Berklee today

JUN 2013

Berklee today is the official alumni publication of Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. It is a forum for contemporary music and musicians.

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 24 of 44

THEWOODSHED Anatomy of a Classic Song A recreation of the score to Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" reveals musical elements that undergird the iconic pop anthem. By Mark Small Special thanks to Berklee trustee Paul Simon for granting permission to create and publish this score. 22 Berklee today It's a rare phenomenon when any song— even a huge hit—has such emotional power that it affects people worldwide for generations. Paul Simon's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" accomplished that feat, sending ripples around the globe that are still present today. Within a month of its release in January 1970, it sailed to the top of the Billboard charts and stayed there for six weeks. The album of the same name topped the charts for 10 weeks in the United States, and 33 weeks in the United Kingdom. To date the album has sold 25 million copies around the world, with 5 million purchases in America alone. In February 1971, it also won four Grammy Awards. In the intervening four-plus decades, more than 200 artists of various styles and ages have recorded or given highprofle performances of "Bridge." Singers covering it early on included Aretha Franklin, the Jackson 5, Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson, Elton John, Whitney Houston, and dozens more. More recent renditions by younger artists include those by David Archuleta, Josh Groban, Clay Aiken, BeBe and CeCe Winans, Leona Lewis, and Charlotte Church, to name a few. Artists from the United States to Sweden to China have performed it. The December 9, 2004, issue of Rolling Stone which profled the 500 greatest songs of all time, ranked "Bridge" at number 48. Typically, a hit song involves extramusical factors that can't be predicted by label execs or radio promoters that contribute to a song becoming such a massive success. Occasionally cultural resonances and societal issues combine with the effect of a magical marriage between music and lyric to deeply touch millions. When "Bridge" hit the airwaves, American society was in turmoil over the Vietnam War in Southeast Asia, which was spilling out in protests onto America's streets. The quiet assurance of Simon's lyrics delivered in Garfunkel's sometimes gentle, sometimes soaring, tenor to the accompaniment of Larry Knechtel's gospel-infused piano also subtly connected to the period's racial struggles and to the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968. The turbulent decade of the sixties that had witnessed the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert Kennedy had just come to a close. For millions, "Bridge" served as a musical emollient for life's public and personal struggles. More Than Music All this is epilogue, though. Aiming for the song's ultimate effect is more than even a songwriter of Simon's caliber could hope for in writing it. Simon has told interviewers that he knew immediately that he had written something special, something exceeding even his high standards. He has cited the rendition of the spiritual "Oh, Mary Don't You Weep" sung by Reverend Claude Jeter and the Swan Silvertones as providing musical and lyrical inspiration. The line in the spiritual, "I'll be a bridge over deep water if you trust in my name," reveals the connection. In the video the The Harmony Game, Simon speaks briefy about the simplicity of his lyrics mentioning these: When you're weary, feeling small/ . . . When evening falls so hard, I will comfort you. He recalls thinking, "It's too simple. But of course, that's what made it so universal." Throughout, Simon used phrases that many would offer as comfort. The melody is one of Simon's best, extremely sing-able and catchy. The frst half of the verse hovers around a G above middle C. In an interview, Garfunkel stated that in an early take, he was not singing the octave glissandi in bars 15 and 43. Simon rightly asked him to put them back in, restoring one of the song's frst melodic hooks. The melody is long for a pop tune, with the last line of each verse, "Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down," always sung twice. The intensity increases each time the melodic action goes up an octave. The third verse introduces the trademark two-part harmony that Simon and Garfunkel (S&G) were known for. Simon has said that he always felt that the lyrics to this verse didn't ft with those of the frst two. Its frst line, "Sail on silver girl," probably sounds more oblique or exotic to listeners than what Simon told one interviewer he was writing about. He said once that it referred to his frst wife (Peggy Harper) discovering her frst gray hairs. In bar 80, as the production builds toward the climax, Garfunkel sings forcefully. He hits the song's tessitura (an A b above the staff) in bars 89 to 91, and both the instrumental and vocal parts arrive at the song's emotional peak. The Sessions During the summer of 1969, S&G were staying in Los Angeles when Simon completed the music and two of the verses. All the duo's previous music was guitar based, but Simon envisioned this song with piano accompaniment and a gospel feel. The duo worked closely with studio musician Larry Knechtel for two or three days to get the piano part into shape. As Knechtel was recording his part, both Garfunkel and engineer and coproducer Roy Halee told Simon that the song should be bigger and that it needed a third verse. Simon protested, saying it felt like a "little hymn" rather than a big song. But ultimately he acquiesced to Halee and Garfunkel. Knechtel added an extended turnaround and a third verse. Simon wrote the lyrics for the new verse in the studio, which was atypical for him. In addition to Knechtel, S&G brought in studio drummer Hal Blaine and bassist Joe Osborn to record the instrumental track at Columbia's Gower Street studio in Los Angeles. At the time, those three musicians were known as the "Hollywood Golden Trio" for the many hits they'd played on, and were a subset of the larger collective of studio aces called "The Wrecking Crew." Osborn played two electric bass parts. Blaine did not play a full drum kit, only select drums and cymbals. While much could be written about Art Garfunkel's stunning vocal performance, what was most striking was the astonishing vocal depth and power he displayed on "Bridge." In most of the early S&G repertoire, he often laid back, singing beautiful high harmonies. Even in his featured solos (such as "April Come She Will" or "For Emily Whenever I May Find Her"), his voice had a primarily airy character. S&G had emerged during the 1960s folk boom. While many great singers worked in the folk style at that time, it's

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of Berklee today - JUN 2013