In the heart of the MTV era, former Eagle Don Henley came out swinging in 1984 with Building The Perfect Beast, embracing videos and synthesizers and assembling an all-star cast to produce one of the most indelible albums of the decade and the peak of his solo career. Here is a song-by-song review.
11. “Man With A Mission”- Even Henley was eligible for a clunker now and then in the 80’s. This grating, overheated track definitely qualifies.
10. “Drivin’ With Your Eyes Closed”- Some of the lyrics are humorously nonsensical, not what you would expect from Henley, but overall this feels like a throwaway.
9. “Building The Perfect Beast”- The social commentary married with dance beats works a little better on “All She Wants To Do Is Dance,” although the chanted vocals here are amusing.
8. “Land Of The Living”- After all of the aggressive percussion and rapid tempos found on the rest of the album, Henley taps the breaks on this sweet closer, which works better in the context of the album than it does when considered on its own.
7. “You Can’t Make Love”- There’s nothing too earth-shattering about this mid-tempo track, but its leisurely vibe and buoyant melody carries it a long way. A good palate-cleanser for some of the Type A material around it.
6. “You’re Not Drinking Enough”- It’s a good time to mention that LA session great Danny Kortchmar was Henley’s close collaborator on the album, co-writing and co-producing much of the material. He gets the sole songwriting credit on this one, a barroom lament that purposely overdoes the woe and comes the closest to sounding like Don’s old band.
5. “All She Wants To Do Is Dance”- A big hit in the day (also written by Kortchmar), it hasn’t aged all that well, but that could be said of many of the songs from that heady decade. It’s best to concentrate on the catchiness of the refrain and that genetically altered bass line than worry too much about the sociopolitical bluntness of the verses.
4. “Not Enough Love In The World”- Hey, wait a minute, I though Glenn Frey was supposed to be the soulful one. Henley really soars on this one, milking the double-meaning of that refrain for all its worth. It could be a compliment to say that “There’s not enough love in the world” for this girl, or it could be an admission that she’ll never quite be satisfied.
3. “Sunset Grill”- Henley gets a big assist from Randy Newman, who assembled the synthesizer wall that makes this song so majestic. Henley’s tale of small-world values being trampled by big-city greed is personalized by the narrator’s humble plight to make a better life for himself without losing sight of those values.
2. “A Month of Sundays”- Henley’s bitterness can sound unearned at times in his songs, but it feels right at home coming from the down-on-his-luck farmer who narrates this story. In the era of Farm Aid, nobody evoked the plainspoken desperation of the farmer’s plight any better. It’s hard to believe that this song was an extra of sorts, not even included on the LP version of the album.
1. “The Boys Of Summer”- The story goes that Mike Campbell wrote the propulsive, minor-key music for this track and offered it to his bandleader in the Heartbreakers, but Tom Petty turned it down due to his ambivalence toward synthesizers. Henley was glad to accept it, and he married it to lyrics that hauntingly capture lost innocence and compromised ideals. It still stands as one of the decade’s finest songs and boasts a legendary video too.
(E-mail me at email@example.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. E-books and books based on material which originated on this blog can be found in the link below.)
It was essentially his first ever solo album, although Tom Petty wasn’t alone by any means on 1989’s Full Moon Fever. Heartbreaker sidekick Mike Campbell was along for the ride, along with several Wilburys. The result is an album that stands as perhaps the finest of his career in terms of top-to-bottom quality. Here is a track-by-track review.
(The quotes following the songs were taken from Breakdown: Tom Petty’s 100 Best Songs, my recently published e-book which can be purchased in the link below.)
12. “A Mind With A Heart Of Its Own”- This boogeying number didn’t make my list of Top 100 Petty songs, the only one on Full Moon Fever that missed. That’s more a testament to the quality of the album than it is a knock on “A Mind With A Heart Of Its Own,” which boasts some humorous lyrics.
