Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” Lyrics Meaning

First off it should be noted that “the sound of silence” is not a good thing.  Rather it is indicative of people being unable to effectively communicate with each other, particularly on an emotional level. Yet the implication as presented is that these people are not cognizant that such an effect even exists. Or rather the reason “the sound of silence” is so strong is because people deem it to be more important than its aftereffect.

Song warns against dangers of Social Isolationism

And in that regard it has been theorized that Simon & Garfunkel are issuing a warning against the threat of mas mid-20th century social isolationism. In other words, a form of media which may have been deemed as propagating introversive behavior back in those days was the television. And as such, it is feasible that the “neon light” referred to in this song is in fact an allusion to a television set or something of the sort. This is perhaps made most evident in the final verse, in which the narrator states that “people bowed and prayed to the neon god they made”. As evident in this statement the lyrics of this song are in fact metaphorical, for there is nothing like a common idea of people worshiping a “neon god”. 

As such, the ‘bowing and praying’ referenced is not meant to be taken literally but are rather intended to point to another idea. And that idea could very much be based on individuals being enraptured by a television set. And as we all know, behaving in a such a manner tends to minimize interpersonal communication.

Does “The Sound of Silence” criticize introversive Behavior?

Ultimately as touched upon earlier, this song is not a critique of introversive behavior in and of itself. Rather what it is ultimately dealing with is how the people prefer this manner of living. Or stated differently, they don’t want anyone ‘disturbing the sound of silence’. So even though their ability to effectively communicate with each other is being negatively affected by it, it is obvious that “the sound of silence” is still something which they enjoy.

As such Simon & Garfunkel view themselves as “prophets”, if you will, who are tasked with enlightening the masses as to what is actually going on. But once again “the sound of silence” is what they prefer. And as such, the vocalists and likeminded people are basically regulated to keeping their prophecies on the downlow.

Conclusion

The above is just one way of attempting to explain a song literally which relies almost entirely on metaphors. For at the end of the day, the ultimate idea this track is intended to lead us to is that a ton of people are challenged with expressing themselves emotionally to their fellow human beings.

Lyrics of "The Sound of Silence"

Facts about “The Sound of Silence”

This is the song which helped Simon & Garfunkel get signed to Columbia Records in the early 1960s.

“The Sound of Silence” was produced by Tom Wilson. He played a very important role in the track blowing up as it was a remix he initiated in 1965, without the knowledge of Simon & Garfunkel, which proved to be more successful than the original.

And blow up it did, topping both the Billboard Hot 100 and US Cash Box Top 100, as well as music charts in Japan and South Africa. An interesting fact to note is that it actually topped the Billboard Hot 100 on 1 January (i.e. New Year’s Day), 1966. And worldwide, it charted in almost 15 nations, including being certified Gold in the following countries:

  • United States
  • United Kingdom
  • Italy

In fact it is considered one of the greatest American songs ever. As such, it made it onto Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”. Furthermore, it has also had been preserved in the National Recording Registry by the US Library of Congress.

“The Sound of Silence” was written by Paul Simon, one half of Simon & Garfunkel. He is said to have completed the writing over a six-month time span.

This song has been featured in a few movies, perhaps most notably 1967’s “The Graduate”. The soundtrack of that album, which contained quite a bunch of tracks from Simon & Garfunkel (including “Mrs. Robinson“), is credited with helping the duo reach a larger audience.

It has also been featured on television shows such as “The Simpsons” (1994) and “Arrested Development” (2013).

During the Grammy Awards in 2003, Simon & Garfunkel were giving the Lifetime Achievement Award. And it was this song, after a decade of separation, which they performed in celebration.

When was “The Sound of Silence” released?

“The Sound of Silence” originally came out, via Columbia Records, on 1 October 1964. And shortly thereafter Simon & Garfunkel named their second album after the song, where it was featured also.

Samples/Interpolations/Covers

Being one of the greatest songs the music world has ever seen, this classic has been sampled, covered and interpolated numerous times. One of the most notable songs to have sampled “The Sound of Silence” is Eminem’s 2020 track “Darkness“.

13 Responses

  1. Brett Cannon says:

    Fans of this song must watch the metal band ‘Disturbed’ do this song. The lead singer David was classically trained in opera as I understand it, and he was made to sing this song. Deeply moving and his voice is incredible doing this song. Please check it out. The official video is really moving, but the band performing on Conan with an orchestra is really amazing in the song itself, but the atmosphere on stage that they have created.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I am the generation of those times…. It’s big brother controlling us…and the neon lights are those who have or desire for riches… Drunk on the power and control …Government not allowing us to speak….as it is occurring through big tech..this is why we protested back then…

  3. Anonymous says:

    I never realized !

  4. Mia Doe 845 says:

    I enjoy Disturb’s version of the sound very much. I can truly appreciate the sound that David has lent to the song. However, when I searched for the lyrics I expected S&G to top the list of what I would view. Not so. The duo made the song the hit it is today. Paul Simon’s lyrics are a masterpiece which are even more relevant today during the cell phone and computer age. So I am critical of the search engine and not the aforementioned artists. The song is certainly ahead of it’s time.

    • PA says:

      Well said!

      • Mike D., Greenville SC says:

        I would counter that the song was not before it’s time, but rather it is timeless. What we absorb ourselves in changes over time, but I suspect there was never really a time when we didn’t allow ourselves to be drawn into activities that drew us into isolation.

        I have seen some people say that the original song was a commentary on wealth and pursuit of it, which I believe is entirely possible or even probable. But great lyrics like this can mean different things to different people and even different things to the same people at different stages of life.

        The lyrics are simply brilliant. Poetic and beautiful, meaningful on so many level.

  5. david says:

    I was born in 1960. This song made me think of all the terrible things done to children, the way it was hidden back then. people knew it was happening, just never exposed the behavior and those infected by this behavior, wouldn’t dare talk about it due to shame and guilt. Like the Harvey Weinstein story and Jeffery Epstein story. So many people knew and condoned it. Kept silent to have and keep status. And the media covering it up till they couldn’t anymore. great song.

  6. Anonymous says:

    The lyrics predict the evolution towards Communism/Socialism. In that we are being silenced and afraid to share ideas and thoughts. “Neon Gods” are the gods of Media, be it TV, cell phones, all devices that are distracting us from reality and silently watching our unalienable rights evaporate. Cancel culture, re-writing history, dumbing down our brains so that we become powerless, fearful and able to be totally controlled. We should do all we can NOT to be silenced!!!

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