283. ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, by Simon & Garfunkel

A couple of times already, I’ve written about pop music as hymn. ‘Hey Jude’ was one. Here’s another. The one, and only, British chart-topping single for America’s foremost pop duo. (Sorry Don and Phil, Hall and Oates…)

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Bridge Over Troubled Water, by Simon & Garfunkel (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 22nd March – 12th April 1970

I’m only going to write good things about ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, but I have to get off my chest first and foremost that I didn’t always like this song. It was a big presence in my childhood – my parents are big fans – but for a long time I thought it was a bit proper, a bit overwrought, a bit… too much like a hymn! Art Garfunkel certainly does enunciate his lines properly (the cut-glass ‘t’ in when tears are in your eyes…) and, if you were being cruel, he does sound a little like a choir-boy.

But you’re allowed to make dubious musical choices when you’re young (*cough* Kid Rock *cough*). I have since come to see the error of my ways. This is an undeniable classic, from the understated confidence of the opening piano, to the giant crescendo of an ending.

And, fittingly for a song that sounds angelic, the lyrics are apparently sung by an angel. Someone looking out for you, someone who’s on your side. Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down… They will follow you even at your lowest ebb, down and out on the streets, as darkness comes. Theories abound that the voice singing is that of heroin, the drug, and that the listener is an addict, which would be a spectacular twist in such a Christian sounding song. Simon and Garfunkel have always denied it.

After two verses of just voice and piano, in come the drums, like gunshots in the distance. And we start to build… I think the moment that this goes from being a great song and becomes one of the greatest is when Art’s voice dips: Oh, If you need a friend… Then the chorus comes in, and what was a simple ballad has grown into something massive without you even really noticing. Suddenly it’s ending with strings, and cymbals, and what sounds like fireworks. Suddenly it’s midnight on New Year’s Eve.

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It’s superb. It’s timeless. It’s a classic. To think I used to prefer ‘Cecilia’. Seriously, though, I think ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ does sometimes lose something in its ubiquity. Twice in the past few years – decades after it originally hit #1 – the song has reached the top of the UK charts in the form of well-intentioned but fairly dreadful charity singles. It’s kind of easy to lump this record in with other easy-listening, uplifting MOR hits, but that would be a mistake.

And, like many of the best pop songs, there’s a friction working under the surface of ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’. Simon and Garfunkel weren’t the best of friends by this point, and would split up later in the year. Simon apparently resents the fact that he wrote their biggest hit but Garfunkel gets remembered for singing it. When he performed it on his farewell tour, in fact, he introduced the song by saying “I’m going to reclaim my lost child.”

Actually, I have to confess that I’ve been slow to realise the merits of not just this song, but of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel’s entire back-catalogue. I was force-fed them on childhood car journeys and, while I’ve come to recognise that ‘The Sound of Silence’, ‘Mrs. Robinson’ and ‘Homeward Bound’ are great, and ‘The Boxer’ a work of art, I still find the likes of ‘I Am a Rock’, ‘America’ and ‘Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.’ a bit twee. I can’t stand their version of ‘El Condor Pasa’. And part of me is still seven-years-old, and still loves the outright catchiness of ‘At the Zoo’ and ‘Cecilia’. In fact, there probably is no other act about which I am so undecided. I genuinely have no idea whether or not I like Simon and Garfunkel! I do definitely like ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, though, and definitely think you should press play below and enjoy it one more time…

19 thoughts on “283. ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, by Simon & Garfunkel

  1. Personally, I never liked Simon and Garfunkel, but there are a couple of solo Paul Simon songs I like. Bottom line is I’ve never heard harmonization like Don and Phil’s. Not by anyone. To me, they’re just inimitable. (PS: I almost liked Kid Rock once when I was super young. Almost!) 🙂

    1. Given the choice, I’d listen to the Everlys, but I do think that S & G are now the more famous of the two. But they have always acknowledged the influence that Don and Phil had on them, and they’ve all performed together in concert, I believe.

      As for Kid Rock, I have to admit that ‘American Badass’ is still a banger…

  2. badfinger20

    It is a great song…the one I connect it to the most is Let It Be. They have always gone hand in hand with each other.
    I’m a huge Simon and Garfunkel fan and this one is not my favorite but…as far as songwriting and production…it doesn’t get much better than this.

    1. Yes, ‘Let It Be’ is a great comparison to make – they were in the charts at the same time, I think. (Just checked and yep – ‘Let It Be’ was #4 the week that ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ went to #1.)

  3. Speaking of this song, which I like, would you believe me if I told you my dad’s younger brother & his wife had this song as the theme to their wedding in 1972? Yep and I was their five year old flower girl. To them, it was a love song because I asked them why some years later.

    Phil and Don parted on bad terms, too…BTW… Same reason many bands/duos break apart…EGO. Simon got his nose out of joint because Garfunkel was getting attention for acting. He even went so far as to wipe out all of Art’s recorded tracks for an upcoming album they’d agreed on and he made it by himself. I love the bulk of their music but, Simon is a bratty child. You should read some of the stuff Carrie Fisher said about him.

    How old are you, Stewart? You sound close in age to me & Max.

    What does “twee” mean?

    1. I can see it as a wedding song… In that you’ve always got your partner’s back?

      Phil and Don were actual brothers, though, and brothers in bands don’t usually got on too well… The Everlys, the Davies, the Gallaghers…

      Twee is like knowingly old-fashioned and sentimental, similar to kitsch but not as OTT… maybe it’s British English.

      And I’m mid-thirties… Not as old as you’re guessing!

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  5. Total classic song. I also loved Cecilia much more than this at the time and have seen the error of my ways in the years since. I rate the album (bar the awful Everlys cover version) as one of the greatest albums of all-time, and this song as Epic with capital E, sheer genius. I’ve seen both Art and Paul do it live – Art’s voice wasn’t quite right by that time and it was a budget tour, whereas Paul had the expensive backing band and stage effects, but both were good.

    Hall & Oates were fab, but the Everly Brothers largely left me cold, give or take the odd Cathy’s Clown or Price Of Love. I prefer passion, emotion and subtlety in vocal performances and The Righteous Brothers were more my style of the 50’s and 60’s crowd, other than S&G.

    1. There are very few acts about whom I feel them same as I do about S&G… I want to like them, I think I like them, and then I hear them and realise that I don’t, not really… (a handful of songs aside, one of which is obviously ‘BOTW’)

      Perhaps it’s the childhood connection – I formed an opinion on them too early and have never resolved it? They probably were the first pop act I listened to, through parental osmosis.

      U2 are probably the only other big act I feel this way about. (Again I like certain songs.) They’re fine as a concept, but to actually listen to and interact with… Nah.

      1. one of my friends has the same reaction to Paul Simon “an annoying whiny little thing” 🙂 Prob best just to read the lyrics and treat them as poetry 🙂 I tended to love my parents fave acts – but not all of them. My dad’s love of David Whitfield still baffles me….!

      2. Re: U2, I liked them when they arrived as a punky little rock band, then they got even better and became quite something around The Joshua Tree period. I went to see them at Wembley and was blown away, the live venue is their natural home, and I quite liked the quirkiness of stuff from Pop onwards as a move away from Overblown Pomp. I think they can thank Pet Shop Boys cover of Streets for pulling them back from the edge for a decade or so. Or The Edge 🙂

      3. Yes, I like some of their mid-90s stuff – the Pop album and ‘Discotheque’. But I do find the Joshua Tree era very pompous. And I cannot stand ‘Beautiful Day’… They’re a one album on, one album off act for me. Never seen them live but can imagine they’re great

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