Anatomy of a Classic Song

By
Mark Small

Toward the latter part of the second verse (bars 49 to 59), both the vocal and the piano become more animated and dynamic. The ebb and flow of an extended interlude (bars 59 to 69) sets the stage for the entrance of the rest of the instruments. In bar 64, the sustaining strings and a very quiet, processed snare drum enter.

The bass makes its appearance in bar 66. Two basses are clearly heard on the right and left sides of the mix. The first enters with high notes in bar 66, and a lower bass slides up to an E♭ in bar 68. The overdubbed, high bass part may appear again later, but if it’s there, it’s not audible enough to be notated.

Hal Blaine didn’t lay down a typical drum groove but played the components of the kit in a quasi-orchestral style. Both contemporary and more recent interviews with Simon and Halee indicate that they did a lot of experimenting to achieve the desired effects on the drums for the Bridge album. Each drum sounds as though it’s on a separate track; the reverb and delay settings vary for each. The snare drum has three different sounds. For the heavily processed snare tracks, I’ve used an X for the note heads (beginning in bar 64). I’ve used the same for the processed snare that has a slap echo (see beat 2, beginning in bar 79). The echoed note is in parentheses. On beat 4 of bar 79 a more natural-sounding snare is written with a standard note head, and its echo is in parentheses. While the drums play only in the last third of the song, they add tremendously to the drama—especially the cannonlike hit on a low tom or bass drum in bar 94.

“Like a Pitcher of Water”

In a Rolling Stone interview with Jon Landau in 1972, Simon recalled that he did not like the first version of the string arrangement for “Bridge” and asked for revisions. The late Ernie Freeman, who wrote and conducted the strings, had misunderstood the song’s name and came to the sessions with his score bearing the title “Like a Pitcher of Water.” Finding this both irksome and slightly amusing, Simon had the score framed and hung on the wall of his apartment after the session. Simon told Landau that ultimately, the string arrangement “did the job it was supposed to do, which was to expand the record tremendously.”

Freeman, a seasoned pop arranger, understood where the strings should lay back and where they should come forward. The strings enter with chordal pads (bar 64), and break the texture to double and amplify short piano melodies in bars 70, 72, and 77. A long, sustained note on Bb above the staff begins to build the drama in the violins (bars 78 to 81). In imitation of the vocal melody, the violins drop from the B♭ to a G on beat four, bar 81. A sixteenth-note triplet run at the end of bar 82 leads to a sequence of high triads that build further intensity.

Seizing a spot for the strings to break out, Freeman wrote a series of quarter-note triplets in octaves for the violins that foreshadows Garfunkel singing that rhythm in bar 90. I made an educated guess that the violas play the lower notes of the high triads appearing in bars 83 through 99. At first glance, the spacing between the cellos and the violas seems very wide. Given his experience writing string charts, Freeman would have known that anything written in that middle range would likely get lost in the mix. Pop songs typically have lots of other sonic information in that register.

The string arrangement and the song end with the cellists emerging from the mix in bar 94 with a passage mildly reminiscent of orchestrations George Martin penned for the Beatles. The cellos play three bars of running eighth notes alternating arpeggios and scalar runs before landing on a final E♭ chord.

Coda

In his autobiography The Soundtrack of My Life, legendary record executive Clive Davis recalls that, after first hearing “Bridge,” he insisted that it be issued as a single. This surprised S&G because it bucked the trend in radio in 1970, which was moving away from ballads and toward the heavier sounds of Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. “When you’ve truly got a great song, a potential all-timer, that trumps all the rules,” Davis wrote. History proves he was right.

Examining the score, it’s hard to account for the amount of texture, color, and powerful emotion coming from just voice, piano, bass, percussion instruments, and a string section. The musical skeleton of the song is laid bare in this score, but still, it only shows the components of the structure. A score can’t indicate the innumerable musical subtleties, inflections, and other intangibles that make this recording so compelling. It’s the sum of all of the parts that assured “Bridge” a place among the iconic entries of the Great American Songbook.

Pages