If you are a music lover, you’ve undoubtedly heard of Simon & Garfunkel at some point. Consisting of singer-songwriter Paul Simon and singer Art Garfunkel, the American folk-rock duo was among the few musicians that impacted a generation.
Growing up, I remember listening to “Sound of Silence” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and thinking how beautiful they sound. And I’m certain that like me, many music lovers out there appreciated these spiritual and haunting melodies. “Bridge Over Troubled Water” in particular was inspiring. One can listen to it and feel a sense of comfort and be content with the assurance that everything will be alright. So it is not surprising that it withstood the test of time and is acknowledged as one of Simon & Garfunkel’s signature songs.
Simon began to compose “Bridge Over Troubled Water” in 1969. Interestingly, the title of the song was inspired by a single line from “Mary Don’t You Weep” written by famous gospel singer Claude Jeter; “I’ll be your bridge over deep water if you trust in my name”. Simon remembers how effortless it felt to compose this masterpiece;
“It came so fast, and when it was done, I said, ‘Where did that come from? It doesn’t seem like me.’ And then I gave it to Artie [Garfunkel] to sing, and for decades it really didn’t seem like me.”
The song was an immediate hit. It was covered by a multitude of artists, the most notable being Aretha Franklin’s and Elvis Presley’s versions. Despite the ease of composing “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, it wasn’t until much later that Simon felt truly connected with the song. He believed that it should be voiced by Garfunkel who would do the song justice;
“Really, there were two great versions of that song: Artie’s and Aretha’s. I imagined Aretha’s when I wrote it – I heard it as a gospel song. But Artie sang it the white-choirboy way – which was extraordinarily beautiful.”
Nevertheless, Garfunkel had insisted that the track should feature Simon as well. And so the final verse of the song was added – which includes Simon’s vocals – giving “Bridge Over Troubled Water” its grand closing.
The track was released on January 20, 1979, and was the title song of Simon & Garfunkel’s album of the same name. ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ was the final and the most successful album released by Simon & Garfunkel, before the duo went their separate ways. The song is placed at the top of many contemporary charts and with a record number of sales. It is one of the most-awarded songs at the time, securing a total of four Grammys at the 13th annual awards – Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Contemporary Song, and Best Arrangement, Instrumental, and Vocals.
The number of achievements bagged by “Bridge Over Troubled Water” is a testament to the impact of this great song. It peaked at #1 on Billboard Hot 100, Billboard Adult Contemporary, and UK Singles charts. The track was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998 and is ranked #66 on the Rolling Stone’s The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list republished in 2021. In March 2001, RIAA certified “Bridge Over Troubled Water” as 8x Multi-Platinum and in September 2021, received Platinum from BPI for selling over a million copies.
Listen to “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon & Garfunkel
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Simon & Garfunkel “Bridge Over Troubled Water” Lyrics Review and Song Meaning
“Bridge Over Troubled Water” leads with the piano notes accompanied by Garfunkel’s soft crooning. The first few lines reveal the intent of the song – to soothe and comfort.
“When you’re weary, feeling small
When tears are in your eyes, I will dry them all”
These lines bring a sense of immediate calm. You listen to the first verse and take a moment to breathe, rest, and gather your strength. And that is what Simon offered to his fans through this classic, a moment of peace during troubled times. “Bridge Over Troubled Water” acknowledges that there are times you feel soul-weary, that you want to drop everything and just cry – and that it’s alright to do so. Because there is always someone by your side to comfort you when things are hard. It might be your parents, spouse, siblings, friends, or even a stranger.
The transition from the first verse to the chorus is smoothly voiced by Garfunkel;
“Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down”
In the journey of life, there are many rivers we have to cross. Sometimes these rivers may be shallow, other times they may be deep. Or as the song describes you may even encounter rivers that are fast-flowing, dangerous, and seem impossible to cross. It is at times like these that your loved ones may act as a bridge, they will secure your way and guide you so that you can continue on your path.
This is the promise that is conveyed in “Bridge Over Troubled Water”. Whenever you find it difficult to carry on, I will be there for you! What Simon offered through these lines were strength and reassurance. It is amazing how one of the greatest classics of the 1970s was inspired by such a small promise. Imbued in the chorus is the essence of “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, it reminds you that you’re never truly alone.
Many times this promise is what we as human beings need. We have gotten used to a hard and fast lifestyle. We think that we’re failures if we don’t become the next big thing. So we force ourselves to work, to put ourselves into hopeless situations where work becomes life. And soon enough we approach that breaking point where we’re overwhelmed. Just living will become a chore. “Bridge Over Troubled Water” is a blessing at such times. This track uplifts your soul with its gentle start, reminding you that you don’t have to rely on yourself all the time. Your loved ones will always offer you support and solace.
Watch Simon & Garfunkel Perform “Bridge Over Troubled Water” Live in 1981
Garfunkel’s voice gathers more strength in the second verse and he sings;
“I’ll take your part
When darkness comes”
This verse looks at how we’ve become isolated. We have become another face in the crowd and because of this, we think of ourselves to be alone and unseen. This lonely existence is compared to being out and about in the streets as the evening starts to fall. And soon you find yourself surrounded by darkness – which could be interpreted in many ways. The darkness may come as weariness, sadness, grief, depression, or heartache. This verse is proof of why many Simon & Garfunkel fans during the 1960s were young adults. At this point in their lives where they felt misunderstood or invisible, songs like “Bridge Over Troubled Water” must have felt extremely relatable. The track would’ve also offered hope and reassurance that their struggles are seen and understood by someone.
As previously mentioned, the final verse was a later addition to the song. Simon had been extremely reluctant to include this part. But I for one cannot help but think that “Bridge Over Troubled Water” would’ve been incomplete without it. This is the climax of the track, where the gentle piano notes are joined by the strings, drums, and of course Simon’s vocals harmonizing along with Garfunkel.
“Your time has come to shine
All your dreams are on their way”
The verse starts off with a reference to the time when Simon’s wife Peggy discovered her first grey hair. Simon calls her ‘silver girl’ in the song and boldly declares that it is not too late to pursue her dreams. The song serves as a reminder that even in your twilight years, there is always something better yet to come. And as Simon & Garfunkel sing these lines, the music swells up adding a touch of grandeur as the song draws to a close.
It is easy to see how this song became a favorite of generations to come! The song bridges the gap across each generation – acknowledging that in each stage of life, you need a friend by your side. The final chorus offers the assurance that you have a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, and someone to put your mind at ease. It is not much, but sometimes this is all you need to get back up when life knocks you down.
“Bridge Over Troubled Water” was released at a time when the American Dream had hit the rock bottom. People were exhausted, first dealing with the fallout of Kennedy’s assassination and then the protests and riots on the streets demanding to withdraw US troops from the Vietnam War. It is no wonder that the song became an instant hit when it was released.
At almost five minutes in length, the track may not seem quite radio-friendly. But many Americans would have found comfort in this song during those trying times. For them, those five minutes would have been a ray of hope shining brightly amidst all the turmoil. In fact, Simon & Garfunkel played “Bridge Over Troubled Water” in concerts that aided victims of 9/11 as well as the Katrina Hurricane. So it would not be amiss to call Bridge Over Troubled Water” a music band-aid – a song that heals in times of great need.
Let us hear what you think about this song in the comments below. Check out the complete lyrics on Genius.