Bridge over Troubled Water (song)

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"Bridge over Troubled Water"
Bridge Over Troubled Water single.jpg
Front cover of the US and some overseas vinyl releases, whose back covers display Art Garfunkel
Single by Simon & Garfunkel
from the album Bridge over Troubled Water
B-side"Keep the Customer Satisfied"
ReleasedJanuary 20, 1970 (1970-01-20)
RecordedAugust, November 1969
Songwriter(s)Paul Simon
Simon & Garfunkel singles chronology
"The Boxer"
"Bridge over Troubled Water"
Music video
"Bridge over Troubled Water" (audio) on YouTube
Audio sample

"Bridge over Troubled Water" is a song composed by American singer-songwriter Paul Simon and recorded by Simon & Garfunkel. Produced by the duo and Roy Halee, the song was released as the follow-up single to "The Boxer" in January 1970. The song is featured on their fifth studio album, Bridge over Troubled Water (1970). Art Garfunkel performs lead vocals over a piano accompaniment exhibiting a strong influence of gospel music. The original studio recording employs elements of Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound" technique using L.A. session musicians from the Wrecking Crew.[3][4]

It was the last song recorded for their fifth and final album, but the first fully completed.[5] The song's instrumentation was recorded in California while the duo's vocals were cut in New York.[5][6][7][8] Simon felt his partner, Art Garfunkel, should sing the song solo, an invitation Garfunkel initially declined but later accepted.[9] Session musician Larry Knechtel performs piano on the song, with Joe Osborn playing bass guitar and Hal Blaine closing out the song with drums. The song won five awards at the 13th Annual Grammy Awards in 1971, including Grammy Award for Record of the Year and Song of the Year.

The song became Simon & Garfunkel's biggest hit single, and it is often considered their signature song. It was a number one hit on the Billboard Hot 100 for six weeks, and it also topped the charts in the United Kingdom, Canada, France, and New Zealand. It was a top five hit in eight other countries as well, eventually selling over six million copies worldwide. It became one of the most performed songs of the 20th century, with over 50 artists, among them Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, and Johnny Cash covering the song. It is ranked number 66 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.


"Bridge over Troubled Water" was composed by Paul Simon in early 1969; the song came to him very quickly, so much so that he asked himself: "Where did that come from? It doesn't seem like me."[9][10][11] The title concept was inspired by Claude Jeter's line "I'll be your bridge over deep water if you trust in my name," which Jeter sang with his group, the Swan Silvertones, in the 1958 song "Mary Don't You Weep."[12][13] According to gospel producer and historian Anthony Heilbut, Simon acknowledged his debt to Jeter in person, and handed Jeter a check.[14] Simon named Johann Sebastian Bach's "O Sacred Head, Now Wounded" as a source of inspiration for parts of the melody.[15] Simon wrote the song initially on guitar but transposed it to the piano to better reflect the gospel influence and suit Garfunkel's voice.[5]

Simon told his partner, Art Garfunkel, that Garfunkel should sing it alone, the "white choirboy way", though Simon does add harmony on the final verse.[9] Garfunkel felt it was not right for him;[5] he liked Simon's falsetto on the demo and suggested that Simon sing. At the suggestion of Garfunkel and producer Roy Halee, Simon wrote an extra verse and a "bigger" ending, though he felt it was less cohesive with the earlier verses.[16] The final verse was written about Simon's then-wife Peggy Harper, who had noticed her first gray hairs ("Sail on, silvergirl").[17][18] It does not refer to a drug abuser's hypodermic needle, as is sometimes claimed.[19] The verse was Garfunkel's idea, but Simon reportedly did not like it.[20]

"Bridge over Troubled Water" was the final track to be recorded for the album but the first completed, with an additional two weeks of post-production.[5] 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.[21] The song's instrumental parts were recorded in August 1969 in California, to make it easier for Garfunkel to go to Mexico to film Catch-22.[8][11] Simon wanted a gospel piano sound, and hired session musician Larry Knechtel. Joe Osborn played two separate bass tracks, one high and the other low. A string section entering in the third verse completed the arrangement. The drums were played by Hal Blaine in an echo chamber to achieve a hall effect and Los Angeles session percussionist Gary Coleman played the Vibraphone. The arranger Ernie Freeman labelled his string arrangement as "Like a Pitcher of Water".[22]

Simon and Garfunkel returned to New York in November 1969 to record the vocals.[23][6][5][11] The vocal style in "Bridge over Troubled Water" was inspired by Phil Spector's technique in "Old Man River" by The Righteous Brothers.[24] Simon said it sounded like the Beatles' "Let It Be", stating in a Rolling Stone interview: "They are very similar songs, certainly in instrumentation."[25]

As their relations frayed preceding their 1970 breakup, Simon began to feel jealous that he allowed Garfunkel to sing it solo:

He felt I should have done it, and many times on a stage, though, when I'd be sitting off to the side and Larry Knechtel would be playing the piano and Artie would be singing "Bridge", people would stomp and cheer when it was over, and I would think, "That's my song, man..."[9]


Commercial performance[edit]

Despite the song's five-minute length, Columbia decided to release "Bridge over Troubled Water" for play on pop radio. AM radio had previously played Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" in 1965, despite its running over the conventional three-minute playtime limit. This figured in Columbia's decision to release the five minute version of "Bridge over Troubled Water" as a single.[26] It reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart on February 28, 1970, and stayed at the top of the chart for six weeks. "Bridge over Troubled Water" also topped the adult contemporary chart in the US for six weeks.[27] Billboard ranked it as the No. 1 song for 1970.[28]

The song was certified Gold for over one million copies in the US by the Recording Industry Association of America,[29] and sold over six million copies worldwide.[30][31]


The single won the Grammy Award for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Contemporary Song, and Best Arrangement, Instrumental and Vocals in the Grammy Awards of 1971, with its album also winning Album of the Year.

Charts and certifications[edit]

US chart performance[edit]

"Bridge over Troubled Water" entered the Billboard Hot 100 top 40 at no.13 on February 9, 1970. It jumped to no.3 the following week before climbing to no.1. During a six-week run at the top – the most for any single that year – Simon and Garfunkel held off strong competition from Creedence Clearwater Revival ("Travelin' Band") and The Jaggerz ("The Rapper"). Then, on April 11, the song fell to no.5 – replaced by The Beatles' "Let It Be". "Bridge over Troubled Water" concluded a 13-week run in the US top 40 on 9 May as their follow-up hit "Cecilia" began its rise to no.4.

UK chart performance[edit]

As in the US, "Bridge over Troubled Water" made its UK top 40 bow at no.13, on February 28, 1970. The song climbed steadily over the next four weeks before claiming no.1 on March 28. During a three-week stay at the top, it held off strong competition from Mary Hopkin with "Knock, Knock Who's There?" and "Can't Help Falling In Love" by Andy Williams. Then, on April 18, the song fell to no.2 – replaced by "All Kinds of Everything" by Dana. In total, "Bridge over Troubled Water" spent seventeen weeks in the UK top 40 (concluding on June 27).


"Bridge over Troubled Water" has been covered by over 50 artists,[57] including Elvis Presley and Willie Nelson. Merry Clayton recorded a version in gospel style on her 1970 album Gimme Shelter.[58] A cover recorded by Johnny Cash and Fiona Apple for Cash's American IV: The Man Comes Around album was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals in 2003.[59]

Aretha Franklin[edit]

Aretha Franklin's gospel-inspired cover version was released in March 1971 on Atlantic 45-2796 and reached number one on the US R&B chart and number six on the pop chart.[60] The single was certified Gold by the RIAA selling two million copies and later won the Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance in the 1972 awards. The single is 3:18 in length. The longer studio version, 5:31 in length, that appears on numerous compilations was first released on Franklin's 1971 compilation Aretha's Greatest Hits. Her version was included on Greatest Moments, Volume III: Various Artists. Franklin also debuted her version at the 1971 Grammy Awards.

Elvis Presley[edit]

Elvis Presley recorded it in Nashville on June 5, 1970, and it was released on the 1970 album That's the Way It Is (with a false audience fade-out). He included it in his set list for his next engagement in Las Vegas, which included the filming of the 1970 documentary Elvis: That's the Way It Is,[61] and the song was included in the original theatrical release (included version is from the August 11 dinner show). During that summer season in Vegas, Paul Simon attended one of the shows, and, after seeing Elvis perform the song, he was reported to have said, "That's it, we might as well all give up now."[9] Presley continued to use this song throughout his live performances, including his final live appearance in Indianapolis on June 26, 1977. Another live performance was seen in the Golden Globe-winning documentary Elvis on Tour, filmed at the Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, North Carolina, on April 14, 1972. Elvis even sang it at one of his Madison Square Garden Shows back in June 1972.

On the studio version, Robert Matthew Watson wrote in his book Heartbreak Hotel: "Presley's outstanding singing is not disguised. This is a fabulous version, burning with sincerity and power, and finding depths not revealed by the composers."

