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Apr 08

ART GARFUNKEL – “I Only Have Eyes For You”

FT + Popular52 comments • 3,224 views

#379, 25th October 1975

Evolution of a song: a witty number from a minor musical becomes, in the hands of The Flamingos, one of the greatest singles of all time – romantic, courtly, enchanting, and most of all awestruck by love. They took the well-turned smooshiness of the lyrics and made them live. It’s their magical version that turned up in American Graffiti (and later Buffy) – but it isn’t their version that got to #1 here (in fact it wasn’t a hit here at all).

The spectral presence of the Flamingos shouldn’t prejudice me against Art’s version, but it does, a little, because Garfunkel takes their reading and pushes it slightly too far. The production, swaddling the song in soft seventies cottonwool, brings the sentiment to life – Art only has eyes for you because nothing else is getting through this big fuzzy oven glove of sound. It’s like a cuddlier “I’m Not In Love” – he is in love, or so he tells us at least: it’s hard to get much of a feeling for this “you” in amongst all the plushness.

That’s not to say I dislike it – it’s a hard song to screw up, and Garfunkel obviously adores it as much as anyone does. His voice is, as usual, deceptively drippy, softly-spoken but always firmly in charge of things, even when those ridiculous (but kind of gorgeous) backing cherubim come in. I also really like the sanctified bedroom vibe of 70s ‘quiet storm’ style production, which this reminds me of – but ultimately it sacrifices the crisp shock of love that the Flamingos captured so well, and can’t quite get out from under of their shadow.

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Comments

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  1. 26
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 13 Apr 2008 #

    obviously you don’t need “record clubs” to listen to records together — but the rise of a large-scale student-directed press devoted to discussing singles and LPs, to sharing the news and the discussion, coincides with innovation in the print industry which mean that good-looking nicely printed full-colour magazines — as opposed to crabbed little fanzines, or specialist journals like downbeat, or trade news sheets like billboard — were suddenly widely available and widely affordable, on a qualititively different scale… which is where crawdaddy and rolling stone and creem came in (the uk equivs were a little late starting): anyway, the point is that a combo of a new medium of transmission AND a new medium of discussion was a bit of an unstoppable force

    (also of course teens had more disposable income and were being consciously targeted as a distinct market blah blah)

  2. 27
    Snif on 14 Apr 2008 #

    “wikipedia sez 1946-64 is indeed the most commonly agreed period for the boom itself…”

    But only recently, I’d wager – if memory serves, there was a time when the “boom” finished up around 1958; I say that because I recall a swag of TV docos etc that surfaced around the time of “The Big Chill” which all seemed more aimed at my old siblings. I was born in 1960 and remember thinking that I’d just missed being part of this so-called boom…I suspect that it’s only after the rise and definitions of Generations X and Y that the boom period was sort of lengthened to take up the slack, as it were.

    I could be wrong, of course.

  3. 28
    Lena on 14 Apr 2008 #

    13th Gen has Gen X starting in ’61 and going to ’75, for what it’s worth.

  4. 29
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 14 Apr 2008 #

    well since the original definition is nothing to do with the habits of difft generations when grown up and everything to do with a measurable statistical fact in the population — which is what the wiki article is about, a population boom — i think what’s more likely is that (since there isn’t a way for the population figures to have changed retro-actively) the cultural appropriation was always just sloppy about the end-point

    also: there was a post-war pop’n boom in the us and a post-war pop’n boom in the uk, but did their ends coincide?

  5. 30
    rosie on 14 Apr 2008 #

    Now there, Mark, is the rub! The post-war experience in Britain and America is different because the experiences of the war were totally different, and naturally the experiences of the consequences of the war were different – America, where no bombs fell, experiencing a sharp rise in prosperity while a shattered Britain, and Europe in general, picked up the pieces and began to rebuild. It was a long process – rationing didn’t end in Britain until 1954, the year that I was born. Britain did have the welfare state in this period, and that alone would have made a big difference (growing up on welfare orange juice – yum! When was that withdrawn?). A new generation grew up with a guaranteed school meal made to nutritional standards – they may not have been the kind of nutritional standards we’d approve of today but it was universal, and the first time a whole generation of children had eaten properly.

    Where do things change? To some extent it’s all lines in the sand but there are times when you can point to significant points in history that changed everything. 1945 was one obvious such point – not only the end of the war but also the year of Hiroshima, Nagasaki (already alluded to recently) and yes, Dresden. The seismic shift in the nature of the charts around 1962/63 surely didn’t happen in isolation; it was the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis (the Cold War affected Britain much less than it did America until this point); the Kennedy assassination; Vietnam; but also the Chatterley trial and – most significant of all perhaps – the contraceptive pill. If you were sixteen in 1963 you were born in – 1947. Hmmm…

    And then comes the mid 70s. The oil crisis which began in 1973 was really beginning to bite by 1975 and the properity that had hitherto been taken for granted now began to fall apart. 1975 is also the year of Jaws, which began a new era of mainstream Hollywood film production. I’d venture to suggest that the average age of the buyer of singles had come down too, and if you were just entering your teens in 1975 you would have been born in – 1962/63!