11. “Love Is A Long Road”- “Petty’s nasally singing is a bit affected here, but it’s ultimately secondary to Mike Campbell’s thunderous guitars. They’re the main selling point of a track that really tears it up when played live and would stand out on any normal album. On Full Moon Fever, “Love Is A Long Road” suffers for being a really good song among great ones.”
10. “Depending On You”- “Notice how those refrains play off the verses, as Petty plays it coy with his talk-singing in those parts before powering into the choruses, like a conversation that starts simply before the intensity ratchets up. It’s just a little touch that makes this otherwise humble little number sound downright powerful.”
9. “The Apartment Song”- “Best of all is the brief, Buddy Holly-inspired, guitar-and-drum breakdown. At any moment during that portion of the song, you half-expect Petty to break into a few bars of “Peggy Sue”. It’s that kind of anything-goes approach that made the album so special and transformed “The Apartment Song” from a leftover to a winner.”
8. “Alright For Now”- “To the long list of rock lullabies, feel free to add this unabashedly pretty offering from Full Moon Fever. Tom Petty and Mike Campbell do some intricate finger-picking on acoustic guitar without ever raising the volume level too high. Wouldn’t want to wake up any dozing youngsters now, would they?”
7. “A Face In The Crowd”- “Elegant in its understatement and suggesting a lot without really saying much of anything at all, “A Face In The Crowd” proves Petty’s ability to create waves of emotion without spelling everything out. That it feels like a minimum of effort was exerted on this Full Moon Fever track is even more of a testament to TP’s talent as a songwriter.”
6. “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better”- This song was not included in my Petty Top 100 because he didn’t write it (Gene Clark did), but the letter-perfect rendition on Full Moon Fever not only honors Petty’s debt to The Byrds but also injects a jolt of sunny adrenaline to anybody who listens to it.
5. “Zombie Zoo”- “I suppose if you dig deep enough, you might be able to find a commentary on the conformity of youth culture or something like that, but why bother? With that horror-movie organ at the start of the song and lines like “You like Boris Karloff and you don’t even care,” it’s best just to enjoy the aural delights of “Zombie Zoo.” Consider it the victory lap on a triumphant album.”
4. “Yer So Bad”- “Petty’s sense of humor is all over this one, veering from mischievous (pondering the relative unworthiness of yuppies and singers in the first verse,) to gallows (the jilted lover contemplating suicide in the second.) You can imagine the band getting a good laugh as Petty brought those lyrics into the studio. Jeff Lynne gets a co-writing credit here, with his apparent contribution being the structuring of the chords to help Petty get from one section of the song to the next.”
3. “Runnin’ Down A Dream”- “According to Paul Zollo’s career-spanning interview book Conversations With Tom Petty, Petty claims that he and Jeff Lynne watched in stunned amazement as Mike Campbell blistered through the memorable solo at the end of “Runnin’ Down A Dream” in one stunning take, slack-jawed at the brilliance they were seeing and hearing. When it came time to edit the song for release on Full Moon Fever, Petty couldn’t bring himself to cut out any of the magic his guitarist had given him.”
2. “I Won’t Back Down”- “Then the song veers quickly back to the mantra of the refrain, with TP’s good buddy George Harrison seconding that emotion on backing vocals. “I Won’t Back Down” isn’t so much about taking some righteous stand as it is adhering to a certain, unwavering code. It’s about integrity really, and few artists have ever exuded quite as much of that elusive quality as Tom Petty.”
1. “Free Fallin'”- “I suppose that some people find some uplift in these lyrics; as for me, I feel like they speak to middle-age aimlessness. That’s what makes the set-up of the refrain so clever: He says he’s “free,” only to pull the rug out from you with the punch line: “Free fallin.’” Maybe he’s looking for a new world because his misdeeds, committed more through a matter of human frailty than any meanness, have left him without a home on this one.”
(E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. E-books and books based on material that debuted on this site are available in the link below.)
