Think Too Much: The S&G Album That Wasn't

August 22, 1983. A packed concert at the newly constructed BC Place stadium in Vancouver, British Columbia. Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel are halfway through a set on the last leg of their North American tour, billed as “A Summer Night with Simon and Garfunkel.” 

The summer tour is the latest phase of a successful reunion that began with the 1981 Concert in Central Park. The next step is a new album, titled Think Too Much, Simon and Garfunkel’s first full-length studio collaboration since 1970’s Bridge Over Troubled Water.

The first half of the Vancouver concert has gone smoothly, packed with hits from “Cecilia” to “El Condor Pasa,” with a couple of new tunes and respective solo offerings thrown in; but things hit a slight bump in the road as the duo launch into the title track from the Think Too Much album: both miss their entrance and neglect to sing the first line of the song. Then one tries to sing the first line as the other attempts to catch up by singing the second. They are back together in time for the voices to blend on “The fact is you don’t think as much as you could,” which Simon follows with a spoken “huh…yeah.”

Twenty-six years ago, that simple “huh…yeah,” sounded like nothing more than a jokey acknowledgement of an onstage screw-up. Today, listening back to a bootleg recording of the Vancouver concert, the aside sounds loaded, perhaps rueful. Maybe that’s just a hindsight-tainted temptation to read too much into it, but the fact is that, on that summer night, Paul Simon had a lot on his mind. One thing weighing on him was the fate of the new Simon and Garfunkel album. Publicly, the Think Too Much LP was expected out following the tour; privately, it was dead in the water, and Simon and Garfunkel’s partnership, which had been on-again and off-again for almost three decades, was about to enter another “off-again” phase.

As 1982 turned into 1983, the reunion sparked by the Central Park show had looked less and less like a one-off thing and more like an ongoing partnership. The surest sign of this direction was the revelation that there was a new album in the works: Think Too Much, a studio collection of new material, Simon-penned songs to feature the classic Simon/Garfunkel vocal blend.

In some respects, the project was doomed from the start. The songs intended for the Think Too Much album hadn’t been written with Simon and Garfunkel in mind – they were written for Simon’s next solo LP, a follow-up to the unjustly overlooked One-Trick Pony. Immediately after the Central Park concert, Simon had started recording his new solo album. 

With Lenny Waronker co-producing, Simon recorded several of his news songs, including “The Late Great Johnny Ace,” “Song About the Moon” and “Allergies.”  Waronker left the project in 1982 after becoming president of Warner Bros.

In the meantime, the success of the Central Park concert brought demand for further reunion shows, and Simon and Garfunkel obliged, touring Japan and Europe in 1982. The success of the reunion, combined with pressure from Warner Bros, caused Simon to consider the idea of a new Simon and Garfunkel studio album. In interviews in the spring of 1982 Simon and Garfunkel were suggesting that a reunion album was a possibility. Simon was by this point roughly halfway through recording his solo album, so the logical route was to simply bring Garfunkel in and turn it into a Simon and Garfunkel album.

The reunion album project was fraught with tension from the beginning. One source of unease for Simon was the fact that this particular set of songs was very personal to him. 

“These new songs are too much about my life - about Carrie [Fisher] - to have anybody else sing them,” he told Playboy in 1984. Garfunkel countered that he understood the emotions behind the songs and that, as a singer, he could interpret them. Simon agreed to give it a try, on the condition that he would produce the album alone. On the duo’s earlier efforts, Simon shared production duties with Garfunkel and Roy Halee. Halee did reunite with Simon and Garfunkel to work on the new album, eventually credited as the album’s co-producer and chief engineer.

Simon’s demand for production autonomy frustrated Garfunkel, but he reluctantly agreed and then began the task of devising his own vocal parts for Simon’s new songs. This included some solo vocal parts – such as the bridges of “Cars Are Cars” and “Song About the Moon” – as well as the trademark harmonies. However, Simon’s new melodies didn’t lend themselves as readily to Garfunkel’s harmonies as their ‘60s counterparts had done. 

“[The songs] weren’t written for us both to sing,” Simon pointed out in a Spokane Chronicle interview conducted just before the 1983 tour kicked off. “We have to solve the problem of singing these songs with two voices that weren’t written with that in mind... They’re not as harmonically uncomplicated as they were in the ‘60s. Simply two-part doesn’t apply as much as it did then.”

Garfunkel took his time writing his vocal parts, to the point where Simon had already finished recording his own vocals and Garfunkel wasn’t ready, still wanting more time to work out his parts.  To make matters worse, Garfunkel countered Simon’s solo-production decree by requesting to record his vocal parts without Simon present in the studio. 

Eric Korte was one of a dozen or so engineers who worked on the Think Too Much/Hearts and Bones sessions, a second engineer, assisting Roy Halee.

