Bookends by Simon & Garfunkel was their most mature work. Not remotely as embraced as Bridge Over Troubled Water, but a more interesting tapestry. These songs grew from the same embryo. My favorite S&G album.
The album was a mixture of folk, pop and a pinch of rock all of twenty-nine minutes and fifty-one seconds. Tightly written songs, bursting with adventure and romance. Like the Beatles, you wanted to pick up a guitar and play those rich chords and let the vocals fly. But you would never be them. It sounded easy, that was the magic that separated them from us mortals.
Over the course of recording, S&G would submit songs for The Graduate, finish Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, and release “Hazy Shade of Winter” (peaked at number 13) and “At the Zoo” (peaked at number 16) as singles, both of which would appear on Bookends. “Mrs. Robinson” appeared in the film, was recorded for Bookends and reached number one as a single (reached number one).
Although there is a two year gap between Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme and Bookends, there was plenty of S&G product on the airwaves.
S&G only recording together for 6 years [Yes, I know they were friends and a duet for much longer.] Each album showed a jump in their writing and performance. Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme contained several classics but also a few lesser songs. The quality was uneven. Funny, even though Bookends was written and recorded over two years, from many different sessions, the songs fit conceptually. I’ve read that it was designed as a concept album, which is remarkable if true, given the arduous recording process.
Simon had spent time in England in the early 1960s, writing and performing. From album to album, you see his musical pallet grow, with more shades of expression, his lyrical content branched beyond relationships to social exploration and commentary. “Mrs. Robinson” and “America” reflect his ability to tell a story painted with images from the eyes of his characters. This was the late 1960s, musicians were asking questions and looking into the reflection of America.
Bookends features some complex song arrangements, even more so than their previous album, but these were still pop songs, light and airy. Bridge Over Troubled Waters would scream serious art, and leave the breeziness acoustic-pop of Bookends far behind.
Bookends is more of a Simon vocal album than either Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme or Bridge Over Troubled Water, which has several distinctive Garfunkel solos. In a way, this is almost a Simon solo project.
Simon is a masterful guitar player, it is the instrumental spine of the album. His style of guitar playing provides the structure of the song and picks out key notes that support the vocals. Interesting at how his guitar powers the more uptempo songs. And the bass work is superb, hiding under the surface but keeping the songs moving forward with artful work.
Hal Blaine, who played on more hits than anyone, provides the drums. There aren’t drums on every song, but when you needed a skilled player, Hal was the one. Joe Osborn, another member of the Wrecking Crew, played the bass on every song except “Mrs. Robinson.” If you want a clinic on bass playing, Osborn was the guy. Larry Knechtel, perhaps the most versatile of the Wrecking Crew, played piano and organ, and bass on “Mrs. Robinson.” Knechtel was their keyboard player of choice and would be a major contributor to their next album. Knechtel played bass in the group Bread, and on The Doors debut album. He could skillfully play whatever instrument you needed.
John Simon and Roy Halee produced the album, Halee was the engineer and worked on many S&G albums, as a duet and solo. Strings and horns were used in key moments on the album, and the arranger was Jimmie Haskell, who worked in television, film and popular music.
No. Title Recorded Length
1. “Bookends Theme” 1968 0:32 A gentle acoustic guitar melody, just Simon picking a soft melody.
2. “Save the Life of My Child” December 14, 1967 2:49 One of the first uses of the Moog synthesizer, yes on an S&G song, basically a re-occurring roar. A noisy production. Simon takes the lead vocal, with Garfunkel on harmony.
3. “America” February 1, 1968 3:35 In search of America. A grand pop song of two kids on a journey. Sweet and haunting at the same time. Simon’s biting commentary on our country, and the disappearing sense of who we were. A nice musical tapestry of instruments. One of Simon’s best songs.
Cathy, I’m lost, I said, though I knew she was sleeping
I’m empty and I’m aching and I don’t know why
Countin’ the cars on the New Jersey turnpike
They’ve all come to look for America, all come to look for America
4. “Overs” October 16, 1967 2:14 The story is that this song was intended for The Graduate but rejected. The end of a relationship. Shared vocals by S&G. A sparse arrangement with nice vocal interludes.
5. “Voices of Old People” February 6, 1968 2:07 Recorded voices by Art Garfunkel reflecting on memories from their lives.
6. “Old Friends” 1968 2:36 My favorite song on the album. Soft, sentimental, sad. Fantastic string accompaniment, with horns, along with Simon’s guitar. So much emotion and memory in one short song.
The old men
Lost in their overcoats
Waiting for the sunset
The sounds of the city
Sifting through trees
Settle like dust
On the shoulders
Of the old friends
7. “Bookends Theme” 1968 1:16 The return of the theme, this time with words, a segue from “Old Friends.”
What a time it was, it was.
Prints of your memories, it’s all that’s left you.
Side two This side really rocks. For an S&G album.
No. Title Recorded Length
1. “Fakin’ It” June 1967 3:17 Upbeat song with drums, organ and the like. Simon reflecting on whatever he feels isn’t real, just an illusion. An underrated song, they could dial it up and still sound smooth.
2. “Punky’s Dilemma”October 5, 1967 2:12 Another song rejected for The Graduate. A sweet song that has great vocal work. The musical arrangement is quite stunning, simple yet layered with instruments that arrive and depart quickly.
3. “Mrs. Robinson” February 2, 1968 4:02 The big hit, the song not rejected for The Graduate. With Americana references, wrapped around Simon’s masterful melody. Joe DiMaggio didn’t get it. “I haven’t gone anywhere,” he said. Grammy Award for Best Record.
Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?
A nation turns its lonely eyes to you, wo wo wo
What’s that you say, Mrs. Robinson
‘Joltin Joe’ has left and gone away, hey hey hey
4. “A Hazy Shade of Winter” September 7, 1966 2:17 An uptempo rocker. Strong beat and driving bass, centered on Simon’s acoustic guitar. An overlooked classic.
Hang on to your hopes, my friend
That’s an easy thing to say
But if your hopes should pass away
Simply pretend that you can build them again
5. “At the Zoo” January 8, 1967 A trip to the zoo under recreational drugs. The zoo takes on quite a different meaning. The bass work is wonderful, with Simon’s guitar.
The album reached the number one position on the charts and sold over two million copies. This album represents a changing country, and a generation looking around for relevance and answers. These were not grand revelations, but snapshots of life, pop songs riding the rails of a journey through America. If you find joltin Joe, send him home, we miss him.