This song was one of the big piano projects I took on in my later years in school. Larry Knechtel’s piano part was so good – and the chords were so mysterious to me – I was excited to get stuck into it.
I didn’t know any of the story behind the song. I didn’t know of the
jealousy felt by the writer of the song (Paul Simon) when his partner (vocalist Art Garfunkel) received all the glory for singing it. I didn’t know that it had taken a very long weekend to come up with the piano part. I didn’t even know that these chords I wanted to explore were actually gospel chords, and that Simon had written it as a gospel song.
But oh how it is. Listen to how pianist Richard Tee sets up the song here, and indeed to his piano playing throughout. And to the backing vocals.
Or to how Aretha Franklin interprets the song here.
And here is a YouTube video with some background on how the song came about.
The funny thing is, although Simon says that he knew this song he had written was exceptional, it still needed the input of so many others to make it into the smash hit it became.
He needed to be convinced by Garfunkel and producer Roy Halee to write a third verse in which the song could soar.
He needed the talent and musicianship of Knechtel and others to convert it from a guitar song in G to a piano song with an orchestra in Eb.
And possibly most crucially of all, he needed Clive Davis and Columbia records to decide to get behind it, and promote it as a single despite the fact that it was ‘too long’ and ‘too piano-heavy’ to be a single in 1970.
Finally and sadly, despite the comforting and soothing words Simon wrote and Garfunkel sang to such acclaim, the two men couldn’t apply them to their relationship, and despite the huge success of this song, their partnership broke up later that year.
And this week on my online tuition platform, piano players around the country are being challenged to answer questions on the song, learning how to play it, and next week in our live lesson we’ll discuss why these magical chords make sense.