Monday, 18 April 2016
Simon and Garfunkel "Bridge Over Troubled Water" (1970)
Bridge Over Troubled Water/El Condor Pasa (If I Could)/Cecilia/Keep The Customer Satisfied/So Long Frank Lloyd Wright//The Boxer/Baby Driver/The Only Living Boy In New York/Why Don't You Write Me?/Bye Bye Love/Song For Asking
"Bye bye love, bye bye happiness, hello loneliness..."
It's the end...only the moment hasn't really been prepared for at all.
Ever since their third single as 'Tom and Jerry' way back in 1958, Simon and Garfunkel has been a franchise on borrowed time. It's not that the duo didn't respect or even love each other - but put two strong-willed musicians together from the age of five in the same room when their tastes natural pull in different directions was always going to end in disaster sooner or later. The one thing that brought Simon and Garfunkel back together again in the past, time after time, was success: the lure of a hit single together after years apart back in the doo-wop years and the sudden unexpected release of an overdubbed 'Sounds Of Silence'. Somehow, despite the fact that Simon and Garfunkel often found themselves tugging on different ends of the same musical note and had been trying to find a career apart from each other since they were seventeen, fate had always intervened to keep them together. That unexpected overdubbing hit with 'The Sound Of Silence', released at a time when Garfunkel had returned, disillusioned to his studies and Paul was an unknown folk singer struggling to make ends meet in London, set the pattern as a warning for much that would follow: don't split up, however much the other one annoys you, because apart musical careers are a struggle. However the huge overwhelming success of the 'Graduate' soundtrack in 1968 (while Simon and Garfunkel were a fair way through work on fourth album 'Bookends') changed the 'rules' though: while Simon and Garfunkel had ploughed on for ten years optimistically, trying to recapture the feeling when they were sixteen and just about entered the top 50 charts, suddenly they had more fame than they were comfortable with - and suddenly time apart looked like a good thing once more.
It didn't help that Paul wanted to branch out and be more political, to use their newfound fame for 'good' (his rabble-rousing 'Cuba Si Nixon No' being the only song of his Art ever refused to sing on), while Art wanted to branch out and use their newfound fame to promote obscure Medieval pieces of which he was highly fond ('Benedictus', the odd piece out in the S and G canon by several centuries, was nearly joined by a sequel 'Fueilles-O'). For a time 'Bridge' was set to include a twelfth song to even the side up, but neither partner could agree which song that ought to be - so in the end 'Bridge' became a short running 36 minute album. Personally I'd have gone with 'Cuba Si Nixon No' on the record - the single biggest row the pair had during their 1964-1970 period, but then I say that as a CSNY fan knowing that the Nixon-bashing 'Ohio' is a few months further down the line: Arty was 'right' in the sense that people would have spent so long debating that track that they'd have probably ignored the rest of the album too (and the sudden lurch back into Chuck Berry style rock and roll is as painful on tour as 'Why Don't You Write Me?'s reggae). Then again 'Feuilles-O', as included on the CD in bonus form (Arty still won't let 'Cuba' out officially...) or on 'Angel Clare' is about as boring as Simon and Garfunkel get too. Maybe this album is better off uneven, with just eleven songs. In a way though Paul got his wish: many fans (at least American fans around in 1969 ) first heard this album's songs as the soundtrack to the Simon and Garfunkel TV special 'Songs Of America' where, for instance, 'Bridge' is debuted to the shots of JFK's funeral train passing through America as people pay their last respects. Music takes a back-seat to politics on the documentary, which is as damning of Richard Nixon's first year in the White House and the continued Vietnam War as it dares on primetime TV and the existence of which stakes even more of a claim for this album summing up a 'generational shift', though actually not one song that made its way through to the end product could be called 'political' (the TV special, available on the 2011 deluxe edition of the album, is highly recommended by the way, though be warned that the 'new' DVD documentary 'The Harmony Game' and the 'Live 1969' CD disc that comes with it are a bit of a disappointment).
That 'tug of war' between these two extremes (which you can judge for yourself in the modern age now you can now see a 1969 era S and G - well S anyway - doing 'Cuba' in concert on Youtube, while Arty re-recorded 'Feuilles-o' for his first solo album 'Angel Clare') crops up time and time again across this album. Sometimes 'Bridge' is soft and expressive, traditional and conservative, with some of the most easy listening of Simon and Garfunkel tracks: there's a reason so many middle-of-the-road bands cover 'El Condor Pasa' (and it's not to promote Pauk's first great world music discovery Los Incas!) while 'Cecilia' is the most 'poppy' Simon and Garfunkel ever yet and 'Song For The Asking' the most 'obvious' folk-rock tune the pair released. On the other hand 'Baby Driver' is juvenile yet daring in a way Simon and Garfunkel had never been (Paul's teenage days as Tico and the Triumphs on the other hand...), 'Keep The Customer Satisfied' almost single-handedly invents a new genre of sarcastic asides to audiences (The Kinks will turn this into a career path a few years into the decade) and 'Why Don't You Write Me?' near-enough invents white reggae. And then there's 'The Boxer', five stunning complex minutes of everything Simon and Garfunkel have been leading up to and a peak during the first album sessions so high none of the rest of the record could quite compete with it. Compared to the focussed 'Bookends' (on side one at least), all this see-sawing from one extreme to the other is enough to give you motion sickness, while 'bridge' is simultaneously the most daring LP ever to sell a zillion copies (well, it sold over three million copies in Britain alone and I'm not adding every country's figures up, so it's something like that!) and the blandest of the five studio Simon and Garfunkel LPs.
