This powerful, inspiring and iconic song, which Bllboard ranked as the No. 1 song for 1970, has helped countless people through challenging times. Paul Simon was inspired by gospel music for this one. It has become one of the most performed songs of the twentieth century, with over 50 artists, among them Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin, covering the song. .
The distinctive piano arrangement was performed by session musician Larry Knechtel of the famous ‘Wrecking Crew’, a loose collective of session musicians based in Los Angeles whose services were employed for thousands of studio recordings in the 1960s and early 1970s, including several hundred Top 40 hits. Leon Russell and Glen Campbell were also Wrecking Crew members before their solo careers.
“Bridge over Troubled Water” was composed by Paul Simon very quickly, so much so that he asked himself, “Where did that come from? (Similar to Paul McCartney saying that ‘Yesterday’ came to him fully formed in a dream and he just got up and played it right away so he wouldn’t forget it!) Will we ever understand fantastic musical ability and inspiration like these guys? Maybe it’s the one thing that artificial intelligence won’t be able to replace.
Despite the song’s five-minute length, Columbia decided to promote “Like a Bridge Troubled Water” to play on pop radio, which at the time never played songs longer than about three minutes. However, Bob Dylan had previously landed a song past the three-minute barrier on AM radio with “Like a Rolling Stone” in 1965, which played into Columbia’s decision. It stayed at the top of the charts for six weeks, the most for any single that year – before it was replaced by The Beatles’ “Let It Be.” What a year to listen to exiting new music as a teen ager!
Parenthetically, last night I was reminded how fleeting fame is. Many of us have listened to this song so many times that we can’t imagine someone not recognizing it. However, my 23 year old waitress last night (who grew up in New Orleans) not only had never listened to the song, but she hadn’t heard of Simon and Garfunkel either. It really made me think about how many of the artists (besides The Beatles, Dylan, and Stevie Wonder) that we have grown up with will be remembered in the next 50 years!