Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Albums for Life: 5: Simon and Garfunkel: Bridge Over Troubled Water

In the clearing stands a boxer and a fighter by his trade, and he carries the reminder, of every glove that laid him down or cut him till he cried out, in his anger and his shame, 'I am leaving, I am leaving' but the fighter still remains

My parents' 'Dancette' record player.
Me lying on a dusty carpet, nose to the speaker.
Sometimes with the sound off.
'Turn it down!' meant turn it off...
You could still hear the voices through the needle...

"I have squandered my existence for a pocket full of mumbles such are promises"

The stylus had a 6 penny piece seloptaped to it to stop the needle from skipping like a six year old.
Much as they loved music Betty and Terry had a limited record collection:
Beatles EPs
Dusty Springfield singing with The Springfields
Jake Thackery's 'Bantam Cock' (which I still love)
Songs for Swinging Lovers
Nana Mouskouri
Noel Coward Live in Las Vegas
Dave Brubeck's 'Take Five'
Bob Newhart comedy skits
Kings College Choir sing on and on...
The soundtrack from 'Oliver'
and... 'Bridge Over Troubled Water'

'The sound of a time, like the smell of a room
Can haunt your memory'

That's the first line to a song that I've tried to write a few times about the impact this album had on me.
1970, I was 10, just back from living in Singapore and Cyprus, and didn't know a chord from a gourd... In those formative years abroad there was no music other than what my parents drip fed me. I'd had no gentle saturation from the radio, no chance to make any music mine. My quality control was all over the place; I had no quality control... but I loved this album.

I love this album.
The title track was my first memory of actually trying to dissect a production.
I knew that there was magic here:
In the spine tingling gospel tinged piano intro by Larry Knetchel.
And what was it that raised the shivers on that 3rd verse?
"Sail on silver girl..." onwards.
Was it the harmonies?
Was it the thunderous echo on the tom toms beneath?
Was it the fantastic reverb on the snare?
Was it the introduction of the bass?
And what a bass sound. Flat wound strings for sure...
And the bass didn't always play the root note, it often suspended the chord.
Terry taught me that... the chord progression lifted and lifted until that climax and final sustain; my vinyl couldn't sustain because it was warped. The undulation in sound produced a giddy feeling akin to sea sickness... I still anticipate it, even on CD.
And what joys lay beyond...

I loved the 'up' songs; the jaunty 'Baby Driver' and 'Keep the Customer Satisfied'.
But it was the slower tunes that enraptured.
They smelt and tasted of loneliness...
'So Long Frank Lloyd Wright', 'The Boxer' (that Hal Blaine snare again on the 'lai la lais', and how I gasped at the mention of 'whores on 7th Avenue'; I knew that this must be adult music), the gentle, mysterious melancholy of 'The Only Living Boy in New York' (a farewell song for Art?) and the sublime closer 'Song for the Asking'.
Sad songs never felt so right.
Roy Halee's production is ambitious too, snippets of radio, motor cars, found sounds... but it's the drums that reverberate, echo, explode and give the album its dynamic presence.
This album was the start of my curiosity in sound craft, production; the magic of making music...

I know that you know the obvious tracks so how about a few Chicken Skin Moments from these:

The Only Living Boy in New York:
Listen to the drum entry at 1.06
The harmonies at 1.17
The catch in Simon's voice at  2.10 on "hey, let your honesty shine, shine, shine, doy de doy de doy it shines on me, the only living boy in New York..."

So Long Frank Lloyd Wright
1.07 'Architects may come and architects may go...'
1.20 The flute solo
2.16 "...all of the nights we harmonised till daaaawn!"

Song for the Asking
Essentially the last song they ever did together...
1.55 of quiet beauty.
Check out the strings.


  1. Only Living Boy is one of my all time favourite tracks. Great choice which is in my 'shadow' list.
    (By the way you've reversed the videos on F.L.W. & Song..)

  2. lovely post Trev - although your parents had better taste than mine. Their collection consisted on a spinners lp (there version of sloop john b beats the bbs hands down!) a peter skellern lp , a compilation beatles ballads (thus my love of slow sad songs) , oliver and jesus Christ superstar (thus my strange fascination with musicals and concept lps). Our record player was notorious for skipping. Many a time I'd take a single back to boots only to stand embarrassed as it played perfectly on the store hi fi

    1. The Spinners! We had Spinners too... sounds like a skin disease...
      I hated the skipping but now recognise every moment on a record when its meant to skip, as it goes past in perfect digital clarity...

  3. Your folks had a way better record collection than mine. I only remember a couple Johnny Cash gospel LPs and a bunch of 78's. "Does Your Chewing Gum Lose It's Flavor
    (On The Bedpost Over Night)" rings a bell...

    I guess I'll have to go back in time and pick up some S&G. Always loved the title track. Forgot that Larry Knechtel (of Bread!) played piano. I love Bread! I tried to squeeze 'Best of Bread' onto my 125, but illegal. Believe it or not, I've never heard the original version of "Only Living Boy." It's wonderful. I only know the reverent EBTG take:

    NOTE: I've noticed a few voting inconsistencies in Di's list. 2 votes for Nik Kershaw (bald), 2 votes for Richard Ashcroft (douche), 2 votes for Rufus Wainwright (gay), Miracle Mile at #2? Norah Jones gets in, but no votes for pretty-boy "JONES"???!!! Couldn't even squeeze you in at #14d?
    Someone deserves a spanking...

  4. Bookends is great too but if you don't want the individual albums there's a comprehensive remastered Best Of 'Tales of New York' which is great.
    Di's her own man... makes her own rules. I had noticed a lack of me but didn't wan't to mention it.