(The quotes below are excerpted from my new E-book, No Surprises: Radiohead’s 100 Best Songs. You can order it in the link below:
Following up their breakthrough album OK Computer, Radiohead easily could have churned out similar-sounding material ad infinitum and still been the darling of the music world. Instead, they challenged critics and fans with the strange, icy music of 2000’s Kid A and still came away with a triumph that many feel is their masterwork. Here is a track-by-track review:
10. “Treefingers”- “In its place as the fifth song on Kid A, which rivals OK Computer as the band’s most coherent and complete artistic statement when gobbled up in one listen, it serves as an ambient segue between the haunting wail of Thom Yorke on “How To Disappear Completely” and the crunching thunder of “Optimistic.” You can also view it as the line of demarcation between the first and second half of the album, a little palette-cleanser that gives your senses a rest before diving back into this heady world.”
9. “Kid A”- “That squashed voice is the most memorable thing about the song. After what sounds like a spaceship landing to start, the rest is just some computer twitching and Jonny Greenwood’s noodling on the Ondes Martenot, an instrument resembling a theremin on which the band has leaned heavily for their more outré sound explorations since Kid A. Phil Selway’s kicky drum beat seems almost out of place, but then again, disjointedness seems to be the feeling “Kid A” wants to convey. That it does, almost too well for it to be anything more than a dark curiosity.”
8. “In Limbo”- “Thom Yorke once stated that he felt that this song sounded like The Police. Indeed “In Limbo” has some of the knotty textures of that legendary trio’s more complicated compositions from the early 80’s. This track from Kid A ultimately track veers away from Sting and the boys in the way that a haze hangs over the entire affair, signifying the song’s themes of displacement and bewilderment almost too well.”
7. “Morning Bell”- “You can interpret them about a hundred ways if you choose, but these lyrics do seem to be set right in the middle of a marriage’s disintegration. The gallows humor of lines like “Cut the kids in half” and “Clothes are on the lawn with the furniture” gets even blacker when sung by Yorke in his zombiefied falsetto. Only when he gets to the refrain of “Release me” does he seem like a human being asking for sympathy.”
6. “Everything In Its Right Place”- ““Everything In Its Right Place” is the sound of a man trying to connect directly but constantly being filtered and interrupted. And it’s the sound of the band taking a huge risk trying to fix something that wasn’t broken, and coming out on the other side with a finished product as influential as it was invigorating. In that respect, at least something ended up in its right place after all, in that Radiohead came out about a million miles ahead of the curve.”
5. “Idioteque”- “The beat in “Idioteque” is too fast for dancing; you could have a seizure to it, perhaps. Coupled with those digitized chords, playing over and over (courtesy of a sample from 70’s electronic music purveyor Paul Lansky,) the whole thing sounds icy and barren, the soundtrack of a post-apocalypse wasteland.”
4. “Optimistic”- “Leave it to Radiohead to include lines about flies, vultures, cannibalistic fish, and dinosaurs in a song called “Optimistic.” There is great courage to the refrain, “If you try the best you can/The best you can is good enough,” especially considering the not so pretty picture Thom Yorke paints in the verses. For us “nervous messed up marionettes,” trying is worthwhile, even if we’re doomed to fail.
3. “Motion Picture Soundtrack”- “The Beatles once closed out their weirdest album with “Good Night,” which featured Ringo Starr softly whispering a farewell to all the listeners as harps and strings played the song out. Radiohead takes a similar tack on “Motion Picture Soundtrack,” wrapping up the defiantly untraditional Kid A with a song that sounds like Walt Disney in a dour mood.”
2. “The National Anthem”- “All the weird bursts of sound at the start of the track that sounds like someone’s changing the radio stations in hell; the ondes martenot weaving around hypnotically into the few open spaces allowed it; the horns, insanely idiosyncratic, blasting away with seemingly no regard for what the others are doing or even for how they sound within the song itself: All of it somehow coheres, somehow makes sense in spite of itself.”
