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.