Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The Albums of 1970: Simon & Garfunkel: Bridge over Troubled Water

Release Date: January 26, 1970

Produced by Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel, and Roy Halee

Side 1: Bridge over Troubled Water; El Condor Pasa (If I Could); Cecilia; Keep the Customer Satisfied; So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright

Side 2: The Boxer; Baby Driver; The Only Living Boy in New York; Why Don't You Write Me; Bye Bye Love (Live); Song for the Asking

The fifth and final album of the duo from Queens stands as their most complete and satisfying collection of songs. With the duo about to go their separate ways, Garfunkel into movies, and Simon embarking on a solo career, their swan song proved an affectionate, but uneasy, farewell. Backed by a roster of superior session musicians with a production style mimicking The Beatles, Bridge over Troubled Water offers a variety of styles. 

Opening with the majestic title track, with Garfunkel's close to divine vocal, it's one for the ages. Painstakingly composed and performed, the song stands right alongside the best pop songs of all time. Transcending the division of 1970, the song will never become dated.

"El Condor Pasa (If I Could) is an Andean folk song Simon erroneously thought was in the public domain but was actually written by Daniel Alomia Robles. Another wonderful production, "El Condor Pasa" extended the stylistic range of the album. The frenetic folk rock of "Cecilia" about a promiscuous girlfriend also became a radio hit. "Keep the Customer Satisfied" recalls "Got to Get You Into My Life" from Revolver with the prominent trumpets, creating a unique tone for a whimsical tune. "So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright" is attributed to Simon saying farewell to his singing partner who had studied architecture at Columbia:

I'll remember Frank Lloyd Wright
All of the nights we'd harmonize till dawn
I never laughed so long

Side two opens with another popular single "The Boxer," the tale of a young man struggling to survive in New York City. "Baby Driver" would inspire a film of the same title by Edgar Wright in 2017, the tale of a country boy celebrating a wild life on the road seems to recall Dylan's surreal epics he wrote in the mid-60s. The B-side to "Cecilia", "The Only Living Boy in New York" is a hymn to loneliness and ennui in the city (also inspired a 2017 film).

"Why Don't You Write Me" also speaks to longing as adulthood beckons. A live version of The Everly Brothers song "Bye Bye Love" was included because of Paul and Art liked the clapping accompanying the performance. And the subdued acoustic number"Song for the Asking" is Paul speaking to Art about the end of their partnership and the possibility of reunion.

Bridge over Troubled Water is a wintry record. There's a sense of exhaustion and poignant hope with occasional humor. Simon is reflective and looking backward, taking stock at the start of a new decade, one without Garfunkel. Despite their differing trajectories in life, together Simon & Garfunkel created a fulfilling culmination of their years together. 

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