Both Simon and Garfunkel keep changing their minds over how final a 'goodbye' Bridge Over Troubled Water was meant to be: this wasn't a band who bad-mouthed each other in the papers every few minutes so as late as the eve of their first pair of solo albums in 1972/1973 the world was still hoping for a sequel (which ultimately never came, though the two came close in 1983). However, 'Bridge' feels like an ending, with an elegiac, things-will-never-0be-the-same theme that runs through almost all of it, with the exceptions two brazen attempts to turn back the clock and return to the band's 'teenage' years ('Cecilia' and 'Baby Driver', two songs that sound like Tom and Jerry or at least Tico and the Triumphs releases). There's Paul the songwriter, holed up in his room and unsure what he can write that he actually wants Art to sing alongside him without it sounding 'false'. So he looks into himself, writing 'The Boxer' as a semi-autobiographical/semi-fictional account of what might he might have been in some parallel world where 'The Sound Of Silence' never got its overdubs and the pair never stayed together: it's a tale of loneliness and cruelty that turns even Garfunkel's technicolour voice into monochrome and depending how you interpret the song suggests that Paul is at his worst when he's confronting the world alone. Then there's a song for Arty, Paul bidding goodbye to his architect friend without letting him know and writing 'So Long Frank Lloyd Wright' about his pal's favourite architect, even though the lines about 'harmonising till dawn' rather give the real subject matter away (not that Arty knew at the time: he's said to have been highly cross when he found out - 'Oh very good, everyone's laughing because the joke's on old Arty' - but actually it's a sweet goodbye, Paul telling his partner he understands his way of thinking too). Then there's the title track, all majestic sweeping strings and an olive branch of friendship, offering a promise that two such close people will do anything for the other, no matter what happens (Paul even gives it to Arty to sing, seemingly as a comment, though even Garfunkel fell so in love with the falsetto Paul used on the highly lovely demo - see the 'Paul Simon 1964-1993' box set - he wanted his partner to sing it like that).
Ah, you might be thinking, that's real friendship that is - what's all the fuss about? But then there's side two of the album. 'Keep The Customer Satisfied', a late addition to the album, sounds to me as if it was written as a 'plan B' if Paul couldn't get his political rant on the album - a slightly drunken, leering slap in the face to everyone buying Simon and Garfunkel records simply because they were 'popular' and 'nicer' than anything else released at the time; in retrospect it's surprising Garfunkel didn't walk away from this song too (in actual fact he sings it with gusto). Then there's the two 'letter' songs also written towards the end of the record when it was half-finished and Paul just needed Arty for some completion work - only to find to his horror that his friend's shooting a film! This too takes a bit of explaining: Mike Nichols. the director of The Graduate, told Simon and Garfunkel he'd bought up the rights to Joseph Heller's novel 'Catch 22' and asked if they'd like a part when he made the film in Mexico. Both men said yes automatically but, wary that he had an album he ought to be writing, Paul asked for a cameo part while Garfunkel - with time on his hands while the pair weren't on tour and Paul was writing - took a bigger part (he's very good too). In the end 'Catch 22' was a far more difficult 'shoot' than 'The Graduate' and Nichols had several different 'goes' at telling the story; somewhere down the line Paul heard in the mail both that his cameo role had been cut thanks to a changed ending and that the film was over-running so Arty might not be available for months yet. Paul, with a studio booked and waiting to go, was furious that his partner stuck with the film instead of the album while Arty, for his part, felt the matter was out of his hands and that if anything putting his face out there in a big budget film would help the album's profile (and might save them endless media interviews, something they both disliked doing). Though many people assume that Paul made all the albums on his own and then got Arty in for a couple of days to sing, it really wasn't like that - or at least never had been before. Part of the reason Simon and Garfunkel experienced so much tension was the long time they spent together making records, using the other as 'producer' while they recorded their parts, while Paul - an instinctive writer who sometimes struggled to sift through his best material - had traditionally been eager for his partner's suggestions (one of which was to add an extra verse to the title track, which turned from gentle ballad on Paul's demo into soaring epic in Arty's). Only half of 'Bridge' the record is a team effort and Simon and Garfunkel had never done anything before except as a team.
Both 'Why Don't You Write Me?' and 'The Only Living Boy In New York' represents Paul getting first impatient and then wistful over the fact that his boyhood pal has 'let him down' - the first one urging him to get in touch because 'it's lovely to hear you'; the second bidding one last fond farewell that's both touching and irredeemably final, addressing his old 'Tom and Jerry' partner by his old name 'Tom' and telling him that, despite his annoyance, Paul knows 'your part will go fine'. It's worth noting here, by the way, the 'importance' of both songs being written as letters: this was how Simon and Garfunkel communicated with each other all the time in the early days, when Art was a student and Paul was either making his own music or touring London. So far we only have one of these letters in the public domain (how great would it be to have a whole collection? Though knowing Simon and Garfunkel they tore each other's up, set fire to them - and then cellotaped them back together again!) but it comes at a rather revealing point in their creation: as Art Garfunkel's sleevenotes for their first LP 'Wednesday Morning 3AM', sharing Paul's admiration for his new partner's songs while coming complete with an easy familiarity top and bottom, with asides about album mixes ('I promised be down to mastering next week to fight for a harmonica on 'He Was My Brother' - making albums is a lot of fun!') and jokes ('No singing in the streets!' Arty tells his friend after opening up about his hopes for the record). It's as if Paul is trying to remember better days when he waited eagerly for those letters and how the two were always in communication no matter how far apart geographically they were. The cover of the pair's beloved Everly Brothers song 'Bye Bye Love', revived last minute from concert tapes of the band on the road across 1969, also points towards happier memories.
