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Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge over Troubled Water” had Political Roots

Simon & Garfunkel + Bridge over Troubled Water
by

“Bridge Over Troubled Water” is a song by American folk duo Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel released in January 1970. More specifically, the Simon & Garfunkel epic ballad was composed by Paul Simon in 1969 and sung by Art Garfunkel. It is also known as their swansong, being the final album they released as a duo. 

The song received five Grammy Awards in 1971, including Song of the Year and Record of the Year. It is the duo’s most successful track and is regarded as their trademark tune. It stayed at the top of the US Billboard Hot 100 for six weeks and became the #1 song on the Billboard Year-End Hot 100 songs list in 1970.

The ballad reached number one in France, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. In the twentieth century, “Bridge Over Troubled Water” was one of the most popular songs, covered by 50 musicians, including Aretha Franklin, Elvis Presley, and Johnny Cash. 

In Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, the song ranked number 66. 

Meaning Behind The Song 

As one of Simon & Garfunkel’s biggest hits, the title of the song was inspired by one of the lines of a 1958 gospel song, “Mary Don’t You Weep” by Claude Jeter of the Swan Silvertones: “I’ll be your bridge over deep water if you trust me.” Simon also mentioned “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” by Johann Sebastian Bach as inspiration for parts of the melody. 

Paul Simon, as a singer-songwriter sensitive to the times, dug deep for comfort during a time in 1969 when Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated. Because of this political incident, facial tensions erupted in the U.S. while war raged in Vietnam. In an attempt to find solace, he sang open lines he had for a week from his New York apartment: “When you’re weary/Feeling small/When tears are in your eyes/I will dry them all.” 

At first, he mostly was silent, saying, “I was stuck for a while. Everywhere I went led to somewhere I didn’t want to be.” Ultimately, he finished the “humble little gospel song” with inspiration from the southern gospel group Swan Silverstone and gospel melodies from one of his favorite Bach chorales. 

Simon described this as a “little hymn,” especially with the addition of the third stanza, which was more majestic and symphonic in tone. Simon penned the song to help soothe someone in distress. 

Find solace in Simon & Garfunkel’s performance of “Bridge over Troubled Water” in the music video below. 

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