When the singer’s gone, let the song go on

“All the things that we felt
Must eventually melt and fade
Like the frost on my window pane
Where I wrote ‘I am You,’
On Second Avenue.” — Tim Moore

At his vocal peak, Art Garfunkel had a way of finding the most in a song of romantic yearning or lost love. But whose emotions are such singers actually channeling, and what other stories might be lurking at the source?

Out of curiosity, I looked up the writers of some of Garfunkel’s most iconic solo recordings, to see what other songs I would find. Not surprisingly, the song with the most achingly lovely melody — “Traveling Boy” — was written by Paul Williams, well known for many iconic songs, including “Rainy Days and Mondays”, “Evergreen”, “We’ve Only Just Begun” and “The Rainbow Connection”.

Similarly, Garfunkel’s biggest hit — “All I Know” — was written by the great Jimmy Webb, who also wrote “By the Time I get to Phoenix”, “Up, Up and Away”, “Wichita Lineman”, “MacArthur Park”, and many other wonderful songs. So far no real surprises.

But then we get to the more interesting cases. “99 Miles From L.A.” was co-written by Albert Hammond, whom I am embarrassed to say I’d never heard of, considering that he also wrote or co-wrote such songs as “It Never Rains in Southern California”, “When I Need You”, “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before” and “The Air that I Breathe”, among others. You can see Hammond’s own performance of “99 Miles From L.A.” here. While he doesn’t have Garfunkel’s crystalline voice, I find his rendition more genuine and emotionally effecting.

Similarly, I had never heard of Tim Moore, the writer of “Second Avenue”, one of the most moving songs on Garfunkel’s Angel Clare album. While Garfunkel’s voice is lovelier, Tim Moore’s own recording is far more sad and moving. Alas, Art Garfunkel’s recording of this song, released shortly after Moore’s own version, knocked Moore’s recording off the charts, which arguably derailed Moore’s career.

Starting with almost any pop album containing songs not written by the singer, we can discover a vast web of talent, brilliant writers painting their own emotional landscapes in song. Most of us end up associating those beautifully painted landscapes with others — the well known singers who have built careers expressing the emotional tales of these writers.

I guess that’s just the sad way of the world. You can live your life in the shadow of such geniuses, bathed in their work, yet never be aware of their existence. After all, how many people do you know who have heard of Jane Espenson?

One thought on “When the singer’s gone, let the song go on”

  1. 🙂

    BTW, the “Behind the Scenes” videos of Husbands are worth watching if you haven’t already.

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