No wonder, then, that 'Bridge's overwhelming quality is it's wistful nostalgia for times past. It seems like the ending of something more than just a friendship too: released a mere three months after The Beatles' similar farewell-sort-of album 'Let It Be' (a 'by the way' story: Lennon was convinced that McCartney had written the title track to sound like 'Bridge' which was everywhere when the album came out, apparently forgetting that he himself had worked on the song several months before 'bridge' was released! They do have a similar sweeping grandiose 'feel' and feature the piano heavily, but there are no major similarities between the two). Released only mere weeks into a new decade, it just has that feeling of finality common to albums recorded in the middle ground between 'Woodstock' and 'Altamont'. There's a case to be made that, though not exactly hippies, Simon and Garfunkel summed up the 1960s spirit as well as anybody: theirs is a quiet intellectual revolution, less scary than the greasy rockers of the 1950s but a revolution nonetheless based on argument rather than anger, hope rather than horror and philosophy rather than filibustering: the 1968 track 'America' is perhaps the best example of it (there's also a telling moment in one of the last gigs the duo played while touring this album in Holland in 1969 where Paul complains that the gig's caretaker wouldn't let him get the sound right and shooed him out claiming 'his type' was just going to play noise anyway. 'Well' starts Paul with an argument straight out the mouths of 'The Who' : 'One day our generation will be old enough to not have to deal with people like him, while old people like him won't be around anymore anyway!') 'Bridge' is such a heavy seller, not just because of the title tracks' success and that of 'The Graduate', but because it does what all monster sellers do: it sums up its period of time so well it meant something to everyone who heard it at the time. 'Bridge' may be a song about always being there for someone, but it sounds fleeting somehow, almost desperate, as Garfunkel tries to soar higher and higher to prove his worth. A love, hard fought for, sums up 1970 well. 'The Boxer' acknowledges the storm-clouds gathering on the horizon (the difference between 'Crosby Stills and Nash' and 'Deja Vu' or 'Abbey Road' and 'Let It Be' if you like), while mirroring the 1960s instinct of never giving in or taking no for an answer. Later singles 'Cecilia' and 'Baby Driver' sum up the era's unique mixture of innocence and yet knowingness rather well too: you could have heard either song, at a stretch, on the radio a decade earlier but there's a 'wink' in the lyric and performance that suggest this is 'sex' rather than 'love' (the 1960s didn't invent sex, of course, but they were about the first decade to talk about it - and in the popular mainstream, like Simon and Garfunkel records, not just the cult figures of the day). Even 'Frank Lloyd Wright' spends half the song bidding both Simon and Garfunkel us 'so long', as if something very major is over and it's simultaneous praising of a long-dead Victorian architect and music ('I can't believe your song is gone so soon') is so 'Sgt Peppers' it practically comes in one of 'those' colourful suits while holding a tuba.
Like many albums so much of their day, though (including 'Sgt Peppers', plus Neil Young's 'Harvest', Oasis' 'Morning Glory' and The Who's Tommy' to name just the obvious AAA ones) 'Bridge' has never quite had the same resonance to future generations raiding their parents' record collections. 'Bridge' is obviously weaker than the two albums that came before it, lacking the obviously cohesion of 'Bookends' and the less obvious 'opposites' theme of 'Parsley Sage', while it contains more duff songs than those or earlier records 'Wednesday Morning 3 AM' and 'Sounds Of Silence' ('Baby Driver' is a terribly unfunny one-note joke, 'Why Don't You Write Me?' an ok song given a terrible uncommitted performance - Paul will spend most of his 'Rhymin' Simon' record in 1973 using 'real' Muscle Shoal musicians to say 'sorry' - and 'Song For The Asking' is a terrible anticlimax for such an important 'last message' song. Add these together with a badly recorded cover of 'Bye Bye Love' and it's clear that this 11 track album is badly down on minutes to be a true 'classic'). It may in fact be the weakest of all five Simon and Garfunkel studio albums, despite selling more copies single-handedly than all the others put together.
And yet like those examples above it's not so flimsy or so totally rooted to its time-zone that it can't offer fans a little something even now. It's easy to miss now we've heard similar songs done a million times over but three songs here break new ground: no one was recording reggae back in 1970 and yet that's what Paul (however unsuccessfully the first time) tries here. No one was doing world music either, with 'El Condor Pasa' setting the tone not only for his later solo career but many other careers to come (and everyone who thinks world music only started with 'Graceland' haven't heard enough Paul Simon solo records). And still, to this day, nobody's quite put together a song like 'Keep The Customer Satisfied', a noisy un-tuneful song with great blaring horns drowning out a sarcastic lyric about how things have to be commercial to sell these days (oddly, though never a single, the song has become one of the album's most heard tracks in the modern day, mainly played by edgy DJs who want to make a comment without being thrown off the air! As 'quiet revolutionaries' Simon and Garfunkel are perfect for such a stance, which might be why they were played so often to so many different audiences, hiding their subversion just enough to be mainstream without losing their 'cool'!) Then there's 'The Boxer'. Five minutes of some of the deepest, densest, brilliant songwriting ever put together, delivered note-perfectly during a painstakingly long recording process that was worth going the extra mile. Why this song got so sharply outsold by 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' (which is also lovely and exquisitely performed, but clearly not in the same league as a song) at a time when Simon and Garfunkel could have recorded an album of knock-knock jokes and still had a big seller is beyond me. Plus this album's oft-overlooked song, 'The Only Living Boy In New York', which thematically should be the last track here: a sad and moving tribute song written to the narrator's oldest friend, touching on over a decade's worth of highs and lows, now desperately lonely and bored, while desperate to put things right but fearing that they might never be. These two songs may well be the best things Simon and Garfunkel ever recorded, together or apart and these alone give the album a middling rating, bumped up a little by the sheer perfection of Garfunkel's stunning vocal performances on both 'Bridge' and 'Lloyd Wright', plus Paul's on 'New York' and the last great joint Simon and Garfunkel vocal on 'The Boxer', where every nuance is synchronised, every last note in it's perfect place. You can learn a lot about how to make a record by listening to this album, which has long been a favourite with engineers (take another bow Roy Halee!) - assuming you skip the last three songs on the record anyway - it's the songs, oddly enough, that don't always impress. A number one record? Deservedly! UK number one for 33 weeks and the best-selling album of both the years 1970 and 1971 when 'Parsley Sage' only peaked at #13 for a week? Don't be silly! If the album needed anything, it was a longer break in the middle so Paul could elbow the weaker songs and write a couple more definitive ones that wouldn't break the duo up or leave them resorting to covering centuries-old Madrigals. If only Arty, had, you know, disappeared to go shoot a film or something!...
