'Bridge Over Troubled Water' - the Album by Simon and Garfunkel Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

'Bridge Over Troubled Water' - the Album by Simon and Garfunkel

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Some albums have the ability to transcend specific genres – an almost universal appeal appreciated by people so much that they buy the digitally-remastered CD to replace their original vinyl copy. Featuring a combination of folk music with rock elements, Bridge Over Troubled Water is such an album.

Simon and Garfunkel

The pairing of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel was typical of a team of two talented individuals – when they got along with each other their creative output was phenomenal but there were spectacular fallings-out. The singer/songwriter partnership began life as 'Tom and Jerry' in 1957 but it was as 'Simon and Garfunkel' that they really came to the attention of a worldwide audience, around the mid-1960s. Their single 'The Sound of Silence' featured in the mega-hit 1967 film The Graduate and Paul Simon also wrote the now-legendary 'Mrs Robinson' (which won a Grammy Award in 1968 for Record of the Year) for the soundtrack. As well as The Graduate soundtrack, Simon and Garfunkel had four studio albums, Wednesday Morning, 3AM; Sounds of Silence; Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme and Bookends under their belts when work began on Bridge Over Troubled Water in late 1968.

Artistic Differences

Recording took over a year, and it was fraught with difficulty. Both artists had different visions of how the songs should be recorded; there was even a row about which of them should sing the title track.

Bridge Over Troubled Water

The final collection of 11 tracks lasted just 36½ minutes. Eventually released in January 1970, Bridge Over Troubled Water received critical acclaim, culminating in winning the Grammy for Album of the Year. It was the UK's best-selling album over the two-year period 1970-1, spending a total of 33 weeks in the album chart.

In 1977 Bridge Over Troubled Water was given a BRIT Award for Best International Album of the past 25 years. Featured tracks still receive airplay on popular radio stations four decades since the album was recorded – a testament to its endurability. The digitally-remastered CD was released in 2001, including a track which didn't make the final cut on the original, 'Feuilles-O', and a demo version of 'Bridge Over Troubled Water'.

Side One

Five tracks – 'Bridge over Troubled Water' (4:52); 'El Condor Pasa (If I Could)' (3:06); 'Cecilia' (2:55); 'Keep the Customer Satisfied' (2:33); 'So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright' (3:41).

'Bridge Over Troubled Water'

I'm on your side, when times get rough and friends just can't be found, like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down

Few songs can stop someone in their tracks when a snatch of the opening bars are heard accidentally, having the ability to transport the listener to another place and time, invoking bittersweet, painful memories. Everyone needs someone to comfort them when the chips are down or they're feeling lonely or depressed, when the whole world seems to be against them and nothing is going right in their realm. The ballad 'Bridge Over Troubled Water', written by Paul Simon in 1969, is from the perspective of the comforter, emphasising to the person needing support that they are there for them no matter what. The powerful lyrics convey love in the purest sense, the love of a fellow human being for another, offering a shoulder to cry on and arms for a hug. The tune can remind a listener of times of woe when they were comforted by someone special who turned up at just the right time, or of being the comforter holding the hand of someone in pain.

Paul Simon initially wrote it as a piano song for Art Garfunkel, but Garfunkel didn't like the preliminary two-verse version, so Simon added another verse and an extended ending. The resulting work struck a chord with many music lovers as the song transcended the folk/rock boundary, spilling into rock opera with drums and strings in addition to the piano. Add to the mix an overall Gospel feel and the song strays into faith territory, encapsulating yet another genre. Rolling Stone magazine placed 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' at number 47 on their '500 Greatest Songs of All Time' listing.

There is an absolutely gorgeous moment in the song when it becomes quiet and segues into Sail on Silver Girl... I'm feeling all verklempt just thinking about it
– An h2g2 Researcher

'El Condor Pasa (If I Could)'

I'd rather be a forest than a street, yes I would, if I could, I surely would. I'd rather feel the earth beneath my feet...

