‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ – Simon and Garfunkel
When you’re down and out, When you’re on the street
When evening falls so hard, I will comfort you
Paul Simon’s inspiration for his masterpiece creation of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” came from a Civil War-era spiritual called “Mary, Don’t You Weep,” which contained the line “I’ll be your bridge over deep water if you trust in My name.”
To Simon, though, the words of the spiritual represented more about friendship — and its attendant bonds and responsibilities — than it did about religion.
His future classic began as an understated two-verse tune, which he composed first on his guitar, then switched to a piano in order to better realize a gospel influence. Upon completion of the first draft of “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” Simon was so affected, he says, that he burst into tears.
When asked later about the enigmatic lyric of “Sail on, silver girl,” he admitted to it being an inside joke between him and his wife, Peggy Harper. “She was upset one day,” Simon explains, “when she had found two or three gray hairs on her head.”
Simon imagined the tune being a perfect fit for Garfunkel’s soaring tenor voice. Garfunkel, though, argued to the contrary and said that, to him, it was Simon’s voice that was more suitable for the lead vocal. Garfunkel also felt that the song was too short and needed a dynamic conclusion to really bring home the majesty of the composition.
Simon grumbled but eventually did add a final verse and even approved a crashing drum finale. He did, however, convince Garfunkel to take the primary vocal on what would become one of pop music’s most spiritually oriented secular works.
Simon and Garfunkel’s track record of 1960s chart success almost guaranteed that “Bridge Over Troubled Water” would be welcomed by S & G fans. However, the pair had never issued a single that ran so long — it was nearly 5 minutes in length — and Simon worried it would be too prolonged for tightly controlled AM radio.
It sold six million copies worldwide.
The single — and the album of the same name — became the duo’s grandest success. Each reached No. 1 on their respective charts and paved the way for Simon and Garfunkel to garner six Grammy Awards — for Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Contemporary Song, Best Instrumental Arrangement and Best Engineered Recording.
It was a fitting way to end a brilliant career for the two artists from Queens, New York. Pals since the sixth grade, they had begun singing together as teenagers by imitating the Everly Brothers and calling themselves Tom and Jerry. (Their 1957 minor hit of “Hey, Schoolgirl” had first put them on the charts.)
From 1966, when they began using their real names, to 1970, when they called it quits as professional artists, Simon and Garfunkel recorded six best-selling Columbia Records LPs, as well as 12 Top 40 Columbia singles, three of which hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.