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  • Dec 23, 2014
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ALBUM (1970)

Rewind, album: 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' by Simon and Garfunkel

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 July, 2013, 4:08pm

Bridge Over Troubled Water

Simon and Garfunkel

Columbia

The year 1970 was a bad one for the dissolution of popular musical partnerships. The Beatles broke up, and, at the very peak of their success as a duo, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel decided to go their separate ways.

Their record label, not surprisingly, wasn't happy. Columbia Records' president at the time, Clive Davis, infuriated Simon by telling him - wrongly as it turned out - that however successful he might be as a solo artist, he would never be as successful as the duo.

Davis has since characterised the break-up as "a case of two young artists whose ambitions and egos got in the way of the brilliance of their collaboration".

It was also the end of a cash cow. Bridge Over Troubled Water was the biggest-selling album of 1970 in both the United States and Britain, and also made the top of the charts in at least eight other countries. It won six Grammy awards.

Whether or not it is Simon and Garfunkel's greatest album is debatable - a strong case can be made for its predecessor, 1968's Bookends - but it certainly includes several of Simon's most finely crafted songs: The Boxer; So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright; The Only Living Boy in New York; and the title track, on which Garfunkel delivers perhaps his finest vocal performance ever.

Ironically, it was the reception that the song received in concert that provided some of the impetus for the break-up. Garfunkel sang it alone, to what was invariably the biggest ovation of the show. Simon stood in the wings and seethed. Nowadays, during their reunions, he sings a verse of it himself.

Simon was also upset at having been sidelined from another project in which Garfunkel had a prominent role. In between the Bridge Over Troubled Water sessions, which extended over a year, Garfunkel flew to Mexico to appear in Mike Nichols' film Catch-22.

Simon was also to have appeared in the movie, but his part was written out. The Only Living Boy in New York refers specifically to Garfunkel's absence, and So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright was written as a fond farewell to the partnership.

The production of Bridge Over Troubled Water, credited to Simon, Garfunkel and long-time associate Roy Halee, is a world removed from crude folk rock overdubbing of The Sound of Silence five years earlier.

Simon's acoustic guitar and the two voices were supported by a string section, and a crack team of session players, including Larry Knechtel, who developed the classic gospel-influenced piano part on the title track from Simon's guitar demo. Simon's emerging interest in what would later be called "world music" is evident in the song El Condor Pasa, on which the accompaniment is provided by the arranger of the tune, Jorge Milchberg, and his Peruvian group Los Incas.

Bridge Over Troubled Water is a valedictory record, not just to the partnership, but to the '60s. It is also the first step down the winding musical path Simon would follow. It is of its time, but 43 years later, it has certainly stood the test of it.

Robin Lynam

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