"Cecilia" is a song by American music duo Simon & Garfunkel, released in April 1970 as the third single from the group's fifth studio album, Bridge over Troubled Water (1970). Written by Paul Simon, the song's origins lie in a late-night party, in which the duo and friends began banging on a piano bench. They recorded the sound with a tape recorder, employing reverb and matching the rhythm created by the machine. Simon later wrote the song's guitar line and lyrics on the subject of an untrustworthy lover. The song's title refers to St. Cecilia, patron saint of music in the Catholic tradition.
The song's origins lie in a late-night party between the duo and friends. The song's rhythm was developed by Simon, Garfunkel, and Simon's younger brother, Eddie, when the three began banging on a piano bench during the party. They recorded it for fun utilizing a Sonytape recorder and employing reverberation. In doing so, they were able to synchronize their live rhythm with the reverberating sound on the recording. A friend grabbed a guitar, strumming and punctuating the rhythm with "aahs".
Simon later found himself coming back to the tape and its infectious quality. While listening to the recording, he composed the song’s guitar line. Simon found a section, the length of shortly over a minute, that he felt had a nice groove. He and producer Roy Halee made a loop of this section, which was not an easy task before the advent of digital recording. The duo later recorded additional elements of the song at Columbia Records' Gower Street location in Hollywood, typically used for string section recording. Simon & Garfunkel dropped drumsticks on the parquet floor, incorporating their sound into the track. In addition, Simon played random notes on a xylophone, as those elements would be compressed in the final version to where it would not be audible whether or not they were correctly played. Drums were played by veteran Wrecking Crew drummer Hal Blaine.
The lyric "making love in the afternoon" was among Simon’s most explicit at the time. Simon states in the 2011 documentary The Harmony Game that, during the song’s initial success, he came upon a recently returned Vietnam War veteran. The man told Simon that soldiers heard the song and found it a sign of the country's changing mores.
In 2008, Stephen Colbert facetiously asked Simon why the narrator of the song would need to get up and wash his face after making love. Simon noted "Well, it’s the ’60s, so I can’t remember."
Simon has suggested that the "Cecilia" of the title refers to St. Cecilia, patron saint of music in the Catholic tradition, and thus the song might refer to the frustration of fleeting inspiration in songwriting, the vagaries of musical fame or in a wider sense the absurdity of pop culture. The song is generally interpreted as a lament over a capricious lover who causes both anguish and jubilation to the singer. St. Cecilia is mentioned in another Paul Simon song, "The Coast" (from his 1990 album The Rhythm of the Saints): "A family of musicians took shelter for the night in the little harbor church of St. Cecilia."
The single did not chart in the UK, despite being released as the follow-up to Simon and Garfunkel's number one hit "Bridge over Troubled Water", and most copies of the UK single misspelled the title as "Cecelia" on the label.
In 1970, a cover version was released in 1970 by UK group Harmony Grass, which did not chart. French-speaking American musician Joe Dassin sang a French version of this song in 1970, while in February 1971, a version was released in England by the New Wave Band (a group that comprised three members of the band that would soon become 10cc) and Herman's Hermits guitarist Derek Leckenby. It did not chart.
Faith No More's song "Midlife Crisis," from their 1992 album Angel Dust, features a sample of the first measure of "Cecilia" repeated throughout the song as part of the percussion track.
In 1998, Swedish pop band Ace of Base released a Europop track titled "Cecilia" from their album Flowers, which continues the story of the Paul Simon's character. Jenny Berggren, lead vocalist for the band, sings, "This is a song about a well-known girl", then tells of Cecilia's continuous bouncing back and forth between lovers.