Bridge over Troubled Water

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Bridge Over Troubled Water
Simon and Garfunkel, Bridge over Troubled Water (1970).png
Studio album by
ReleasedJanuary 26, 1970 (1970-01-26)
RecordedNovember 1968 (2 tracks only);
November 1969
VenueIowa State University, Ames, Iowa (Live recording of "Bye Bye Love")
GenreFolk rock
Simon & Garfunkel chronology
Bridge Over Troubled Water
Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest Hits
Singles from Bridge over Troubled Water
  1. "The Boxer"
    Released: March 21, 1969
  2. "Bridge over Troubled Water"
    Released: January 20, 1970
  3. "Cecilia"
    Released: April 20, 1970
  4. "El Condor Pasa (If I Could)"
    Released: September 1970

Bridge Over Troubled Water is the fifth and final studio album by American folk rock duo Simon & Garfunkel, released in January 1970 on Columbia Records. Following the duo's soundtrack for The Graduate, Art Garfunkel took an acting role in the film Catch-22, while Paul Simon worked on the songs, writing all tracks except Felice and Boudleaux Bryant's "Bye Bye Love" (previously a hit for the Everly Brothers).

With the help of producer Roy Halee, the album followed a similar musical pattern as their Bookends LP, partly abandoning their traditional style to incorporate elements of rock, R&B, gospel, jazz, world music, pop and other genres. It was described as their "most effortless record and their most ambitious".[3]

Bridge Over Troubled Water was released on January 26, 1970, and several re-releases followed. The album was mixed and released in both stereo and quadraphonic. Columbia Records released a 40th Anniversary Edition on March 8, 2011, which includes two DVDs, including the politically themed TV special Songs of America (1969), the documentary The Harmony Game, additional liner notes and a booklet. Other reissues contain bonus tracks, such as the 2001 version, which covers the demo tapes of "Feuilles-O" and "Bridge over Troubled Water". Contemporary critical reception to Bridge was initially mixed, but retrospective reviews of the album have been laudatory, and it is considered by many to be the duo's best album.[4]

Despite numerous accolades, the duo decided to split up, and parted company later in 1970; Garfunkel continued his film career, while Simon worked intensely with music. Both artists released solo albums in the following years. Bridge includes two of the duo's most critically acclaimed and commercially successful songs, "Bridge over Troubled Water" and "The Boxer", which were listed on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Critically and commercially successful, the album topped the charts in over ten countries and received two Grammy Awards, plus four more for the title song. The album sold around 25 million records; making it at the time of release the best-selling album of all time. It has been ranked on several lists, including at number 172 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.[5]


Simon & Garfunkel, initially "Tom & Jerry", were already successful in the music industry. Their Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, the soundtrack album for Mike Nichols' film The Graduate and Bookends peaked at number three, two and one in the US Billboard 200, respectively,[6] with the first and latter selling 3 million copies and 2 million copies in the United States alone.[7] Art Garfunkel took the role of Captain Nately in another Nichols film, Catch-22, based on the novel of the same name. Initially Paul Simon was to play the character of Dunbar, but screenwriter Buck Henry felt the film was already crowded with characters and subsequently wrote Simon's part out.[1][8] The unexpectedly long film production endangered the relationship between the duo;[8] Garfunkel later stated in a 1990 interview with Paul Zollo in SongTalk magazine: "Our way of working was for Paul to write while we recorded. So we'd be in the studio for the better part of two months working on the three or four songs that Paul had written, recording them, and when they were done, we'd knock off for a couple of months while Paul was working on the next group of three or four songs. Then we'd book time and be in the studio again for three or four months, recording those . . . . Rather than wait for Paul to write the next bunch of songs, I went off and did this movie."[9]


The filming of Catch-22 began in January 1969 and lasted about eight months.[10][11] Simon had not completed any new songs at this point, and the duo planned to collaborate when the filming was finished. Roy Halee would produce the album, and as was the case with their most recent studio album, Bookends, they created an experimental sound, moving away from typical folk rock and instead exploring new genres.[8]

Bridge over Troubled Water was also the duo's first album to credit the backing musicians in the liner notes. The credited musicians were Simon and Fred Carter, Jr. on guitars, and Hal Blaine on drums, Joe Osborn on bass and Larry Knechtel on keyboards, all of whom were studio session musicians and became famous as Wrecking Crew members.[12][13]

Side one[edit]

