Ranking the Top 5 Songs on Simon & Garfunkel’s Farewell Masterpiece ‘Bridge over Troubled Water’

Simon & Garfunkel’s breakup certainly disappointed their fans. But at least they left nothing in the tank with Bridge over Troubled Water, their stellar swan song. The 1970 album was a staggering display of expert songwriting, studio ambition, and, of course, glorious harmony.

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Listening to this record, you’ll hear one classic after another. That’s why it was so difficult choosing and ranking the five best songs from the record.

5. “El Condor Pasa (If I Could)”

When Paul Simon began his solo career after his breakup with Art Garfunkel, he would go much deeper into world-music influences. You can consider this haunting song a kind of test run. The lovely music comes courtesy of the group Los Incas, whose woodwinds give the song its air of mystery and wonder. (Simon would use the group again on “Duncan,” a gem from his debut solo album.) Simon added some catchy if quizzical English lyrics to the tune, while Garfunkel provided dreamy vocals in the bridge to complete the picture.

4. “Cecilia”

While the most revered songs on Bridge Over Troubled Water tend to be a bit solemn, the album is by no means devoid of fun. In fact, “Cecilia” packs enough irreverence and sly humor to make up for some of the more somber tracks. The rhythmic punch alone is enough to emit joy. Add to that the duo’s harmonies, which are a bit looser and more elastic than usual, which is fitting considering this song is meant to be a light-hearted change of pace. Simon’s lyrics about a hapless suitor watching the titular character run roughshod over him catch the spirit as well.

3. “The Only Living Boy in New York”

There are several songs on the album that seem to reference the growing strain in the relationship between Simon and Garfunkel. This towering track touches on it in the most direct fashion, albeit with a lot of goodwill. Garfunkel was absent for some of the album’s preparations while making a movie. Simon’s feelings about that rise to the surface here; he wishes his partner well while also admitting to some loneliness without him. The ironic thing is they sound as together as ever whenever those cavernous backing vocals enter the picture.

2. “The Boxer”

One of the more underrated characteristics of this landmark album is how well Simon was able to cast studio musicians to provide brilliant supporting parts. For example, “The Boxer” wouldn’t have been quite the same if not for the bass harmonica of Charlie McCoy, or the unique melding of Curly Chalker’s pedal steel with a piccolo trumpet played at the same time. Those touches give what’s essentially a folk song a kind of worldliness and heft it otherwise would lack. Considering Simon’s touching tale of loneliness and resilience is pretty good as is, the overall effect is overwhelming.

1. “Bridge over Troubled Water”

As universal as it is, it’s tempting to read Simon’s monumental gospel-flavored composition as a personal message to Garfunkel. At least, that’s how the sentimentalists among us might think, since we like the idea of Simon telling him I’m sailing right behind, even as they go their separate professional ways. Garfunkel’s vocal sells that view, as it’s hard to imagine he wasn’t intensely feeling every one of those words considering the performance he gives, one that absolutely brings the house down. The production, which builds so naturally from Larry Knechtel’s tender piano to the wondrous cacophony in the closing moments, is marvelous as well.

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Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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