Although at the time Simon & Garfunkel were already established pop stars, 1968's Bookends
cemented their place as pop legends and went on to become one of the duo's alltime classic albums. The fact that Bookends
wasn't overshadowed by S&G's crowning achievement Bridge Over Troubled Water
, which came along a year later, gives an idea of this record's impressive stature. While not quite on the same level as Bridge
(but then, few albums are), Bookends
is a charming, eclectic and inspired collection of some of the best pop songs of the 1960s.
starts off with "Bookends Theme," a scant instrumental by a single acoustic guitar. Though the melody would be reintroduced later, the quiet, mystic introduction sets the tone for the album - one of attractively peaceful reflection. This theme is briefly circumnavigated in the second track, "Save the Life of My Child." A haunting, slightly electronic indictment of the government during the Vietnam era, the song centers on a boy on a ledge, ready to jump, and the frenzy of activity by everyone to a) avert the tragedy and b) protect their own appearence.
"America" returns to the realm of peace - where "Save the Life of My Child" was an attack on a hypocritical government, "America" is a celebration of America's people, told through a Kerouac-ian story of two lovers "look[ing] for America." The song's quiet acoustic guitar-and-piano arrangement creates a sound of quiet contentment and wonder, and Paul Simon's lyrics paint an idyllic picture of the American mystique. "Overs" is a little different. Although also quietly acoustic, "Overs" is a man telling his girl that their relationship has stagnated and should be broken off - but then he stops to think it over...
Not a song, and not really with an obvious point except to advance the tone of the record and kind of tie in to the next song, "Voices of Old People" is just that - old people talking to each other. Like they say in Almost Famous
: "Look at them - they're on pot!"
"Old Friends" is a third person perspective on the beautiful connection between two old friends sitting on a park bench, and a wish for that kind of friendship and peace later in life. "Old Friends" flows into the second version of "Bookends Theme," with reflective lyrics about an old relationship now accompanying the acoustic guitar melody. "Fakin' It" is one of the bouncy pop gems on the album, complete with classic Simon & Garfunkel foot-tapping acoustic guitars and handclaps. There is even a shadow of things to come in the duo's career here, as horns are briefly heard in the arrangement before the song turns to a slightly strange (and very brief) skit and back to the catchy chorus before falling into a strangely marshal rhythm piece.
If you want feel-good escapism with a touch of drug-inspired lyrics, "Punky's Dilemma" is for you. The melody is cute and poppy, and the harmonies are, as ever, excellent, but the meaning of the song could deal with breakfast or a love affair, or something else entirely depending on which verse you're in.
And then, there is "Mrs. Robinson." Earlier in 1968, Simon & Garfunkel provided the musical score to the film The Graduate
, made up of some old classics ("Sound of Silence") and some specially written material. Bookends
includes a slightly different version of "Mrs. Robinson," a sardonic examination of The Graduate
's leading lady's affair with a much younger man. Possibly S&G's most recognizable song, "Mrs. Robinson" has since become a soundtrack favorite for any movie (usually teen sex comedies) that involve making it with an older woman.
gets back to business with "Hazy Shade of Winter," a song with a little more emotional clout that examines depression through the obvious seasonal metaphor. Then it's back to peaceful fun with "At the Zoo," a humorous take on the various personalities of all the animals that we see at the zoo.
While certainly not containing the emotional weight or grand arrangements of Bridge Over Troubled Water
is possibly Simon & Garfunkel's best album of pure, fun pop music. The seeds of Bridge
's depth are there, but they don't get in the way of the fun, convoluted lyrics or the consistently amazing harmonies that are S&G's calling card. Bookends
is fun, escapist folk/pop at it's best.