1. “How To Disappear Completely”- “Yorke apparently borrowed the refrain from something Michael Stipe told him to help his deal with the stress. But Radiohead turns that line into something more profound, a futile attempt at peaceful sanity in an increasingly intense world. Yorke’s falsetto cries at the end of “How To Disappear Completely” cathartically cut through the fog, a moment of triumph over the claustrophobic clutter. It’s just a moment though, because, no matter what the song’s title promises, you can never disappear enough.”
(E-mail me at email@example.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. E-books and books based on material that originated on this blog can be found in the link below.)
Hello, faithful readers. It’s time for a little self-promotion once again. My new e-book, No Surprises: Radiohead’s Best Songs, is now available via Endeavour Press. Here are the links:
To honor the release, today’s Retro Review will once again highlight a classic Radiohead album. Remember that those Retro Reviews show up on Monday and Friday.
For those of you who do check out the Radiohead e-book or one of my other releases, if you have the time, I’d appreciate it if you wrote a review on the Amazon page. Good or bad, these reviews help get the books in front of more eyes on Amazon.
Thanks again, and have a good one.
(E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia.)
It might be the most polarizing album in the career of Radiohead. At the time it came out in 2003, Hail To The Thief was almost universally lauded, but many folks, including some of the band members themselves, have expressed reservations in the ten years since its release about the album’s length (fourteen songs, by far the band’s longest album) and quality. Here is a song-by-song review.
(All quotes following the songs are excerpted from the essays in my upcoming e-book No Surprises: Radiohead’s 100 Best Songs.)
14. “The Gloaming”- “If you could separate the words from the music here, I think that they’d both work just fine on their own. Taken together, “The Gloaming” doesn’t quite connect. It sounds like a distant plea for help, when a more clarion call might have been far more affecting.”
13. “Go To Sleep”- “There are a few moments when this Hail To The Thief number gels, specifically during Yorke’s hauntingly helpless benediction at the end: “May pretty horses come to you as you sleep/I’m gonna go to sleep/And let this wash all over me.” Still, despite all of the quirkiness the band tries to imbue, “Go To Sleep” remains one of their least memorable songs.”
12. “Sit Down. Stand Up”- “The Rwandan genocide apparently inspired the sparse lyrics, and you can glean that from the chilling line “We can wipe you out anytime.” Yorke’s vocal is up front in the mix, with an itchy computer beat and a muffled riff (can’t even tell if it’s a guitar or keyboard) in the background. The music rises subtly before finally busting out into a techno freakout, with Yorke intoning the words “The Raindrops” some 47 times.
Just reading that last paragraph back to myself, I can see again how “Sit Down. Stand Up.” could be a hard sell. Complex? Yes. Impressive? Certainly. Approachable? Maybe not so much.”
11. “We Suck Young Blood”- “This song deserves special mention, because it might be the creepiest song in the band’s repertoire. That’s saying something, because Radiohead has released more than their fair share of dark and disturbing tracks. “We Suck Young Blood”, with its dirge-like beat that sounds like a chain-gang in hell and Jonny Greenwood’s Ondes Martenot conjuring up spirits best left in the underworld, is so studiedly spooky that it could make John Carpenter flinch.”
10. “I Will”- “The chief selling point of this track off Hail To The Thief is Thom Yorke’s voice, mutitracked and harmonizing with itself to chillingly beautiful effect. Eventually another track of Thom comes in with a countermelody. With all voices coming in from every direction, the song is a bit like Brian Wilson and Freddie Mercury’s love-child.”
9. “Scatterbrain”- “Maybe Hail To The Thief is a shade too long, but I liken it to The Beatles White Album in that it allows us to hear some songs that otherwise would have been relegated to B-sides or bootleg limbo. I have a feeling that “Scatterbrain” is one of those songs, because it feels unfinished, almost like the sketch of an idea not totally fleshed out. And yet it works in its own modest and mysterious way.”
