There was nothing hippie about Simon and Garfunkel, really. Among the general run of late 60s pop stars, they were remarkably straight. That’s not to say they didn’t appeal to stoners. On the contrary: lyrics as dense and literary as theirs were undoubtedly parsed by many a group of chemically altered heads on many a chemically altered night. Pure, clear voices, virtuoso musicianship, impeccable production—they were the thinking person’s pop stars, at a moment when most young people considered themselves thinkers.
Film director Mike Nichols liked Simon and Garfunkel and asked to use their music in The Graduate. Stories vary—either Nichols rejected some of the songs Simon offered, or Simon managed to write only a couple in time for them to be included in the film. Only about eight of the soundtrack album’s 36 minutes represent new S&G material; there are two snippets of “Mrs. Robinson,” each running a little over a minute. Older tunes, “The Sound of Silence” and “Scarborough Fair/Canticle,” each appear twice (in different versions). The album also contains six pieces of incidental music from the film by Dave Grusin. It’s likely that many serious S&G fans, who had waited well over a year for a new album, were disappointed after they got it home. They wouldn’t have to wait long to be fulfilled, however. Bookends was released less than three months later, in the spring of 1968.
Unlike some counterculture prophets, Simon and Garfunkel did not write a prescription in Bookends for what ailed the world of 1968. They merely observed the country in which they lived and communicated the feeling that the American Dream was not all that dreamy, in songs such as “Fakin’ It,” “Hazy Shade of Winter,” and “At the Zoo.” The best-known song on the album is probably “America,” with its exhilarating refrain about having come to look for America—but Simon sounds as if he’d rather find the reason for the emptiness inside himself. Bookends clocks in at just under 30 minutes, but they’re 30 good minutes.
For 16 weeks, from early April through late July 1968, The Graduate and Bookends swapped off in the #1 position on the Billboard 200 album chart, each with two separate runs at the top, nine weeks in all for The Graduate, seven for Bookends.
In our next installment of The #1 Albums, a prominent group hits #1 for the fifth time in three years with an album that marks the end of an era in American popular music. Really.