It was 31 years ago tonight (September 19th, 1981) that Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel reunited in front of a reported 500,000 fans for a free concert in New York's Central Park. Although the duo had performed together several times after their 1970 break up -- most notably at a fundraiser in 1972 for Democratic Presidential nominee George McGovern, and scoring a Top Ten duet with "My Little Town" in 1975 -- the Concert at Central Park was Simon & Garfunkel's first full-blown reunion concert.
Prior to the show, Simon & Garfunkel butted heads about how the concert should be performed. Garfunkel preferred just the duo as they did in the '60s; two voices along with Simon's guitar. Simon insisted on a full band, including a horn section. Simon explained in Simon & Garfunkel - The Definitive Biography how he convinced Garfunkel to see his way: "I kept saying to him 'Artie, the band will jell and when it does, you'll want to sing. You'll like it.'" The majority of the backing band was familiar with the songs' arrangements, having backed Simon on his recent One Trick Pony tour.
The show was mainly comprised of Simon & Garfunkel's '60s classics, including "Homeward Bound," "America," "The Sound Of Silence," "Mrs. Robinson," "The Boxer," "Old Friends," "April Come She Will," "Scarborough Fair," "The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)," "America," "Bridge Over Troubled Water," and others.
The duo also performed several of Simon's '70s hits, such as "Kodachrome," "Me & Julio Down By The Schoolyard," "50 Ways To Leave Your Lover," "Still Crazy After All These Years," "Slip Slidin' Away," "American Tune," and Simon's latest hit, 1980's "Late In The Evening," which was featured twice in the show, being reprised as the concert's final encore.
The pair made two nods to early influences, playing the Everly Brothers' "Wake Up Little Suzie," and performing Chuck Berry's "Maybellene" in a medley with Simon's "Kodachrome."
Art Garfunkel first sang Simon's "American Tune" at the duo's reunion show in Central Park, and has kept it in his solo shows ever since then: "I love Paul's 'American Tune,' and felt such an identity with that kind of song, it's a Bach chorale, that I do it in my show all the time. I never recorded it, but I identify with it, I kind of made it mine. Because it was in the nature of the material. There's a bunch of Paul's things over the years that kill me that I could do my own version of it. Yeah, I suppose that's an interesting album, Garfunkel Does Simon."
Although it was left off the live album, Simon debuted "The Late Great Johnny Ace," a tribute to John Lennon, at the Central Park show. (In a disturbing moment on the home video version of the concert, a fan can be seen running onstage demanding to speak to Simon.) The song was eventually released on Simon's 1983 album Hearts And Bones.
The film of the concert was shown the next year on HBO, with the soundtrack album peaking at Number Six in the spring of 1982. Their live cover of the Everly Brothers' "Wake Up Little Susie" was also a minor hit that spring.
After the success of Central Park, Simon & Garfunkel spent the better part of 1982 and 1983 touring Europe and North America. Although plans for a reunion album fell through in 1983, the pair reunited live in 1993 and again for their Old Friends tour in 2003-2004.