Song of the Day #1,198: ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ – Simon & Garfunkel

Simon & Garfunkel’s fifth and final album, Bridge Over Troubled Water, was released in 1970 and became the duo’s best-selling record as well as a Grammy Album of the Year winner. It was a massive critical and commercial success, topping the charts in 10 countries and selling more than 25 million copies worldwide.

And it was recorded and released as the lifelong friends saw their partnership collapse.

Garfunkel had taken up acting, with his role in Mike Nichols’ Catch-22 delaying the recording of this album. Simon wrote ‘The Only Living Boy in New York‘ about his feelings being left behind (the “Tom” in that song is a call back to the duo’s childhood performances as Tom & Jerry).

When they did get around to recording the album, they fought over details small and large. They couldn’t even agree on the final track listing, both arguing for a different song to complete the album. Eventually they left both songs off.

Despite the turmoil, they managed to craft their finest album, with ‘The Only Living Boy in New York,’ ‘The Boxer’ and today’s SOTD as highlights not just of this album but of popular songwriting as a whole.

‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ (the song) is that rare thing — a modern standard. This is a time capsule song, the sort of thing human culture should be remembered for. It was memorably covered by Aretha Franklin and Elvis Presley, but this version remains the definitive one.

Oddly, Simon has long felt (and openly stated) that he regrets letting Garfunkel take the vocals on ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water.’ He wanted them all to himself. But a couple of attempts didn’t result in the desired results and Garfunkel stepped in to deliver the performance that has become a classic.

For those of you who’ve wondered why exactly Paul Simon needed Art Garfunkel in those early years — I give you Exhibit A.

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3 thoughts on “Song of the Day #1,198: ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ – Simon & Garfunkel

  1. Dana says:

    This song was playing a few weeks ago while I was sitting in the dentist chair for a teeth cleaning. And, as I sat there with that woman picking at my gums relentlessly, I had the same thoughts running through my head as you have expressed–how simply incredible this song is and how it is just one of those songs that transcends beyond all other songs–a standard, a classic, a defining moment for our time and for the artist.

    As for the whole Garfunkel singing it debate–while I agree that Garfunkel’s voice is wonderful here, I did have the good fortune of hearing Simon years later do this song in concert. He changed it to a far more bluesy style with piano as the dominant instrument.. I thought it was truly wonderful with his voice, so I am still not ready to sign off on the notion that Simon without Garfunkel, even on this classic song, would have lessened the greatness (or success) of this song or Simon’s career generally.

  2. pegclifton says:

    I just love this song, and I think I heard Simon sing it alone once, and it was pretty good; but I believe it is perfect with Garfunkel singing his part. Exhibit A indeed!

  3. Amy says:

    I love this song no matter who is singing it, which I’ve often noted is the best indication of a truly great song. That said, Art sings the hell out of it, and this remains my very favorite version. I, too, enjoyed Paul’s take on his own song, but his rendition didn’t move me the way this original recording does every single time I hear it.

    Just found this amusing site http://nymag.com/daily/entertainment/2010/10/who_did_it_best_bridge.html – comparing clips of artist singing the song and asking “who did it best”? Thank good ness Jacob Lusk, last season’s horrific AI contestant, isn’t featured here.

    I vote for Art Garfunkel still.

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