Bookends is half a concept record, with Side One tracing a life from birth to death. Side Two is made up of odds and ends left over from the Graduate soundtrack, including ‘Mrs. Robinson’ and ‘Hazy Shade of Winter.’
Bookends – Simon & Garfunkel (1968)
On Simon & Garfunkel’s fourth album, Bookends, the duo entered full-on concept album territory. Or maybe I should say “half-on concept album,” because the record is split between a suite of songs about beginnings and endings (hence the title) and a group of songs that were left over from the Graduate soundtrack.
Perhaps that paints the duo as a little unfocused, but when you consider the second half contains such great songs as ‘Fakin’ It,’ ‘A Hazy Shade of Winter’ and the full version of ‘Mrs. Robinson,’ it’s hard to argue with the results.
Three of the five tracks were written for Mike Nichols’ film The Graduate — with ‘Mrs. Robinson’ famously appearing in the movie while ‘Punky’s Dilemma’ and ‘Hazy Shade of Winter’ didn’t make the cut. ‘Hazy Shade of Winter’ found success on its own, charting higher than any Bookends song other than ‘Mrs. Robinson.’
The album’s final song, ‘At the Zoo,’ is a tribute to the Central Park Zoo that portrays the animals in amusingly human terms (“giraffes are insincere… zebras are reactionaries… pigeons plot in secrecy”).
The straightforward acoustic folk (and folk rock) of their first few albums gave way to a record very much crafted in the studio. The songs on this album feature distorted instruments, samples, skits and interviews. It’s a cross between Peter, Paul and Mary, National Public Radio and Eminem.
Bookends is a concept album at heart, though I’m not sure the concept holds up across its full length. Side One starts and ends with ‘Bookends Theme,’ a gentle guitar melody that is echoed in the moving track ‘Old Friends,’ about two elderly men who sit on a park bench “like bookends.”
The first two Simon & Garfunkel songs I featured were used in The Graduate and now the third is the song most famously associated with that film. I didn’t plan it that way… I guess Mike Nichols and I just have similar taste in music.
1968’s Bookends is an odd little album. Side One is a meditation on aging, including bookending ‘Bookends’ themes, a track called ‘Old Friends’ that was tailor made for all the eventual reunion shows these guys would do and a 2-minute collage of old people talking, including one guy who rails off a laundry list of serious symptoms and then says “To this minute, I don’t think it’s an ordinary cold.” I’ve always loved that guy.