Simon and Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water
Released 1970.Elvis Presley. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Songs In The Key Of Life. Pet Sounds. Thriller. Bridge Over Troubled Water.
#51 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Albums Of All Time
Albums which changed pop music forever. Albums which nudged the boundaries of contemporary popular music without becoming contrived. Albums which have grown in popularity as their influence has become legend. Albums which defined their time, becoming historic events of their own.
As the sixties drew to a close, pop music was in something of a quandary. The idealism which had pervaded in pop music had waned to almost the point of collapse, despite the romanticism now associated with the Woodstock festival. Virulent optimism had devolved to a state of collective anxiety, tension. Vietnam was no closer to ending than it had been half a decade before, despite Nixon pulling hundreds of thousands of troops. For Americans, the anxiety of the draft lottery was enough to destroy any optimistic heart, while peace lovers the world over felt the backlash from the Manson Family massacres. The Beatles were on the verge of breaking up and, coupled with the violence at Altamont, it had cast the future of pop music into doubt.
The debut performance of Simon & Garfunkel’s new track, Bridge Over Troubled Water
, on their November 1969 TV special confronted these feelings directly. A clear message of peace, of calm, exuded. If ever such a message needed the most sizable platform it was now, and the duo delivered with the album, also named Bridge Over Troubled Water
, in the first month of the new decade.
The pair had for the first time taken production credit on their previous installment, 1968’s Bookends
and together with their longtime engineer, Roy Halee, they once again attempted to tackle the task themselves. It was to be a producers’ album, emphasising the arrangement and production rather than following any particular concept as they had done on past recordings.
As such, the familiar Simon & Garfunkel setup of acoustic guitar, vocals and little else was discarded to be replaced by lavish orchestrations and adventurous instrumentation. In this sense, Bridge Over Troubled Water
was the beginning of Paul Simon’s solo career, not least because he wrote the album alone and because it precipitated the duo’s breakup, but because it began a journey for Simon which would take in more musical styles than any other pop musician had attempted before or has attempted since.
By far the pair’s most successful album, Bridge Over Troubled Water
is justifiably over-represented in the many greatest hits packages on offer. The album serves as an example of what could have been; what could have been had the band continued and what could have been had such attention been given to the writing and arrangement of the previous four offerings, for the strength of the instrumentation pulls this album far above those that went before it. Nowhere is the strength of the arrangement and instrumentation more evident than in the title track.
The remastered CD edition contains two bonus tracks: a recording of traditional French ballad “Feuilles-O” and an early demo take of “Bridge Over Troubled Water”. The demo contains little more than the easily recognised piano, courtesy of Simon, which graces the completed recording and a slightly under-developed vocal from Garfunkel. Without the slight echo which embellishes the opening sequence; the same effect on Garfunkel’s vocals; the horns and percussion which creep in almost unnoticed; and the stunning string arrangement which takes the song to its crescendo, the song’s impact is minimal. What the arrangement adds is power, strength, pure hair-raising strength.
The production is stunning throughout the album. Keep The Customer Satisfied
is the type of song that Paul Simon has been writing his entire career – short, fast, poppy – but here it is transformed by a loud, blistering, horn section into a unique folk/mambo crossover. The latin element doesn’t stop there. If I Could
is based upon an Andean/ Peruvian folk song(El Condor Pasa) and, though the lyrics are replaced with Simon’s, is recorded using traditional Incan instruments.
is a strange adventure into the world of drum n’ bass, the rollicking percussion driving the classic pop tune of an unfaithful lover. The vocal track is so good, the ever-annoying Suggs decided to re-record the song with his own voice and, accordingly, has guaranteed himself a place in hell. Slow, lamenting vocals grace the understated classics So Long Frank Lloyd Wright
and The Only Living Boy In New York
was another top 10 hit in 1969 and shares the mantle of Paul Simon’s most well-known song with the title track. Building slowly with light acoustic guitar and carefully orchestrated vocal harmonies, the song builds to a classic chorus, consisting simply of the word “lie-la-lie” repeated. Undoubtedly the song’s highlight is the beautiful slow melody played between choruses which sees a pedal steel guitar doubled by a trumpet to create an unsettling and moving effect. The lyrics are simple but memorable and reflect the attitude of the time that the resistance had been bought by the establishment yadda yadda…
I am just a poor boy/Though my story’s seldom told/I have squandered my resistance/For a pocket full of mumbles/Such are promises
Everly Brothers cover Bye Bye Love
and the surf-pop influenced Baby Driver
get the adrenaline flowing again, but it’s the slower songs which once again capture the album’s true genius. Song For The Asking
lasts less than two minutes and closes the album, and most closely resembles the duo’s earlier days. It could be a cut from Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme
, and thus is a fitting farewell(though nobody knew it at the time) for one of the giants of pop music.
Sail on silver girl,
Sail on by,
Your time has come to shine,
All your dreams are on their way,
See how they shine
If you need a friend
I'm sailing right behind
Like a bridge over troubled water.