Simon, Garfunkel and the swansong that has lasted 50 years
Bridge Over Troubled Water released 50 years ago this week. See why the world is still crazy after all these years
When you’re weary, feelin’ small, it’s possible that you still turn to Bridge over Troubled Water on your Spotify. Half a century ago this week, American duo Simon & Garfunkel released the song on their self-titled album, not realising how much it would play on. Here’s what makes it iconic.
It came at the right time All through the late 1960s, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel ruled the charts. Their easy-listening folk-rock spoke to peaceniks and protestors. Bridge… was the top-selling album of 1970, pushing 6 million copies. But few knew that this was to be Simon & Garfunkel’s farewell work. When the duo split, the album became the final souvenir, the last song, essentially their goodbye.
It’s a little personal What sound like lyrics of hope and support came out of the deteriorating relationship between the composer and songwriter. Garfunkel was already focusing on an acting career (he debuted in Catch-22 in 1970; Simon’s part got written out). And filming delays meant no music work got done. Those “down and out” moments when “friends just can’t be found” make it to the lyrics.
Fans thought it was about heroin “Sail on silver girl” was seen as a possible reference to a heroin needle (fitting right in with the ’70s). But Simon has clarified that it simply refers to Peggy Harper, his wife at the time, who was starting to sprout greys at age 30.
Big musicians have covered it Elvis Presley, The Jackson 5, Tom Jones and Aretha Franklin all recorded a version while Simon & Garfunkel’s song was still on the charts. Over the years, there have been covers by musicians as varied as Johnny Cash, viral star Susan Boyle, LeAnn Rimes and Charlotte Church.
It’s a tough one to perform Easy listening is not easy singing, as anyone who’s attempted Bridge… knows. Holding the high notes at the end takes some prowess, which explains why it’s a standard attempt for singers in every generation.
It’s helped rebuild lives We don’t mean when it pulled you out of the doldrums. In 2017, Robbie Williams, James Blunt, Rita Ora, Craig David, Leona Lewis and others sang a line each of the song, adding in rap, to release a special single for charity. Proceeds went to those impacted by London’s Grenfell Tower fire. At 227,000 copies sold in its first week of release, its success was second only to Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You that year.
The song also topped the charts in 2003 A version recorded by American Idol runner-up Clay Aiken debuted at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Aiken became the first artist to debut at number one. The single sold over 1 million copies, and was 2003’s best seller.
The song’s story is also on stage The Simon & Garfunkel Story is billed as part concert, part biography. And charts the duo’s musical journey until this final 1970 song, and the massive 1981 reunion gig in Central Park, which drew more than 500,000 fans.