Monday, July 9, 2007

No. 51: Bridge Over Troubled Water

Band: Simon and Garfunkel
Album: Bridge Over Troubled Water
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: A touching bit of harmonies and lyrical songwriting, "Bridge Over Troubled Water" is a glimpse into the struggling friendship between Art Garfunkel and Paul Simon. Simon is at the top of his songwriting game with autobiographical tracks like "The Boxer," "Cecilia" and "The Only Living Boy in New York."
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: As smart and as pretty as it is, rock and roll is not supposed to be the kind of think Johnny Mathis could sing and it wouldn't sound out of place in his repertoire. It's easy listening and not in the Fleetwood Mac way.
Best song: "Cecilia" is a wonderful song that merges the double meaning of love and writer's block.
Worst song: I'm not in love with "Keep the Customer Satisfied."
Is it awesome?: Yes, but it could also be called boring.

Paul Simon was recently honored by the Library of Congress for his contributions to American culture with the first Gershwin prize. If there's anyone out there who would deserve an award from the LOC, it's Simon. Unlike most rock and roll singers, Simon was constantly using his music to reference and expand rock and roll's vocabulary.

"Bridge Over Troubled Water" has that in spades. While many of the songs are written as messages from Simon to Garfunkel (the title track and "The Only Living Boy in New York" being the two most obvious), Simon writes characters and scenes into his songs that aren't normally found in rock and roll. The protagonists in "Baby Driver," "The Boxer" (in that case, Simon himself) and "The Only Living Boy In New York" are all vivid as a novel.

My personal favorite is the weaving of the religious and creative in "Cecilia." The song, written during a fit of supposed writer's block, was as much as call to a wandering lover as it is to Saint Cecilia, the patron saint of music, in order to cure Simon's writer's block. Simon, a Jewish person, used references to medieval Christianity in other songs and this is his best.

The flaw in any of Simon's music (including that which he recorded with Garfunkel) is that it is easy listening. Other than the shifting rhythms on some songs (again, "Cecilia" comes to mind), most of their stuff is straightforward balladry and soft rock. It's nothing too exciting and it's the kind of thing a crooner could (and did) cover.


Also worth mentioning is the cover of "El Cóndor Pasa" (IF I Could). Simon used the melody from the Peruvian folk song, , but wrote entirely new lyrics to the song. It's one of the more popular versions of the song (certainly in Anglo America).

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