Great music inspires great music, and at no time was this truer than in the mid to late 60s. The Beatles were always a group other musicians were chasing but after their release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, they were perceived as untouchable. They had changed the way an album was put together, A side and B side no longer mattering, it was just a compilation of the best songs they had flowing effortlessly into one another. They experimented with new sounds, forgetting that commercial viability was paramount. Despite creating an album that was perceived as “untoppable”, it didn’t stop plenty of artists from trying. Recently we looked at the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds as a distinct and game-changing response to Sgt. Pepper’s and today we look at another ground-breaking album, Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water.
I don’t think it’s an insult to say this album was heavily inspired by The Beatles seminal work, nor do I think Simon & Garfunkel would dispute it. The album was written almost entirely by Paul Simon as Art Garfunkel was busy shooting a role in the film Catch-22. Simon had always been a talented songwriter, but with this album, something new was coming from him. He seemed to acknowledge the drastic change in the voice of his writing, saying of some of the album’s biggest hits, “It doesn’t even sound like me.” While widely regarded as a masterpiece and the duo best effort in their already impressive career, I think it still gets overlooked as a truly ambitious album at the time. Perhaps some of that has to do with the fact that the album sounds so effortless. It flows so nicely from one song to the next that it can be easy to overlook that they’re jumping from ballad to world music to rock to jazz to folk. In the end, it’s not all that surprising that this marked the duo’s last album together as it clearly showed signs of them wanting to branch out, but what a hell of a way to go out.
The title track stands as the greatest example of why the album works so well. It’s not a fun or truly engaging song, but that’s very much the point. They started this bold album off with an incredibly bold choice; not to draw them in with an attention-grabbing tune, but to intrigue them with a slow, soft song. The third verse in the song also shows their courage, throwing the listener yet another surprise within an already surprising first song choice.