CK Retro Review: Bookends by Simon & Garfunkel

Simon And Garfunkel’s 1968 album Bookends represents the duo at the height of their popularity, considering that it hit #1 by replacing the soundtrack to The Graduate, which was full of the duo’s songs as well. It was half-concept album, half-killer singles collection, and even when it goes astray, it is impossible to ignore the forward-thinking production and the deft handling of deep material. Here is a song-by-song review.

ONE STAR

11. “Voices Of Old People”- The title pretty much says it all. While this audio verite stuff may have been avant-garde at the time, I’m still guessing that the most exercise that Simon and Garfunkel fans got that summer of ’68 was to get up when this song came on and flip the needle to another track. Plus, “Old Friends” gets the message across much more poignantly anyway.

TWO STARS

10. “Punky’s Dilemma”- Paul and Artie supposedly struggled mightily to get the recording of this Side Two track just right, but the end result sounds like one of Paul McCartney’s early solo album tracks with the twee factor amped up to overload.

9. “At The Zoo”- To this listener, it was a mistake to end such a weighty album with a lightweight romp like this; you half-expect another song to come on when it’s over to really wrap things up. Simon has some fun with the anthropomorphic jokes but not enough to make this one too compelling.

THREE STARS

8. “Overs”- This one covers the same territory as “The Dangling Conversation,” only without as memorable a melody or the previous song’s sense of melancholy grandeur. Still, as matter-of-fact dissections of crumbling romance go, “Overs” gets the job done without any being too showy about it.

7. “Bookends Theme/Bookends”- These two snippets serve their duty exceptionally well, but it’s hard to give them much more than this ranking when there isn’t that much to them. Still, those parting lines (“Preserve your memories;/They’re all that’s left you”) pack a mighty wallop.

FOUR STARS

6. “Fakin’ It”- The production tries a little bit of everything, from the bluesy main riff to the hand-clap-and-horns euphoria of the refrain to a weird little interlude that must have seemed like a good idea at the time but really only slows the momentum. Still, it all comes together when the duo belt out the chorus with abandon that suggests that there is a certain freedom to admitting that your life is just a counterfeit.

5. “Mrs. Robinson”- I’ve always thought that this song’s immense popularity was due more to its being in the right place at the right time than to its merit. Don’t get me wrong: It’s still impressively breezy and has infinite sing-along appeal, which is a great thing. And the lines about Joe DiMaggio can still send a chill, as Simon expertly suggests a longing for a simpler time that formed a fascinating crosscurrent with the prevalent cultural mood at the time. The rest of it hangs a bit uneasily together for me, which is why I can’t give it an elite ranking.

4. “Save The Life Of My Child”- It’s an energetic track, sparked by the aggressive synthesizer that kicks things off. Simon paints a scene of hysteria and chaos as an entire neighborhood assembles to watch what they assume will be a kid jumping off a ledge. They are strangely inconsiderate to what may have caused him to reach this point, which is only revealed when the songwriter grants him the power of flight and he finally voices his lament: “Oh, my Grace, I got no hiding place.” Nifty cultural commentary in a propulsive package.

3. “Hazy Shade Of Winter”- This is another example of how potent Simon & Garfunkel could be when they turned up the intensity. Driven by an indefatigable guitar riff and a taunting tambourine, the pair maintain a sense of urgency and import all the way. Note how the dreamy middle-eight only makes the breathless run to the finish even more frenzied, reflecting the narrator’s concerns about time sprinting by him at reckless speed.

2. “Old Friends”- Sure, it’s sentimental, but it’s also honest about the darker aspects of the latter stages of life. so the sentiment is in no way manipulative. The strings that hover over the song go from placid to threatening, just like the fortunes of our two park bench heroes. Garfunkel enters the scene in the bridge, his vocals at their most ethereal to voice the bewilderment of the youth trying to wrap their heads around a time when the world won’t belong to them anymore and they’ll be just quiet spectators. Simon wraps up with a couplet somehow comforting and harrowing at once: “Memory brushes the same years/Silently sharing the same fear.”

FIVE STARS

1. “America”- First of all, consider the fact that Simon and Garfunkel achieved with studio musicians a recording with every bit as much wonder and heart as anything The Beatles produced, a phenomenon which would foreshadow their triumph with Bridge Over Troubled Water two years down the road. That’s as big a part of the song’s success as Simon’s wistful travelogue. For every bit of natural awe that the narrator is able to muster during his bus trip, what really hits home is his admission toward the song’s end: “‘Kathy, I’m lost,’ I said, though I knew she was sleeping/’I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why.'” Those lines sum up the timeless restlessness that lurks inside the hearts of so many in this country, and it’s why “America” is as much of a national anthem as “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

(E-mail me at countdownkid@hotmail.com or follow me @JimBeviglia. Check out the links below for books and e-books based on material that originated on this site.)

http://www.amazon.com/Counting-Down-Bob-Dylan-Finest/dp/0810888238

http://www.amazon.com/Pump-It-Up-Costellos-ebook/dp/B00BXLUFN2/ref=sr_1_3?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1377547384&sr=1-3&keywords=jim+beviglia

http://www.amazon.com/Breakdown-Pettys-Best-Songs-ebook/dp/B00C281ZB6/ref=sr_1_4?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1377547423&sr=1-4&keywords=jim+beviglia

http://www.amazon.com/No-Surprises-Radioheads-Songs-ebook/dp/B00CEZ2A0M/ref=sr_1_5?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1377547443&sr=1-5&keywords=jim+beviglia

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One Comment on “CK Retro Review: Bookends by Simon & Garfunkel”

  1. Baggy says:

    I agree CK, America is just an astounding recording. The truly great songs achieve even greater potency over time…i’ve heard Paul sing this solo several times, and eventually S&G together in Hyde Park. I’m a Brit, so the strings it pulls are not national in any way – it is just the profoundest experience, so tightly written, so beautifully harmonised, such rise and fall…the “Kathy, I’m lost…” line is a triumph, it stops time, but then the musical elongation underneath “and the moon rose…over an open field” also slays me.

    I love the Boxer, Bridge, and The Only Living Boy in New York, but just like with the Beatles and Dylan, it is impossible to truly pick your favourite track by your favourite artist….how do you set America against the best of BOTW, and say there is something better than this song?


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