    By the way, my favourite Baby Boom film, which is perhaps more liminal and illustrative of the transition rather than full-blown Babybooming, is Peter Bogdanovitch’s The Last Picture Show. The soundtrack to that features names from the very early days of Popular – Jo Stafford, Eddie Fisher, Tony Bennett…

  6. 31
    Drucius on 14 Apr 2008 #

    The Flamingos version is a thing of wonder, Arts is adequate.

  7. 32
    Matthew H on 14 Apr 2008 #

    I thought I didn’t know this but – having now YouTubed – of course I do. It’s nagging at me, though. This has been sampled, hasn’t it? Stupid question, given the all-embracing reach of sampling, but if anyone can place it, I’d be grateful.

    Also YT-ed the Flamingos take on it, which has a dreamy poise that Art doesn’t quite manage. I like Art’s version all the same.

  8. 33
    LondonLee on 14 Apr 2008 #

    I’d pick Diner as my favourite Boomer 50s nostalgia movie, it does remember the pre-rock n’ roll era as the characters in the movie talk about Sinatra and Johnny Mathis as well as Little Richard – probably because they’re slightly older than the kids in American Graffiti.

    Also it has the greatest movie record geek ever in Daniel Stern’s character who can name the b-side of all his singles and tells his wife what record was playing the first time he ever saw her as a retort to her question “What’s the big deal? They’re just records”

  9. 34
    Waldo on 16 Apr 2008 #

    TOTP depicted Art ducking in and out of London taxis as a backdrop to this excellent piece. Garfunkel tackles an old standard and does it well. I was delighted when it hit the top (as Paul Gambichinni assured us it would) as by then I could bore for England (Private Frazer: “And Scotland!”) with regards Paul and Art thanks to my brother false feeding me everything from “Wednesday Morning 3AM” right up to when they parted company following “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, an album which is undoubtedly one of pop/rock’s masterpieces. Paul Simon was by this time well into his own solo career and had already released “Still Crazy After All These Years”, yet another remarkable body of work. In the meantime, in nipped Artie to achieve what Paul never did and score a solo UK number one. He was to return to the top later, Garfunkel, with that bloody (spoiler) bunny song, which on reflection made me feel far less guilty for having written “Boxing Day Bobby” back in 1974.

  10. 35
    Marcello Carlin on 16 Apr 2008 #

    Paul Simon also returns to number one later, but not on his own…

  11. 36
    wwolfe on 16 Apr 2008 #

    A very groovy coincidence:

    I post at a “Buffy” web site called The Cross and Stake, where we are re-viewing all 144 episodes in chronological order (a project not totally unlike what’s happening here with singles). This very day, we’re discussing – you guessed it – “I Only Have Eyes For You.” Rest assured I pointed out your site and this entry to my fellow “Buffy” lovers.

    I love this phrase: “this big fuzzy oven glove of sound.” That’s perfect. And I’m happy to see you feel the same about the Flamingos’ version.

  12. 37
    henry s on 16 Apr 2008 #

    Grenadine (Mark Robinson, Jen Toomey, some other guy) did a gorgeous version on their Goya LP…can this song be botched?

  13. 38
    Chris Brown on 16 Apr 2008 #

    I’ve only heard this record a couple of times in my life, including the time when McAlmont & Butler chose it on Ken Bruce’s show… but the bunny won’t let me tell you what they said then.

    I quite like it, but even now the one bit I don’t totally grasp is how it managed to do so well. That’s in no way a criticism, but it intrigues me that it could do so well when other versions had failed (commercially) and Art wasn’t a consistently popular singles act.

  14. 39
    Anne on 22 Apr 2008 #

    I would like to participate in your depth discussion … formidable.
    There are two things that prevent me: Do not speak English (I am Italian) and use a translator; my musical culture is very limited … I read with admiration your depth arguments.
    That said, please evaluate the cycle of performances in honor of Paul Simon at BAM
    He revisited the Capeman to overcome the old failure, it was autocelebrate with African repertoire, and revisits the quiet railway stations, urban rhythms, and immigrant dreams of his greatest American tunes collaborates “with an extraordinary range of artists that are OLU DARA, GRIZZLY BEAR, JOSH GROBAN, AMOS LEE, THE ROCHES, GILLIAN WELCH… ” No trace of ART GARFUNKEL. Paul knows that many people have loved and love the harmonization of Simon & Garfunkel, but has decided to “cancel” that because, I tink,to deny the contribution made to its success by the great voice of Art Garfunkel.
    I not understand how a brilliant man and sensitive can act with great firmness, ignoring the demands of fans and the cultural importance of those songs, that sound.
    . With reneweds versions of classic songs S & G. Americantune begins this evening. You go to the theatre? I would be happy to read your commentary.
    He seems an interesting topic though appears complicated. Bread for your teeth!

  15. 40
    DJ Punctum on 23 Apr 2008 #

    Bread for your teeth!

    Greatest sentence EVER posted in Popular Comments!

  16. 41
    Erithian on 23 Apr 2008 #

    Oh, don’t take the piss Punctum – it’s no doubt a literal translation of an Italian phrase that means something like “food for thought”. It takes guts to post on a website in a foreign language, so don’t send her up!

    Anne – welcome aboard, and please comment on other entries on this site.

    Just realised I haven’t given my verdict on this record yet, so here it is – soporific. Sorry.

  17. 42
    DJ Punctum on 23 Apr 2008 #

    I don’t do piss taking or sending up here, Erithian – it’s a great sentence whatever its genesis.

    Also my first language is Italian so I know perfectly well what she meant.

  18. 43
    Erithian on 23 Apr 2008 #

    OK, fair enough, I take that back.

  19. 44
    Anne on 23 Apr 2008 #

    Oh yes, I have courage. But not it seems a particularly courageous requesting an opinion about Paul Simon at BAM (not that you gave me).
    There will be perhaps a little snobbish? (If you know what it means). However thanks to the attention that have dedicated and for the welcome

  20. 45
    pink champale on 24 Apr 2008 #

    This has been sampled, hasn’t it? Stupid question, given the all-embracing reach of sampling, but if anyone can place it, I’d be grateful.

    the sampling i know of is the song that goes “another mc loses life tonight…” on the fugrees’ ‘score’.

  21. 46
    pink champale on 24 Apr 2008 #

    er, fugees

  22. 47
    Jonathan Bogart on 31 Jul 2009 #

    I was wrong.

  23. 48
    swanstep on 28 Nov 2009 #

    I much prefer Dick Powell’s original chatty version in Dames. Later versions tend to either omit the first pair of couplets:

    My love must be a kind of blind love
    I can’t see anyone but you
    And dear, I wonder if you find love
    An optical illusion, too?

    altogether, or worse, as here and with the Flamingos, use the first couplet but not the second, and weirdly just vamp for a few bars to make up the difference. (See Powell do the biz. here.)

    If you leave out the optical illusion line then the song’s main conceit and especially its final lines:

    Maybe millions of people go by
    But they all disappear from view
    And I only have eyes for you

    come across just as hyperbole. Keep the optical illusion line *in* and have someone to sing *to* and who can react – Ruby Keeler nods her assent to Powell’s question and lays her head on his shoulder – and the rest of the song becomes not a lover’s hyperbole but a sophisticated dramatization of aspects of a provocative thesis: that love is a shared/joint optical illusion. The underlying objecctive reality might be just neediness, territoriality, mate-selection etc. but the lovers are constituted as lovers by sharing a perpective from which there’s something more than that going on, something quasi-magical that makes everything else drop away. (In fact the movie makes funs with a slightly different visual notion – we see from Powell’s POV lots of women in advertisements morph into his lover’s face…and there are cool tricks with masks that Michel Gondry stole for his ‘brilliant video for ‘let forever be’.)

    I hate to be a prig about my basic point, but this is absolutely a case in which a fascinating song lost a lot of its meaning (and literally at least a couple of lines) by being wrenched out of its dramatic context and turned into a you-can-sing-it-anywhere standard. Also, if you flatten the song out to hyperbole, the placement of the ‘only’s far away from the ‘you’s they must modify just grates as ungrammatical I find. If you keep the illusions question-couplet and subsequent assent in place, however, then the ‘I only’s make additional sense as the special mutually constituting subjects of the joint illusion.

    Dick Powell’s version of the song was played by android Gigolo Joe in the Spielberg-Kubrick movie A.I. (2001) – a pretty interesting flick about what sorts of shared illusions love involves and whether robots we can always unplug/turn off can nonetheless partcipate in those affective/subjective shared realities. Spielberg-Kubrick chose the right version of the song for their project. The less interesting song that standards-merchants all sing wouldn’t have worked nearly as well.

  24. 49
    swanstep on 29 Nov 2009 #

    There are better quality bits of some of Powell and Keeler’s inner dream/optical illusion world spliced into this amazing omnibus Busby Berkeley vid. (set to a great Magnetic Fields song). We come out of the Dames dream world in the most stunning way possible at around 2:20, but do yourself a favor and watch the whole thing! Busby Berkeley was a great genius to whom everyone should be exposed. Gondry has made his whole career out of stealing (in the best possible way) his in-camera tricks! In general,just as the great tin-pan alley songs make almost all subsequent popular song-writing look bone-headed, literally lacking in both wit and chops, Berkeley’s visual language for his musical numbers puts all subsequent film musicals in the shade, even the great ones of the ’50s (which are, of course, much better as overall films).

  25. 50
    shantel on 28 Dec 2009 #

    I LOVE GOD HE IS MY SAVIOR I AM ONLY 9 MY NAME IS SHANTEL I LOVE THE LORD VERY MUCH AND I HOPE EVERY ONE ELSE DOES TO THANKYOU ALL BY GOD BLESS YOU

    SHNATEL

    GARCIA

  26. 51
    Erithian on 12 Jul 2011 #

    Two posters side by side at my local train station this week – one for “So Beautiful or So What”, the other for the National Art Gallery Pass. So the adjacent headlines read “Paul Simon back to his best” – “Never without Art”. Cosmic…

  27. 52
    Mark G on 13 Jul 2011 #

    I hope you took a photo.

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