman was Clay Harper, who later became a local entrepreneur, running the Fellini’s Pizza and La Fonda paella chains. dig..? came out on DB Recs, a thriving regional label probably best known for being the first company to release music by the B-52’s when it put out “Rock Lobster” in 1978; additionally, DB Recs put out Pylon’s first two albums and stuff by Bill Berry’s old combo Love Tractor.
Shortly after its release, Greil Marcus wrote aboutdig..? in the pages of the Village Voice, describing it as “a precise and gleeful mutilation of Paul Simon hits. ... it may be only copyright control that keeps the Coolies from taking on the townhouse jive of Graceland next, which deserves it more.”
Not all of the tracks from dig..? are on YouTube, but a few of them are available. The one I want to hear the most is “Mrs. Robinson,” of course:
I remember when this video went viral back in 2011. It’s of a young guy giving zero fucks while on a slingshot ride somewhere in Florida. Well, thanks to the Internet—where old memes and viral videos just won’t die—it’s reemerged again with a soundtrack of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence.”
The longer the video goes on—especially when the guy locks eyes with the camera—the more ridiculous it becomes. Stay with it.
I stumbled upon this fantastic image in an extremely thoughtful and well-written article by Richie Unterberger on “folk-rock findings” that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame posted a few days ago. After assessing some fascinating magazine ads featuring Bob Dylan, The Byrds, Gene Clark, and Janis Ian, Unterberger ends with a real corker, a full-page magazine ad from March 1967 promoting Simon & Garfunkel’s then-new single “At the Zoo,” off of their album Bookends, complete with cute little “panda-Paul” and cute little “lion-Art” in the foreground.
Here’s guessing Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel did not see or approve this ad before it got printed in March 1967. Maybe Garfunkel wouldn’t have minded being cast as the lion, but it’s hard to see Simon being pleased to be the panda.
I suppose Unterberger could have a point here, but I don’t think so. First of all, the song ain’t exactly “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” it’s “At the Zoo,” one of their more whimsical, not to mention kid-friendly, ditties. Second, Simon & Garfunkel weren’t idiots: they were and are creatures of commerce as well as of art, and they probably weren’t all that opposed to whatever approach would land them the biggest hit. (For the record, it reached #16 on the U.S. charts.)
Third, and most important, that image wasn’t limited to print advertising by any means—it was the cover of the single! Did they have no control over this image, after three successful albums and the Graduatesoundtrack?
Well, either way you should still read Unterberger’s article. He makes a lot of good points about the evolution of the marketing of folk-rock during that period.
Here’s a wonderful clip from the UK of S&G performing “At the Zoo” for what seems like a TV audience, but it’s obviously being performed live, not lip-synced.
Simon & Garfunkel live on NBC’s The Kraft Music Hall, as originally broadcast on January 3, 1968.
They perform “A Poem On The Underground Wall,” “For Emily Whenever I May Find Her,” “Overs,” “Anji,” “Patterns,” “The Sounds Of Silence” and “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” joined by Nancy Wilson and Victor Borge, host of The Kraft Music Hall that evening. They’re also joined by Paul Simon’s brother, Ed, on guitar during “Anji.”
This was obviously sourced from a scratchy 16mm kinoscope, but the quality is fine. It’s not like there’s a lot of live Simon & Garfunkel material from the 1960s, so this is a treasure.
God bless Tara for putting up with me because when I get obsessed about a certain artist, I can play the shit out of their albums. As I have previously written about, my darling, smart, funny gorgeous wife has put up with an ultra intense reggae jag (the soundtrack to the first two years of our marriage was Big Youth, Alton Ellis, Joe Higgs and King Tubby), as well as additional “phases” (that’s what she calls them) where In the past six months, I’ve practically worn out CDs of the second Faust album, Dylan and the Band’s Basement Tapes set, various Zappa, Kinks, Joni Mitchell records and scores of things from lesser-known bands that I won’t bother to list. I’m one of those idiots who can play the same album ten times in a row for ten days in a row. I wrestle it to the ground and pin it. Suffice to say, my girl has the patience of a saint and a very open mind about music!
