Technically, I shouldn’t write this one up. The Art for Art’s Sake project is a song-by-song rundown of Art Garfunkel’s Seventies albums, and “Second Avenue” was a single-only release; it didn’t appear on an album at the time. Still, scope creep has always been a friend to me, so I plow onward.
The summer of 1974 is turning to fall. It is almost exactly a year since Art Garfunkel released his first solo album; and, as it turns out, it’s just over a year until he will release his next one.
(Like Jack Frost and Frank Sinatra, Artie does his best work in the fall, the season of fading and regret.)
As if preordained, along comes a single that serves nicely as a bridge between Angel Clare and Breakaway — though its sound and subject matter position it more firmly with the latter than the former.
“Second Avenue” is the work of singer-songwriter Tim Moore, also known for writing the Bay City Rollers’ “Rock n’ Roll Love Letter;” for working Philly Soul sessions on guitar; and for being the second-most-famous person in the bands Woody’s Truck Stop and Gulliver.
Moore cut his own version of “Second Avenue” that, if Wiki is correct, was derailed on its trip up the charts when the distributor of his album went out of business. By the time he’d sorted that out, Garfunkel had released his version and claimed whatever market remained for the song.
(American record buyers of 1974 were willing to buy two versions of “The Americans,” but not two versions of this. Go figure.)
Art’s cover spent three weeks in the Top 40 in October and November 1974, peaking at No. 34; presumably that brought in a few bucks to ease Moore’s disappointment. The ARSA database of local radio airplay charts shows “Second Avenue” holding modestly in the mid-twenties at many stations, with a solitary peak at No. 5 in Dayton, Ohio, home of the Ohio Players.
Chart machinations aside, “Second Avenue” is a big self-pitying ballad of emotion, right smack in Garfunkel’s wheelhouse. A couple of lines particularly define Seventies Art as I like to imagine him — a smart, somewhat playful urbanite perpetually trying to unravel the complexities of love:
Since our stars took different paths
I guess I won’t be shaving in your looking-glass
Guess my old friendly grin
Must have started to dim somehow
And I certainly don’t need it now.
“Second Avenue” is a co-production of Garfunkel and Roy Halee — the duo’s last collaboration of the Seventies, as Art would go on to work with other producers on his remaining albums (or produce himself).
Unfortunately, they didn’t nail this one. It’s kinda leaden, especially the drums, which are so Big and Echoey they make Phil Collins look like Tommy Ramone. The song has an uphill trudging quality that doesn’t have to be there.
Maybe that’s why Art left it off Breakaway when that album was finally issued in October 1975. Or maybe it seemed like old news by then. Or, maybe it would have weighed the album overmuch toward ballads.
Whatever the reason, “Second Avenue” deserved a better fate than a here-and-gone single. It captures Art doing what he does best, and doing it well despite the instrumental trappings’ attempt to weigh him down.
(Edit: I’m reminded that “Second Avenue” was released on the 1988 compilation album Garfunkel, and it might be available on other compilations as well. But in 1974 terms it was here and gone; you had to find the 45 if you wanted to hear it again.)
Second Avenue could be in any one of a number of cities. But wherever it is, the wind is always blowing, the leaves are forever clogging the gutters, and Seventies Art is perpetually making his way under the streetlights, his collar turned up against the cold, pretending to smile.