8. “Sail To The Moon”- “This lovely, melancholy number was written by Thom Yorke as a kind of lullaby to his son Noah (which would explain the lines about ark-building.) Unlike other rock-song lullabies that seek to comfort their children or give advice, “Sail To The Moon” is an almost desperate plea from a father to a son to avoid the mistakes of the past and forge a better future.”
7. “Where I End And You Begin”- “A song like this gem off Hail To The Thief would be nothing without the drumming of Phil Selway and the bass of Colin Greenwood. Greenwood’s playing here is propulsive, pogoing around in directions that make this one of the more danceable Radiohead songs. The song has a feel not unlike classic Depeche Mode or New Order thanks to his work on it.”
6. “There There”- “Proving they can be endlessly inventive even within the confines of a conventional rock song, “There There” is one of the most instantly memorable tracks on Hail To The Thief, which the band clearly realized since they chose it as the lead single. The song’s tribal rhythm is just irresistible, an alluring foundation from which all of the song’s other delights spring.”
5. “Backdrifts”- “My favorite moment of “Backdrfits” comes when the beat and the synth squiggles fall away for a moment and Thom Yorke lets out with an “Oh-oh-oh” exclamation. It has the feel of a live performance at that point, as if the frontman got completely caught up in the breathless music. That cry, part-anguished, part-cathartic, gives this Hail To The Thief song a beating heart to go alone with its shaking rump.”
4. “2+2=5”- ““You have not been paying attention,” Thom Yorke intones throughout this furious track. One of the cool things about a band like Radiohead is that they don’t have their heads in the sand, and they’re more than willing to expose the warts of the world for their audience to hear even when it might be easier to sing love songs. And yet it never goes down like medicine, because they can present tough material in such a vibrant way that the message slides smoothly into the audience’s subconscious.”
3. “A Punchup At A Wedding”- “This is the band at its most funky, achieving a groove with Colin Greenwood’s slinking bass and some downbeat piano chords not unlike something you would hear from mid-period Steely Dan. Static-charged blasts of guitar add some spunk to the later verses. And I love the “no, no” part at the start and conclusion, the way they’re all overdubbed on top of each other to make it sound like about a thousand Thom Yorkes have formed a melancholy mob.”
2. “Myxomatosis”- “There’s a perverse sense of humor that runs through “Myxomatosis,” making it, pound-for-pound, one of the most flat-out fun Radiohead tracks. That’s not to say it’s frivolous; I don’t think the band could ever go down that avenue. But there’s still something tongue-in-cheek about it, as if the band is having a laugh at the perception that they’re a morose bunch. Name-checking a rabbit disease is just another curve ball to send the obsessive fans diving for clues, but I think this is the band at its most off-the-cuff and irreverent, taking the piss out of their own somber image.”
1. “A Wolf At The Door”- “Release, relative release anyway, comes in the form of the chorus, as Yorke sings in a lilting melody how hard it is to keep the “wolf at the door” at bay. “A Wolf At The Door” represents the dark side in everyone’s psyche that can get loose when all of the external forces become too overbearing. We’ve all got one, and it’s important to find outlets for such possibly destructive energy. I would recommend Radiohead’s ridiculously amazing music as just such an outlet.”
(E-mail me at email@example.com and follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. E-books and books based on material that originated on this site are available via the link below.)
In 1981, Squeeze released East Side Story, and it’s generally regarded as the peak of their recording career. Spurred on co-producer Elvis Costello and boasting a key contribution from new member Paul Carrack, the band branched out from the tight pop songs of their previous albums and created a wild ride of an LP unified by the outstanding songwriting of Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook. Here is a song-by-song review.
14. “Piccadilly”- This one has always been a bit busy for my tastes. The rhythmic thrust and chunky guitars are reminiscent of Madness, but there isn’t much of a hook onto which to hang.
13. “There’s No Tomorrow”- Slow-motion psychedelia was just one of the many stylistic detours Squeeze took on East Side Story. The song does indeed mirror the drunken stumblings of a broken-hearted fool, maybe a bit too well to be anything more than a novelty.
