Our song-by-song trip through Art Garfunkel’s Seventies output reaches the end of Side One of Angel Clare.
Yeah, that title. A most curious confection. One of the weirdest song titles coughed up by any mainstream Seventies artist — especially if you shuffle Zappa, Beefheart and one or two other weirdos out of the deck.
What the hell could a song called “Feuilles-Oh/Do Space Men Pass Dead Souls On Their Way To The Moon” possibly be? And what could its amalgamated writing credit of “Traditional/J.S. Bach, Grossman” signify?
The mythical 1973 record buyer we conjured up a few posts ago might have bought Angel Clare just to find this all out. (Or, he could have saved himself a few bucks and just bought the “I Shall Sing” single, which had “F-O/DSMPDSOTWTTM” on the flip side.)
“Feuilles-Oh” — it rhymes with “Faygo” — is from all tellings a traditional Haitian folk song.
If things had gone differently, it might have been well-known to the average pop listener before Angel Clare ever came out. Simon and Garfunkel cut a version of the song during the Bridge Over Troubled Water sessions, but left it off the final record; it didn’t see the light of day until 2001.
Art’s version is more ambitiously arranged — d’ya think the musicians’ union directory has a listing for toy piano players? — and is also sung about a half-step higher.
(The sound of an ocean liner recorded in San Francisco harbor is mixed into the song, according to Art’s lengthy and entertaining 1973 Rolling Stone interview with Ben Fong-Torres.)
“Feuilles-Oh” is the sort of gently “exotic” foreign-language folk song you might hear arranged for a sixth-grade choir, with one child brought out front to play glockenspiel and another to play woodblocks.
It still possesses a certain charm. Art’s French is lulling, and I’ve found myself whistling the melody at work over the past couple of days.
So, while I can’t help but wonder what made the song special to Art — the world is full of folk songs, after all — it works amiably as an album-filler.
As for the “Dead Souls” part, it’s a minute-long mid-song sidetrack that takes its melody from a Bach oratorio, and its words from a gardener with curious ideas about the Apollo program. (The “Grossman” who provided said words was Linda Grossman, Art’s wife.)
Angel Clare was recorded at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral, and the resonance is in full effect on “Dead Souls,” which features a choir of Garfunkels bathed in gorgeous high-roofed ambience that justifies the songlet’s existence all by itself. (The harpsichord helps too; I love me some harpsichord.)
So, the mystery of “F-O/DSMPDSOTWTTM” resolves itself as three minutes of gently charming esoterica — the work of a guy with a desire to deploy different sounds and a willingness to step off the beaten track.
In our next installment: Art G. drops tha bomb.