If ever a song existed to show off a singer's range it's 'Bridge Over Troubled Water'. Starting slow and humble, much like Paul's rather sweet gospelly demo (the highlight of the 'Paul Simon 1964-1993' box and heavily inspired by one of his favourite doo-wop records from 1958, The Swan Silvertones' 'Mary Don't You Weep' - Paul later gave composer Claude Jeter a cheque out of guilt, but as so often happens in these things it's a single line at most that's cribbed, not a whole song), it takes a long time to get moving until something changes around the three minute mark. The first quiet verse is clearly the sound of one partner to another, promising to put things right as best the narrator can - the sort of thing heard in lots of previous songs if never quite this goose-pimplingly sincere. Paul, urged to write a third verse by Arty much later to offer this chorus-less song a 'pay-off', was clearly in a quite different frame of mind when he wrote the last verse though. This is suddenly a generational song, the duo who've kept America and half the planet safe and sane across the past decade offering a knowing last goodbye, urging a 'silver girl' to 'shine' now 'all your dreams are on their way' (I've never quite bought an 'underground' interpretation, common at the time of release, that the 'silver girl' was a drug addict having a heroin rush; Paul's starting point was said to be his new girlfriend Peggy getting self-conscious about her first grey-hairs though the song is clearly deeper than it's starting point). Though Paul later admitted to not actually liking this verse, which he felt was rushed and failed to fit the rest of the song, it's actually one of the best things he ever wrote, uplifting and exactly what a shaken world needed to hear in the first few months of a new decade following troubles (there's a reason our first introduction to this song is the soundtrack to a funeral train: though the song starts as the purest love song Simon and Garfunkel ever recorded, by the end it's an anthem for better times for everybody).
Arty, of course, is perfect for the song: for many albums now Paul has been 'exploiting' his partner's 'acting' abilities and the way he can make any emotion sound sincere if he 'believes' it enough (see 'For Emily Wherever I May Find Her' especially). His performance is breath-taking, turning from simple to epic in a heartbeat and yet making every change totally note-perfect. Few singers could have managed such a feat and in many ways 'Bridge' sounds like the best 'goodbye present' Garfunkel could ever have had, Paul enjoying the knowledge that this might be the last chance he gets to write to his partner's strengths for some time so he might as well use them (something he admitted later to partly regretting: this is the only Simon and Garfunkel song that gives him nothing to do till the halfway point when the harmonies come in and when things were tough on that ;last 1969 tour he added later how bitterly he felt that Arty got all the applause and not him, it's chief creator; funnily enough Arty turned this song, written so much to his strengths, down on first hearing as he liked Paul's falsetto demo so much). Then again, this is a collaboration perhaps more than any other Simon and Garfunkel song since 'Scarborough Fair', with a good song made highly memorable through the suggestions of others. Interestingly, it was the softer first verse that Arty found the most difficult: having nailed the wailing at the end in near-enough one take, he spent days trying to get the mellow vibe of the first verse just right, eventually retreating to a nearby church in his lunchbreak to 'tap into' the right source (fitting really, given Paul's original Gospel inspiration for the track, almost all of which has been removed for the final version). Together with Larry Knechtel's impressive arrangement of Paul's originally rather sketchy melody (and for which the pianist arguably deserved a co-credit) everything about 'Bridge' sounds tailor-made to draw an audience in gradually, hitting them with different hooks and sudden changes across what's actually quite a lengthy (4:55) song for such an ever-popular single with near-constant radio airplay. Few albums start with quite such a bang as this one and released at a time when the world nearly a song like this it was all but guaranteed to do well. However there remains something ever so slightly 'pre-ordained' and calculating about this song that prevents from entering the true top-rank of Simon and Garfunkel classics like 'The Boxer' 'America' and even 'He Was My Brother' and 'Patterns', lesser known though those songs might be.
