CK Retro Review: Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon & GarfunkelPosted: August 30, 2013
(CK Note: I did this review a few months ago on the site before I started doing artist-specific series, so if you think you’re experiencing a bit of deja vu, don’t be alarmed. I’ve made only a few changes from the original.)
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 buoyancy 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, brought to the fore on this album more than at any other time in the duo’s history, 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.
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