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Sep 06

SIMON AND GARFUNKEL – “Bridge Over Troubled Water”

FT + Popular101 comments • 11,273 views

#283, 28th March 1970

Eurosleeve shows S&G as cop show rejectsThe most celebrated track on the biggest-selling album of the 1970s in Britain, “Bridge Over Troubled Water” has become a marbled standard and it’s hard to step back from that and listen to the thing. Maybe it’s useful to leave it in its immediate context and compare it to “Wan’drin Star”, especially as I’m about to give it the same mark.

Both are carefully arranged showcases for their singer. Both are slow, thoughtful records that work to capture a particular emotional frame of mind. Both dramatise that frame of mind using their arrangement: in “Star”, Lee Marvin sounds uncomfortable and impatient, keen to saddle up and be off down the trail again. In “Bridge”, the structure and arrangement hark back to earlier and ancient ways of religious comfort-giving, lending the recording the feel of a secular hymn. Oh, and both records botch it towards the end – Lee’s vocal goes completely off-track, and Simon and Garfunkel bring in the drums and love poetry, threatening to turn their austere statement of devotion into a particularly high-handed, passive-aggressive come-on.

There’s no question that “Bridge”, like “Sugar, Sugar”, is a supremely well-crafted record. The Archies track hides its craft, though, using it for the – perhaps sinister – purposes of getting you hooked on a dumb pop choon. “Bridge”‘s craft is obvious in every bar. The gradual introduction, interplay and build of piano, voice bass and drum is beat-perfect, with even Garfunkel’s (yes, very beautiful) voice ultimately another component to be precisely tweezerdropped into place. If I find this delicacy wearying, or oppressive, or even cold, that’s a reflection of the gap between what the record asks of its listener – concentration and solemnity – and what I’m prepared to give it. I never liked real hymns much, either.

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Comments

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  1. 76
    Al Ewing on 1 Feb 2007 #

    Frankly, it’s time for an article saying that Pink Floyd were Emo.

  2. 77
    enitharmon on 22 Aug 2009 #

    Why is this one dated 1983 instead of 1970?

  3. 78
    admin on 22 Aug 2009 #

    Fixed. Thanks!

  4. 79
    Waldo on 4 Sep 2009 #

    “Bridge” is a pop/rock masterpiece from an album which is a pop/rock masterpiece also. The ambivalence shown here by some for this extraordinary record genuinely staggers me. I would not, however, suggest that “you guys are just plain fucking stupid” for sponsoring such a view. One reason for this is that I am tolerant and urbane. The other reason is that I have taken my medication today.

  5. 80
    grimley on 28 Sep 2009 #

    My biggest memory of this is Flick Colby dancing to it on TOTP. I’m not sure if was the de facto head of Pans People or the choreographer by this time but it has certainly stuck in the memory. I love the song but The Boxer was always my stand out track on the album

  6. 81
    punctum on 23 Feb 2010 #

    For those interested, my extended thoughts on the album.

  7. 82
    Sam on 14 Sep 2010 #

    See, this is why I couldn’t do this exercise. I could not bring any semblance of fairness or objectivity to this one.

    Some commenters have touched on Simon being ‘odious’ or ‘creepy’. That would be a very mild way of describing the aversion I have always felt to anything bearing his imprint. Hatefully smug, cloying, self-satisfied – if I heard this record at an emotionally vulnerable time I would probably start smashing things. It physically distresses me (though not as much as Mrs Robinson).

    And I know it ain’t the Art, because I own and enjoy ‘Bright Eyes’.

    Tom is to be highly commended for giving every entry a fair shake, even if he ends up handing out a 1. I’m reading from the beginning, and I’m yet to find one where I feel he has prejudged it.

    And Let It Be was at number 2?! Glory was it in those times not yet to be alive…

    To those who like this, I apologise if my comments seem excessive. I’d be interested to know if others have songs, singers or sounds that actually distress them to the extent that they feel acute psychic or physical pain. I can think of at least one other number one I find even more hideous than this, too.

  8. 83
    Snif on 14 Sep 2010 #

    “…if others have songs, singers or sounds that actually distress them to the extent that they feel acute psychic or physical pain.”

    I find the “off” switch to be a painless remedy.

  9. 84
    Conrad on 9 Nov 2011 #

    on last night’s documentary about the making of BOTW, Paul Simon said he’d originally envisaged the title track as a more low key 2 verse only, and was persuaded by Artie (who saw the first two verses as merely the runway), that the song needed to take-off. And take off it did with the monstrously overblown third verse and symphonic denouement.

    What a shame. I’ve realised that my own selection of S&G tracks totally eliminates the ones where they go heavy on the drums and drama. I hate that drum sound on The Boxer!