If 'Bridge' was a fond farewell, then 'El Condor Pasa' points to something 'new'. The first real attempt by Paul to break out of the straightjacket of western pop, it was inspired (some would say nicked) by Daniel Alomia Robles' Peruvian orchestral work more commonly titled 'Zarzuela El Condor Pasa' (zarzuela meaning 'musical play') based around the oldest folk tunes of the country: the bit Paul liked the most was the 'parade tune' and he met up back stage with performers Los Incas to ask if he could get into contact with the writer to arrange a cover version one day; they rather shamefacedly told him that whoever 'really' wrote the tune was probably centuries dead and his name un-recorded. Un-deterred, Los Incas' manager and 'arranger' Jorge Milchberg got wind of what Paul was up to an offered to 'arrange' it for him - altering two notes (possibly the opening two) in order to legally 'prove' he had earned the copyright. Paul, aware of all these sorts of copyright games from his years spent working with the Brill songwriting teams, probably knew what was going on but allowed him to get away with it to keep the song, though he got into trouble anyway when Robles' son filed a copyright suit arguing his father had copyrighted the melody first back in 1933; despite the case, which was settled out of court, the two became firm friends over their shared fondness for promoting world music). You can see why the track would have appealed so much to Paul: it's a very Simon and Garfunkel mixture of the sad and the happy all in one, with an upbeat near-dancing tempo performed on instruments that sound as if they're bearing down all the weight of the world, begun with some ear-catching strumming that's also an S and G trademark. Though the pair effectively 'steal' the Los Incas recording of this track, without adding a note except their harmonies, it's arguably a good move and provides the pair a whole new range of dynamics to play with that must have sounded overhwlemingly new and exotic back in 1970. What doesn't fit quite so well are the new lyrics that Paul wrote around a translation of the original name ('If I Could'), which comes across as rather too simple and nursery-rhyme-ish for a track that has such a depth of backing. Simon and Garfunkel trade vocals for once, rather than singing together or separately, but neither sound entirely comfortable rhyming words like 'snail' and 'nail' and 'street' and 'feet'. Curiously, Simon hands by far the song's better lyric - the second verse (this is a second straight song in a row without anything you'd count as a 'chorus') - to his partner who tells us that 'a man tied to the ground gives the world it's saddest sound'. A song about freedom, in all its shapes and forms, it's a shame that the strained atmosphere of the vocal sessions shows itself so much in the recording, with one of the worst recorded vocals of the pair's years together. Released as the last ever Simon and Garfunkel single (barring 'My Little Town' and some unsanctioned post Bridge cash-ins like 'America' and 'For Emily'), it sadly sums up the differences that were splitting the duo up rather than the similarities that had kept them together for so long.
'Cecilia' too is all about performance rather than song, though Paul has since admitted that it's starting point was something a lot deeper than the 'wronged teenage lover' of the finished lyric. The track started not as a lyric anyway but as a 'rhythm', another change in writing style that will later lead to an entire album written this way (Paul's sublime 1990 solo 'Rhythm Of The Saints'), as the phrase 'I'm down on my knees begging you please' came to Paul at a party and he urged everyone else around him to bang along. Paul was quickly joined by his fellow party guests including his younger brother (and near-double) Eddie (who strums the guitar while Paul bangs a piano bench) and Arty, who fished out a tape recorder to make sure he captured the sound for posterity. The trio then later played around with the tape machine's 'reverb' button, creating a criss-crossing stream of gloriously exciting noise, as rhythms come shooting left and right across the entire song. Coming up with the name 'Cecilia' to fit the rhythm (btw a very pretty name - as I'm sure any Cecilias reading this will agree 8>) ) scholarly Paul got stuck for a while with a music-related postmodern lyric regarding St Cecilia, patron saint of music in the Catholic world, before deciding to keep the lyric as simple as the rhythm that had inspired it (Paul will return to this thought years later when starting work on the 'Rhythm Of The Saints' record where the only Saint mentioned is 'St Cecilia' on 'The Coast'). The lyric we get is undeniably silly (what teenagers 'get up to wash their face?' in the middle of 'making love up in my bedroom?!') perhaps because Paul has painted himself into a corner with how short the natural melody put to his rhythms has to be ('der der der dum, der der der dum' is hardly enough space to offer us poetry, even when you're a poet as inspired as Paul Simon!) In the end though the lyric hardly matters: this is a song written as light relief between the 'heavy' stuff and seems to have been written more to be fun to sing than anything (lots of hard consonants like Bs and Ds and long held 'ee's) and Simon and Garfunkel sound like they're having a ball, enjoying this return to the simpler days of their youth on perhaps their last fully unified track alongside 'The Boxer'. A word of praise too for poor engineer Roy Halee, who must have been devastated when his favourite 'pupils' handed him a messy, largely unlistenable collection of random echoey noises and asked him to put it in the middle of the immaculate-sounding album he was currently making. Somehow, though, 'Cecilia' still sounds like it 'belongs' on this album, despite changing the mood greatly after two ballads, with Roy awarded with his picture on the cover when this track was released as the third single from this album and the penultimate one the duo would release from their 'first career' together. Infectious, like a bad rash, yet impossible to dislike.
I'm less sure about 'Keep The Customer Satisfied', a last minute recording that's even more of an experiment. Paul the writer sounds weary on this one, having just returned home from a backbreaking tour whilst knowing he has more songs to write for an album and he feels deeply uninspired. In a way it's a neat full-circle to 'Homeward Bound' (written by Paul alone in, erm, Widnes of all places on the very eve of the band's big success with 'Sound Of Silence'), with the narrator pleased to get home but longing for some of the anonymity he once enjoyed. Paul has occasionally written sour lyrics (the 'Still Crazy After All These Years' album in 1975 is full of them), but this must be his grouchiest: 'Everywhere I go I get slandered, libelled, hear words I never heard in the Bible - and I'm oh so tired!') The problem is that Simon and Garfunkel are in effect blaming 'us' for their troubles, the customers for whom less than their peak isn't good enough and where even the peaks lead to the public clamouring for more - and I don't know about you but being blamed by songwriters from afar always makes me uncomfortable. I'd rather Paul and Arty be happy, even if that means a year off between recordings - their run of form up till 1970 is satisfying enough as it is. In a way 'Customer' is a microcosm of the album: the lyrics are awful, by Paul's high standards, but the melody is rather good and you wish the pair had spent more time developing the track so that what it was saying was as good and powerful as the way that it sounds. The blaring horn parts, which gradually get more and more shrill and out of control, are also very strong while Simon and Garfunkel do the best they can considering that, actually, they're shouting at us without any of their usual finesse and textures. As a one-off exploring Paul's fractured psyche it's ok, but it's no match for previous in-depth discussions a la 'Patterns' or even the jokes a la 'At The Zoo' and I'm confused why it's this track that's traditionally been so popular from the album considering its non-single status. Maybe it's because this song was heard first as the flipside to 'Bridge', which given this track's rant about using every trick in the book to keep listeners listening seems rather apt.
