A per­fect LP to not carry un­der your ox­ter

For decades, Si­mon and Gar­funkel have been con­demned for mak­ing Mu­sic for Peo­ple Who Don’t Like Mu­sic. But at least the prover­bial milk­man could whis­tle it

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - TICKET -

I’ll tell you what I hate (again). I hate the “[X] for peo­ple who don’t like [X]” con­struc­tion. Noth­ing is more likely to win me round to the mer­its of chicken tikka masala (curry for peo­ple who don’t like curry), lawn ten­nis (sport for peo­ple who don’t like sport) or Dave Brubeck (jazz for peo­ple who don’t like jazz).

There has been a lot of this from hor­ror fans re­cently. Films such as Robert Eg­gers’s The Witch and Ari Aster’s Mid­som­mar are, you see, “hor­ror for peo­ple who don’t like hor­ror”. Aster and Eg­gers, the ar­gu­ment goes, think them­selves bet­ter than the di­rec­tors of Spawn of the Slithis and Bas­ket Case 3: The Prog­eny.

Cold­play, El­bow and Dido are among many rock equiv­a­lents. An­dré Rieu pro­vides clas­si­cal mu­sic for peo­ple who don’t like clas­si­cal mu­sic. For gen­er­a­tions, James Last strad­dled a wide field of gen­res. If you liked nei­ther rock nor clas­si­cal nor jazz, then you were still likely to en­joy what­ever we’re call­ing the noise that emerged from the Ger­man musician’s or­ches­tra. Fair enough.

I’m not pre­tend­ing to be any­thing other than a snob. When do­ing my cul­tural ap­pre­ci­a­tion, I wear a mon­o­cle, two top hats and a bow tie made of spun gold. But this ar­gu­ment re­veals con­de­scen­sion shock­ing to even gate­keep­ers of my rigid­ity.

All of which brings us to the 50th an­niver­sary of an al­bum that – played on hi-fis for peo­ple who don’t like hi-fi – blar­ingly closes out all con­fer­ences ded­i­cated to mu­sic for peo­ple who don’t like mu­sic. It was the best-sell­ing LP for 1971, 1972 and 1973. By the end of that run, it had be­come the best-sell­ing record of all time. It plays in el­e­va­tors, shop­ping malls and in planes af­ter they land. It con­tains some of the most en­dur­ing tunes. Yet no stu­dent has ever plucked it from the shelf to hold pos­ingly un­der ox­ter as they wait for the bus on which the clever kids ride.

The record was re­leased in the same month – Jan­uary 1970 – as The Band’s epony­mous sec­ond al­bum and The Mad­cap Laughs by Syd Bar­rett. Ten years later, you could, when tak­ing a rest from con­tem­po­rary ac­ces­sories such as Joy Divi­sion’s Closer or Magazine’s The Cor­rect Use of Soap, still pose con­vinc­ingly with those two excellent col­lec­tions. Cer­tain al­bums from that month were ini­tially ig­nored be­fore, decades later, be­ing con­firmed as un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated mas­ter­pieces. If you were wait­ing for the 46A with, say, Laura Nyro’s New York Tend­aberry then you de­serve a ret­ro­spec­tive dec­o­ra­tion from the taste po­lice. You won’t be get­ting any such gongs for car­ry­ing around the even­tual sub­ject of this col­umn.

There were any num­ber of rea­sons to be sus­pi­cious of Bridge Over Trou­bled Wa­ter by Si­mon and Gar­funkel, but none was so con­vinc­ing as the aware­ness that your par­ents owned it (or, in my case, The Sound of Bridge over Trou­bled Wa­ter by the Geoff Love Or­ches­tra). Pop mu­sic has al­ways di­vided the gen­er­a­tions, and, in 1970, that separation was more of a fiery chasm than a ne­go­tiable ditch. Si­mon and Gar­funkel didn’t make erotic ad­vances on their gui­tars like Jimi Hendrix. They hadn’t been banged up for gear like The Rolling Stones. Even The Bea­tles, who once seemed so nice, had turned into dan­ger­ous weirdos. Si­mon and Gar­funkel made mu­sic that the prover­bial milk­man could prover­bially whis­tle. All this was, in the brains of Miles Davis heads and MC5 en­thu­si­asts, enough to con­demn it as Mu­sic for Peo­ple Who Don’t Like Mu­sic.

That sit­u­a­tion hasn’t much changed. The di­vides are not so marked as they once were, but, though less sneered at, Bridge Over Trou­bled Wa­ter never be­came cool. Ear­lier Si­mon and Gar­funkel LPs such as Book­ends and Wed­nes­day Morn­ing 3AM skirted ac­cept­abil­ity. The big one was a lit­tle too slick, a lit­tle too cosy and a lit­tle too fa­mil­iar. We’d think of El Cón­dor Pasa as cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion now. Though an un­touch­able song, The Boxer is al­most mur­dered by the oper­atic over-pro­duc­tion. Bye Bye Love is a cover. Why Don’t You Write Me is the one every­one for­gets about.

Ev­ery­thing else on the record is ter­rific. The Only Liv­ing Boy in New York prof­its from the echo­ing au­ral space. Song for the Ask­ing makes a virtue of its wispi­ness. And then there is the ti­tle track.

I had a flat­mate who, around 1990, used to re­turn from su­per­an­nu­ated ware­house rav­ing (he was some­way short of 30, but still counted as old in that en­vi­ron­ment) and, as a rit­ual, blare Bridge Over Trou­bled Wa­ter at a vol­ume that would wake ba­bies not yet born. It may have been the MDMA. It may have been the hangover from Ital­ian piano house. But he didn’t care that it was mu­sic for peo­ple who didn’t like mu­sic. And nor did I. Even if I had work in the morn­ing.


There were any num­ber of rea­sons to be sus­pi­cious of Bridge over Trou­bled Wa­ter by Si­mon and Gar­funkel, but none was so con­vinc­ing as the aware­ness that your par­ents owned it


Un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated mas­ter­pieces: Si­mon and Gar­funkel.

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