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'Bridge Over Troubled Water' -- Great Album, And Now Terrific TV, Too
March 14, 2011  | By David Bianculli
 
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The new 40th-anniversary reissue of Simon & Garfunkel's classic Bridge Over Troubled Water LP is something you really, truly owe it to yourself to see. Yes, see. Because, while the music on the CD is as timeless and brilliant as ever, the two TV specials on the accompanying DVD are what make this new mixed-media release a gold mine, rather than a mere upgrade...

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The music on Bridge Over Troubled Water needs no introduction, but it's worth placing its impact and achievements in context four decades later. The title song won Grammy Awards in 1971 for Song of the Year and Record of the Year, and the 11-song LP, also including such tracks as "The Boxer" and "Cecelia," won Album of the Year. Both the album and the single topped the Billboard charts, and "Bridge," even as an unusually long (almost five-minute) single, dominated AM radio play for six straight weeks -- supplanted only, in time, by the Beatles' "Let it Be."

The Bridge Over Troubled Water was released, as a single and an album, on Jan. 26, 1970, so calling Columbia's new release a 40th-anniversary reissue is playing it a little loose. And musically, it doesn't even contain the outtakes and demos from Columbia's previous Simon & Garfunkel Bridge reissues.

But, in this case, who cares?

Because also along for the ride, as part of the package, are two major bonuses on a companion DVD.

One is The Harmony Game, a delightful, new 70-minute documentary on the making of the album. The other is Songs of America, a one-hour prime-time Simon & Garfunkel special televised by CBS on Nov. 30, 1969 -- and not shown or released since then.

How valuable, as TV artifacts go, is Songs of America?

Consider:

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Eight weeks before the song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" made its radio debut, it was featured, in full, in this one-hour special, heard for the first time -- and accompanied by footage of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy, the last two of whom had been killed just the year before.

Another song on the album, "El Condor Pasa (If I Could)," accompanies footage of Cesar Chavez's fight to unionize farm workers and the Poor People's March on Washington, D.C.

Older songs are in play, too. To the tune of "America," the special opens with scenes of poverty, riots, pollution and other disheartening scenes.

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Another vintage Simon & Garfunkel hit, "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme," is played as the TV shows images of a skywriting plane drawing a giant peace symbol, then shifts to footage of the giant, peace-loving crowds at the Woodstock festival of a few months before -- scooping the movie Woodstock by four months.

Composer, guitarist and singer Paul Simon and singer-arranger Art Garfunkel express their political dissatisfactions and concerns in the special, which has an obvious liberal viewpoint. Charles Grodin, an actor who had co-starred with Garfunkel in the then-unreleased Catch-22 (directed by Mike Nichols, who had used Simon & Garfunkel's music, and propelled the duo to superstardom, in The Graduate), directed the TV special, and it's pure, unadulterated Sixties. What a treat.

In The Harmony Game, which includes lots of interviews conducted last year specifically for the documentary, Grodin explains how and why the original sponsor, AT&T, bowed out for fear of how Southern TV affiliates would react. The soon-to-be-ex-sponsor also complained of a lack of balance in the special, because King and the Kennedys all were Democrats. Simon recalls, wryly, that he countered by saying that from his perspective, the reason they were selected was because they all had been assassinated.

Simon also confesses that he has "no idea" where the song "Bridge" came from ("This is considerably better than I usually write," he remembers thinking at the time. Simon, Garfunkel, engineer Roy Halee, and a healthy roster of musicians all chime in on the making of the distinct sounds of Bridge Over Troubled Water.

Banging on piano benches and blue jeans for the rhythm track for "Cecelia." Coaching the audience to beat in time and record a clap track for "Bye Bye Love." Recording the ethereal "Lie la lie" chorus of "The Boxer" in the chapel at Columbia University. And how the "Bridge" song, originally, had only two verses, until both Garfunkel and Halee insisted to Simon that he write more so the song could soar.

He did. It does. And so does this unexpected gift of a marriage of DVD and CD.

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You can order the combined CD-DVD anniversary release of Bridge Over Troubled Water by clicking HERE. And if I haven't been sufficiently enthusiastic to persuade you to do so, well, then I've failed to convey how much I love this triple tour down Simon & Garfunkel memory lane.

And if that's the case, I'll try, try again:

The Harmony Game is the best musical documentary since ABC's The Beatles Anthology in 1985.

CBS's Songs of America is a trapped-in-amber portrait of the Sixties that hasn't been available SINCE the Sixties. Both these specials also include generous helpings of concert footage and studio outtakes, with nuggets that even S&G completists will recognize as newly unearthed.

And the CD? Well, hell... It's Bridge Over Troubled Water.


3 Comments

 

Mac said:

I waited a day to see what mastering was used for the CD. It appears to be the version available since 2001, mastered by Vic Anesini and produced by Bob Irwin, two sound guys who get it right most of the time. Some audiophiles nitpick, but this is probably as good as it gets. What is strange is that two bonus tracks available for years have been deleted, though there is plenty of space and should not have mattered in the final cost. Also interesting to S&G fans that Paul Simon is moving his solo catalog from Warner Music back to Columbia, so virtually all of Simon's recorded work now rests in one place, except...the new album, "So Beautiful,or So What", due April 12th, on Concord Music. Early raves place this in the quality of "Graceland". But for the 40th of BOTW, it boils down to the DVD; the TV special is important, one never rerun or available since 1970.

[Thanks for all that. Yeah, I agree - I wish the bonus tracks from previous releases had been included on this CD re-release. Given Simon's recent return to Columbia, could they be conceiving a new collection of outtakes and rarities, asa way to squeeze yet another title out of the archives? That might explain them being stingy with them all of a sudden. -- DB]

Comment posted on March 16, 2011 6:05 PM


vivian Warkentin said:

I am curious about the "skywriting' peace sign. I wonder if what looks like chemtrails were added later,by the government to legitimize this activity we see in our skies. Or how did this come about. I am interested to know who owns this movie. It was such a shock to see this phenomenon in a movie from 1969. I question, but am open to a good explanation.

[I'm fairly certain the explanation is simple: Yes, the peace sign was in wide use by 1969, and Simon & Garfunkel probably paid for the skywriting peace sign as part of their production-company budget. This was the era when John & Yoko sat in bags, and Mason Williams published a book of one photograph, that of a life-sized Greyhound bus. Welcome to the 60s. -- DB]

Comment posted on August 21, 2011 5:27 PM


Vivian Warkentin said:

I think it is possible that Simon and Garfunkel paid for it, but you don't know that. Do you know who owns this film? I heard that it aired only once because it was so controversial. It looks awfully dangerous to fly planes directly towards each other as these jets are doing. Is that normal for skywriters? I don't know why more people are not curious about what is happening in our sky.

Sincerely,

Vivian Warkentin

Comment posted on August 23, 2011 3:33 PM
 
 
 
 
 
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