'So Long Frank Lloyd Wright' is one of those occasional songs that only 'works' if you have enough emotional investment in the people creating it to understand why it's here. Heard on its own, separated from the 'story' of Simon and Garfunkel, it's another bland song about an architect we never really get to know through the lyrics written mainly on one note (until the middle eight adds a couple more) and played to such a dreary tempo and over such a schmaltzy orchestral backing track that, heard on the album back to back with 'The Boxer', you begin to wonder where the duo's usual good taste has gone. However, in context as a second 'goodbye' song from Paul to Arty, it makes more sense. Paul wants to write about his friend without resorting to using his name in song or making it too obvious, so he does the next best thing and writes to Arty using the nom de plume of one of his biggest heroes, the 'inventor' of modern architecture Lloyd Wright, who spent his career designing the template for most modern office buildings, making sculptures and incorporating stained glass into existing buildings. However more than a few architecture fans have been left scratching their heads over this song as, bar the name, there's no mention of architecture here (Paul admitted later that, despite Arty mentioning his name a lot over the years, he didn't really know who Lloyd Wright was or do any research for the song). The elephant in the Lloyd Wright-designed room is the lyrics about the music. 'I can't believe your song is gone so soon - I barely learned the tune' sighs Arty (effectively singing about himself) before, more warmly, reminding us of the duo's good years: 'All the nights we'd harmonise till dawn - I'd never laughed so long'. This sequel to the better known 'Old Friends' is far superior, a genuine song of warmth about two old friends who genuinely care for each other, with Paul sounding heartfelt as he offers up the best tribute he can to his partner: that he's still an inspiration, even apart ('When I run dry I stop a while and think of you'). However you can tell that relations between the two were also quite difficult during the making of this album: unbeknown to Garfunkel, away filming 'Catch 22', Paul and Roy Halee added a sarcastic 'So long already Arty!...' as the singer goes on perhaps a fraction too long over this song's exceptionally long fade (if you turn up loud you can just about hear the track come to an uncomfortable clunk on a sudden last note that seems to take the flute player by surprise suggesting we weren't originally meant to hear this much of it). If you ask Garfunkel then he considers this track a mean trick, with Paul telling him to his face that the song was about his favourite architect and never hinting at what he was really getting at: that final insult over the fade may have coloured Garfunkel's judgement a bit too much though. This is actually a very affectionate song, written by one old friend to another who can't bring himself to tell him in person quite how much he really means to him and how much he's going to miss him. Seen in that light, 'Lloyd Wright' is a more than worthy 'end' to a relationship that's been explored out in song for years now; without it it's just a boring slog where not much ever seems to happen.
'The Boxer' on the other hand has enough going on within it for full albums, never mind five minute singles, and can be read on more levels than any Lloyd Wright-designed building. On the one hand it's a tale of the underdog battling for his rights, an innocent whose taken advantage so often he learns to be as corrupt as the world itself and swapping his heart of purity for a boxer's glove (the 'La La Lies' of the chorus, though Paul has admitted since that this was a lyric that was only meant to remain in place as a 'filler' until he thought of something better, which he never did). On another it's part autobiography, Paul both reminding himself of days pre-'Sounds Of Silence' when he was an unknown relying on the 'comfort of strangers', swapping comforts for 'a pocketful of mumbles' that represent his early songs and 'running scared' from a world he couldn't face (the yearning of 'home' mentioned as 'New York City', suggests its genesis comes from the same time as Widnes-centred 'Homeward Bound'), while fighting off similar blows in the present day (Paul has often said he was inspired to write this song by 'the attacks of critics', which seems odd timing: till now only 'The Dangling Conversation' has come close to being poorly received and in 1970 Simon and Garfunkel are so much America's darlings that it seems more a case, for an honest and integral writer like Simon, to work out whether what he's really doing has worth or not in a world suddenly full of sycophants). On another, it's the story of Simon and Garfunkel re-told on this album yet again, Paul reminding his partner of their struggling beginnings, leaving 'home and family' and how many times one or other has before now yelled 'I am leaving, I am leaving' while still remaining to fight (there's an extra verse, performed in concert in most eras and starting as early as 1969, that adds an extra verse: 'The years arolling by me and they are rockin' evenly, I'm older than I once was but younger than I'll be, that's not unusual, no it isn't strange, but through changes upon changes we are more or less the same' - and if that isn't a lyric directed at an old friend whose shared difficult times I don't know what is). In the context of Simon and Garfunkel's lyrics, 'The Boxer' feels like a reminder of how far the pair have come - and how much they risk letting slip away from them. The genius of the lyric though (and this is surely one of Paul's career best) is that it's just ambiguous to mean something to everyone whose ever felt downtrodden, ignored, betrayed, overlooked or abandoned and yet still fights through it, bloodied but unbowed, to fight another day. Weirdly, some reviewers still insist on saying that Paul was thinking of Dylan when he wrote this song, though boxing opponents isn't exactly Bob's style (la la hide' would have been more apt! The myth seems to have started when Dylan covered the song for his 'Self Portrait' album in 1970, when Simon and Garfunkel's original was hot off the press).
