Simon and Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 1)

One of my random childhood memories associated with Simon and Garfunkel is that when I would hear the “In the clearing stands a boxer” verse of “The Boxer,” I would get chills (almost always at the “Or cut him / Till he cried out / In his anger and his shame”). At some point I noticed this somatic response, and I appreciated two things. One, I knew that there was an emotional component to my reaction – that something about those words and the way Paul Simon sung them touched me in a unique way – and that somehow my feelings were manifesting physically, and I marveled at the connection between mind and body. This was all the more fascinating to me because I knew my body’s response was genuine. I couldn’t manufacture chills on command, unlike crying or laughing; this was totally unbidden and beyond my control, so what I was experiencing was the power of music. Two, and relatedly, I tested the consistency and longevity of the experience. Every time I heard the song, I wondered if I would get the chills again or if I would have developed an immunity, or somehow become calloused. And every time, it would happen. It still does.

What I Think of This Album

The best and arguably only must-own Simon and Garfunkel album, Bridge Over Troubled Water is also their most varied and successful, and also their last (and fifth). I’ve always maintained that a good part of the appeal of the pair’s songs lies in the production, and I think that is particularly evident on this release. The booming drums on “The Boxer,” the percussion tricks and reverb-heavy sound on “Cecilia,” the gospel piano of the title track, all the harmonies on “The Only Living Boy in New York.” Let’s give Roy Halee some credit here.

Nonetheless, the songwriting on the album was superb. “The Boxer” is phenomenal – just a massive achievement – and Halee’s equally large production and the work of the Wrecking Crew (including Hal Blaine on drums) provides the perfect canvas for Simon’s tale of loneliness and validation. The power of the arrangement amplifies the poignancy of the lyrics. I fucking love this song.

Obviously, “Bridge Over Troubled Water” is an epic ballad, based in part on Claude Jeter’s performance of the spiritual “Mary Don’t You Weep” when he was in the Swan Silvertones. I don’t normally care much for Art Garfunkel’s solo vocals, but he does an undeniably great job here. It’s been covered a million times, including by Aretha Franklin, Johnny Cash, and Elvis. Every year at my middle school, the girls’ choir would perform this song at graduation, and not even those jejune, lily-white bombardments can inflict lasting damage, so sturdy is it.

“The Only Living Boy in New York” (a title later lovingly bastardized by Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine) is a tender admission of Garfunkel’s importance to Simon and the loss Simon felt while Garfunkel took time off for his acting career. While relegated to a B-side, “Keep the Customer Satisfied” is a fun, bitter, and funny song from a duo who could be a bit dour, and one of my favorites of their tunes.

“Baby Driver” is another uptempo and lighthearted offering that counterbalances the two big ballads on the album. Speaking of fun, “Cecilia” is a sunny, lively vignette about a comically unfaithful lover, with an infectious Afro-Caribbean rhythm that foretells Simon’s interest in world music. To that end, Simon explores other cultural sounds in “El Condor Pasa (If I Could)” (written by Daniel Alomía Robles), which he performs with Los Incas/Urubamba, and on “So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright,” as well as “Why Don’t You Write Me?”

The live cover of “Bye Bye Love” (popularized by the Everly Brothers, natch) is pointless filler.

Trivia:  The album has sold over 8 million copies in the U.S and 25,000,000 worldwide. Roy Halee’s father (also named Roy) was the voice of Mighty Mouse and Heckle and Jeckle in cartoons of the 1940s.

The Best Thing About This Album

That it allowed the act to go out on top of their game.

Release Date

January, 1970

The Cover Art

I like the vertical placement of the text and I like how it is mirrored by having Simon stand in front of Garfunkel. But the image itself is blah. I do sort of appreciate the grainy quality, like its a film still.

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