For the past week, I’ve been playing a lot of ‘70s Paul Simon and Simon & Garfunkel albums. I don’t feel like that’s so much of a hardship on Tara because, hey, practically everyone likes Simon & Garfunkel and 70s Paul Simon, don’t they? (And if they don’t they’re idiots and they can go fuck themselves! And if you want to know how I really feel…).
The two things I’ve been listening to the most are the Quadraphonic versions of Bridge Over Troubled Water and Simon’s Still Crazy After All These Years. Both albums are justifiably considered classics and to hear them in a surround sound mix is simply stunning. Mind you, you can’t exactly pick these up in stores.
As I posted about last year when I was guest blogger at Boing Boing, there is a coterie of professional and amateur audiophiles who have been, um, liberating the quadraphonic mixes heard on 8-track and reel to reel releases in the mid ‘70s. They get pristine copies on Ebay (reel to reel tapes are obviously more desirable than 8-tracks for these purposes), play them on refurbished decks capable of handling split tracks, then take the tracks into ProTools and clean them up. Then they take those files into a DVD authoring software and create (often professional looking) menus. Then ISO files are made and uploaded to torrent trackers. All you have to do is download them, burn the files in Toast and now you have a multi-channel DVD-A discs you can play in your DVD player.
This is music that in many cases is literally being lost to time and technological change. Some classic rock albums that came out in the quad format have been put out as legit DVD-A releases (Tubular Bells and Black Sabbath’s Paranoid come to mind) but not most of them. These underground music enthusiasts who are recreating these buried treasures are doing a tremendous favor for deep fanboys and audiophiles, allowing them us to hear some truly incredible things that would have otherwise been trapped in obsolete formats.
Hearing Bridge Over Troubled Water in quad is something akin to a peak religious experience. I stand in the middle of the room—the “sweet spot”—and I CRANK IT UP. Soaking up the intense beauty of that song—and Art Garfunkel’s angelic voice—coming at you from all directions is almost overpowering. So gorgeous. So amazing.
Art Garfunkel must have the most comforting voice I’ve ever heard. Every time I get sick—I mean really sick, puking, feeling like you are going to die and feeling really, really sorry for yourself sick—I usually reach for Simon & Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits (and for whatever Freudian reason a bowl of “Life” cereal). Only Neil Young’s Harvest or Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks have the same calming effect on me. I can’t think of a single singer whose talents rival the purity of Garfunkel’s tenor voice. You can’t top him. He’s the very best of the very best. Paul Simon’s songs are great—some of the greatest American musical treasures—but they are much, much greater because of what Garfunkel brings to the table. Paul Simon is wonderful on his own, don’t get me wrong, but with Artie in the mix his music becomes transcendent.
Take My Little Town. If you’re reading this far(!) then chances are you’re probably planning to track this stuff down on the Internet. DO look out for the quad version of Still Crazy After All These Years. Obviously, this is a classic album, every track is a gem, with no filler at all. But… the BEST track is My LIttle Town. When Garfunkel is around Simon is just better and even in the stellar setting of this classic album, My Little Town proves the point. And it’s mind-blowing heard in surround sound.
When I was a kid, wanting desperately to be someplace where things were happening and where I’d meet interesting people, My Little Town spoke to me. No one wanted to get out of their town the way that I did. I have loved this song since I was 10-years-old, but man, lemme tell you, the multichannel mix of this song a powerful revelation.
Having “new” versions of these classic albums helped me get into them again and appreciate them anew. Why hasn’t Columbia or Warners ever reissued BOTW or SCAATY as a surround sound DVD-A releases? Because no one would buy them?!? BOTW was only a number one album in every country in the free world, selling over 25 million copies! SCAATY won a Grammy for best album. These multichannel versions obviously exist in their vaults. It seems crazy to me that the labels wouldn’t jump on the fact that—based on the evidence found on torrent trackers—fans would love to hear these. It’s just leaving money on the table, but even more importantly, most music fans won’t get to experience these Simon & Garfunkel classics as they can best be appreciated on modern sound systems.
From Simon & Garfunkel’s 1968 TV special sponsored by Kraft, here’s a great version of Patterns:
And I had to include this, too. Witness Simon and an extremely cute—and highly exuberant—little girl on Sesame Street duetting on Me & Julio Down by the Schoolyard. Like I say, Simon’s at his best with Artie, but he’s aces with little Linda here, too! “It’s against the law!”