I love Simon & Garfunkel because they combined poetic lyrics with gorgeous harmonies.
The following is a list of my top ten Simon & Garfunkel songs. The list counts down from ten to one, with one being my favorite.
10. El Condor Pasa (If I Could)
Although the words sound as if they come from an ancient traditional folk song, Paul Simon actually wrote them himself to accompany the melody from a Peruvian song. The melody is beautiful, and the clear simple images in Simon’s lyrics evoke the feeling of freedom and complement the melody well.
9. Mrs. Robinson
This song was from the 1967 movie The Graduate. The Mrs. Robinson of the title was a middle-aged married woman who seduced the movie’s hero, a recent college graduate (who was advised, in a famous scene, to go into “Plastics!”). It’s a lot of fun to sing because of the assorted sound effects in the chorus: “Co-co ca choo” at the start of the chorus; “Hey hey hey / hey hey hey” at the end; and “Woo woo woo” in the middle. Rumor has it that Simon originally was writing about Eleanor Roosevelt, but changed “Mrs. Roosevelt” to “Mrs. Robinson” for the movie.
This song has a haunting, delicate melody. The lyrics start off describing what sounds like a pleasant, high-spirited road trip, but in the last stanza, we get this: “Kathy, I’m lost, I said, though I knew she was sleeping / I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why.” Those lines make me feel an intense, unfocused yearning.
7. Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard
This is a catchy tune with a South American beat.
Another catchy melody, exuberantly sung.
5. Scarborough Fair/Canticle
I think of this as the “parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme” song. Beautiful traditional melody, and beautiful harmonies by S & G.
4. 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)
An anthem to youthful good spirits and to being carefree, from a bygone era when “groovy” was a word that people really used.
3. The Sound of Silence
This song combines a haunting melody with poetic lyrics rich in imagery.
2. The Boxer
The song is disturbing in a way that has really gotten under my skin. The lyrics tell a story that is sad and grim, while the music, especially in the “li li li” chorus, is fairly upbeat and bouncy. So the music and the words seem to tug against each other, which contributes greatly to the song’s oddly disturbing power.
The story is told in poetic form, which means it is very much open to interpretation. I’m especially intrigued by the final stanza: “In the clearing stands a boxer, and a fighter by his trade / And he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down or cut him / Till he cried out in his anger and his shame / I am leaving, I am leaving, but the fighter still remains.” Is the fighter showing strength and courage by holding his ground in the face of adversity? Or is it that he has become so worn down by his troubles that he has lost the will or the power to escape them? Is the boxer the same person as the song’s narrator, who said “I’m laying out my winter clothes / wishing I was gone, going home / Where the New York City winters aren’t bleeding me”? Does he ever make it home, or like the fighter, does he “still remain”?
1. Bridge over Troubled Water
My favorite Simon & Garfunkel song, this is a tribute to the healing power of friendship. More than once, this song has made me cry.
These songs came close to being on my top ten list.: “Still Crazy After All These Years,” “Homeward Bound,” “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” “Slip Slidin’ Away,” “I Am a Rock,” “Cloudy,” “The Dangling Conversation,” “Flowers Never Bend With the Rainfall,” “Kodachrome,” and “Bye Bye Love.”