This track began life as Peruvian folk song 'El Cóndor Pasa' ('Flight of the Condor') written by ethnomusicologist1 Daniel Alomía Robles (1871 – 1942). Paul Simon heard the song performed live by Los Incas in Paris but when he enquired about it, he was misinformed that the song was from the 19th Century and the composer unknown. Simon wrote new lyrics for the melody and it was recorded for the album Bridge Over Troubled Water using Los Incas' instruments, such as zampoñas (pan pipes) and the quena (a traditional South American flute), as backing. This gives the track an overall Spanish/ethnic feel. Simon later gave the members of Los Incas more backing work, including touring with him (as Urubamba) after Simon went solo.

Simon and Garfunkel's version on the album begins with a mandolin plucking out the tune for 40 seconds, then Simon sings the first verse with flute and Spanish guitar accompaniment. Garfunkel sings the second verse to flute and strummed mandolin chords. Simon sings the last verse and the finale is by all the instruments. Following the album's release, Robles' son Armando Robles Godoy sued Simon for breach of copyright of the song which Godoy's father had filed in the US in 1933. The case was not contested and Simon arranged a settlement with Godoy. 'El Condor Pasa (If I Could)' was released as a single in the US with 'Why Don't You Write Me' on the 'B' side. Folk singer Julie Felix scored her only UK Top 20 hit with her cover of 'El Condor Pasa (If I Could)' after Simon and Garfunkel decided not to release their version as a single in the UK.


...when I come back to bed someone's taken my place

This could have been called 'Ode to a Groupie' as the lyrics describe a wanton, bed-hopping female. However, the choice of the name 'Cecilia' may not have been an accident. St Cecilia is the Patron Saint of composers, musicians, poets and singers, so there could be a clever analogy being made here: the flirting (thoughts of the song to be), the conquest (the actual writing), and being replaced by another lover (losing inspiration or frustration at not being able to finish the composition). The line 'Shaking my confidence daily' describes a frustrated writer suffering from writer's block. In the end the lover (songwriter) has been supplanted (his creativity has deserted him).

'Keep the Customer Satisfied'

I hear words I never heard in the Bible, and I'm one step ahead of the shoeshine

Any song which mentions the Bible is onto a winner, with around two billion followers of Christianity. This tune is stark, conveying the loneliness of a travelling salesman barely scraping a living selling his wares from door-to-door.

'So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright'

Architects may come and architects may go and never change their point of view

If there is an embodiment of the differences between the songwriting duo then this is it. The analogy here is clear, Paul Simon wrote this as a tribute to his friend and partner Art Garfunkel to commemorate their parting of the ways. Garfunkel is a lover of architecture and the man in the title, Frank Lloyd Wright, is known as one of the greatest American architects. Garfunkel hadn't twigged that it was about himself as he sang the lyrics, and was annoyed about it when he was finally informed.

Side Two

Six tracks – 'The Boxer' (5:08); 'Baby Driver' (3:14); 'The Only Living Boy in New York' (3:58); 'Why Don't You Write Me' (2:45); 'Bye Bye Love' (2:55); 'Song for the Asking' (1:49).

'The Boxer'

...just a come-on from the whores on 7th Avenue; I do declare, there were times when I was so lonesome I took some comfort there

This track is essentially about a boy who leaves home barely a man and attempts to make his way in the world by becoming a boxer. It's a powerful story and analogies can be made to any trade or job which carves chunks out of a person's soul, leaving them silently screaming for relief and release – wishing so hard that they could return to their childhood home, but they can't because it only exists now in memories. The chorus beginning 'Lie La Lie, Lie Lie La La Lie Lie Lie...' is sung against the crescendo of full orchestra; it sounds just like waves crashing onto a beach. It's almost impossible to resist singing along to it and even if the listener doesn't know the words, everyone can memorise that chorus.

'Baby Driver'

I wonder how your engine feels

The words of this song were written before the term 'petrolhead' was coined, but it's a perfect anthem for them. You just know Jeremy Clarkson had this blaring out of the radio of his first car, top down, while he tested it to its limit.

'The Only Living Boy in New York'

I can gather all the news I need on the weather report

This track was born of loneliness: the words were written when Paul Simon was alone in New York while 'Tom' (Art Garfunkel) was away in Mexico filming Catch-22. Lead vocal is performed by Simon with back-up and harmony by Garfunkel. 'The Only Living Boy in New York' featured on the 'B' side when 'Cecilia' was released as a single in April 1970.