”Art wanted more creative input, rather than just being a background singer on Paul’s songs,” says Korte, and to that end, Garfunkel “had booked some sessions to come up with his own vocal parts.” Korte recalls that at a playback session to review Garfunkel’s efforts, Simon didn’t seem thrilled.

“Paul was a super-perfectionist about what he wanted,” Korte says, “and he was in the mood to take his time on the project and try a lot of different stuff.”  As far as working with Garfunkel, “Paul was willing to give it a try, but he was in a different headspace.”

Korte recalls that the best moments came when Simon and Garfunkel got on the mic and sang together “That was very special,” Korte recalls. “When they went on mic together and Paul was in charge; but Art wanted to go beyond that and Paul just wasn’t digging it.”

Work dragged on over the course of a year or so. The goal was to get Think Too Much into record stores in advance of the summer 1983 North American tour. As the shows drew closer, it became increasingly apparent that Simon and Garfunkel wouldn’t have the album ready in time. With hindsight, that missed deadline was more than a missed chance to move a few more units off the back of the live shows; it was the last chance to get the album out before the old acrimony resurfaced over the summer.

Without a new album to promote, Simon and Garfunkel hit the road in July 1983, starting in Akron, Ohio, at the Rubber Bowl Stadium.  The Akron show featured a quartet of songs from the still unfinished album – “Song About the Moon,” “Allergies,” “Think Too Much” and “Johnny Ace” – mixed in with S&G hits, respective solo offerings and a new cover version of “One Summer Night.” The set list varied somewhat throughout the tour, with “Song About the Moon” and “Allergies” dropped partway through and replaced with “Cars Are Cars.”

As the tour stopped in Pittsburgh, the local paper’s review of the concert speculated about the upcoming reunion LP: “Whether Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel can be a valid musical entity in the future... will be decided with the next album, their first recording of original music since 1970. The disc is tentatively titled Think Too Much and targeted for a fall release.”

In interviews during July, the duo sounded increasingly confident about the album, and spoke of it as though it was almost finished. Media reports at that time suggested Think Too Much was on track for release at the end of August.

However, a profile by Robert Hilburn that ran in the Sarasota Herald Tribune made it clear that it had not been an easy process. “Things did not go all that smoothly when they got into the studio this year,” Hillburn noted. “They even ended up working in separate studios.”

 In the Hilburn piece, Simon confessed to feeling pressure about the album. “People kept asking, ‘Are you going to make an album together?’ or ‘God, it would be great if you made an album together’. And I felt Artie wanted to be involved in it very much. I also realized that by including him on it I would probably improve the overall quality, certainly would improve the sales and would satisfy a lot of people. I also knew we’d end up in some terrific fights over points I really didn’t want to fight about. And that’s exactly what happened.”

“The truth is,” Simon explained, “I had a very hard time emotionally turning it over to make it a Simon and Garfunkel album.”

“I didn’t write for Artie’s voice,” Simon told Hilburn in mid-July. Depsite the fact that album was still supposedly going ahead, Simon’s comments to Hilburn suggested he was already well on his way to talking himself out of the reunion album idea.  “I was writing a group of songs that seemed very special to me. I think, in a certain way, he improves my records. He makes the sound of them more agreeable to many, many people. But I don’t care. It’s an odd situation. I essentially see myself as a writer, and I don’t want to obscure the writing. I think my voice is a good vehicle for my writing, even with its flaws.

Garfunkel was more positive about the project, enthusing in a Spokane Chronicle article, “I’m so keyed up. This morning, I think I found the harmony that is just what I want for ‘Cars Are Cars All over the World.’ I’m on the tips of my toes with the sense of readiness to see if I can slip it into the tape the way I want.”

“I think people are going to be knocked out by Paul’s new tunes, which are very autobiographical and very accessible,” he told the Milwaukee Sentinel.

In a July interview with the Modesto Bee, Garfunkel said “We’ve almost finished the new album, which is very exciting to me. It’s a valid Simon and Garfunkel album, with all-new Paul Simon songs that are better than ever.” Garfunkel acknowledged there had been “difficulties” with the project, but said “I believe again that it’s coming along nicely.”

Simon had a somewhat different view of the project: In August, as the North American tour neared its conclusion, he called Garfunkel to inform him of two things. Garfunkel recalled the phone call in a 1990 interview with Time: “He does things that I could never understand. He called me up one day and said, 'Artie, I'm dropping your vocals on “Hearts and Bones.” It's not turning into the kind of album I want it to. And by the way, I'm marrying Carrie on Tuesday, and I want you to come.' "

Once the project reverted to a solo album, all of Garfunkel’s vocals were meticulously wiped from the multi-track tapes.  “We had to make sure all Art’s vocal parts were erased from the master tapes,” recalls engineer Eric Korte.