As Simon and Garfunkel were working busily on recording, they had to decline invitations to perform, including at the Woodstock Festival.[14][15] Simon wrote "Bridge over Troubled Water".[16] He wanted a gospel piano sound, so he hired session musician Larry Knechtel. The song was initially two verses long, but Garfunkel felt the song was too short and asked Knechtel to play a third verse, to which Simon would write more lyrics. Osborn played two bass guitar parts, one high and the other low. Blaine recorded the drums in an echo chamber, to achieve a hall effect. A horn section rounded off the track. Due to a series of factors, the duo had to work on a new tape; an arranger falsely labeled the song as "Like a Pitcher of Water" and wrote Garfunkel's name incorrectly (GarFunkel), and the string part was unsatisfactory.[17]

The duo then returned to New York to record the vocals.[18][19][20] The vocal style in "Bridge over Troubled Water" was inspired by Phil Spector's technique in "Old Man River" by the Righteous Brothers.[21] After two months the song was finalized. Simon himself admitted that it sounded like the Beatles' "Let It Be", stating in a Rolling Stone interview: "They are very similar songs, certainly in instrumentation ..."[22] The song has been covered by over 50 artists since then,[23] including Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash.[24]

"Bridge Over Troubled Water" was influenced by the gospel music to which Simon was listening at that time, especially the Swan Silvertones and their song "Mary Don't You Weep".[25] The name of the title track was inspired by the latter's line "I'll be your bridge over deep water, if you trust in my name". According to gospel producer and historian Anthony Heilbut, Simon later acknowledged his musical debt to Claude Jeter in person, and additionally handed Jeter a check as compensation.[26] "Bridge over Troubled Water" was addressed to Simon's wife Peggy, whom he had met that year. The "silver girl" in the song refers to her, and her first gray hairs, and not to a drugged hypodermic needle, as was believed by some in the United States.[27] Simon asked Garfunkel to sing lead on the song, and although Garfunkel initially refused this proposal and suggested that Simon should sing falsetto, later agreed to sing. Simon initially composed the song in G major, but arranger and composer Jimmie Haskell transposed the song to E-flat major to suit Garfunkel's voice.[16]

"El Cóndor Pasa (If I Could)" is a Peruvian song based on traditional Andean music. Simon relied on erroneous information from Jorge Milchberg of Los Incas about the collection of royalties for his arrangement of song. Simon wrongfully thought it to be a traditional song and thus not restricted by copyright law, but in reality it was written by Peruvian Daniel Alomía Robles. His son Armando Robles Godoy filed a successful lawsuit later that year in 1970, citing that he held the song's copyright in the United States since his father's 1933 filing.[28] Simon wrote English lyrics to the instrumental recording by Los Incas,[29][23] and the song later became a forerunner of Simon's world music era as a solo artist.[30]

In the summer of 1969, Simon, his wife Peggy and Garfunkel rented a house on Blue Jay Way in Los Angeles, as Garfunkel did not want to withdraw from Catch-22, which was being filmed on the West Coast. In this session, the duo experimented on a new song with numerous objects to create unusual sounds, such as a falling bundle of drum sticks. Garfunkel had a Sony reel-to-reel tape deck with a reverberation effect, so that each sound received an echo. When finished, Simon gave the tape to Halee, who then worked on the song, condensing sounds and copying them. The song features Simon as percussionist on the xylophone, an instrument he had never played before, and as acoustic guitarist. He began with a random line, "You're breaking my heart. I'm down on my knees," and when finished it was what later became "Cecilia". The drummer was again Blaine,[31][32] and Simon's brother Eddie played on guitar.[23] The song is about an unfaithful girl who invites another lover to her bed, while the singer (the first) is in the bathroom. David Browne suggested that the name may be derived from the patron of music, Saint Cecilia.[33] It has an unusually fast tempo compared to their prior songs.[31]

Featuring the rockabilly style of the Everly Brothers,[34] "Keep the Customer Satisfied" recounts the exhausting tours that Simon grew tired of, a similar theme to that of their earlier song "Homeward Bound".

"So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright" is a tribute to the architect Frank Lloyd Wright but also to Garfunkel, who wanted to train as an architect. It chronicles the early career of the duo and predicts their future split up. At the end Halee shouts "So long already, Artie", a portentous message.[35] Simon plays here a guitar style that has been described as Latin jazz[36] and bossa nova. Congas additionally contribute to the South American sound.[37]

Side two[edit]

