America (Simon & Garfunkel song)

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"America"
Single by Simon & Garfunkel
from the album Simon & Garfunkel's Greatest Hits
B-side For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her
Released 1972
Format 7" single
Recorded October 1967 - February 1968
Genre Folk rock
Length 3:34
Label Columbia Records
Writer(s) Paul Simon
Producer(s) Simon and Garfunkel
Roy Halee
Simon & Garfunkel singles chronology
"El Condor Pasa (If I Could)"
(1970)
"America"
(1972)
"For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her" (live)
(1972)

"America", written by Paul Simon, is a song recorded by Simon & Garfunkel. It was included in their album Bookends, released on 3 April 1968. It was also released in 1971 as the B-side to "Keep The Customer Satisfied" (a United States promo-only release), then again as a single in 1972 to coincide with the album Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest Hits, reaching #97 on the Billboard Hot 100, the flip side of the single, "For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her", reaching #53.

Lyrics[edit]

The words describe a trip east through the United States, two lovers hitch-hiking from Saginaw, Michigan to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and then catching a Greyhound bus through the New Jersey Turnpike to New York City, "looking for America", their initial hopefulness turning to angst and sadness. The lyric names Kathy Chitty, with whom Simon had had a relationship while living in England in 1965.

Reception[edit]

In 2000, "America" was featured in the soundtrack to the film Almost Famous. The main character's sister, Anita, uses this song to represent her reason for leaving home to become a stewardess.

Subsequent compilation CDs contain the single mix of the song, which features a clean introduction (as opposed to the version on Bookends, which segues from the song that precedes it on the album, "Save the Life of My Child").

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (1972) Peak
position
UK Singles Chart[1] 25
US Billboard Hot 100 97

Cover versions[edit]

Yes and 1-2-3 / Clouds arrangements[edit]

"America"
Song by Yes from the album The New Age of Atlantic
Released 1972
Genre Progressive rock
Length 10:30 (album version)
4:12 (single version)
Label Atlantic Records K20024
Writer Paul Simon
Producer Yes and Eddie Offord
The New Age of Atlantic track listing
"Sam Stone"
(10)
"America"
(11)

The song was rearranged by the progressive rock band Yes in 1971. Yes added elements typical to progressive rock, such as changes in time signature and long instrumental segments, while dropping the song's original repeat and fade ending. At one point bassist Chris Squire quotes "America" from West Side Story in the intro. The complete Yes version clocks in at ten and a half minutes. This recording first appeared in 1972 on the sampler album The New Age of Atlantic and was later included on the compilation album Yesterdays in 1975, the box set In a Word: Yes (1969–) in 2002, and on the 2003 re-issue of their album Fragile. An edited version of this recording lasting 4 minutes was released as a single and hit #46 on the pop chart. It also appeared on the Yesyears and Yesstory boxed sets, along with The Ultimate Yes: 35th Anniversary Collection. The edited version was also included as a bonus track on the re-issue of Close to the Edge. A live version of the song was included on 1996's Keys to Ascension.

The original version of "America" came from the band Clouds.[2] In their earlier incarnation as 1-2-3, they had performed a re-written version of the song that included all the elements later used by Yes: changes in time signature, classical interludes, newly-written segments etc. A live tape exists of this being performed at the Marquee in April 1967, prior to the release of any known recording by any artist, including the writer himself. Paul Simon had recorded demos at Levy studios in London in 1965, and tapes of these were passed to the band by a studio engineer (Stu Francis of Radio Luxembourg). In 1966, 1-2-3 also performed Sounds of Silence from this same tape.[3]

David Bowie performance[edit]

A memorably minimalist performance of it was given by David Bowie to open The Concert for New York City in October 2001. Bowie performed seated on the floor, center stage, with a microphone and a Suzuki Omnichord. Bowie was actually in attendance at the Marquee during 1967 when 1-2-3 (later Clouds) performed this song. He was a friend of Billy Ritchie, the keyboard player/writer, and the band were also at the time, playing a song by a then-unknown David Bowie, I Dig Everything.[4]

Other versions[edit]

Tenor Josh Groban recorded it on his live album, Live at The Greek. He also played it at the A Capitol Fourth concert on July 4, 2011. Vocalist Alyssa Graham replaces Simon’s “Kathy” with "Douglas" in her version, the leadoff track on her 2008 album Echo. Lucy Wainwright Roche plays it, together with The Roches, at her 2010 album Lucy. The band America also released a recording of the song on their 2011 album Back Pages. The Swedish sister duo First Aid Kit performed the song in honor of Paul Simon at the 2012 Polar Music Prize award ceremony, which earned them a standing ovation from Paul Simon himself.[5]

References[edit]

  1. ^ http://archive.is/20120721121155/http://www.chartstats.com/artistinfo.php?id=1850
  2. ^ The Illustrated History of Rock; Clouds by Ed Ward "To Yes went the baroque structures of improvisation that were virtually rewrites of known material", sleeve notes & track "America" BGO/EMI CD "Up Above Our Heads Clouds 1966-71 released February 2012
  3. ^ sleeve notes BGO/EMI CD "Up Above Our Heads Clouds 1966-71 released February 2012
  4. ^ Mojo Magazine Nov 1994; interview with David Bowie; article "1-2-3 and the Birth of Prog"
  5. ^ Video on YouTube