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Sep 08

ART GARFUNKEL – “Bright Eyes”

FT + Popular76 comments • 4,228 views

#436, 14th April 1979


Who wrote “Bright Eyes”, and why they wrote it, I don’t care. I know, but I don’t care. You can talk about all that stuff Because all “Bright Eyes” means for me is this:

Sorry about the glutinous string arrangement there, which completely destroys the fragility of Art’s original, but it’s the visuals that matter. This, good people, is why the rabbit is the most terrifying animal in pop: those swirling sun-rabbits, those warping and distoring pylons, and most of all the Black Rabbit and his red eyes and weird totem-mask ears.

As a fairly precocious child I had already read Watership Down before the film came to a local village hall, maybe a year or so after this single hit number one. I was very eager to see it, because I loved the book: there were bits in it I found scary, the vicious rabbits of the Efrafa warren for instance, but the film was a cartoon, and how frightening could cartoons be? More fool me: I still get chills when I see the sequence above but it’s nothing – nothing – compared to the warren destruction, with the crushed blinded rabbits dying in claustrophobic fear. I am not a great fan of horror films, but nothing I have ever seen in the cinema has been as terrifying as Watership Down. And when I try to imagine the horror of warfare or plague, what my mind reaches for is pale circles of dead rabbits.

The amazing thing about “Bright Eyes” the song is that it actually manages to live up to my terrified imaginings – Art’s lovely, strung-out vocal managing to sound like the graceful, fatal will-o-wisp of the film’s Black Rabbit, the vision you chase even though you know where it is leading you to: “following the river of death downstream”, what a great line, or at least it becomes one with Art singing it with that slight beckon in his voice. The power is all in the verses, though – the chorus of “Bright Eyes” is too big, too strong, too arranged to sustain their wan intensity. It turns the track into, well, a pop song, gives it the safety and resolution of closing credits and lights coming up. But the verses are a shadow glimpsed jumping across the setting sun.

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Comments

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  1. 51
    Tim on 16 Sep 2008 #

    Re: 43 – Lena I’m not sure that I can get with “sounds like a pitchman” being more in line with “rapper” than “sounds like a jazz singer: quite the opposite, in fact. But I see what you mean about the self-referentiality.

  2. 52
    abaffledrepublic on 16 Sep 2008 #

    I think it’s possible that this song’s huge chart success may have surprised even its creators. Take away the vocals and it sounds like another piece of instrumental score, which wouldn’t have been released as a single at all.

    Agree with all those glad that it stopped Racey’s Some Girls from getting to no.1. I had the misfortune to see this horrible song on TOTP2 once, a pile of sexist garbage sung by a group of ugly pub rockers.

    As for the book, it could just be taken as a kids’ story about a group of rabbits. But each individual character is so well written that you forget that they’re any particular species at all, but somehow at the same time you never say to yourself ‘they’re rabbits, they wouldn’t do that’. Only that ridiculous, annoying seagull character should have been edited out. The destruction of the original warren and the Efrafa dictatorship make it as strong a critique of totalitarianism as anything by more ‘political’ writers, and the whole thing is a feat of storytelling to equal anything Tolkien ever wrote.

    Much better written than this posting anyway!

  3. 53
    Malice Cooper on 17 Sep 2008 #

    This took a while to chart as the release date on the demo is a couple of months before it made a chart debut. The combination of Art’s fantastic voice and Mike Batt’s writing skills made this a perfect song.

    I do like Walliams and Lucas’s parody on Simon and Garfunkel when “Simon” declared “The rabbits didn’t buy it”

  4. 54
    wichita lineman on 17 Sep 2008 #

    Mike Batt was prone to sugarsweet paranoia around this time – see also the Garfunkel/Faltskog single Sometimes When I’m Dreaming where everything is quite lovely in a Macca-esque melancholy manner until the chorus payoff – “but I wake up screaming, sometimes when I’m dreaming.” How queer, as Zuleika Dobson would say.

    Seconding Marcello on love for the Wombles oeuvre, especially the first album (Wombling Songs) which is chocka with gorgeous baroque pop, minor key odes to “wombling along” etc

    Re 52: “Some girls will, some girls won’t.” Umm, most girls I’m guessing… (punchline pinched from Popular pub convo last night). If Racey were handpicked like Westlife, how come Chinnichap picked such a bunch of oddballs? (trying to be kind here)

    Re 50: That’ll be at Croydon College, where Scott and McLaren plotted the long term pop future along with Jamie Reid.

  5. 55
    intothefireuk on 20 Sep 2008 #

    I must have been one of the few to actually buy M’s earlier single (possibly first) ‘Moderne Man’ which was a terrific slice of rock/pop. ‘Moonlight & Muzak’ was an excellent single as well.

    As for Art. After the sublime ‘Breakaway’ from a few years back, he’d hit a bit of a lean period so ‘Bright Eyes’ was a return to chart form although it was somewhat disappointing with it’s syrupy chorus and over-egged string arrangement. Hopefully Mike Batt will not be at any time ripe for an ABBA – style make over.

