Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits

Simon and Garfunkel

1972: Columbia CK 31350

  1. Mrs Robinson
  2. For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her
  3. The Boxer
  4. The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)
  5. The Sound of Silence
  6. I Am a Rock
  7. Scarborough Fair/Canticle
  8. Homeward Bound
  9. Bridge over Troubled Water
  10. America
  11. Kathy’s Song
  12. El Condor Pasa (If I Could)
  13. Bookends
  14. Cecilia

This is an album I grew up with, at least since I was 6 or so years old, and Sounds of Silence was the only other S&G album my father bought, so most of their songs that I know came to me in this context rather than that of their respective albums and “moments” of immediacy…which is not great but doesn’t reduce the reactive power of these selected tracks.

Whether I ever understood their lyrics as I was growing up is another question. Some are fairly straightforward or impactful in their evocative nature—“Bridge over Troubled Water” being a solid example of the former, “Bookends” of the latter. With others, such as “Cecilia,” I could only enjoy the music without any comprehension of why the singer was getting up to wash his face, etc.

Age and experience bring varied adjustments to childhood impressions, naturally. The gushing and receding waves of emotional observations in “America,” for example, still resonate with me in the song’s overall messages of searching for relevance and place and validity on triple levels (individual, relationship, and national), but as an adult I found that I was also hearing in the song Simon’s unconscious but hefty ignorance of America consisting of anything beyond New England and a step or two into the Midwest. So those grand and thrillingly crashing chords and sailing vocals of the song’s climax tend to now bring me to only a place of judgmental irony as I note that Simon’s saga takes him a whopping 700 miles from NYC and wouldn’t even have seen more than a slight variation of topography by comparison to, say, crossing the Continental Divide and going from grim Utah landscapes to the lush-but-cold Pacific Northwest or even the vastness of Texas alone. Something gets lost with perspective, sometimes.

Whatever I may have to say about any other tracks on this compilation, “Bridge over Troubled Water” rises above it all to make my comments mere crumbs…but I have only praise for it. I was playing it on piano by probably 1975 or so thanks to a good folio of this album’s songs for piano/voice and guitar tabs, so I’ve long had a great appreciation for the gorgeous piano work of Larry Knechtel that gave it the foundation that formed the genesis of the song’s power in combination with Garfunkel’s heart-wrenchingly beautiful vocal. In late 2020 I noticed that some YouTube reviewers were starting to “discover” this song (in most cases, thankfully, experiencing the original rather than any number of cover versions), and I have to admit that I enjoy getting to see them have the almost transcendent epiphany of first hearing the song in its full glory. There are probably only a few times that I’ve heard this recording without being moved tears, seriously.

One of the most radiantly powerful moments I retain from growing up with this album is from “I Am a Rock,” when S&G’s slippery intertwining vocals rise to a pinnacle of harmony on the line “I am shielded in my armor.” Probably there should be an exclamation mark there, instead of a period, but they sing it with a period even though their voices are resplendent. Here’s a good example of how writing about music is so difficult!

As for “Mrs Robinson”…oh, honey, where to start unraveling that one versus surface impressions? Catchiness of musical threads aside, there’s a story being told that says Mental Institution or perhaps a privately run facility to “correct” mentally/ideologically wayward souls still within reach of being captured and controlled. The repeated comforting references to Jesus and implicit religious belief/obedience add a chilling note to the institutionalization theme.