The recordings for the folk ballad "The Boxer", which was already partly written by Simon in 1968 and released in March 1969 (it debuted on the WLS 89 Hit Parade at No. 38 on March 31, 1969),[38][39] became one of the longest and toughest in the duo's career. The session lasted over 100 hours and took place at several locations. The second, main part was recorded in Nashville, at Columbia Studios, December 6–8, 1968. The third, final part and the horns were recorded inside St. Paul's Chapel at Columbia University (Garfunkel's alma mater), and the strings at Columbia Studios. The song features Simon and Fred Carter, Jr. playing Martin guitars.[1] The echoing drums were played by Blaine in a corridor.[32][40] Other instruments include Bob Moore playing contra bass, tuba, Charlie McCoy playing harmonica, Pete Drake playing pedal steel guitar, Dobro[41] and a piccolo flute.[42] Simon & Garfunkel became the first musicians to use 16-track recording, but as only two 8-track recorders were available, both had to be carefully manually synchronized to produce a clear sound.[43]

"Baby Driver", an uptempo and happy rock and roll song,[44] already released as a B-side of "The Boxer", tells about a boy who lives a comfortable life in a protected home, but who searches for adventures and one day decides to have his first sexual experience.[45][46] The recording features car noises, Beach Boys–like singing parts and absurd syllables.[47] Edgar Wright's 2017 action comedy film Baby Driver is named after the song, which is played at the end credits.[48]

Simon wrote "The Only Living Boy in New York" while Garfunkel was filming in Mexico; it is about the resulting isolation he felt in New York.[49] In an interview with SongTalk, Simon guessed that 12 to 15 voices were used to record the "aaah"s, while Garfunkel said that he proposed those lines, stating "It's us around eight times screaming, and we mixed it down very softly ... I started getting into open-mouth harmony, in a very loud, strident way. We were screaming at the top of our lungs and inside an echo chamber. I remember that day that Dylan dropped by to visit. We came out of the booth after all this screaming, and there he was."[50]

"Why Don't You Write Me", deals with separation from Simon's wife in a jungle.[49] In this song Simon experimented with the nascent genre of reggae for the first time,[33] a style he later explored in his solo career, most notably in "Mother and Child Reunion".[46]

Following the end of filming of Catch-22 in October, the first performance of their tour took place in Ames, Iowa. The concert included the Everly Brothers' "Bye Bye Love", backed by the audience's hand clapping. Simon & Garfunkel were fascinated with its sound, so they repeated it a second time for a recording; while the first try failed, they liked the second attempt and included the latter on Bridge over Troubled Water.[51] The US leg of the tour ended in the sold-out Carnegie Hall on November 27.[52] Three days later, their show Songs of America was broadcast on CBS just one time on November 30, 1969,[53] after which it was banned. After numerous fan letters suggesting that they not intervene in politics but simply continue doing music, the duo did not release any similar TV specials.[54] "Bye Bye Love" became a farewell song and a sign of a new career.[55]

The album's final song, "Song for the Asking," represents an "olive branch" extended by the duo to each other and holding open the possibility of reconciliation and further collaboration. The song starts with the applauses of the previous song cross-fading into it.


After breaking for Christmas, the duo continued working on the album in early 1970 and finished it in late January. Eleven tracks were featured on this album; one finished song, "Cuba Si, Nixon No", as well as other additional tracks were excluded. Garfunkel did not like this song and proposed instead a chorale, entitled "Feuilles-O", with which Simon disagreed. After a discussion, they decided to not include more tracks.[56]

Bridge over Troubled Water charted in over 11 countries,[clarification needed] topping the charts in 10 countries, including the US Billboard 200 and the UK Albums Chart.[57][58] It was the best-selling album in 1970, 1971 and 1972 and was at that time the best-selling album of all time.[39] It remained CBS Records' best-selling album until the release of Michael Jackson's Thriller in 1982.[59] The album topped the Billboard 200 charts for 10 weeks and stayed on the charts for 85 weeks.[39] According to Columbia Records, 1.7 million copies were sold in the first three weeks in the United States.[37] In the United Kingdom, the album topped the charts for 35 weeks, and spent 285 weeks in the top 100, from 1970 to 1975.[39] Furthermore, it received 8× Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), and 4× Platinum in Canada.[39] Bridge over Troubled Water has since sold 3,163,789 copies in the UK,[60] and over 25 million copies worldwide.[61]

The songs "Cuba Si, Nixon No", "Groundhog", and the demo "Feuilles-O" were recorded during sessions but not released on the album.[62][63] "Cuba Si, Nixon No" was later released on a bootleg recording of a concert of November 11, 1969, by Simon and Garfunkel at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio,[64] while the demo recording of "Feuilles-O" was later released on the Old Friends and The Columbia Studio Recordings (1964–1970) box sets.[63] A remastered and expanded version of the album was released on compact disc in 2001, containing the demo versions of "Feuilles-O" and "Bridge over Troubled Water." It was remastered by Vic Anesini.[63] Garfunkel later recorded "Feuilles-Oh/Do Space Men Pass Dead Souls on Their Way to the Moon?" on his debut solo album Angel Clare, and as the flip-side to his single, "I Shall Sing", from the same album.[65]