In late September, following the North American dates, Simon and Garfunkel wound up their tour with two shows at the Ramat Gan Stadium outside Tel Aviv, Israel. According to a newspaper story at the time, the Tel Aviv shows were “billed as their last,” and that the visit coincided with Simon visiting Israel with Carrie Fisher on their honeymoon. 

Arlen Roth, one of the two guitarists in S&G’s ’83 band recalls encountering a dejected-looking Garfunkel prior to one of the Tel Aviv shows. “I asked him what was wrong and he said, ‘Well, how would you feel if you just found out you'd been erased from an entire album?”

 After Tel Aviv, the duo went their separate ways, and would not work together again for many years. Garfunkel has admitted that his removal from the album was a very sore point.

Fans looking out for the new Simon and Garfunkel LP were no doubt confused by the November 1983 release of the new Paul Simon album, titled Hearts and Bones. A quick scan of the track listing revealed that the album included all the tracks touted for inclusion on the Simon and Garfunkel album. The planned S&G title track, “Think Too Much,” appeared in two incarnations. Even in those long-ago pre-Internet days, when updates about your favourite rock musicians were few and far between, the message was clear: the Simon and Garfunkel album had been scrapped and replaced by Hearts and Bones. 

Russ Titelman commented in an article in the Palm Beach Post in October 1983, “Paul never really decided if he wanted the album to be his own or Simon and Garfunkel’s”

What is the point of this story? What information pertains? The fact is, in an age when every inch of notable tape from every rock legend has somehow leaked out, Simon and Garfunkel’s Think Too Much album remains locked in a vault somewhere. 

But what is on the tape? Certainly not a finished, mixed and mastered album. There’s definitely a rough mix of the album with Garfunkel on it, although whether or not he appears on the whole album is unclear, as is the question of whether or not his vocals were actually finished.

The only firm evidence is a bootleg of studio rough mixes, on which Garfunkel’s voice is clearly discernable on two tracks – his harmonies on “Train in the Distance” and a gorgeous vocal solo (the “laughing boy” section) on “Song About the Moon.” There are also a handful of live recordings from the 1983 tour, on which Garfunkel joins Simon to sing “Cars Are Cars,” “Think Too Much” (the fast version), and “Allergies.

The Think Too Much album would almost certainly have featured the same 10 tracks that appeared on Simon’s Hearts and Bones album.  Another contender for the album, “Citizen of the Planet,” a folky tune that recalled the duo’s early ‘60s sound, was considered but had certainly been dropped from the album by the summer of 1983. (“Citizen” finally appeared, a decade later, as a Simon and Garfunkel reunion track on the Old Friends concert album.)

The prospect of hearing the Think Too Much album is a tantalizing (if unlikely) prospect. Dan Nash, one of the dozen or so engineers who worked on the album, says, “The entire thing was finished with Artie on it, without a doubt. I have a copy. When Paul made the decision [to make it a solo album], he had Roy Halee make rough mixes of the whole thing.” 

According to Nash, all that was missing was some backing vocals, but the lead vocals by Simon and Garfunkel were complete. “If you heard the rough mixes you’d know all it needs is to be mastered.”

However, Nash isn’t sure whether the duo had agreed on whether the lead vocals were supposed to be final or just “scratch” vocals. 

Nash feels that the Simon solo version suffered from an attempt to over-compensate for Garfunkel absence. “[Paul] had a clear sense of the structure of the record. But to make the songs sing, he had to come up with musical accoutrements to make it fly. So there were a lot of extra musical parts added – things that were clever, but that weren’t organic.”

In Nash’s opinion, the Simon and Garfunkel version, even in rough-mix form, is “100 times better than the album that came out.”

“I recall, and still have somewhere, the rough mixes of the album with Artie on it,” says Arlen Roth. “He was on almost every song, as I recall, and we were all so excited about this being a true S&G "reunion" album, as well as reunion tour! Live, we performed 'Cars are Cars", "Allergies" and "Hearts and Bones".”

Mark Linett worked briefly on the album in its early stages, at Warner Bros Recording Studios in Los Angeles. At that point, Linett understood the sessions were for a Paul Simon solo album. Garfunkel was at the sessions but in the role of backing vocalist. Another engineer who worked on the album, Jimmy Santis, remembers it as a Simon solo album and doesn’t recall Garfunkel’s involvement being mentioned.

Korte remembers that during his time on the album, only a few songs appeared to have been finished with Garfunkel.

 17 years later, the Think Too Much album surely deserves to be dusted off and unleashed in some form, whether it’s finished or not. It seems unlikely that Paul Simon would have much of an appetite for it, and maybe Garfunkel wouldn’t either; but Simon and Garfunkel fans surely deserve the chance to hear it for themselves - especially for all those who caught the duo on their 1983 tour, heard the new songs and were disappointed when he album didn’t come out.