2.24-SCARBOROUGH FAIR / CANTICLE (Simon & Garfunkel)

Simon & Garfunkel


        Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
        (Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme)
        Remember me to one who lives there.
        She once was a true love of mine.

Tell her to make me a cambric shirt
        (On the side of a hill in the deep forest green)
(Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme)
        (Tracing of sparrow on snowcrested brown)
Without no seams nor needle work
        (Blankets and bedclothes the child of the mountain)
Then she'll be a true love of mine.
        (Sleeps unaware of the clarion call)

Tell her to find me an acre of land
        (On the side of a hill a sprinkling of leaves)
(Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme)
        (Washes the grave with silvery tears)
Between the salt water and the sea strands
        (A soldier cleans and polishes a gun)
Then she'll be a true love of mine.

Tell her to reap it with a sickle of leather
        (War bellows blazing in scarlet battalions)
(Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme)
        (Generals order their soldiers to kill)
And gather it all in a bunch of heather
        (And to fight for a cause they've long ago forgotten)
Then she'll be a true love of mine.


Recorded in July 1966, Scarborough Fair / Canticle was released as the lead song on an album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme in October. It was released as a single in February 1968 in the U.S. to take advantage of the surge of Simon & Garfunkel's popularity following the Graduate movie, which used their songs as background music in 1967. The album isn't what one would think of as psychedelic, being strongly folk-oriented, but it was experimental in parts, such as running the sound of the 7 o'clock television news while singing the Christmas song Silent Night. Something of the sort was also portrayed, though more musically, in the song Scarborough Fair which sought to bring two songs together, the other called Canticle. A traditional middle English love ballad is crosscut with lines from Simon's The Side of a Hill, a protest against the Vietnam War, recorded earlier in his own career. Though the protest is muted, it is the first such resistance to the Vietnam War in psychedelic or experimental music.

To the modern ear, I doubt Scarborough Fair sounds psychedelic at all; it's too beautiful, too pretty to be considered avant-garde. And I indeed had difficulty separating Parsley Sage Rosemary & Thyme from what I consider early art-rock (God Only Knows by the Beach Boys, or Eleanor Rigby by the Beatles, for example). But I think of the song now as participating in the development of the psychedelic form in that (1) it is one of the earliest samples of the unconventional device of cross-cutting songs (something that caught on in the psychedelic era, for example: Won’t You Try / Saturday Afternoon by the Jefferson Airplane; Job’s Tears by the Incredible String Band; or Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey by Paul and Linda McCartney) and (2) the harpsichord-tone and tinkling bells draw from the psychedelic interest of the time, like Donovan, in the production of chamber music. Many of the early psychedelic composers found delight in delicate sounds.

Scarborough Fair is one of the very rare occasions when traditional music was used for a psychedelic song. (Other examples are again, Job’s Tears by the Incredible String Band with its use of hymns, and the inclusion of a traditional bagpipe marching song in Eric Burdon’s Sky Pilot.) It is worth noting the history of the traditional lyric Scarborough Fair recreates the emerging popularity of Renaissance Fairs during the psychedelic period. [In the sixties, it appears that Renaissance Fairs, celebrated in a song by the Byrds in 1967, were the precursor of the first open air rock concerts, such as the Monterey Festival.]

During the late Middle Ages the seaside town of Scarborough was an important venue for tradesmen from all over England. It was host to a huge 45-day trading event, starting August 15, which was exceptionally long for a fair in those times. Merchants came to it from all areas of England, Norway, Denmark, the Baltic states and the Byzantine Empire. Scarborough Fair originated from a charter granted by King Henry III of England on the 22nd of January 1253. The charter, which gave Scarborough many privileges, stated "The Burgesses and their heirs forever may have a yearly fayre in the Borough, to continue from the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary until the Feast of St Michael next following". (On the modern Roman Catholic calendar, the equivalent dates are August 15 to September 29.)

The traditional song tells the listener that he will return to his former lover if she performs for him a series of impossible tasks: if she sews him a shirt with no seams and no needlework; if she finds him an acre of land between the beach and the sea; if she cuts for him a bouquet of woody heather by using leather instead of a blade. Across the traditional lyric is cut Simon’s The Side of a Hill, which only borrows a couple of lines from his old song: “a soldier cleans and polishes his gun” and “to fight for a cause long ago forgotten”. It’s a little more apparent in the original The Side of a Hill that the song is about an innocent seven year old that died by a soldier’s bullet; that story is submerged in Scarborough Fair / Canticle, leaving the listener only with the feeling that people have died for causes that don’t mean anything anymore. Mixed in with the traditional lover’s song, the lyric seems to mix the grief of a lost love with that of lost life, and equate the return of the lover with the impossibility of returning from the dead. (The aforementioned herbs were used in medieval times both to attract lovers and to embalm the dead.) The listener may be excused, however, if Simon’s second melody is admired more for the harmonic contrast than for the lyric content, for the words aren’t always clear, merged in a manner with the traditional lyric so that usually only the end words of lines from The Side of the Hill are heard. However, this cross-cutting is distinctive in psychedelic history because it could be performed live, while other attempts at cross-cutting songs were usually achieved through manipulated tapes.