Simon and Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water: Round 29, Nick’s choice

An ILM thread polling the tracks on this album got revived about a week or so ago, and made me pull the CD off the shelf for the first time in probably years. I was amazed that I’d missed the thread first time round, only in January this year, as, and I know this is something of a Devon Record Club cliché by this point, it’s one of my favourite albums ever.

So much so, that Bridge Over Troubled Water is one of the few albums that I also own on vinyl, having stolen my dad’s copy of it many, many years ago when I was a teenager. It’s probably the first “album” I was aware of as a child; I can’t recall a specific memory regarding why (unlike the way I can remember hearing Do You Know The Way To San Jose on oldies radio in the car whilst in the carpark of a supermarket in Newton Abbot on a Saturday morning); I just have a really strong feeling that this is the case.

I bought a CD copy whilst at university, and listened to it a lot. I remember, on buying my first hi-fi that could really be pumped loud, being struck by just how raucous songs like Cecelia, Keep The Customer Satisfied, Baby Driver, and Why Don’t You Write Me were, compared to the aura of quiet, mature melodicism that I’d thought the album had when I first heard it; actually, almost half the album consists of rollicking songs about drug dealers, whores, vagrants, teenage sex, adulterers…

Crucially, though, it’s also about friendship, and changing friendship, and what happens when friends drift apart, as they often do. From the drama of the title track opening the album by laying oneself down in aid of a friend, to the literal ‘goodbye’ of Bye Bye Love (and the ‘so long’ of Song For The Asking), it seems clear, with the gift of hindsight, that Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were coming to the end of their time together. So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright is pretty obviously not about the architect (“I’ll remember… all of the times we’d harmonize till dawn”), while The Only Living Boy In New York (maybe my favourite song on the album) is clearly about Art Garfunkel’s nascent acting career and its effect on the duo, beautifully aligning regret for what was with a sense that it’s probably for the best.

Throughout the record the melodies are astonishing, the harmonies beautiful, and the arrangements fascinating and moving, from the Peruvian instrumentation of El Condor Pasa to the exuberant, defiant brass of Keep The Customer Satisfied, the 50s-tinged rock’n’roll signifiers of Baby Driver, the strange, beautifully swooning arrangement of The Only Living Boy In New York, and the extraordinary, melodramatic climax of the title track. One of the greats.

Rob listened: I’m starting the think my fellow DRC members are conspiring to destroy all the relics and icons of my musical bad faith, one by one. I loathed Simon and Garfunkel from an early age, without ever having heard them properly. I can’t remember why. I suspect something to do with the gingham-skipping lyrics to ‘Scarborough Fair’ and having heard ‘Feeling Groovy’ once to often (once, probably) and been left faintly nauseous by the experience. Sure ‘Sound of Silence’ was beautiful, ‘The Boxer’ rousing and ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ enough to bring a tear, but the rest was worth a shoeing from a punky young fuckwit, wasn’t it? Well yes, but of course, no. This sounded depressingly great. Please, please, let no-one show up with Pink Floyd next week. I need something to cling to.

Tom Listened: I used to love Simon and Garfunkel. I had a copy of their greatest hits on  a tape that I probably went on to wear out. I also had a thing for Paul Simon’s solo output but despite this I had never heard BOTW the album in its own right.

Then, as I settled into my twenties, I began to explore a lot of other music that was made in the late 60s and early 70s – Astral Weeks, Pink Moon, Sister Lovers, Starsailor…dare I say it…Pet Sounds. And all of sudden Paul Simon’s records seemed much less enticing. They seemed to lack the sophistication, complexity or brutal honesty that these other albums possessed and yet were trying to chart similar musical territory. I wanted singer/songwriters to provide a glimpse into the dark night of the soul. Simon and Garfunkel sounded too polite, almost antiseptic in comparison. So I kept Graceland, took the others to the charity shop and no longer have a tape recorder.

It was interesting hearing this after all this time. I already knew about two thirds of the songs and was impressed by the grandeur of the title track, liked The Only Living Boy In New York and found the rest OK…polite and a little antiseptic if I’m honest (and not a patch on Pet Sounds – ducks and runs for cover).

Graham Listened: Second round in succession that Nick has picked and album I’ve owned, even though this one was pinched from my parents collection. Around half of this album is deeply implanted in my brain from the radio 2 playlists of the 1970’s which echoed around me as a child on the wireless in the kitchen, the radiogram (how old am I ?) in the lounge and in-car hifi of our Ford Escort MkII. This is the first-time in over 20 years I’ve actually listened to this album and it is simply magnificent. The brass sections and orchestration still sound fantastic and listening to it all for the first time on a good audio set up was a real pleasure. I’ve never followed Paul Simon’s solo career, though I can recognise its worth. A worthy adversary of an album to some of the overrated offerings by other American artists of the time (..ahem).


Author: sickmouthy

Used to be fun but now my kid has cancer.

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