12. “Heaven”- The band had a knack of pulling hooks out of the air, and they prove it here with some melodic elements that flirt with discordance yet somehow pull together. Difford’s observations of the weary souls inhabiting a barroom are typically literate and on-point.
11. “Messed Around”- The rockabilly swagger of this track makes for an understated way to end such a heady album. It’s also further proof that good songwriting will work in any genre, and Squeeze always had that.
10. “Mumbo Jumbo”- I have no idea what the hell “The dip is dabbled” means; I just know it’s a blast to hear Tilbrook high-step his way through Difford’s wildly intricate lyrical constructions. Bizarre yet catchy.
9. “Someone Else’s Bell”- Some bluesy attitude drips from Tilbrook’s lead vocal about a cuckolded lover, pushing this one a few notches above mere filler. Then again, even Squeeze’s filler was better than filler, you know?
8. “F-Hole”- The tale of a one-night stand gone horribly awry is an excellent showcase for Chris Difford’s humorous rhymes, such as “Wallpaper very scenic/Her outlook very beatnik.” The strings, just a tad askew from the rest of the song, are meant to evoke the surreal nature of this encounter. Note how the end of the song leads cleverly into “Labelled With Love.”
7. “Someone’s One Heart”- Difford takes the lead on this one, getting harmony support from Tilbrook through a twisting, moody melody. Nice work by the rhythm section of John Bentley on bass and Gilson Lavis on drums on this one, an affecting tale of romantic misconceptions.
6. “In Quintessence”- The lone track on the album produced by Dave Edmunds carries a little bit of his rockabilly feel in the guitar break, but otherwise this track is indeed quintessential Squeeze. The high/low harmonies of Difford and Tilbrook bounce through the nimble wordplay in a clever, funny, and somehow poignant character sketch of a young man who’s an expert at wasting his life.
5. “Is That Love”- Perfectly-constructed power pop seemed to just flow out of Squeeze at their peak, and this is a perfect example. The melody is wonderful, the music achieves just the right bit of tension and release, and the lyrics flow so inevitably from one word to the next that it seems effortless. Bonus points for the hushed coda.
4. “Vanity Fair”- Difford’s lyrics here are an almost cruel dissection of a not-quite beauty trying to live the high life but destined for mediocrity. It’s a good thing Tilbrook caresses her in such a sympathetic melody, which, when given the “Eleanor Rigby” orchestral treatment, makes you believe her “Vanity Fair” dreams will come true
3. “Labelled With Love”- It’s tempting to write this big UK hit as a tongue-in-cheek embrace of country music cliches. But there’s a moving tale hidden beneath the wisecracks. A war bride finds herself all alone on a Texas prairie after her husband’s death, and slowly disintegrates into a haze of booze and squalor. It’s not exactly uplifting, but the band wisely shows sympathy rather than snark for this sad character, and that makes all the difference.
2. “Woman’s World”- One of the underrated songs in the band’s catalog, “Woman’s World” is perfect in just about every way, from the yearning melody to the band’s expert handling of the material to Glenn Tilbrook’s great vocal. The title is an ironic allusion to the pressures of being a wife and mother, pressures that drive the protagonist to a night of drunken revelry in defiance of her role as head of the household. Songs like this one prove that the whole “Difford/Tilbrook are this generation’s Lennon/McCartney” theory wasn’t that far-fetched.
1. “Tempted”- Paul Carrack is one of the underrated singers of his generation, and his all-time performance (and, yes, I’m aware of “Living Years”) is this wonderful effort that has become the band’s signature song. That’s Elvis Costello pitching in on vocals in the second verse, but he wisely ceded center stage to Carrack, who nails the emotions of a guy who’s been left behind by his love and struggling with whether or not to move on. Look up blue-eyed soul in the dictionary, and the dictionary will play you this song.
(E-mail the author at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter @JimBeviglia. E-books and books based on material that originated on this site can be found in the link below.)