Columbia Records released a 40th Anniversary Edition on March 8, 2011, comprising three discs. The first disc features the original album and the second disc contains the entirety of Live 1969, which had been released three years earlier as an exclusive at Starbucks. The third disc, a DVD, consisted of the television special Songs of America, which originally aired in 1969 on CBS and unavailable since its original broadcast, and a new documentary The Harmony Game about the making of the album. Songs of America comprised footage of the 1969 tour, intimate backstage conversations, and historic news clips; it had elicited controversy owing to the duo's political comments regarding the Vietnam War and the direction of American society at the time. The Harmony Game featured new 2010 interviews with Simon, Garfunkel, producer Roy Halee, and more principals involved with the making of the album. The 1969 special runs for approximately 52 minutes 37 seconds, while the 2010 documentary runs for approximately 70 minutes 54 seconds. A booklet of liner notes, photos, and essays by critics Michael Hill and Anthony DeCurtis was also included.[66][63]

The album is also included in its entirety as part of the Simon & Garfunkel box sets Collected Works, The Columbia Studio Recordings (1964–1970) and ‘’Simon & Garfunkel: The Complete Albums Collection’’.

Reception and legacy[edit]

Retrospective professional ratings
Review scores
American Songwriter[68]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music[70]
Entertainment WeeklyA−[71]
Record Collector[73]
Rolling Stone[74]

Bridge over Troubled Water was originally released to a mixed critical response. Writing in Melody Maker in February 1970, Richard Williams identified "a few dull moments" on the album, while adding that "they're worth enduring for the jewels they surround". Williams concluded: "Not, perhaps, another classic like Bookends, but still worth hearing for Simon's constantly surprising timing, and for the way he can make his guitar sound like a small orchestra and the orchestra sound like a big guitar ..."[76] Village Voice critic Robert Christgau was lukewarm about the album in 1970, giving it a "B" grade in his "Consumer Guide" column and notoriously reviewing it with one word: "Melodic".[77][78] He later expounded on the problematic nature of the record's "smooth, well made" music, writing in Newsday that the album is "often funny and honest. It breathes life. Yet I suspect that its flawless, rather languid loveliness is ultimately soporific".[79] According to Steve Horowitz of PopMatters, contemporary critics compared the album to the Beatles' White Album "in that one can hear the incipient break up of the band in the way they separately perform the material".[66]

Among retrospective reviews, Bruce Eder of AllMusic said that Bridge over Troubled Water was "perhaps the most delicately textured album to close out the 1960s from any major rock act", especially in a time of troubles in the United States.[67] Parke Puterbaugh of Rolling Stone assessed the album as "a casually ambitious look back" at both the decade and the duo's musical partnership, which concluded the latter "on an exhilarating note".[74] Author and critic David Browne noted the album's "sonic warmth and richness".[33] Stephen M. Deusner of Pitchfork praised its unique sound, writing that "Bridge sounds like a unified statement enlivened by styles and rhythms not often heard on pop radio at the juncture of [the 1960s and 1970s]."[3]

In a 2001 review for Uncut, Ian MacDonald found the album "overproduced and underwritten", adding: "Where Bookends is succinct, dry, and disciplined, Bridge ... is self-satisfied, sentimental, mediocre, and overblown. Even its best song, 'The Boxer', is needlessly inflated and protracted."[75] Writing for MusicHound, Leland Rucker acknowledged that Bridge over Troubled Water "is considered their masterpiece", while noting that he found that "it sounds top-heavy, overproduced, and too precious for its own good."[80] Conversely, Q magazine deemed the album to be Simon & Garfunkel's best and most consistent work, "notable for the strength of its melodies, the force of its lyrics and the Abbey Road-style sophistication of its production".[72] In his book The Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Colin Larkin admires the album as a "celebrated" work that includes a "classic single" ("The Boxer") and a title song that "became a standard with Garfunkel's angelic vocal set perfectly matched to the lush, orchestral arrangement and contrasting tempo".[81] Joe Nolan of American Songwriter notes that "the pair were never more popular or commercially successful than they were with the release of Bridge over Troubled Water".[68]

