Kathy’s Song (Songbook version) – Paul Simon

Managed to score tickets for Paul Simon’s farewell gig in Hyde Park this summer. To celebrate, here’s a look at one of his most beloved early songs. If you enjoy this post, you might like this old one too:

Paul Simon’s first solo record was not his self-titled album from 1971, made in the wake of his split from Art Garfunkel (and one of my favourite records ever). The first album to be released by Paul Simon as a solo artist was 1965’s The Paul Simon Songbook, recorded in London, released in the UK only, and deleted from catalogue at his own request in 1969, at which point he and Garfunkel were among the biggest stars in the world of music, following the back-to-back triumphs of the Graduate soundtrack and Bookends.

In 1964 and 1965, Simon made several trips to the UK on his own, to tour provincial theatres and folk clubs. While he and Garfunkel had already released two albums by January 1965, they weren’t available in the UK. Sounds of Silence would not be released in the UK until 1968, and was available on import only when Simon came over on his solo tours. So the UK arm of Columbia Records (named, confusingly, CBS – confusing because CBS stands for Columbia Broadcasting System, the parent company of the American Columbia Records label of which CBS was the UK offshoot) decided to capitalise on Simon’s growing popularity by having him bash out a quickie album in a cheap studio for UK release only.

Simon cut 12 songs for the record in an upstairs studio on New Bond Street. Compared to his lavish albums with Garfunkel, which were meticulously recorded and produced by the pair’s genius engineer and guiding hand Roy Halee, The Paul Simon Songbook was a low-key, lo-fi affair. Songs were recorded in just a couple of takes each with one microphone, with Simon playing and singing live and minor flubs left in. This is how countless albums by the UK folk scene’s big names were recorded (live to tape, usually in an afternoon), but it’s fascinating to hear immortal Simon songs like I Am a Rock, The Sound of Silence and Kathy’s Song in this more intimate, less controlled setting, the balance favouring his voice over his guitar playing. And of course it’s fascinating in an alternate-history kind of way, too – this is what his records might have sounded like throughout his whole career if he’d stayed at the level of a Davy Graham, Bert Jansch or Jackson C Frank, beloved only by a cult audience and subsisting on the proceeds of small gigs more than from the sales of albums.

Kathy’s Song is one of Simon’s finest early compositions, one of his most deeply felt and most mournful. Simon met Kathy Chitty and the Railway Inn folk club in Brentwood, Essex, in 1964 and was smitten. They began a relationship and are pictured together on the cover of The Paul Simon Songbook, sitting cross-legged on a wet cobbled street, playing with puppets. If that sounds a bit precious and twee, well, Simon was a bit precious and twee in those days. The main fault of early S&G was the duo’s relentless ra-ra earnestness, which clashed with and undercut their wish to be seen as intelligent and bohemian. Yet Simon’s affection for Chitty was real enough; she reappears in one of his greatest songs, America, and he was hit hard when she ended their relationship. While travelling around on tour with him in the US, she realised how big he and Garfunkel were becoming off the back of The Sound of Silence and she wanted nothing to do with that life.

So she returned to England and now lives in a village in Wales. Simon re-recorded Kathy’s Song for the S&G album Sounds of Silence and went on to become one of the best-selling artists of all time. The first version of Kathy’s Song captures him at a moment before he chose the life of a star over the life of a folk singer whose heart lay not just in England, but in my own county of Essex.

The Paul Simon Songbook was recorded at Levy’s Sound Studios. If the history of recording technology interests you, or of the British music industry generally, read this article by a former mastering engineer at the studio.

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2 thoughts on “Kathy’s Song (Songbook version) – Paul Simon

  1. jeichenlaub1952

    Hello Ross,

    Brilliant! Thank you for sharing this and your music. It was quite by accident that I came across your blog site (I actually have one of my own that nobody visits), but yours popped up as I looked up information on Kathy Chitty in some long-put-off research on Paul Simon.

    As I age (now 67), I take more time to think about HOW AND WHY the songs I’ve loved for so many years were created; what was the catalyst for them, and so forth. My desire to be able to sit down with the artist/s and just talk about what it means/meant to have listened to certain ones of the many, many songs that I’ve learned over the years, and to just hear the stories and to comment on the realities and impact of each of them. Well, like everyone who loves the music; it’s all just a fantasy.

    Regardless; I write as I listen to Last Swallow and the other songs you have on your intro page and I can’t help being a bit jealous. Despite my age, I continually grow in appreciation of performers like yourself who bring so much to the lives of others, and, by the way, I love your music and have bookmarked your website. Thank you for sharing them. I have played (around with) guitar and singing since I was 12 years old, but never fancied myself good enough to be a performer, but I semi-learn the songs I like/love and perform them in my den for myself and my wife, Kate. My current weapons of choice are my Taylor, Big Baby acoustic, and I have a Washburn electric flat body. Not good at either one but I bet I would sound GREAT if I could only take them into the shower with me! 🙂

    Anyway…apologies for the boring accolades and tripe. I wish you the best and hope you find a long successful career doing what you love most, and again, thanks for sharing your pages, there are plenty more to read!

    Best regards, James / Ormond Beach, FL. US (jeichenlaub1952@gmail.com)
    http://www.oakleaves.me

    Reply
    1. rossjpalmer Post author

      Hi James,

      Thank you so much! I’m so very touched to read this, and thank you for taking the time to read, to listen and to leave such a kind comment. Trust me: I’ll be visiting your blog now that I know about it!

      Like you, I’m fascinated by the hows and whys of music (particularly the how) creation. I guess everyone who ever writes about music is. I’m not sure I’d ever have the nerve to talk to any of the artists I admire about what they do, though! I think I’d be too intimidated. I just love writing about it and talking to fellow fans. That’s the thing I love the most, I think, which is why it means so much when someone who’s read something I’ve written takes time out to share their thoughts with me.

      Thank you again for listening to my songs. It really means a lot. There’ll be some more coming soon, hopefully. My partner Melanie and I are recording an EP together, and I’m working on the final mixes for a full album at the moment. For what it’s worth, I think a lot of the best music gets made in dens, on porches and around kitchen tables, so I reckon you’ve got the best of it. 🙂 Keep on playing!

      Thanks again, James. All the best,

      Ross

      Reply

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