The lyric could be brutal or depressing, but ultimately it's neither. Paul's muted folky melody is again superbly supported by a sterling arrangement that, like 'Bridge', allows the song to build by such little baby steps that by the time it becomes the biggest, noisiest, sound of the album (via an extended 'lie la lie' break at the end that carries on far past the point where it's comfortable) the story sounds a triumph of sheer persistence. The man who starts out a nobody, so small and unworthy, has become as loud as an orchestra after forcing one small step after the other. The punches of life are also magnificently portrayed by regular session drummer Hal Blaine, smashing his drums for all he's worth in a sequence recorded, with great difficulty, in the Columbia recording studio lift, to get just the right amount of echo (there's a terrific story that the Columbia executive decided to choose that day to pay Simon and Garfunkel a visit and stepped over the 'recording - keep out' signs to get to the lift, opening the doors right on cue for Blaine's first 'whallop' played at full volume!) The second verse adds a bass harmonica, an old Beach Boys trick that adds an unusual gloom-laden texture to the music. The string section, too, is pure gold and proves wrong once and for all the theory that you can't have rock and roll with an orchestra, adding a layer of oppression and claustrophobia to The Boxer's many textures. Better yet is the poignant instrumental played on a pedal steel (very much in vogue in 1969-1970 with AAA bands it seems), whose mournful, wounded howl of pain and simple notes set against a vast Cathedral of noise tells us even more about the Boxer's story than the lyrics. And talking of Cathedrals, Simon and Garfunkel wanted a special sound for their vocals on this track so, at great expense, recorded their voices over several days at St Paul's Chapel in New York, ever since a haven for Simon and Garfunkel fans. Though the lyric has no mention of religion and the narrator's antics are hardly pious (what must the passing vicars have thought hearing Simon and Garfunkel use the word 'whores', a line Paul jokingly changes to 'toy-stores' if he's playing the song with children present), the theme of redemption running through the song makes it an apt choice. The hard work was worth it: Simon and Garfunkel have never sounded so close or more like one person, doubling each other superbly. Even the end of the song is perfect, the song coming not to a full-stop but a slight resting point having wobbled awkwardly aware from the peak 'glare' of attention of the song: a neat mirror of how both Simon and Garfunkel re-built their solo careers separately after this. 'The Boxer' remains one of the greatest singles ever made and is as close to perfection in melody/lyrics/performance/producton as its possible to get without a false step anywhere. This is so clearly the pinnacle of Simon and Garfunkel's career (give or take 'The Sound Of Silence') that you wonder how on earth the single peaked at only a disappointing #7 in the US, several places lower than it's predecessor, the flimsy 'Mrs Robinson'.
By contrast 'Baby Driver' doesn't belong in the same universe as 'The Boxer'. A silly tongue-in-cheek song delivered by Paul alone, it sounds like him remembering what he did the last time he broke up with Arty (the answer: he recorded a bunch of crazy silly teenage songs about motorcycles as Tico and the Triumphs). Like 'Late In The Evening' to come, Paul recalls being born to a world of music 'playing in my ears' but that song's sense of gang culture from later bandmates is shared here instead with a biker girlfriend. Though Paul's never admitted what exactly he was thinking of when he wrote the song, it seems likely from the way he sings this song that he had Dylan in mind (how fun would it have been if Bob had recorded this instead of 'The Boxer'?) and the lines recalling what his mum and dad were up to sounds like a Dylan lyric. By the last verse Paul's narrator is all for escaping parental control anyway, telling his cute and innocent girlfriend 'I'm not talking about your pigtails - I'm talking about your sex appeal!') and comparing his sex life to revving a bike, delivering the worst-innuendo-before-The-Spice Girls on the line 'I wonder how your engines feel!' This is so un-Simon and Garfunkel like you wonder how on earth this song made it through to the record: if I'd been Arty I'd have been pleading for Paul to include 'Cuba Si, Nixon No' over this rubbish. Still, as so often happens on this record, a pretty awful by S and G standards song is rescued by a clever backing track that's genuinely exciting, with some excellent Beach Boys vocal pastiches and a complex backing that even a Pet Sounds-era Brian Wilson would have baulked at. In short, this sounds like the sort of thing Tico and the Triumphs were trying to pull off ten years earlier but with a proper budget this time, complete with sound effects that sound awfully like the ones previously used on Paul's former band's 'Motorcycle'.
Thankfully Paul's other solo track is rather better. 'The Only Living Boy In New York' is another heartfelt goodbye to Arty, with Paul writing to his old friend 'Tom' (Arty's half of 'Tom and Jerry') about everything he's missing. Not much seems to be the answer: Paul is bored and lonely, lost and small in the middle of the vast New York City and not enjoying his first taste of solitude away from his partner. For now Paul is feeling affectionate, realising just how much he misses his friend, while supporting him in his role in 'Catch 22' that 'your part will go fine' and hoping he catches his plane 'on time' as he 'flies to Mexico'. However Paul clearly has more in mind than simply Arty landing in time to make the film set as he wistfully reflects that his friend 'has been learning to fly now' and has already stretched his wings, while a lonely Paul has to learn to do the same. In keeping with this album's clever use of textures, Arty overdubbed a vocal late on in the album sessions (perhaps the last time the pair ever sang together, though the pair returned to so many songs in these sessions all the dates we have are vague) shouting 'Here I am!' with all his might as if trying to be heard, but buried far away in the distance (Dylan, eager to see what the pair thought of his 'Boxer' arrangement, paid his only visit to the pair while they were recording this sequence and he was said to be most taken aback with how loudly and un-tunefully they were singing!) Given that this is a song about distances, emotional and geographical, it's the oh so clever icing on the cake of one of Paul's most overlooked songs, joined in his misery only by his own lazy acoustic strumming, an excellent blues-based bass part and a sea of voices floating round his head that he just can't quite hear. Exquisite and if anyone needed proof of just how close Simon and Garfunkel were at one point in time, they only need to listen to this song.
