Friday, November 4, 2011

November 4: Simon & Garfunkel, "Bridge Over Troubled Water"

Artist: Simon & Garfunkel
Song: "Bridge Over Troubled Water"
Album: Bridge Over Troubled Water
Year: 1970

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (will open in new tab)

Throughout the long history of recorded music, there are a handful of musical parings that tower high above all others.  It is the way that the particular gifts of these two individuals complimented one another that brought a new sound or style that forever change all of music.  Whether it was a duo that played different instruments, or a pairing of a singer and a musician, the names of these unique performers are rarely mentioned without the presence of the other.  While there have been only a handful of such configurations all across the decades, there is no question that the pair of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel stand far apart from the rest, as both their style, as well as a number of their songs have become absolute legends.  Not only was this due to the fact that their voices blended together in such a beautiful way, but the group offered a rather unique spin on the folk sound, and more than a dozen of the songs the two recorded together stand today as true musical classics.  Due to the fact that Simon & Garfunkel were able to achieve such massive success on a number of musical fronts, it is difficult to single out a particular song as their finest or most definitive, and yet among the long list of legendary songs that they recorded, one would be hard pressed to find a more beautiful moment than Simon & Garfunkel's iconic 1970 ballad, "Bridge Over Troubled Water."

In many ways, "Bridge Over Troubled Water" represents one of the greatest orchestrations in all of music history, and it is the simplicity that runs throughout most of the song which enables the track to his with maximum impact.  The lone piano, played by Larry Knechtel, gently draws in the listener with the opening progression, as each step down down the keys makes the mood even more captivating.  The way that the melody slowly sways back and forth shows just how far the duo had come in terms of musical arrangement, as it has very little in common with the folk-base that defined a majority of the early years of Simon & Garfunkel.  Furthermore, the complete absence of Paul Simon's guitar cannot be overlooked, and this in itself shows what a brilliant and unselfish writer he was.  Yet as the second half of the song sets in, it is the way that the string section seems to lift the entire track which makes "Bridge Over Troubled Water" such a wonderfully dramatic recording.  The fact that there is such a powerful feeling from the music, and yet the delicate nature of the song itself is never broken is a testament to the brilliant balance that is achieved on the song.  Yet the reality is that the final verse and musical section of the song were not part of Simon's original composition, and it was at the instance of Garunkfel and the production team that this part as created.  Regardless, it manages to give "Bridge Over Troubled Water" a much larger feel, and it is without question one of the most recognizable melodies in all of music history.

However, it almost goes without saying that while the music found on "Bridge Over Troubled Water" is absolutely beautiful, it is the vocals of any work from Simon & Garfunkel that steal the spotlight.  With this in mind, one can easily make the case that "Bridge Over Troubled Water" represents the finest vocal performance of Art Garfunkel's career, and there is a calm, yet moving presence to his singing throughout the entire song.  Perfectly capturing the mood of every line, Garfunkel works all across the vocal spectrum, and the final verse from Paul Simon presents an exceptional sonic contrast.  But much like the orchestration, this third verse and vocal presence was not part of the original composition, and it was recorded during a different session.  In many ways, this reality is almost ironic in terms of how perfectly it mirrors the underlying sentiment of the song itself, and one can easily argue that "Bridge Over Troubled Water" is in its own way, the greatest "breakup" song ever written.  There is no question that the lyrics throughout the song speak directly to the now-well-documented tensions between Simon & Garfunkel, and the album that shares the songs' name would be their final studio recording together.  Yet there is no question that as the years have passed, "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has turned into one of the most memorable lyrics ever penned, and each line is itself a superb work of art, and the vocals do justice at every turn.

Almost instantly upon release, "Bridge Over Troubled Water" was a massive commercial success, as the greatness of this recording simply could not be ignored.  With both the studio and live versions of the song making heavy circulation, there was little surprise when "Bridge Over Troubled Water" won the Grammy Award for both record and song of the year in 1971.  Furthermore, there have been countless cover versions of the song that have been recorded over the past forty years, with everyone from Aretha Franklin to Annie Lennox to Willie Nelson putting their own spin on the track.  Yet there is no question that the original stands far beyond the reach of any imitator, as the fragile beauty that Simon & Garfunkel created here is without question one of the most breathtaking moments to ever be captured on tape.  Whether it is due to the balance in the piano versus the vocals, or the way that the far larger presence of the orchestra is able to work without upsetting the mood of the song, even after hearing the song countless times, the impact of the music and lyrics does not lessen in the least.  Yet one can also almost hear the tension between the artists, and one can argue that this is the finest way that any performer has ever ended a phase of their musical career.  While they were responsible for a number of the most memorable songs in music history, there is no question that Simon & Garfunkel recorded their greatest work in the form of 1970's gorgeous, "Bridge Over Troubled Water."

No comments: