Retro Dee is a regular contributor to The Grooveyard’s website, writing about music, fashion and other trends of the 1950s. Check out her blog, Retro Dee’s Guide to the Best Era Ever here, and her column here every Wednesday.
Hi everyone and Welcome to another edition of a segment I like to call “Musical Misconceptions.”
In this section, I write about songs, artists and groups that initially had me confused– sometimes for decades! As I learn more and more about the history of popular music, I find more and more things that surprise me. When it comes to music, the old adage “you learn something new every day” couldn’t be more true!
For this edition, I’ll be talking about an act that had me confused for most of my life, and just when I thought I had things finally straightened out, they surprised me once again! And that act is: Simon and Garfunkel.
They were popular before I was born, and as a child I just thought they were yet another harmony act, like The Everly Brothers. To me, there was very little difference between the two duos. They were 6 of one, a half-dozen of the other.
When I finally decided to learn about early Rock N Roll, what I already began to surmise was echoed in various articles I read: The Everly Brothers were Pioneers. They were a HUGE influence on later musical acts, especially Simon and Garfunkel. However, popular opinion (including my own) seems to be that Simon and Garfunkel could never come close to the impeccable harmonies of Don and Phil Everly. The brothers were seemingly born with the musical ability to read the other’s mind, like twins.
So, okay. I thought I had it all figured out: Don and Phil were Founding Fathers, while Paul and Art emerged some 11 years after, fashioning themselves after the inimitable Everlys. I was satisfied with that explanation, which I thought to be true and accurate…
One evening I was listening to The Grooveyard with Alan Seltzer on LIU Radio. He played a song from 1957 called “Hey Schoolgirl” performed by a duo called Tom and Jerry… Tom and Jerry actually being… (wait for it…) Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel.
How could they have been a duo in the 50’s? Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel had their very first hit in 1968. Right?
In 1957, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were, indeed, called “Tom and Jerry”. They changed their names in order to sound “less ethnic” (which is unfortunately something young stars were pressured into at the time). Art went as “Tommy Graph” while Paul went as “Jerry Landis”. And so the teen duo “Tom and Jerry” came to be.
On November 22, 1957, Tom and Jerry performed “Hey Schoolgirl” on American Bandstand to an excited teen-age crowd. This officially made Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel record stars, 11 years before “Mrs. Robinson” ever hit the airwaves.
No matter what the decade, regarding the nature of Paul and Art’s act, one thing seems to ring true: they did copy The Everly Brothers. To what degree might be arguable, however it is documented that young Paul and Artie wrote “Hey Schoolgirl” in the style of The Everly Brothers’ “Hey Doll Baby”. So closely was it based, that they struggled to recall the lyrics as they penned “Hey Schoolgirl”, using “Hey Doll Baby” like a template.
Although, it’s not such a strong argument when you consider that Don and Phil Everly didn’t write “Hey Doll Baby”, Titus Turner did. In fact, the song was first released by The Clovers in 1956. But never-the-less, it was The Everly Brothers’ version that inspired Paul and Artie to write “Hey Schoolgirl”.
“Hey Schoolgirl” peaked at Number 16 on the charts. Although excited with its success, Paul and Artie were not exactly the stuff Teen Idols were made of (this, they admitted themselves!) Unsure of the Rock n Roll World, they were reluctant to try to fit into it. And, just maybe, the world didn’t have room for them yet.
You might say, as a teen musical act, The Everly Brothers were just better: Better harmonization, better songs, better stage presence, better sex appeal. One might also say that if Tom and Jerry remained in the spotlight, the Everlys would have run roughshod over them. In the end, it appears that Paul and Art benefited from taking a hiatus and starting over many years later.
But I’m still left with the mind-boggling facts of a young Paul and Art becoming stars some 11 years before I thought they even saw the lights of the Industry… It will take me a while to accept this as part of history and not something out of an alternative universe.
Get one thing clear: I mean no disrespect towards Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel or any of their fans. They are perfectly talented men who had a perfectly good act in the 1950’s and beyond… Just don’t compare them to Don and Phil.
Thanks for listening, I hope you enjoyed this edition of Musical Misconceptions here on Retro Dee’s Guide to the Best Era Ever.
Voting continues in our annual Love Song Survey There’s two different polls, one for love songs of the 1950s, and one for love songs from 1960-1963. Pick 10 favorites from each group of years daily through January 30th at 10 PM. We’ll count down the results on our pre-Valentines Day show on February 13th. You can also write in other songs if your choice isn’t listed. Details are available here.
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