Bridge over Troubled Water won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year, as well as for Best Engineered Recording, while its title track won the Grammys for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Contemporary Song and Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s) in 1971. Bridge over Troubled Water was nominated at the first Brit Awards for Best International Album and its title track for Best International Single in 1977.[82] In 2000 it was voted number 66 in Colin Larkin's All Time Top 1000 Albums.[83] In 2003, it was ranked at No. 51 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time,[84] maintaining the rating in a 2012 revised list; in a 2020 revision, the album was ranked at No. 172.[85][5] In December 1993, The Times ranked the album at number 20 on its "The Vultures 100 Best Albums of all Time".[86] The album was also included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.[87]

Chris Charlesworth, author of The Complete Guide to the Music of Paul Simon and Simon & Garfunkel, gave a mixed reception, noting that seven songs ("Bridge over Troubled Water", "El Condor Pasa", "So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright", "The Boxer", "The Only Living Boy in New York", "Bye Bye Love" and "Song for the Asking") were outstanding or good, while the rest, mainly uptempo ones, were for him "throwaway" recordings. He was surprised at its success.[88]


As was the case during the recordings of Bridge over Troubled Water, both musicians became rather independent. Garfunkel took a role in another Mike Nichols film, Carnal Knowledge, in the role of Sandy, for which he later earned a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor nomination.[89] Filming started in May 1970. Meanwhile, Simon taught a one-week songwriting course at New York University, studied music theory and listened to numerous types of music. The duo's last performance at that time was in the Forest Hills Stadium on July 18, 1970. Simon worked on his second studio (and first post-Simon & Garfunkel) solo album between January and March 1971, which was later released as Paul Simon, while Garfunkel revived his music career with Angel Clare, released in September 1973.[90][91][92]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks are written by Paul Simon except where noted.

Side one
1."Bridge over Troubled Water" November 9, 19694:52
2."El Condor Pasa (If I Could)"Daniel Alomía Robles, arranged by Jorge Milchberg and English lyrics by Paul SimonNovember 2, 19693:06
3."Cecilia" November 2, 19692:55
4."Keep the Customer Satisfied" November 2, 19692:33
5."So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright" November 9, 19693:41
Side two
1."The Boxer" November 8, 19685:08
2."Baby Driver" November 2, 19683:14
3."The Only Living Boy in New York" November 15, 19693:58
4."Why Don't You Write Me" November 8, 19692:45
5."Bye Bye Love" (live)Felice Bryant, Boudleaux BryantNovember 14, 1969, Ames, Iowa2:55
6."Song for the Asking" November 1, 19691:49
  • Sides one and two were combined as tracks 1–11 on CD reissues.
2001 CD reissue bonus tracks
12."Feuilles-O" (demo)Traditional, arranged by Simon, Art GarfunkelAugust 11, 19691:45
13."Bridge over Troubled Water" (demo take 6) August 13, 19694:46




Single Chart Position
"Bridge over Troubled Water" Australian Kent Music Report Chart[94] 2
Austrian Ö3 Top 40 Chart[122] 4
Dutch Mega Albums Chart[123] 5
Norwegian VG-lista Albums Chart[124] 7
UK Singles Chart[125] 1
US Billboard Hot 100[57] 1
US Billboard Adult Contemporary Chart[57] 1
German Media Control Albums Chart[126] 3
"Cecilia" Australian Kent Music Report Chart[94] 6
Austrian Ö3 Top 40 Chart[122] 6
Dutch Mega Albums Chart[123] 1
US Billboard Hot 100[57] 4
German Media Control Albums Chart[126] 2
"El Condor Pasa (If I Could)" Australian Kent Music Report Chart[94] 1
Austrian Ö3 Top 40 Chart[122] 1
Dutch Mega Albums Chart[123] 1
US Billboard Hot 100[57] 18
US Billboard Adult Contemporary Chart[57] 6
German Media Control Albums Chart[126] 1

Certifications and sales[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[127] Gold 70,000[127]
Austria (IFPI Austria)[128] Platinum 50,000*
Canada (Music Canada)[129] 4× Platinum 400,000^
Finland (Musiikkituottajat)[130] Gold 25,000[130]
France (SNEP)[131] Platinum 300,000*
Germany (BVMI)[132] Platinum 500,000^
Japan 441,000[133]
Netherlands 750,000[134]
South Africa 96,000[135][136]
Spain 50,000[137]
Sweden 200,000[138]
Switzerland (IFPI Switzerland)[139] Gold 25,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[140] 11× Platinum 3,163,789[60]
United States (RIAA)[141] 8× Platinum 8,000,000^
Worldwide 25,000,000[61]

* Sales figures based on certification alone.
^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.


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