Tuesday, November 13, 2007

No. 233: Bookends

Band: Simon and Garfunkel
Album: Bookends
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Certainly, Simon and Garfunkel are of some import, so their songs are a huge part of the culture. The three famous tracks on "Bookends" are no different.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: The non-single tracks aren't great; They're simply well-written. The arrangement don't do even the singles justice and, quite frankly, not a lot of riks were being taken.
Best song: Both "Mrs. Robinson" and "A Hazy Shade Of Winter" are excellent.
Worst song: "Voices of Old People" is just that and it freaks me the fuck out. "Overs" isn't great, either.
Is it awesome?: I'm getting tired of these two, but this album has its charms.

"Bookends" is a Simon and Garfunkel album, so expecting them to start arranging crazy synths and such is probably foolish. Certainly, they started doing some things different around this time (1968) in their career, as the synth in "Save The Life Of My Child" shows, but, mostly, we're looking at lullabies and soft rock.

Of course, the big, giant, fancy track on "Bookends" is the one from "The Graduate," "Mrs. Robinson." The song was largely written for the movie and has become about as huge as a song can get. Certainly, the memory of Joe DiMaggio was revived to a new generation of people thanks to the song and Simon himself paid tribute to the fallen Yankee upon Dimaggio's death in 1999.

(Maybe my least favorite band ever, the Lemonheads -- the competition is between them and the Eagles -- covered the song for the second "Waynes World" movie in what has to be the worst band covering a great song ever.)

"America" is popular for its placement largely in the film "Almost Famous" -- no, I still haven't seen it -- and I still can't really see the import of ths song. So, I'll turn it over to Allmusic.com:

Simon was observing the trends of his generation -- the physical restlessness and spiritual bankruptcy that the wanderlust signified... By the time "America" reaches the second chorus, and again for the final chorus, the arrangement stokes up into something approximating a robust sea shanty -- with cymbal crashes and layered harmonies -- thus forming a second template for '70s singer/songwriters; this time one with less subtlety by Neil Diamond on songs like his "America" and some of Billy Joel's early, folky moments, like "Piano Man."

Fair enough.

My first exposure to "A Hazy Shade Of Winter" is from The Bangles, a band of my early youth that also did novelty favorite "Walk Like An Egyptian." In all honesty, I find the Bangles' version to be perferable, but, as is the case for most great songs, it's tough to play poorly. Simon and Garfunkel's version is a little harder than the Bangles' version, but I guess my familiarity is with the Bangles.


Yes, this record isn't as soft-rock as the duo's earlier work. And it's certainly smart. But, for some reason, I just can't really get into them. Simon and Garfunkel symbolize something weird to me; They're excellence as defined by my parents' generation, not excellence we can agree on (like, say, the Beatles).

The great example of this is when Simon won the first Gershwin prize. As much as I try to be a cultural omnivore, I've still got punk rock/college radio in my heart, so when an authority (in this case, the U.S. government) tells me something -- especially something that has virtually no hard edge -- is great, my first instinct is to say "fuck off."

And that's always in the back of my head with Paul Simon (sorry, Art, I'll start caring about you when you have a real solo career).


Garry Shuck said...

Hi there,

I've been enjoying your takes as you meander through the list; I've been reading this for about 3 months now, but this is the first time I've written.

Given that musical tastes differ wildy, you and I are in complete agreement on some things (Nirvana, probably my all-time favorite), and not at all on others (U2, pretty high on my list), but still I was a little saddened by this post.

Hatred for the Lemonheads? Really? They're so harmless, and relatively unimportant musically!

Ok, I'm not a big fan of covers, especially of big hits (I'm looking at you, Echo and the Bunnyman, and your worthless version of "People are Strange"--even Ray Manzarek feels like he sold out on that one) unless they really do something unique with the music (have you heard the Killers new "Shadowplay"? good stuff!), so I could take or leave the "Mrs. Robinson", but I've always had a special spot for "It's a Shame About Ray"--so much I just had to write and stick up for those one-hit wonders.

Anyway, keep on fightin' the good fight. For what it's worth I liked your take on Patsy Cline--she's dead, she's popular, I don't get it.

R.J. said...

Yeah, I suspect my feelings on the Lemonheads are a little harsh. They're pretty harmless.

I think it stems from my freshman year radio shifts when multiple people would request Lemonheads songs. That was not the type of music I played and I got real tired of honoring those requests.

Anyway, thanks for reading.

fft said...

I've got this on vinyl. Its my dad's. Guilty pleasure ==> "At the Zoo". Makes me smile.