    S&G work much better for me in an intimate, acoustic setting, with subtle embellishments – give me America or April Come She Will any day over Bridge….

    But 2 verses voice/piano only – that would have been lovely.

  10. 85
    wichita lineman on 10 Nov 2011 #

    “A little hymn” was how Paul Simon described it, which is at the root of why I find it a hard song to love. I really like the “sail on silver girl” transition myself; the third verse sounds more human-sized than the purple-robed verses (conversely, I might like it a lot more if it had a Jewish influence). BOTW is just too aware of its own greatness, something Simon said several times in the doc.

    The doc* didn’t mention the story about Paul McCartney hearing the song, rushing home, and dashing out Let It Be in ten minutes; Paul and Artie were thus convinced BOTW would get stuck at no.2 behind a guaranteed Beatles no.1 and, worse, people would think Macca had the “little hymn” idea first. I read this in David Browne’s Fire And Rain**, his take on 1970 as a hinge year, which has a bunch of great anecdotes whatever you make of his analysis.

    America is pre-tty epic, Conrad, but agreed it’s a subject matter that warrants the Spectorian scale.

    * the tagged-on ‘Imagine’ intro included the Yentob line, apparently filmed in his car on the way to work, “and the rest, as they say, is history”… TRY HARDER for our license fee, Botney!

    **The New York Times’ sniffy review of the book (and Browne is one of its own writers) is more cliched and dim than even Yentob’s pat words:

    “While Mr. Taylor, Mr. Simon and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young have returned to fashion, we shouldn’t forget that their music made punk necessary. Could the story of the transition from the ’60s to the ’70s be better told with Led Zeppelin, Nick Drake, David Bowie or Gram Parsons as its protagonists?”

    Nick Drake as a protagonist. Yup, that would’ve made for a lengthy and intriguing read.

  11. 86
    swanstep on 10 Nov 2011 #

    Mad, possibly downright evil Canadian/American right-winger Mark Steyn had a good piece on BOTW about a month ago here. May contain right-wing cooties.

  12. 87
    Ed on 10 Nov 2011 #

    @86 That’s a great piece. Steyn started his career as a music / theatre / film critic, and was a pretty good one all round, I seem to remember. When he cropped up ranting about politics, I took a long time to realise it was the same guy. I wonder what combination of psychological and financial incentives pushed him in that direction. Do you think we could have a whip-round to get him writing about music again?

  13. 88
    thefatgit on 10 Nov 2011 #

    So he’s like a Leftpondian Garry Bushell then?

  14. 89
    Ed on 10 Nov 2011 #

    Ha! A pretty good analogy, although I don’t remember Bushell being that great a music writer, either. Wasn’t he a big cheerleader for meat’n’potatoes “real punk”, and Oi?

    Browsing around Steyn’s site, there is quite a bit of music writing there, most of it very good. Even his take on Neil Young’s ‘Let’s Roll’, from an explicitly neo-con viewpoint, hits the mark quite a few times. Sadly, there seems to be more of a market for the sort of stuff that he is better-known for these days.

  15. 90
    thefatgit on 10 Nov 2011 #

    Yes, unfortunately there’s a lot of money to be made, banging the gong for the Tea Party over there.

  16. 91
    punctum on 11 Nov 2011 #

    His politics don’t bother me when he can write a piece as good as that.

  17. 92
    Mark G on 11 Nov 2011 #

    Yeah, I’ll second that.

  18. 93
    Jimmy the Swede on 12 Nov 2011 #

    A very enjoyable doc. Personally, I think the third verse of “Bridge..” was pivotal in making it the masterpiece it is. Indeed the whole album is sublime. I must admit, though, this is the first time I realized that Artie was the Tom in “The Only Living Boy In NY”, although it seems so obvious now. Loved the “So long already, Artie!” plea from the control box at the end of “…Frank Lloyd Wright” too. This was also news to me. It was just a pity they never got around to discussing “Keep the Customer Satisfied”, “Baby Driver” and “Why Don’t You Write Me?”. They touched on everything else, I think.

  19. 95
    Lena on 12 Apr 2012 #

    Strange feelings: http://musicsoundsbetterwithtwo.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/who-is-who-mary-hopkin-knock-knock-whos.html Thanks for reading, everybody!

  20. 96
    swanstep on 14 Oct 2012 #

    In case anyone (like me) hasn’t seen it, Howard Goodall’s 2004 series How Music Works is up on youtube in its entirety starting here with melody. That first episode closes with BOTW. For me at least, it was a bit of a revelation: being primed over the course of the preceding 45m 30s with all sorts of earlier melodic developments allowed me to hear the different parts of BOTW afresh. Recommended.

