Simon & Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water (40th Anniversary Edition)

January 01, 1970



One would be hard pressed to identify any album that better
encapsulated the sunset of the ‘60s and the fading glow of optimism that
accompanied the decade’s demise than Bridge
Over Troubled Water
. Exquisite, ambitious and adroit to the point of
perfection, it ranks as a masterwork of pop precision on the scale of Abbey Road, Sgt. Pepper and Smiley Smile,
an album which found concept and execution ideally meshed, its emotion and
intent equally in sync. After a decade of exploring the twin traditions of folk
and folk-rock, Simon & Garfunkel had evolved into true pop practitioners, a
status originally hinted at on Bookends but never fully confirmed before. But Bridge… was more than merely mass entertainment (notwithstanding the fact that its
title track remains one of the most widely covered songs in pop music history);
rather, it was the realization of Simon, Garfunkel and longtime
producer/engineer Roy Halee’s artistic vision, a work as epic and consistent as
a work of literature worthy of a Pulitzer. It was art incarnate and 40 years
on, it remains an album that’s no less compelling and affecting as it was on
the first day of release.


There are, of course, the more obvious reasons for its
success. In commercial terms alone, it’s monumental, boasting four hit singles
— the title track, “The Boxer,” “Cecilia” and “El Condor Pasa,” the latter two
marking Simon’s initial dalliance with World Music. But in a musical sense,
it’s so much more, a wide and varied overview of the duo’s creative scope that
stretches from their early beginnings as Tom and Jerry (given a replay of an
early cover, “Bye Bye Love”) to a sentimental sound that parallels the longing
lament of “Homeward Bound” (“The Boxer”) and ultimately through to its touching
optimistic coda (“Song for the Asking”). Then too, there was the title track,
boasting one of the most gorgeous vocals ever sung, with an arrangement that
was no less majestic in its scope. All these decades later, it still inspires,
and it’s impossible not to listen without getting goose bumps, or at very, a
teardrop or two. As the innocence and optimism of the previous decade was
quashed by war, assassination and the dashed dreams of love and peace, it
became a comforting hymn meant to assuage the cynicism that would inevitably
follow. Like “Let It Be,” it’s an unabashed message of hope and comfort.


While “Bridge Over Troubled Water” may be the album’s
signature song, other tracks come close in terms of hitting those high notes,
both literally and figuratively. “So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright” ranks among the
pair’s best ballads, given its unlikely theme of solitary connection. “The Only
Living Boy in New York”
follows suit, an impassioned plea engulfed in swelling and stunning
accompaniment. And then there’s “The Boxer,” a heartbreaking journey of
resignation tempered by defiance, capped with that swelling combination of
pedal steel and high-pitched trumpet and the explosive percussion flourishes
and then imbued with one of the most confessional lyrics ever crafted. (“I do
declare there were times I was so lonesome I took some comfort there…”)


To their credit, the duo intersperse enough lighthearted
fare into the line-up to moot possible charges of melodrama, melancholia or
mawkishness. “Cecilia,” “Baby Driver” and “Bye Bye Love” intersect the set at
crucial junctures, interjecting lively tones to alleviate the sobriety. Yet, even
a song that takes a frivolous tone, “Why Don’t You Write Me,” injects drama
into its commentary. “I’m out in the jungle,” the narrator says, pleading the
case of our forgotten soldiers in Vietnam.


While the new release eschews the bonus tracks grafted onto
the previous reissue, it does add a richness and sonic clarity that brings out
many of the auditory nuances that might otherwise have been overlooked. “Pick
it up, pick it up,” Simon urges from the corners in “Cecilia.” The bass in
“Only Living Boy in New York City”
adds a new dimension to the bottom end. “Bridge” itself becomes an epic.
Overall, there’s a newfound precision in the instrumentation, further
delineating the tones and textures and enhancing awe and appreciation for
producer’s Roy Halee’s sophisticated arrangements and ambitious oversight.


Still, the biggest reason to repurchase Bridge…  lies in the second
disc, a DVD boasting a long-lost 1969 CBS special directed by Charles Grodin
and featuring road, studio and concert footage from the pair’s ’69 tour, as
well as imagery of the decade’s leading lights- JFK, Martin Luther King, Cesar
Chavez and Robert Kennedy. The searing video of Vietnam
and the giddy euphoria of Woodstock
add a historical touch that openly courts a kind of restless rumination. The
program was shown both once; Simon & Garfunkel’s candid anti-war commentary
spooked its sponsors and it was shelved thereafter. Nevertheless, it boasts a
wealth of knowing glimpses – Simon stifling a yawn during one of his partner’s
solo takes, and then smiling mischievously when he realizes the camera has
caught him the act. Garfunkel querying Simon if in fact the cameras are too
obtrusive (“I live with cameras,” Simon insists). A self-assurance that
sometimes seems smug peaks when Paul professes his interest in someday being
president, but then reconsiders the notion because he couldn’t give it enough
time. A separate feature, “The Harmony Game: The Making of Bridge Over Troubled
Water,” boasts both archival clips and contemporary commentaries by the
participants, narratives that are clearly intimate and enlightening.


No matter that Bridge
Over Troubled Water
remains part of Rock’s enduring lexicon. It’s an album
that never sounds old, never wears thin, or. For that matter, seems any worse
for wear. Each time it ends, it still inspires a wish there was one more song,
one more reverberating refrain. In all the ages, there’s never been an album so
inspiring, so assuring, so awesome. Although immortality is never certain, it’s
clear this Bridge…  could go on forever.


DOWNLOAD: “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright,” “The Boxer,” “The
Only Living Boy in New York”

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