1968 was one of the most epochal years in American history. There is no need to go into the history again here, but believe me, it was a whirlwind. While most of the events of that year – war, assassination, the election of Richard Nixon – are remembered in a negative light, the year was not without its highlights. What is most fondly remembered about 1968 is the music. Musical giants were prowling the earth. You’ve heard their names. You’ve heard the music. The events of that year were inextricably linked to the music in a way that hasn’t been replicated since then.
In 1967, a film called The Graduate appeared, as if out of nowhere. To say that The Graduate tapped into the zeitgeist is a bit of an understatement. The film, directed by Mike Nichols, and featuring Dustin Hoffman in his first starring role, perfectly captured the uncertainty and restlessness of a generation. It resonated completely with young people who were trying to figure out what came next. A major part of the film’s appeal was the music. Dustin Hoffman wasn’t the only one who became a star. The Graduate’s soundtrack also made stars out of Simon & Garfunkel. While it’s true that the duo had hits prior to the release of the film, and the indelible “Scarborough Fair,” and “The Sound of Silence” are also included in the film, there is no question that their involvement in the film took them to the next level.
You may be wondering what all of this has to do with Simon & Garfunkel’s 1968 album Bookends. Quite a bit actually, given the fact that the album contains some songs that were written for The Graduate, but rejected by the film’s producers. The fact that these songs were not chosen for inclusion in the film does nothing to diminish the luster of songs like “Over’s,” “Punky’s Dilemma,” and the classic “A Hazy Shade of Winter.” In fact, “Hazy Shade” went on to become one of Simon & Garfunkel’s biggest hits. One song that was included in the film was the indelible “Mrs. Robinson,” which is on The Graduate soundtrack (twice) but in a version that is markedly different from the song that appears on Bookends.
The first side of Bookends is something of a concept. After opening with a portrait of a generation poised on the edge of a precipice (“Save the Life of My Child”), Paul Simon charts the course of a relationship, bookending it if you will, from its start – “Let us be lovers, we’ll marry our fortunes together” (“America”), through tribulations – “Why don’t we stop fooling ourselves? The game is over” (“Overs”), to reconciliation – “Can you imagine us years from today, sharing a park bench quietly?” (“Old Friends”). Side One closes with with the “Bookends Theme,” which not only addresses the lost relationship, but the lost dreams of an entire generation:
Time it was
And what a time it was
It was …
A time of innocence
A time of confidences
Long ago … it must be
I have a photograph
Preserve your memories
They’re all that’s left you
It’s a song that I’ve heard hundreds of times over the years, but still cannot listen to without choking up.
Side Two opens with one of my favorite Simon & Garfunkel songs, “Fakin’ It,” and closes with the wistful “At the Zoo,” in which Simon speculates that perhaps the animals know more than we give them credit for. In the middle of the side are the monster hits “Mrs. Robinson,” and “A Hazy Shade of Winter.” Bookends has it all, the beautiful relationship story, the generational touchstones, and the big hits.
Bookends, produced by Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel, and Roy Halee, was released on April 3, 1968, less than three months after The Graduate soundtrack was released. The two albums spent the next few months battling for the top position on the album chart. Bookends reached #1 on the U.S. charts, where it spent a total of seven weeks. Four singles from the album charted, “A Hazy Shade of Winter” (#13), “At the Zoo” (#16), “Fakin’ It” (#23), and “Mrs. Robinson” (#1).