  21. 97
    mapman132 on 22 Feb 2014 #

    Love this record: 9/10 from me. In fact I’m a minor S&G fan: their Greatest Hits album is one of only two CD’s I own that consists entirely of music recorded before I was born (Beatles “1” is the other). S&G had two #1’s in the US prior to this: “Sounds of Silence” and “Mrs. Robinson”. BOTW was #1 for six weeks and Billboard’s biggest hit of 1970.

    The last stat leads into another interesting personal phenomenon that I’ll attempt to articulate here. Of Billboard’s five year-end number ones of 1970-1974, four of them used to sound to my ears less like actual pop hits and more like standards that had “always been there”. In other words when I was first getting into music charts in high school (1988-1991) and started looking into the old list of number ones, it was surprising to me to see these old-sounding songs as big hits on the same chart that I listening to on American Top 40 every week. The records in question: BOTW, “First Time I Ever Saw Your Face”, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon”, and “The Way We Were”. Three Dog Night’s “Joy To The World” was the exception for some reason. I wonder if was because they were softer A/C-type songs or more likely because I associated them with what my decidedly non-rock parents listened to in my very early childhood. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing (obviously I gave BOTW a 9/10) but it is an interesting phenomenon. To clarify further, it’s worth noting the major hits of the 60’s (Beatles, Stones, etc) did NOT feel like this to me.

    One final note to bring in a non-musical hobby of mine: in my experience, BOTW has by far inspired the largest number of geocache names of any major pop hit.

  22. 98
    hectorthebat on 8 Jun 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010)
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Dave Marsh & Kevin Stein (USA) – The 40 Best of the Top 40 Singles by Year (1981) 6
    Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (USA) – 500 Songs That Shaped Rock (1994?)
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 100 Best Singles of the Last 25 Years (1988) 71
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (2004) 47
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (Updated 2010) 48
    The Recording Academy Grammy Hall of Fame Albums and Songs (USA)
    VH1 (USA) – The 100 Greatest Songs of All Time (2000) 30
    2FM (Ireland) – Top 100 Singles of All Time (2003) 28
    BBC Radio2 (UK) – Sold on Song, a Celebration of Great Songs and Songwriting
    HarperCollins GEM (UK) – Single of the Year 1949-99 (1999)
    Mojo (UK) – The 100 Greatest Singles of All Time (1997) 74
    Mojo (UK) – The 100 Greatest Songs of All Time (2000) 65
    New Musical Express (UK) – NME Rock Years, Single of the Year 1963-99 (2000)
    Q (UK) – The 1001 Best Songs Ever (2003) 661
    Q (UK) – The 1010 Songs You Must Own (2004)
    The Guardian (UK) – 1000 Songs Everyone Must Hear (2009)
    Zig Zag (UK) – Gillett & Frith’s Hot 100 Singles (1975)
    Nerikes Allehanda (Sweden) – The 50 Best Rock Songs of All Time (1992) 13
    Panorama (Norway) – The 30 Best Singles of the Year 1970-98 (1999) 3
    Zounds (Germany) – The Top 30 Songs of All Time + Top 10 by Decade (1992) 26
    STM Entertainment (Australia) – The 50 Best Songs Ever (2007) 4
    Toby Creswell (Australia) – 1001 Songs (2005)
    Mauro Ronconi (Italy) – The Best Song from the 200 Best Albums (1998)
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)
    Grammy Awards (USA) – Record of the Year Winner

  23. 99
    Larry on 27 Oct 2014 #

    Then (1970)- hated it, too un-rockist for the 12 year old me.
    Now – Garfunkel’s voice, and all the musicians, are truly wonderful. But would I listen to this song again? No.

  24. 100
    phil6875 on 12 Apr 2015 #

    Simon & Garfunkel are one of only six artists to have simultaneously held the top spot in the U.S. and U.K. singles and albums charts and this is the single they did it with.

  25. 101
    lonepilgrim on 8 Oct 2017 #

    I can remember hearing this playing in the background at a school friend’s birthday party around this time. It sounded rather hymn like – not really party music, but still it drew my attention away from the games we were playing. I think the problem I have with it now is that Art Garfunkel sounds rather detached – concentrating so hard on hitting the notes and phrasing that he undermines the sentiment of the lyrics. He sounds more relaxed and open on the final verse – as the other instruments come in and the pace quickens slightly. I still prefer ‘You’ve got a friend’ TBH.
    Has the critical consensus towards Paul Simon grown more positive in recent years? When Dylan won the Nobel Prize last year I saw some claiming PS was just as (if not more) worthy a candidate. He has a talent for harnessing the rhythms of everyday language to the more exotic beats that he has explored and/or pilfered throughout his career. The songs lack much erotic energy which maybe why he is still regarded as a little bit cerebral.

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