Graham Reid | | 4 min read
Exactly 50 years ago – give or take a month or two – an album was released which was reviled by critics and ignored by the public.
But like the Velvet Underground's debut and the third Haircut 100 album, this album has grown in stature over the years and these days it is considered a genuine classic.
In the year of Dark Side of the Moon, Aladdin Sane, Houses of the Holy, self-titled debuts by Queen and Barry Manilow, Let's Get It On, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Goats Head Soup, the arrival of Springsteen and Stevie Wonder's Innervisions, this was an album which changed the course of popular music.
Half a century ago Art Garfunkel released Angel Clare and rock was changed forever, and many say even longer.
Now considered one of the GAOATs, it was the last album Jeff Buckley played before he ran from the house in Memphis and drowned himself in the river. Friends said Buckley knew that good though his own voice was, it could never match the ethereal beauty of Garfunkel's.
The album is cited as an influence on artists as diverse as Van Morrison (“smashing, I love it, it's a spiritual inspiration even though I don't do that shit anymore”) , Steve Vai, Slayer and Gilbert O'Sullivan (aka Yusef Islam).
In a recent column revisionist New York critic Greil Christgau-Marsh and the self-styled emeritus professor of rock, said, “The sheer diffuseness and elegiac nature of Angel Clare's songs, not to mention the fulsome arrangements which merge folk, rock, calypso and MOR set it apart from all its peers like that crashing bore Paul Simon”.
Chastity Bono of U2 professes to be a big fan: “There are tectonic shifts in the poetics of time where the cosmos is transfigured through an artist and Art Garfunkel speaks with the voice of God, if God came from Brooklyn with a Jewfro”.
Musicologist Dr Stefan Millenkowski regards Angel Clare as “one of four albums in the 1970s which recalibrated our thinking of what would be possible in popular music. It is up there with Gong's Angel Egg. Although no one said that at the time, most people dismissed it as aural candyfloss and it certainly had that element to it. Actually it was mostly that, but you know what I mean”.
On the album's release Lou Reed was asked about it and said, “What is this shit?” and mainstream entertainer Maureen McGovern then fresh from the success of her single The Morning After was drawn to say, “Christ I thought I recorded some inane crap but this thing is just atrocious, although I envy Artie's money”.
“Who that motherfucker?” asked Miles Davis when he heard the album in a hotel elevator.
Since then however critics – as they always do – have revisited the album and, as with just about every shitty album by McCartney, managed to find some merit in it.
Artists too have come around to Angel Clare: “It's the cadences, the holiness of the canticle-like quality, which appeals to me,” said baby-eating Marilyn Manson last month.
“Understatement, understatement even when it is buried by strings and such, that's the key to it,” says uber-Art fan Violent J of hip-hoppers Insane Clown Posse. “My wife and I used to listen to it before we wanted to get it on in the limo, if you know what I mean.”
Edgy and bare-chested jazz saxophonist Tiny Capello who played in Tina Turner's touring band says, “Man that album rocked my world when I heard it a couple of years ago. Those strings, that voice, that annoying children's choir thing . . . It's an album which had it all, mostly all the worst stuff.
“But it certainly had it. I couldn't get enough of that song Barbara Allen, that bit about the old church yard then the angel starts to sing. That just breaks me up, bro”.
A recent survey of rock critics had Angel Clare voted the fifth best album of all time in the rock era, above anything by the Beatles, Bowie, Beyonce and Haircut 100.
When approached for comment 81-year old Art Garfunkel admitted he could barely recall the album, and in fact has little memory of the Seventies at all.
“You know back then we were all into various drugs, philosophies, water beds and those weird shoes and video games like Frogger. That was one crazy time for me so the album didn't mean much to me then.
“I wanted to get on board with prog-rock, man. That's why I made that Tales from Topographic Oceans.
“That was me, wasn't it?”
Michael Kelso, an expert on the Seventies remembers the impact of Angel Clare at the time.
“Oh man, we used to go down to Eric's basement and blow weed and listen to that album. It was just so rad, man. It was like, just so far out, the whole vibe of the thing.
“We used to talk about it all the time, in fact it was down in Eric's basement that Laurie told me about Paul McCartney being dead.
“I mean, like really dead, dude.
“Like he died in maybe about, I dunno, about a real long time ago but he just kept making albums. You know, he's still making albums, he's like a total zombie or like the living dead or something.
“I mean, that's just like so totally awesome, right?
“Anyway, yeah . . . what were we talking about?”
You can hear Angel Clare at Spotify here
For other articles along these lines, but more humorous, check out Absurd Elsewhere here