Paul Simon was headed for solo stardom and Art Garfunkel was headed for Hollywood, but they pulled together for one final album in 1970. Bridge Over Troubled Water topped charts all over the world, was named Album of the Year at the Grammys, and sent the duo out on a towering high note. Here is a song-by-song review.
11. “Baby Driver”- The one song on the album that feels a little like a throwaway, it’s a mix of Beach Boys and Everly Brothers moves musically. Lyrically, Simon’s come-ons to a girl in pigtails make for a nice contrast from the more somber offerings on the album, but it wouldn’t break your heart if you skipped this track.
10. “Bye Bye Love”- Well they couldn’t bow out without paying proper homage to Phil and Don, could they? Alas, this live recording from Ames, Iowa doesn’t really make too much magic, but, then again, it’s such a cool little song that it’s tough to resist even at less than its best.
9. “Keep The Customer Satisfied”- The horns are maybe too prominent by half, and Simon’s moaning about life on the road is nothing new in the rock and roll milieu. Nonetheless, the bouyancy of the melody keeps this thing afloat.
8. “Why Don’t You Write Me”- Paul Simon’s greatest competition in the world of melodic rock was clearly Paul McCartney, and this fun little lament from a guy separated from his beloved and doubting their connection has the same shuffling energy as Macca’s first few solo albums.
7. “Song For The Asking”- The closing track is little more than a fragment at under two minutes length, but Simon, going solo to close out the duo’s recording career, leaves quite an impression in that short time with his lovely little tune about the power of music.
6. “So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright”- Considering that Wright died in 1959, it seems odd that the Simon & Garfunkel would wait so long to say goodbye. That’s when it dawns on you that the famous architect might be a metaphor for Paul and Artie’s musical partnership. It’s a wistful look back too, as Garfunkel sings in his most fragile voice: “All of the nights we harmonized till dawn/I never laughed so long.”
5. “El Condor Pasa”- One of the earliest examples of Simon’s musical wanderlust, this track uses an old Peruvian folk song as its basis and benefits from the accompaniment of Los Incas. Those pipes are mesmerizing, and the minimal lyrics do an efficient job of conveying the sorrow of someone whose dreams are beyond their reach.
4. “The Only Living Boy In New York”- Loneliness and one’s attempts to transcend it could be considered the overall theme for the album, and this song perpetrates that theme through the stunning cathedral-like vocals that seem to be beaming in from another dimension. Simon, Garfunkel, and Roy Halee deserve great credit for what is one of the best-produced albums of that or any era, and this song is one of the best examples of that acumen.
3. “Cecilia”- Never has a cuckolded lover sounded so jubilant as does the narrator of this vibrant song. The fact that he’s accompanied by an ingenious, homemade rhythm certainly helps. Simon has always credited his success to an obsession with how his recordings sound, and it’s hard to find anything that sounds much better than this.
2. “The Boxer”- Start with the recording, which features a little bit of everything in terms of instrumentation to embellish the interlocked fingerpicking of Simon and Fred Carter Jr. Studio pros like Pete Drake, who adds the chilling pedal steel solo, and Hal Blaine, who plays the cavernous drums, are everywhere on the track. Then there’s the song itself, one of Simon’s finest. His befuddled narrator identifies with the punch-drunk stupor of a boxer, but he also summons the resilience necessary to withstand the blows, making the song as stirring as it is moving.
1. “Bridge Over Troubled Water”- It’s on a par with “Hey Jude” in the battle for the most uplifting song to ever come out of the rock era. Much credit goes to the piano part, played by Larry Knechtel, which soldiers on heartily. The song also builds up beautifully from the spare opening verses to the thrilling crescendo at the end. Simon’s lyrics are understated and his melody lovely. Garfunkel provides one of the most indelible vocals ever recorded, gentle yet sturdy early on, powerful and soaring in the climax. It’s been covered often, but the original is still perfection, convincing enough to make you believe that nobody suffers alone.
(E-mail me at email@example.com and follow me on Twitter at @jimbeviglia.)