n 1969, Paul Simon, his wife Peggy, Art Garfunkel and some other people rented a house for the summer on Bluejay Way in the Hollywood hills. The same house, a few years earlier, had inspired George Harrison to write the Beatle song, "Blue Jay Way." This time around though, it served as a backdrop for the creation of Simon and Garfunkel's greatest hit: the biggest pop record of 1970.
Art was in Mexico for much of the summer, making his acting debut in a Mike Nichols film, Catch 22 (1969). When he returned, Paul presented him with a tune written in his absence -- "Bridge Over Trouble Water." Surprisingly, Art said he didn't want to sing the song, and suggested that Paul do it instead. Paul wouldn't hear of that, and later regretted "giving the song away." In concert, Art wound up singing the song solo, with Paul sitting, brooding, off to one side. It was that kind of resentment -- ironically, over a song of unity -- that lead to their break-up a short time later.
By that point, Simon and Garfunkel had been stars for more than four years, and were tiring of the grind. From September to October, they taped an acclaimed TV special, Songs of America, which CBS telecast November 30. In October, they embarked on yet another concert tour, which kept them on the road and out of the studio until mid-December. When they finally did begin recording, they were, in Paul's words, "totally exhausted." But somehow they came through with Bridge Over Troubled Water, the best album they ever made.
The title track started out as a simple two-verse melody, written by Paul in the key of G. As Art's key was E-flat, the chords had to be transposed, and were by Jimmy Haskell (who later picked up a Grammy as "co-arranger"). Another musician, soon to be a founding member of Bread, was hired to play piano: Larry Knechtel. "I want a gospel kind of feel," Paul said, and over a four-day period, Larry honed the tune in exactly that manner. Eventually, his part of the song became so elongated that, in the studio, Paul decided to tack on a third verse. Later, Paul would point out how you could "clearly hear" the addition, because "it didn't sound at all like the first two verses."
Paul hired an outsider to write the string arrangement, and mailed a copy of the rough mix on a demo tape. Apparently the vocal work on that tape was a little garbled, because the sheet music came back entitled "Like a Pitcher of Water." Garfunkel's name was also misspelled. Paul rejected that arrangement and demanded that it be completely rewritten.
All of the above was completed in Los Angeles. Simon and Garfunkel stopped for Christmas and then went to New York, where Artie spent several days on vocals. In all, "Bridge" took about two weeks to record, not counting the final mix-down.
The Bridge Over Troubled Water album was supposed to have twelve tunes on it. However, Paul and Artie fought over the final cut. Simon wanted to include another of his songs, while Garfunkel insisted on a Bach chorale. Finally, Paul threw up his hands and ordered the album released "as is," with only eleven tracks. Simon and Garfunkel then split, each taking a long and separate vacation.
The single version of "Bridge" broke in early February 1970, and spent six weeks at the top of the charts. It was gold by March, platinum by April, and by the end of the year had sold over five million copies. The album was number one simultaneously, and by 1975 had sold more than ten million copies. It's still one of the best-selling albums in music history.
Collectively, as an album and 45, "Bridge Over Troubled Water" won an unprecedented six Grammy Awards: Single of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Arrangement, Best Engineering, and Best Contemporary Song. By the end of 1970, Simon had earned over $7 million from the tune. He waited a couple of years, and then launched his own successful solo career.
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