I have written about a Simon & Garfunkel record previously (The Only Living Boy In New York) and, unusually for the waffle I vomit out onto the internet’s already overflowing sick bucket, it was read quite widely. I wouldn’t go so far as to describe it as popular though because even though a lot of people read it, almost nobody liked it. In fact, most of them hated it, and not even because I said that it was a record that practically personified stereotypical Jewish mothers from the 1940s. Well, that might have been part of it, but mainly everybody hated it because I pointed out that it was all about Paul Simon being passive aggressive towards Art Garfunkel’s acting career, despite sounding like some beautiful, haunting song about feeling lonely in a big city full of people. I mean, it is a bit, but Simon’s finger points squarely at Garfunkel and nobody else, so not really.
Even though this post is a churlishly rude dismissal of yet another of their records, it sort of isn’t as well. Relatively famous singer Tim Booth out of the band James particularly disliked my take on TOLBINY and informed me that I’d ‘ruined it’ for him and asked if I did that to all the records I liked.
In a way, I suppose I do a bit but the key part in Tim Booth’s statement to me is that he recognises that I do actually like TOLBINY. Just because it’s all about Paul Simon working through the Jewish mothers’ handbook of “How To Make Your Child Feel Guilty Forever”, it doesn’t mean that I don’t like it, or that I like it any less. In contrast to Tim Booth and everybody else who read it and hated it, if anything, I like it a bit more because of that.
The previous instalment of this almost entirely fatuous series consisted of my poking fun at Peter, Paul & Mary for being the mayors and mayoresses of squaresville for singing about how much they dig rock ‘n’ roll music, even though the lyrical undertones suggested a somewhat sarcastic ‘digging’ of it. Again, I was quite rude about IDRNRM and Peter, Paul and Mary but that also doesn’t mean that I don’t still enjoy the record, because I do.
To clarify even further, my enjoyment of both of those records is also genuine. There’s no ironic enjoyment because I think they’re crap. I don’t. I think they’re great.
What I don’t find great in terms of pop records is earnestness. And when I say earnestness, I’m talking about Bruce Springsteen, Celine Dion, Power Ballads in general and horseshit like that. I find records where the singer means it a bit too much to be far worse than valiant attempts that don’t quite make it because I think they show a bit of character, and that’s what I’m into.
So, We’ve Got A Groovey Thing Goin’ isn’t an especially earnest song, even though it tries to be which might explain my enjoyment of it to some degree.
In a lot of ways I’m pretty shallow. The pictures on the covers of records often hold undue influence over my enjoyment of them. The same thing goes for the titles. In this particular case, I enjoy on a shallow level two things about the title. First, I like the way they’ve spelled ‘groovey’ with a superfluous ‘e’. Ordinarily, things like that irritate me beyond what’s reasonable but in this instance, the fact that they don’t really know how to spell a (then) happening word just adds to the impression that Simon & Garfunkel are so ungroovy that they – a pair of literate college boys if ever there was – evidently aren’t. Second, the lack of the final ‘g’ on ‘going’ just adds to the sense of desperation. Not only are this pair decidedly ungroovey (cheers), but they’re trying a little bit too hard to emphasise their grooviness by adopting a bit of street pronunciation to their sexy lexicon.
I bought the album that this song appears on (Sounds Of Silence) for peanuts just before Christmas in 1994 second hand from Norman’s Place on Princes Avenue. At the same time, I also splashed out on all their other albums except Bridge Over Troubled Water and still got change out of a tenner. Norman had BOTW but I decided I wasn’t interested in that because I thought it was probably a bit MOR, which is odd because all Simon & Garfunkel records are a bit MOR. I always thought that the sort of people who were into Simon & Garfunkel were the sort of people for whom Bob Dylan was a bit radical. I don’t really know why I thought that. I suppose it’s because they’re a bit slicker than he was and Bridge Over Troubled Water was, I suppose I thought, the apotheosis of slick, MOR tail end of sixties. Which it is, I suppose. The other thing was that my Dad had “Million Copy Hits Made Famous By Simon & Garfunkel” by The Alan Caddy Orchestra & Singers (whom I referred to as “The Harry Shit Singers”) when I was a little kid and, while it was one of my favourite records of his (Glen Campbell’s Greatest Hits, which actually was by Glen Campbell, was the other one I really enjoyed), I later realised that my favourite songs on it weren’t the ones from Bridge Over Troubled Water, and there were quite a lot of them on that particular record, so I avoided it for years. When I finally got it, my favourite song on it was The Only Living Boy In New York, which I became a bit obsessed with. Which probably accounts for my having worked out what it was about, even though it didn’t dawn on me for several years after I finally got hold of the album it was on. Anyway, I was thinking about which Simon & Garfunkel records to buy and which to not buy and what swung Sounds Of Silence for me was, at least partially, the spellings of “groovey” and “goin’”. Which might give you an idea of how shallow I can be. That, and I was into I Am A Rock.