Alas, from this point on, the album goes downhill fast. 'Why Don't You Write Me?' sounds like a later composition, with Paul again putting pen to paper to write his friend a letter, this time full of recriminations and huffiness. Paul sloppily re-writes the track as a love song from an explorer lost in a jungle waiting to hear from his beloved and tries to turn it into a comedy, but he can't disguise the very real bitterness at the heart of this song. The middle eight 'tell me why!' gets sung in three-part overdubbed harmony as a doo-wop style round, seemingly deliberately written in the style Simon and Garfunkel most often used in their early days, though the rest of the track is a poor man's idea of reggae as taught to a band who have patently never heard of it. Paul may have had the 'jungle' setting in mind, but 'Write Me' is so obviously not that sort of a song you wonder why he got so stuck on it: this should have been played like one of those doo-wop novelty records (hence the daft deep vocals across the track). Oddly enough Garfunkel sounds a lot more comfortable on this track than Simon does, sticking with a single-note 'nagging' harmony vocal that puts you more in mind of The Marvelletes' 'Please Mr Postman'. However even he is outshone by a most unexpected instrumental performed by multiple parping saxophones who sound not unlike gorillas. Maybe that's why the narrator never got a reply? The gorilla ate his letter!
Even more peculiar is the cover of 'Bye Bye Love'. By which I don't mean the song choice - if anything Simon and Garfunkel covering their biggest influence The Everly Brothers' biggest hit on their 'farewell' record is such an obvious move you wish they hadn't done it. Instead it's the version they used: aware that their final tour was being taped for a possible live album (which won't come out until as late as 2008 with Columbia showing impressive patience compared other AAA labels who couldn't wait to cash-in on a group that had just broken up) they wondered what might happen if they got their audience to play like the ultimate backing track. Demanding a second go after the audience starting clapping out of time, they eventually drilled their audience sufficiently to get them to perform a beat-perfect track for them. Unfortunately, though, Simon and Garfunkel themselves sound bored, as if they're wishing they'd stuck with the first take, and Paul especially has never sounded quite so disinterested in a performance. Unfortunately too some joker decides to squeal along (at 1:57) by what sounds on audio without pictures as if he's just strangled his cat after force-feeding him a French Horn; the audience naturally laughs (though Simon and Garfunkel carry on straight-faced) but it's really not in keeping with the vine they're trying to come up with. A rare Roy Halee experiment that went 'wrong' can be heard at the end when the engineer tried to loop in the earlier take as an 'echo' effect - but all that does is muddy up the end of the song and make it confusing for anyone trying to keep up. A bad idea - which is unusual for Simon and Garfunkel whose bad ideas don't generally get this far through production.
A cross-fade into 'Song For The Asking', a third solo Paul Simon song (compared to Arty's two) also seems like an anti-climax. A minute long folk-rock fragment, accompanied by an overly po-faced orchestra, it's the sort of thing people who don't know assume every Simon and Garfunkel recording sounds like: rather square, slightly dull and far too much like everyone else around at the times (we know better though don't we readers? Few acts were as continually inventive and musically curious as Simon and Garfunkel). It sounds to me as if Paul was looking to write a 'finale' fragment that would equal The Beatles' 'The End' from 'Abbey Road' (released four months prior to this album) and would be equally poignant yet short. Instead Paul tells us that this is his latest tune, whether we like it or not, one he's been waiting to play 'all my life', which could in fact be a neat pointer to the knowledge that after four major splits already in their career up to this point Simon and Garfunkel were never going to be long for this world as an active partnership. However if that's the intention then Paul seems a little, well, coy, here telling 'us' that if we want him to sing again we'll have to ask him nicely. Of course I would have asked him exactly that had I been there at the time, but it's not really up to the audience to keep massaging an artist's ego like this. It's also always seemed odd to me that the track Simon and Garfunkel knew was going to be their last ever one released to the public for the for-seeable future features just Paul and very few of the trademarks (harmonies, thoughtful lyrics, dense elaborate production, 'that' guitar sound which Paul avoids here in favour of a far more 'generic' stylised sound) we associate with the duo are here. You can start a solo album too early sometimes you know!
Overall, then, 'Bridge' is not the classic album everyone said it was at the time, even though a handful of the songs on it are indeed classics and I can nevertheless see many reasons why this album was greeted with such delight on release. Sad but still with some hope, angry but forgiving, usually epic but with memories of simpler happier times 'Bridge's sense of nostalgia and loss coupled with a few glances to the future make it the perfect mixture for record-buyers in 1970 coming to terms not just with the end of the decade and Simon and Garfunkel but generational forebears The Beatles as well, while as far as anyone knew the month this came out Dylan was never going to record again either (in fact he's just getting his second wind with two records ready to come out in 1970). 'Bridge' promises to be always there for us, even though break-ups are an inevitable part of life and there's just enough joy here, just enough hope to make the pill of things coming to a sad inevitable end palatable. In a way it's Paul's most successful thematic album, with nearly a whole album this time reflecting the duo's time together and their mixed feelings for each other, which is both longer and more cohesive than the more celebrated 'Bookends' (although it would be a different story if the second half was as strong as the first). In a way it's Arty's most successful album, with some stunning vocal harmonies and more proof that it was his tweaking of Paul's songs into workable productions that turned them from promising compositions into great recordings. And in a way it's the worst album either of them ever did, with sloppy live recordings, juvenile innuendo, boring orchestral ballads and co-reggae proving that even had a limit over what grounds they could break. In another way it's perhaps just as well that Simon and Garfunkel ended here, before the list of duds started getting as long as the list of classics (following two much tighter albums in terms of quality material) -though on another the sheer class and beauty of 'The Boxer' and 'The Only Living Boy In New York City' makes you yearn for the pair to have stayed together just that bit longer to see if they record anything quite so magical again. Though both will create magic intermittently on their solo careers this is, in a very real sense, the end. And maybe the end was prepared for after all.