Like a Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon and Garfunkel.
When it comes to comforting songs Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water is like snuggling in an easy chair by a fire, wrapped in a soft quilt with an old dog at your feet and a hot toddy in hand.
Paul Simon had been listening to gospel music especially the Swan Silvertones and their song Mary Don’t You Weep and wanted to include a song on the new studio album that he was working on with Art Garfunkel that reflected the feel of surrender to a loving power if not the style of Black church music. He was also frankly inspired by the Beatles’ recent song Let it Be. The melody was simple but soaring and the famous harmony of the two singers was breath taking.
When the duo began work on what would be their fifth and final studio album they were already on divergent paths Garfunkel wanted to explore an acting career and Simon, the composer and lyricist was broadening his musical horizons including a rising interest in world music. They had been musical partners since high school in Queens, New York and even had a rock and roll hit, Hey School Girl under the name Tom and Jerry. By 1963 after pursuing solo careers while in college they reunited they became part of the New York folk music scene and signed with Columbia Records.
Simon & Garfunkel’s debut studio album, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M., was recorded over three sessions in March 1964 and released in October. It was not an immediate hit but slowly gained a following largely around Simon’s lyrics which were often called poetry. If Bob Dylan was the Walt Whitman of folk music, Simon more like two poets he later referenced in a song, Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost.
In 1965 The Sound of Silence was a surprise single hit and led to an album of the same name in 1965 which made Simon & Garfunkel must hear music in college dorm rooms around the country. They followed up with other hugely successful albums—Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme and Bookends.
Art Garfunkel and Paul Simon cutting a vocal track during the recording of A Bridge Over Troubled Water.
In the studio for the new album their complex recording style was disrupted by Garfunkel’s absences for his part in Catch-22 and things were often tense between the two. But they were producing a masterpiece. Simon wanted Bridge Over Troubled Waters to be the lead song on the album but Columbia executives, who usually deferred to their prize act wanted something more up tempo that could be a top-forty single. Simon won out.
Finally released in 1970 the album Bridge over Troubled Water charted in over 11 countries topping the charts in 10 countries, including the US Billboard 200 and the UK Albums Chart. It was the best-selling album in 1970, 1971 and 1972 and was for a while time the best-selling album of all time. The album and song won a combined 5 Grammies. Troubled Waters and The Boxer we listed in Rolling Stones’ 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and were listed as 51 in the magazine’s 500 Greatest Albums of Time. Simon & Garfunkel reaped ever possible accolade and award including induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Paul Simon with fellow Kennedy Center Honorees James Earl Jones, Chita Rivera, James Levine, and Elizabeth Taylor in 2002.
But it was the duo’s swan song. They parted ways and pursued separate careers. Their personal relationship became fractured. After more than two decades they reunited for a famous concert in Central Park and periodically since then. Simon was a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors in 2002 and continues to release challenging original material.
It A Bridge Over Troubled Water was the perfect song to cap off the turbulent decade of the Vietnam War, street protests, assassinations, and urban rioting, it speaks just as eloquently to us today in the midst of a different crisis.