  6. 56
    Mark G on 21 Sep 2008 #

    I’ll bet you don’t got “Cry myself to sleep” though. On do it records, by “Comic Romance”, a fairly straight ska-pop ballad thingy with all post-modern irony on the sleeve art…

  7. 57
    lonepilgrim on 3 Mar 2009 #

    Read the story behind the song here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/7919049.stm

  8. 58
    MikeMCSG on 15 Jul 2009 #

    This is one of the earliest singles in my collection – I gave most of my mid-70s ones to jumble sales or swapped them because I’d overplayed them (including an Eddie Howell one which I later learned was very valuable because of Freddie Mercury’s involvement -ouch !).
    I bought it as soon as it came out after the film along with Cool For Cats and three weeks later they were 1 and 2 in the charts- the closest I’ve ever got to the zeitgeist !
    It’s great in the film context which prompted the purchase but I think (at 14) I also had some precognition that my childhood was ending and wanting to buy this sweet song about rabbits before the doors of innocence closed for good. 1979 was also the year I bought my last Matchbox car and Marvel comic.

  9. 59
    Waldo on 15 May 2010 #

    BUNNY UPDATE:

    “The Hon Member for Watership Down”, Sarah Teather, is now an Education minister…

  10. 61
    Mark G on 10 Jan 2011 #

    Everyone thought it was Sparks when it first came out.

  11. 62
    punctum on 10 Jan 2011 #

    I didn’t.

  12. 63
    vinylscot on 10 Jan 2011 #

    Neither did I, and I don’t remember anyone else thinking that. It really doesn’t sound much like them at all.

  13. 64
    pink champale on 10 Jan 2011 #

    nice site billy. i really liked you piece on ‘say hello wave goodbye’ which made me think at lot as i’ve never heard the song that way *at all*. from the lyrics on the page i can’t fault your analysis one bit, but listening to the song, i don’t hear sneering sarcasm, i hear marc tearing his heart out. to me he doesn’t sound smug about finding a nice little housewife and a steady life, he sounds utterly distraught – that bit, with the wavering synth wash rising up behind him is one of the most beautiful moments in pop music. i hear the song as someone steeling himself to do a terrible thing (all the stuff about what a mess she is him desperately trying to convince himself) for the sake of..what, i dunno – respectability, his career? ( the nation? there’s definitely a touch of hal and falstaff). so yeah, selfish maybe, but not callous – just listen to that terrible moment of hesitation in “we’re strangers meeting for the first time…okay?”. what a song.

  14. 65
    Billy Smart on 11 Jan 2011 #

    Well thank you very much, Champale! I’ve replied to your thoughts about ‘Say Hello’ on the ‘Tainted Love’ thread, where I thought it would fit in better.

  15. 66
    Billy Smart on 17 Jan 2011 #

    Perhaps Mike Batt’s greatest hit; http://drunkennessofthingsbeingvarious.blogspot.com/2011/01/wombles-remember-youre-womble-1974-no-3.html

  16. 67
    Mark G on 17 Jan 2011 #

    I’d have said “Superwomble”, but that would be mainly for the Chris Spedding solo…

  17. 68
    Brendan on 26 Sep 2012 #

    Again Tom nails my own thoughts even before I’ve tried to figure out what they are. The verses are quite sublime, as one might expect from one of the most beautiful voices ever (cf For Emily (Wherever I May Find Her)) but the chorus is one of those godawful sing-alongs that you’d expect to hear sung by a football crowd or a Celine/Mariah/Whitney type singer, truly dreadful even if Art’s voice does at least lessen the ill-effect somewhat. I would agree it’s a 6.

    Incidentally, I read the book a few years later and it has been one of my favourites ever since and I thought the film worked well for the most part.

  18. 69
    Tom on 26 Sep 2012 #

    I need to put the video link back in here or my write up makes little sense!

  19. 70
    enitharmon on 26 Sep 2012 #

    @68, now if you worked in horticulture you wouldn’t have any sympathy at all with a story about heroic rabbits. Stoats, yes. Badgers, certainly (damn the dairy farmers and their old wives tales), but not rabbits which are an invasive species in more senses than one (they burrow up into the polytunnels and scoff the lot!)

  20. 71
    Brendan on 26 Sep 2012 #

    I think the point of the book was that it could be about any species even humans. It’s all about the journey innit? I’m betting Simon Cowell was a fan.

  21. 72
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 27 Sep 2012 #

    Has anyone ever met anyone who reread Shardik?

  22. 73
    Tom on 27 Sep 2012 #

    No. I have however met many people who re-read SHAKO! http://www.comicvine.com/shako/29-53956/

  23. 74
    Brendan on 27 Sep 2012 #

    #72 I hadn’t even heard of it till you mentioned it tbh. I have got The Plague Dogs but I never got round to reading it. Maybe enitharmon was right and it was just the cute bunnies that did it for me.

  24. 75
    thefatgit on 18 Dec 2012 #

    Watership Down was deemed so important by our teacher, that the whole class went to see it at our local cinema. The book we had been reading in class was marvellous. The film was…different, to put it diplomatically. A group of kids emerged from the cinema somewhat disturbed and troubled by what they had seen, including myself. The visual imagery played alongside that of Pat Mills’ excellent “Charley’s War” from “Battle” (which I started to read faithfully from the beginning of that year). So the horror of the trenches and the gassing of the warren actually became totally fused in my brain at that point. I remember asking in class if there were similarities between the rabbits and the Tommies in the trenches, which I knew nobody else had picked up on. The song was a trigger for some nightmarish thoughts at that time. Art Garfunkel’s lilting and distant voice, almost out of reach, lead me towards a pretty horrific landscape. If I had been but a few years younger, I’d have been totally fucked up by the whole experience. Probably the scariest #1 ever.

  25. 76
    swanstep on 18 Dec 2012 #

    @thefatgit. My youngest brother was 7 when he was dragged along to see WS with our whole family. He was pretty upset by it, so that he *still* talks about the experience, at least now that he has a 4 year old son (so that what to let kids watch and where are pressing issues again for him).

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