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10 weeks at the top; A look into the success of “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”

By Shannon Durazo | 10/3/18 3:57pm

When Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, two childhood friends and folk connoisseurs from Queens, New York, released their 1970 record, Bridge Over Troubled Waters it was their most ambitious and experimental work to date. The duo spent the majority of the 1960’s, and the four records they released during that time, manipulating and straining the folk-rock genre to its limits with their combination of intuitive vocals and delicate song writing a-la Paul Simon. The duo was already resting comfortably in the public eye (or ear) of American listeners as a top-notch folk group that relied on simplistic four-chord acoustic melodies and poignant word choice ( “But my words, like silent raindrops fell”), to keep the public’s attention. But come 1970 where listeners were expecting another Greenwich village-revivalist folk record to add to the two-some’s 10-year resume, they were instead presented with a self-produced experimental album that erased the boundaries of genre in to encompass sounds from all corners of the globe, from American gospel/R&B to European-rooted classical to South American indigenous chants.

Leading single “El Condor Pasa (If I Could)” is based off an ancient Incan folk song hundreds of years old, reconfigured for modern times through Simon’s translated lyrics. “Baby Driver” channels east coast doo-wop with its string of hand-claps and saxophone blasts, and “The Only Living Boy In New York” serves to mourn how a city so dense can at times feel so desolate. Despite its heavy lyrical subjects, “Only Boy” has a weightless effervescence to it that is reflected on the rest of the album. For, despite its experimental range, at the core the lyricism of Bridge is light and melodic, bringing an element of “easy listening” to the otherwise sonically complex record. On title track “The Boxer”, Simon croons “A man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest.” Such can be said of Bridge as a whole; the insightful duo has forgone making music to please the listener in favor of satisfying their own artistic cravings. “I'm just writing the way I feel and the way I feel reflects the part of society that I'm in.” said Simon in his infamous 1970 interview with Rolling Stone

Where more experimental albums, especially those created after a string of similar-sounding (and admittedly square) releases can sometimes create a rift between the audience and the artist, for Simon & Garfunkel the opposite happened. Both critics and audience members alike praised Bridge for its musical ingenuity and innovative tambor, hailing it to be a flagship records of the new decade right alongside The Beatles’ Let It Be. The album infectiously spread in an excited fervor across the United States and beyond, and starting on March 8th 1970, it began its 10-week streak as the #1 most-played record in the western hemisphere. An accomplishment well-deserved for the two kids from Queens that grew into becoming one of the most influential acts in modern music.