“Time, time, time/ see what’s become of me/ While I looked around/ For my possibilities/ I was so hard to please/ Look around /Leaves are brown /And the sky is a hazy shade of winter.”
A Hazy Shade of Winter was originally written and recorded by Simon & Garfunkel for their album Bookends (1966). It was released as a single and fell modestly short on the US Billboard charts robbing them of a top ten appearance. In the grand scheme of things it likely wasn’t a big deal. Sure it was a catchy folk-rock song with Simon’s acoustic guitar riff and poetic lyrics leading the charge, but when compared to songs like Bridge Over Troubled Water, Mrs. Robinson and The Sound of Silence, it generally failed to make a lasting impression upon critics and fans alike, who often still don’t even it rate in top ten lists of Simon & Garfunkel songs. That’s a shame because it had so much potential with its rock-oriented sound. Maybe the world wasn’t ready for the duo to rock out? It arguably took the success of the lively pop rock classic Cecilia in 1970 for people to say “okay these guys can rock”. But by then Simon & Garfunkel were about to break up. With no new material on the horizon, except 1975’s one-off single My Little Town, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel would embark on solo careers leaving behind a wonderful legacy and a song with so much potential in Hazy Shade of Winter.
It would take a new generation to fall in love with Simon & Garfunkel’s most underrated song A Hazy Shade of Winter. The year was 1987 and an American pop rock band from Los Angeles known as The Bangles hit upon the idea of substituting Paul Simon’s acoustic-led song into one of the best straight-up electric guitar rock songs of the 80s.
The Bangles version of A Hazy Shade of Winter is a far cry from the Shenanigans of Walk Like An Egyptian and the pop bliss of Manic Monday, both widely successful singles. But I feel if you asked The Bangles what would they like to be best remembered by its probably their Paisley Underground earlier work and garage rock noise before their sound widened with their huge mainstream hits. It is often said The Bangles are one of the most misunderstood bands of the 80s. With their love sixties culture and rock ’n’ roll music in their bloodstream, it wasn’t a total surprise that the band would cover a Simon & Garfunkel song.
The story behind The Bangles and Simon & Garfunkel’s A Hazy Shade of Winter is twofold. It is said when rhythm guitarist Susanna Hoffs first heard A Hazy Shade of Winter on the radio, while she was working her day job at her aunt and uncles ceramic factory, she suggested not all after to her new bandmates, Debbi and Vicki Peterson and Annette Zilinskas, that it would make a great song for them to play live. After all, they had been playing in their formative years classic 60s covers as early as 1981 and being such big fans of Simon & Garfunkel it only made sense to add it to their repertoire. And so they did, reinventing the song into a noisy number. Several years later in 1987, when The Bangles were on top of the world having smashed sale figures with their sophomore album Different Light (1986), they were asked to contribute a song to the film Less Than Zero in between their hectic tour schedule. With very little time to concentrate on writing a new original song for the film, they decided unanimously to cover A Hazy Shade of Winter.
Normally, The Bangles were known for their tight vocal harmonies and all four members shared in turn lead vocals. For instance, drummer Debbi Peterson sang lead vocals on their singles, Going Down to Liverpool and Be With You. But when they recorded A Hazy Shade of Winter, it was agreed all four members would sing together on the song except for the short solo led by Hoffs near the end of the song.
Notable differences between the original and the cover version are obviously heard with the inclusion of rowdy electric guitars. Though at first the ambient harmonising at the beginning of the song lulls us into a false sense of security, before Debbi Peterson lets loose with her frantic drum beat and the twin guitars of Hoffs and Vicki Peterson chime in. Interestingly, The Bangles cut the song’s bridge in half, removing the verse from the song containing the lyrics “drinking my vodka and lime”, something they worried about at the time fearing their musical heroes Simon & Garfunkel would not approve. The Bangles guitarists Vicki Peterson once said she asked for Paul Simon’s forgiveness for cutting the bridge in half when she first met him. Finally, while not a big deal, The Bangles drop ‘A’ from the title of the song.
When The Bangles released the song in November 1987, Hazy Shade of Winter would become a huge hit, peaking at #2 on the US Billboard charts. It’s fair to say it would go on to become the definitive version of the song.
Good cover I had not heard before! Susanna Hoffs is a huge ’60s fan and has great music taste. I’m best familiar with the Bangles’ sophomore album “Different Light”. After their huge hit single “Eternal Flame”, which was played to death on the radio in Germany, I kind of grew tired of them.
Just a further comment here below about Simon and Garfunkel’s best songs. When they released the first compilation of greatest hits on June 14, 1972, two years after the duo had split, ‘A Hazy Shade of Winter’ was not included in the compilation. Was this an indication of its lack of importance? It is interesting the record label (Columbia) chose three or four other tracks for the album that didn’t chart.
I like the cover – I remember hearing it on the radio after knowing Simon and Garfunkel’s version first. It’s always been part of my Simon and Garfunkel canon – it was on the 1981 compilation I owned (with actors on the cover).