Simon and Garfunkel: Bridge Over Troubled Water
As one of the most recognised folk duos in the world, Simon and Garfunkel have been on the music scene for more than 60 years. They have produced some of the most instantly recognisable hit songs in history and have won 10 Grammy awards.
They met at the age of 11, when they were both pupils at Forest Hills High School in Queens, New York, back in 1953. This was the start of one of the most iconic musical collaborations.
Initially, they enjoyed rock ‘n’ roll music and formed a band called Tom and Jerry while they were still at school. They released a single, Hey Schoolgirl, on Big Records, when they were only 15 years old.
It was a huge hit with the teenage girl market and the young heartthrobs earned $4,000 royalties, selling 100,000 records and entering the US Billboard singles chart at number 49. They even appeared on the television show, Dick Clark’s American Bandstand.
However, they didn’t let success go to their heads, temporarily putting their musical partnership on hold to attend different universities after leaving school.
When they eventually reformed the band, they distanced themselves from their early rock and roll style, emerging as a credible folk duo in the 1960s. Initially calling themselves Kane and Garr in 1963, they reverted to their own names and had their first hit, The Sound of Silence, in 1965.
It shot straight to number one in the US charts, achieving gold status and marking the start of their long career as a folk-rock duo, which continued until 2010.
The song that most people associate with Simon and Garfunkel is Bridge Over Troubled Water, the title track from their 1970 studio album. As their biggest hit single, it won five Grammy awards.
The album remained at number one in the US for 10 weeks and was certified eight times platinum. It was buoyant in the charts for a total of 85 weeks.
The song was written by Paul Simon, who later said he wrote it so quickly that he surprised even himself. He had no idea where it came from and said it didn’t sound like his usual work.
After he wrote the song, he felt that Garfunkel should sing it, as his voice was more suitable for what Simon described as a “secular gospel song”. Initially, Garfunkel disagreed, as Simon had sung the song on a demo.
However, Simon was adamant Garfunkel should sing it and eventually, he agreed. Ironically, 48 years after the song became the biggest hit Simon had ever written, he appeared to have regrets about giving it away to someone else to sing.
Playing live, Simon told the audience, “I’m going to reclaim my lost child,” – then the opening bars of Bridge Over Troubled Water began. The critics claimed he had written an “incredible song” and with hindsight, he couldn’t comprehend why he had given this modern standard to his bandmate.
Back in 1970, Simon didn’t realise what a big hit the song would be. He felt it was slow and ponderous and that it wouldn’t go down well on the radio as a result. He couldn’t have been more wrong!
Despite Simon’s subsequent regrets about giving his song away, the music press said Garfunkel was born to sing Bridge Over Troubled Water. It was more like a hymn than a song, with the narrator pledging their devotion and promising to do everything for a person in need.
He had written it with the gospel genre in mind and its success was down to its touching simplicity. The lyrics began with the famous words, “When you’re weary, feeling small, when tears are in your eyes, I will dry them all.”
They were about helping someone through a bad patch and showing them there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Garfunkel sang the deeply meaningful words with an incredible calmness and was never showy, even when he hit the big notes.
It took two months to record the song and come up with the finished version that both Simon and Garfunkel were happy with. Afterwards, they said in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine that they felt it had similarities to the Beatles’ Let It Be.
Bridge Over Troubled Water has been covered many times since its release in 1970. A version by soul star Aretha Franklin went to number six in the US charts in 1971 and was considered by many fans to be one of her greatest recordings.
Bridge Over Troubled Water is as relevant today as it was when it was first written, 49 years ago. For many people in the UK, and especially those in business, the future is uncertain.
Feeling weary and small is something many of us are experiencing, as the Brexit negotiations in preparation for Britain leaving the EU seem to have reached stalemate.
Prime Minister Theresa May appears to be no closer to putting in place a deal for Britain’s exit and the business community is left without any idea of how the decision to leave will impact on their fortunes.
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