So, I was into the title even though I thought Paul Simon looked a bit of a prick with his college scarf tossed gaily over his shoulder on the cover – because I wasn’t into folk music, particularly college boys with college scarfs tossed gaily over their shoulders, especially those with a tendency to sing songs about how, “I was a coal miner in Newcastle…”
I picked the video I’ve linked to on this post based on the fact that I like a live performance of ill-advised rocking out for all sorts of reasons. As regards this song, I especially enjoy the go-go dancing at the start. I especially enjoy go-go dancing full stop. On the occasions that Mrs. Middlerabbit asks me if I want anything, my first answer is always, “Go-Go dancing, please,” and she always refuses, much to my disappointment. The other thing is that Paul Simon’s gaily tossed college scarf was clearly a key part of his look at this point in his career as he’s wearing it on this performance too, as is Artie who’s also pretending to play an electric guitar in a wind tunnel. Paul appears to have forgotten that this is a song about being dumped and sings like he’s won the shitty college scarf lottery. No wonder it was Artie who got the part in Catch-22, eh? The absolute best moment in this performance is Simon’s coquettish look over his shoulder at Garfunkel at 0.48 seconds in. Tony Curtis in Some Like It Hot, eat your heart out. Garfunkel just looks disappointed in him. The second best moment is the exact same moment on the second chorus, when Simon’s realised that Artie’s not playing along with his ingénue act. My favourite audience member is the girl with the blonde bob, standing and clapping, surly as you like, at Garfunkel’s left shoulder.
In a lot of ways, We’ve Got A Groovey Thing Goin’ is very similar to I Dig Rock ‘n’ Roll Music in that they’re both trying so terribly hard to be something that they’re just not. Like a squirrel acting like it’s a kettle or something, except animals don’t do that, do they? Maybe that’s the point. You know, animals operate on instinct and that’s about all they can do. People can act on instinct but they can also ignore that which they are at heart and pretend to be something different. To be honest, that’s not even true, it’s just something that people say. You get beta male walruses who pretend to be females and hang around in the harem in order to sneakily copulate and propagate their genes. It’s called Alternative Mating Strategies by psychologists and it incorporates quite a lot of instances of animals working against their nature, so yadda, yadda, eh? It’d be nice for me and my theory if it were really true, because then I could talk about the primal, animalistic energy of Rock ‘n’ Roll and how you can’t put it on, but it’s not. To be frank, I’m quite glad it’s not true because I can’t be arsed with any of those justifications for primal Rock ‘n’ Roll. Painted myself into a nice little corner there, didn’t I? Well done Middlerabbit.
Blah, blah, eh? Anyway, it starts off with decidedly unfunky drums, joined by an electric piano that tries and fails to give the impression of raw sexiness. It’s about as sleazy as Jeremy Corbyn’s allotment. A clipped rhythm guitar stabbing away twitchily like a primary school child who’s left it too late to go to the toilet drives it along and the bass sounds like it’s played by someone with a beard. In a bad way.
“Bad news! Bad news!” cry Paul and Artie in the first verse, aware of their impending dumping and attempting without success to approximate the feeling of being ditched by a girl who you don’t want to lose. Why’s that, eh? It’s not for me to suggest that neither of them had had a girlfriend up to that point, even though they look like the closest either of them has even been to going out with a girl is consoling one whose boyfriend is a twat. You know, in the hope of not being friendzoned this time. Actually, both of them had known ladies, as The Bible puts it, in which case they either weren’t that bothered about them or, if they were, couldn’t express anything approaching heartbreak when they were singing.
“Oh baby, baby, you must be out of your mind, don’t you know what you’re kicking away? We got a groovey thing goin’ baby. Got a groovey thing.” Artie almost sings ‘thang’, but seems to change his mind half way through as if it dawns on him slightly too late that he’s a Jewish architecture major in 1966 and not George Clinton in 1971. What throws me slightly is that they sing, “We got a groovey thing…” and not “We’ve got…” like the title reads. “We got…” sounds much more street than the (accurately punctuated) “We’ve got…” and despite singing it, they title it grammatically correctly.
Verse two and the justifying why they don’t deserve the boot begins: “…never done you no wrong…” adds a double negative to the jive-ass street slang that this pair of ladies men evidently use all the time. The pleading goes on until it reaches its peak with, “Always gave you good lovin’…” which is my favourite line in the whole song. I can imagine Art Garfunkel at a romantic, candlelit dinner for two, presenting roses and reciting poetry. I can imagine Paul Simon trying and failing to put his tiny coat over a girl’s shoulders at a pottery exhibition, but I’m afraid I struggle to imagine either of them – individually or collectively – giving some chick good lovin’. I know. It’s bad of me. It’s my loss, I’m sure but I’ve never claimed to have much imagination. It’s a relief in some ways, I can assure you.
Third and final verse and, at the risk of stereotyping Paul Simon as a man who spent too much time with his mother, he goes for the nuclear option of the guilt trip. “There’s something you ought to know… I can’t make it without you. No, no, no, no…”
Chorus to fade, the electric piano doing its best to sound like the shaking tush of a go-go dancer on a table on the Sunset Strip in 1965. And not really making it, to be honest.
Nobody’s going to rate We’ve Got A Groovey Thing Goin’ as Simon & Garfunkel’s finest two and a bit minutes. Structurally, musically and lyrically, it’s bland. There’s no middle eight, no instrumental break, no development of any themes, no nothing. It’s just another “please don’t leave me,” bit of filler on an album that followed in the wake of Bob Dylan’s electric punch to the face Like A Rolling Stone, using the same musicians but with absolutely none of the impact that Dylan’s material of time had.
Paul Simon’s enduring appeal, despite having written some lovely songs, is a mystery to me. I like Simon & Garfunkel a lot and I like nothing at all of his solo records. Especially Gracelands which, as far as I’m concerned, is one of the most cynical, worst records of all time. I can see that Simon and Garfunkel might have appeared to have some similarities with Bob Dylan in the mid-sixties, but it’s only superficial and a large part of him being lumped in with Dylan is the sound of the time on American folk rock records, of which Sounds of Silence as an album, is a touchstone.
Dylan, as Lennon said, got away with murder. Meaning, lyrically. And I suppose he did but even in his most gauche moments, he never plummeted to Simon’s sixth form wankery. In the 1980s, I quite liked some Lloyd Cole & The Commotions singles. Rattlesnakes in particular. My favourite description of Lloyd Cole was by Barbara Ellen, then of the NME, now of the glossy magazine in The Guardian, who wrote, “Lloyd Cole, the man with the worst A level results in pop.” I don’t even know if that’s true, but it should be. Lloyd Cole was sort of alright, but he had the same tendency as Paul Simon towards namedropping in songs, being lyrically clunky and failing to sing with anything approaching a feeling, unless that feeling was one of unjustified smugness. In the mid-eighties, if Morrissey was Bob Dylan, Lloyd Cole was Paul Simon.
There’s a couple of covers of this song, which range from fluffy easy listening versions that, if anything, make Simon & Garfunkel sound like Led Zeppelin, to a couple of modernish punky versions. My favourite is a roughly contemporaneous take on it by Ola & The Janglers.
This sounds like it’s going to be a freakbeat Hammond organ instrumental with farting, fuzzed up guitars and a drummer who loses interest in the arrangement after about fifteen seconds before dumping the first verse and going straight into the pleading second and third verses, the singer struggling manfully against the drummer who thinks he’s auditioning for a Free Jazz sextet. The Hammond organ player, evidently someone who listens to the drummer, does his best, but it’s a glorious mess that probably couldn’t have lasted much longer than the two minutes it manages.
And, as is my wont, having slagged everything about it off for the past two and a half thousand words, I’d now like to claim that, actually, I really like it. It’s fluff and it’s daft, but that’s its appeal. It tries to be something that its singers really can’t pull off and the fact that it tries so terribly, terribly hard to be sexy and streetwise means that it’s stymied from the first beat of the drums and there’s nothing that anybody can do about it because Simon & Garfunkel are the Action Men of folk rock, meaning they’ve got plastic underpants welded to their groins and the possibility of anything remotely sexy happening around either or both of them is absolutely non-existent. It’s not rock ‘n’ roll and it’s not drugs. What it is, is a period piece that contains absolutely nothing of the period except the trappings. It’s tomato sauce without chips. It’s a beautiful frame without a picture in it. It’s the Sistine Chapel without the ceiling.
Frankly, I don’t know what it is I like about this, despite trying to work it out for years, but I know I do, and that’s about the most perverse thing I can think of to say about it. Nice one.