'Why Don't You Write Me'

A letter would brighten my loneliest evening. Mail it today if it's only to say that you're leaving me.

Everyone knows this feeling – waiting to hear from someone who is uncommunicative. The silence is deafening; the lover begs for release from the torment even if it's bad news as suspected, that the relationship is over. Finally, being ignored becomes too much to bear and at the end of the extra time given the lover threatens to 'hang my body from the highest tree'.

'Bye Bye Love'

I'm through with romance, I'm through with love, I'm through with counting the stars above

This is a live recording of the smash-hit song made famous by the Everly Brothers. On the Bridge Over Troubled Water album track, one of the vocalists trips over the word 'happiness', attempting to sing it when the lyrics were 'sweet caress', and half-correct themselves so it comes out 'ha-weet caress'. The audience can be heard enjoying themselves – they whistle and clap to the beat all the way through, and laugh at a particularly shrill guitar chord.

'Song for the Asking'

Ask me and I will play all the love I hold inside

A shorter track is hard to find, but this one-and-a-half minutes of Paul Simon accompanying himself on his guitar is a sweet little love song; a lover offering to change their ways so that they might be accepted.

Elvis and Others

The single 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' spent 20 weeks in the UK charts, scoring Simon and Garfunkel's only UK number one. In 1971 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' was awarded the Grammy for '1970 Song of the Year'. It has been covered by megastars such as Elvis Presley. When Paul Simon heard Elvis' live version of 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' at a Las Vegas concert, the Elvis fan later commented: 'That's it, we might as well all give up now'. Elvis sang 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' live during his last-ever concert at the Market Square Arena, Indianapolis, on 26 June, 1977, just six weeks prior to his death aged 42. His version of Paul Simon's incomparable classic also appears on Elvis - That's The Way It Is and Elvis On Tour. Other artists who have recorded it include: Shirley Bassey; Johnny Cash; Eva Cassidy; Charlotte Church; Aretha Franklin; Josh Groban; Annie Lennox (for charity); Willie Nelson; and The Jackson Five. Acker Bilk performs the melody on his clarinet which features on the 2005 album In A Mellow Mood.

Reunion of Old Friends

Simon and Garfunkel got together for a reunion concert Old Friends – Live on Stage in 2004. They performed all their old hits: everything from the Bridge Over Troubled Water album plus 'Old Friends', 'Scarborough Fair', 'The Sound of Silence', 'Mrs Robinson', 'Homeward Bound', 'Slip Slidin' Away', 'A Hazy Shade of Winter', 'I Am A Rock', 'Leaves That Are Green', 'The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)', and 'Cathy's Song'. Guest artists included the Everly Brothers Don and Phil who joined them on stage for 'Bye Bye Love'.

The X Factor

Leona sang it on the last day I shared conscious moments with my father. My 'bridge over troubled water' passed away two days later.
– An h2g2 Researcher

On 18 November, 2006, on The X Factor, for week six of the Live Shows the theme was 'Number Ones'. 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' was chosen by Simon Cowell for his protégée Leona Lewis (the only female left in the contest). This was a brave choice of song as it really shouldn't be attempted by amateurs or novices. However, Leona gave it her all and more than did the iconic song justice, bringing her own style to the well-known tune, and providing listeners with a chill-factor. The studio audience loved it and gave her a standing ovation. Leona eventually went on to win the competition and is one of the few reality show success stories. The title track continues to be covered – recently it featured on the debut CD of Rhydian Roberts, the 2007 runner-up of The X Factor, who wasn't even born when the original album first hit the shops. Simon Cowell described the Welsh baritone's live rendition as 'bloody fantastic', 'absolutely in a different league' and 'the best performance of the competition so far' – he wasn't promoting his own act either, Rhydian's mentor was Cowell's rival judge Dannii Minogue.

In Orbit

The singer/songwriting duo Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel have been immortalised in outer space: the asteroid originally designated 1999 FP21 was renamed '91287 Simon-Garfunkel' in their honour.

1Someone who is involved in the study of music that isn't Western art music.

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