Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Bridge Over Troubled Water

The collaboration of Simon & Garfunkel gave the world some of its most unique sounds. Because of the combined genius of Paul Simon as songwriter and the extraordinary voice of Art Garfunkel, few could match their versatility and so they often strayed from the genre of folk music as they explored the depths and directions to which their talents could take them.

I would never assume so great a task as to chronicle all of their various musical achievements and so I will discuss just one album, Bridge Over Troubled Water. The album showcases not only Paul Simon's songwriting abilities but Art Garfunkel's voice in beautiful and haunting ways. It was February 28, 1970 that Bridge Over Troubled Water hit #1 on the Billboard pop chart.

The album was originally to contain 12 tracks, but disagreement between the two principals over the last track (Garfunkel wanted a Bach chorale and Simon favored a song that was more political)left the album at 11 tracks until its re-release in 2001 with the addition of two demo tracks, Feuilles-O and a clean, simple version of the title track.

If the duo's last album together contained just two tracks Bridge Over Troubled Water and The Boxer it would merit a place in musical history and Simon his reputation as one of the most talented bards of his time.

But the album contains a few more gems. El Condor Pasa is a plaintive and haunting Peruvian song that is rendered beautifully by Art Garfunkel's clear vocal. The tribute song So Long Frank Lloyd Wright invites the listener to delve for deeper meaning. Even the bouncy Keep The Customer Satisfied and the foot-stomper Cecilia bring a smile and round out the album with a little bright humor. Song For The Asking is a lovely and simple ballad.

It's the title track that displays the best qualities of the collaboration between Simon & Garfunkel. While it's true that Paul Simon became the chief idea man and songwriter, there is no doubt that Bridge Over Troubled Water gained at least some of its haunting beauty from the vocal interpretation of Art Garfunkel, whose voice is far superior to Simon's. Listen to the difference in the original recording and a later version done live in which Paul Simon takes the verse. Simon later regretted having given the song as a solo for Garfunkel, but in my opinion it would have lost some of its delicate beauty had the song been sung by Simon or the lyric more equally shared.

The Boxer is an equally regarded song but is not covered as extensively by other artists. Lyrically the song is far superior to Bridge Over Troubled Water, it's message delivered in both poetic imagery and slice-of-life vignette. How can one not get lost in a line like: "I have squandered my resistance for a pocketful of mumbles, such are promises"? Here is a clip of the song performed with an extra verse that was cut out to make room for the instrumental in the recorded version.

The album won the Grammy for Best Album and the title track took two Grammy awards for Record of the Year and Song of the Year.

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