Linda Clifford[edit]

"Bridge over Troubled Water"
Single by Linda Clifford
from the album Let Me Be Your Woman
B-side"Hold Me Close"
Length4:08 (7-inch version)
10:20 (Album version)
Songwriter(s)Paul Simon
Producer(s)Gil Askey

Linda Clifford, Curtis Mayfield's protegée signed on his Curtom label, released an up-tempo disco version of "Bridge over Troubled Water" on her album Let Me Be Your Woman in March 1979. This epic version (10:20 in length) was produced by Gil Askey (jazz trumpet player and musical director for many Motown acts) and mixed by Jimmy Simpson, brother of Valerie Simpson from Ashford and Simpson. The song has two originalities, the first one being a 132 bpm tempo (considered the ideal tempo for disco dancing) when the Simon and Garfunkel original is 82 bpm and Aretha Franklin's cover is 76 bpm. It was the first time that this song was covered with a fast tempo. It also has a highly original "Brazilian cuica on a disco beat" break. It became a US disco #11, pop #41, R&B #49 and UK #28.[62]

P.J.B. featuring Hannah and Her Sisters version[edit]

"Bridge over Troubled Water"
P.J.B. featuring Hannah and Her Sisters - Bridge over Troubled Water.jpg
Single by P.J.B. featuring Hannah and Her Sisters
Songwriter(s)Paul Simon
Producer(s)Pete Bellotte

In 1991, P.J.B. featuring Hannah and Her Sisters, a UK group assembled by British songwriter, record producer and author Pete Bellotte and fronted by British singer Hannah Jones, released a dance cover of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" which reached number 21 on the UK Singles Chart.[63] The group appeared on Top of the Pops as the opening act on the 26 September 1991 episode.


Chart (1991) Peak
Europe Dance (Music & Media)[64] 24
UK Singles (OCC)[65] 21

Franco Battiato[edit]

Italian singer-songwriter, composer and filmmaker Franco Battiato also covered the song. His version was released on the 2008 album it:Fleurs 2.

Cantonese version[edit]

A rewriting of the song with Cantonese lyrics ("Many hearts prevail" – zh:滔滔千里心) was collectively sung by many Hong Kong singers for public shows in Hong Kong to raise funds after the Eastern China flood of 1991. In 2009 it was also used in the Artistes 88 Fund Raising Campaign for the victims of Typhoon Morakot.[66]

Dami Im version[edit]

Dami Im covered this song during the Family Heroes-themed sixth live show of the fifth season of Australian X Factor on September 29, 2013.[67] Im's performance of the song debuted at number 15 on the Australian Singles Chart. Im later released a version of the song on her self-titled album,[68] which debuted at number 1 in Australia, and was certified Platinum.[69]

Artists for Grenfell Tower charity single[edit]

"Bridge over Troubled Water"
Grenfell Single.jpg
Single by Artists for Grenfell
ReleasedJune 21, 2017
RecordedJune 2017
Songwriter(s)Paul Simon

To raise money for the families of the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017 and for The London Community Foundation, Simon Cowell arranged the recording and release of a charity single on June 21, 2017.[70] London-born grime artist Stormzy featured prominently, having written a fresh 16-line intro to the song which specifically referenced the tragedy. The recording reached number one on the UK Singles Chart on June 23, 2017 and was certified gold by the BPI on January 31, 2020 [71][72]


The song was performed by the following artists (in order of appearance):[70]




Chart (2017) Peak
Australia (ARIA)[73] 53
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[74] 32
Belgium (Ultratip Flanders)[75] 26
Finland Download (Latauslista)[76] 23
France (SNEP)[77] 111
Hungary (Single Top 40)[78] 31
Ireland (IRMA)[79] 25
New Zealand Heatseekers (RMNZ)[80] 4
Scotland (OCC)[81] 1
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[82] 28
UK Singles (OCC)[72] 1

Other covers[edit]

  • Willie Nelson covered the song in the closing ceremony of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.[83]
  • Mary J. Blige, David Foster, and Andrea Bocelli performed the song on January 31, 2010, during the 52nd Grammy Awards ceremony, in the context of raising awareness for the victims of the Haiti earthquake.[84] This version reached number 75 on the US Billboard Hot 100.
  • On December 9, 2013, Tessanne Chin covered the song on season 5 of NBC's singing competition The Voice for the semifinal round. The song went to the number one spot on iTunes within 12 hours, with her becoming the first contestant to achieve the top chart position at the end of an applicable voting window that season.[85]
  • "A Bridge over You", a charity single recorded and released independently by the Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Choir, the choir of the Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust located in south-east London, was a mashup of "Bridge over Troubled Water" and Coldplay's 2005 single "Fix You", with additional arrangement by the choir's conductor, Peter Mitchell. It reached number one on the UK Singles Chart at Christmas 2015.
  • In August 2019, Kodi Lee covered the song on America's Got Talent in the quarter-finals of the competition. Simon Cowell revealed that Paul Simon personally signed off to allow him to sing the song within thirty minutes of the show asking for permission.[86]
  • Irish musician Hozier performed the song for the RTÉ fundraising special RTÉ Does Comic Relief in Croke Park. The performance was dedicated to those who lost their lives during the COVID-19 pandemic.[87]
  • Matt Bellamy from Muse released a cover on September 8, 2020, noting it is one of his "favorite songs of all time...We should all reach out and be there for our friends right now!" [88]


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External links[edit]