April 29, 2010



Saying goodbye to a an old and dear friend is a thankless task. Through the process of building the last album of original material that this venerable duo would make, that's exactly what was happening. Possessing voices that were virtually married to one another, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel have been singing together,on and off, since they were school kids. Bridge Over Troubled Water was an impressive swan song. Following it's release in 1970, the two parted ways to pursue individual endeavors.

Inevitably, the intervening years would see periodic reunions. As of this summer they are touring again, though the dates have been rescheduled due to some issues that Garfunkel has been experiencing with his voice.

You mean that someone managed to reunite ALL of the members of Simon and Garfunkel?

That's what I said.

The late Larry Knetchtel's unforgettable piano intro softly heralds the majestic title track, which builds to an epic crescendo. Triumphant, soaring vocal from Garfunkel on what could be regarded as Simon's finest hour as a writer. Just as Bugs Bunny folds his arms, leaving his glove suspended in the air, coaxing the last huge note from Art's distinctive falsetto, you realize that this is only the first song. Would have made a spectacular closer.

Simon included several bittersweet songs addressed directly to his partner, with "So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright" being little more than a thinly veiled goodbye. ""Why Don't You Write Me" and "The Only Living Boy In New York" make reference to Garfunkel's detour into acting. He was filming "Catch 22" at the time of the sessions for this record. Simon's part was written out of the movie, causing further resentment. Regardless of the tension, the resulting material was quite breathtaking. No less than four singles were pulled from the set, including "The Boxer", which Garfunkel said that Simon and producer/engineer Roy Halee "turned into a religion" in his absence. Simon captures the experience of the immigrant in grand poetic fashion. Indeed, as with the title track, it begins simply (guitar and vocal)only to be quickly augmented by an insistent backbeat, elaborate orchestration and those percussive blasts that accentuate the now familiar "li-li-li" refrain in the chorus.

Briefly reunited for an SNL appearance in October 1975, they present the song in a more intimate format. The little dig Simon makes before they start about running off to make movies is a slightly awkward moment that reveals how some wounds never quite heal.

Truth in jest.

Lighter moments do lift the mood. Including a live cover of "Bye Bye Love" served as both a nod to their early influences (the iron clad harmonies of The Everly Brothers) and their own youthful past, singing without the pressures of contractual obligation. "Cecilia" is another great sing-a-long which boasts the classic line involving menage a trois (you know the verse) and an impeccably harmonized hook in the chorus. The Andean touches added by Los Incas on "El Condor Pasa (If I Could)" prefigure Simon's later excursions into world music. Few popular artists at that time were exploring the vast range of exotic sounds emanating from different corners of the planet, excepting the shimmering sounds of East Indian fare. Peruvian flavoring would be employed again on "Duncan" from Simon's first solo LP.

Disputes about song choice led to heated arguments that further drove a wedge between the two. Bridge Over Troubled Water was slated to have twelve selections, though no agreement could be reached on the final cut. Simon pushed for the inclusion of "Cuba Si, Nixon No" while Garfunkel expressed his distaste for the lyrics, wanting instead to have "Feuilles-O" on the disc. Like most pissing matches, it ended with neither getting their way.

You be the judge. I'm sure that they could have compromised and had them both.

Roy Halee deserves special mention for his work behind the board. Great blocks of strings, horns and the contributions of legendary session players are seamlessly blended together to form an aural quilt that sounds extremely warm and retains the clarity of each individual part. The final mix is pretty impressive for its time. Melody and intelligence were key ingredients to the massive success that, rightfully, greeted this release. Six Grammys, millions of copies sold and critical plaudits from all sides. In the midst of the adulation came the announcement that they would not be resuming their partnership. There would be one-off recordings (the brilliant "My Little Town" in '75 being a highlight) and aforementioned reunion tours, though this album (to date) closed their amazing run of full length studio projects in style.


Barbara said...

Sean, reading this actually brought a tear to my eye. To this day one of my favorite albums is S&G's Greatest Hits. I love every song and know every word and wore that thing out. In fact. I think I will give it a listen right now. It just gets to me.

I would love to see them together I hope the reunion becomes a reality. Thank you so much for this excellently written blog post!

Barbara said...

listening to the piano you described...chills, emotion, tears. Good stuff.

Max Moscardi said...

I grew so addicted to this album, that could link almost every song to things that had happened to me at different times... I guess a lot of people feel the same.. That's Paul Simon's specialty

Though My song is Feilleus-o.. even the lyrics are hardly understandable

MuffinMan said...

Hey, spell the guy's name right, willya???

musicobsessive said...

I have very fond memeories of this album as it was the first LP I ever owned and set me on the road to musical madness.

Great post! Even if it made me feel a bit nostalgic :)

Sean Coleman said...

Thank you all.

Barbara-I drove across the country with my Dad in the mid 70s and one of the many 8-tracks on board was their Greatest Hits set. Their voices have been in my life for many years.

Muffin Man- Nice to see gratuitous use of a punctuation mark and slang to point out a typo. Glad that you enjoyed the review, Art.

Perplexio said...

Rarely have 2 singers voices blended together so beautifully. There have been a few since that came close-- Seals & Crofts, Loggins & Messina, England Dan & John Ford Coley, to name but a small handful-- but as close as some of them may have come, none of them quite matched the beauty nor the success of Simon & Garfunkel.

Barbara said...

Perplex, interesting that you said this and mentioned Loggins and Messina. They were also a huge favorite of mine back in the day and heard them yesterday on the radio and thought the same thing...they sound great together. Saw them not too long ago doing a reunion tour and the backup band blew my mind...so talented.

Perplexio said...

I'd add Bill Champlin and Peter Cetera in Chicago on Chicago 16 and 17. It's unfortunate that their time in the band together was so brief as their voices sounded absolutely brilliant together. While the band was a bit past their creative peak at that point, I believe that's when they hit their vocal peak. Oh well.

Dan said...

Great post Sean. S & G were the real deal. Too bad they couldnt have done more together but then they would not have done the things they did apart.

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