Released 3 April 1968, only 24 hours before the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Bookends was Simon and Garfunkel’s fourth studio album. I won a vinyl copy for myself on e-Bay as a university graduation present in 2002, after continually failing to find it at any of the record shops in Amherst and Northampton. It was well worth the wait.
The album was #1 in the U.S. and U.K., #3 in Australia and France, and #40 in the two Germanies. Both then and now, the album has generally gotten very good reviews.
Below is the track listing, with stars by the bonus tracks:
“Bookends Theme” (instrumental)
“Save the Life of My Child”
“Voices of Old People” (sound collage)
“Bookends Theme” (with lyrics)
“Fakin’ It” (released as a single, but only had moderate AM radio success)
“Mrs. Robinson” (one of the most overplayed songs on oldies radio!) (#1 in the U.S. and Canada; #4 in the U.K.; #5 in The Netherlands; #6 in Switzerland; #8 in Australia, Belgium, and Norway; #9 in New Zealand; #39 in the two Germanies)
“A Hazy Shade of Winter” (#13 in the U.S.; #14 in New Zealand; #30 in the U.K.)
“At the Zoo” (#18 in the U.S.)
“You Don’t Know Where Your Interest Lies” (B-side of “Fakin’ It”)*
“Old Friends” (Demo version)*
Side One, which ends with the lyrical “Bookends Theme,” is generally considered to be much stronger than Side Two. The songs are deeper, more mature and complex, really setting the mood of a concept album with a stark, moody, black and white theme. It feels like a journey through life.
Side Two starts with two strong album songs (though some people feel they’re weaker than the ones on Side One), and closes with three singles. By 1968, artists had generally moved away from padding albums out with singles.
I also feel the album would’ve had a stronger closing, with a true sense that this is The End, had the final two tracks been switched. “At the Zoo” is fun and whimsical, but it’s not the kind of track I expect such a good album to close with. It’s just kind of there. “A Hazy Shade of Winter” feels more final.
Bookends was so successful, its volume of advance orders enabled Columbia Records to apply for award certification before the LPs had left the warehouse. Its success was due in part to the release, 10 weeks earlier, of The Graduate soundtrack, and because it came in the immediate wake of MLK’s assassination.
Columbia chairman Clive Davis wanted to raise the price to $5.79 ($41 in 2017), a dollar above normal retail, but Paul Simon dug in his heels and refused. Instead, the duo signed a contract extension with a higher royalty rate.
Though my favorite S&G album is Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme (which was almost the third-last album I heard in this lifetime), I think Bookends ties with Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. as my next-fave. My favorite tracks are “A Hazy Shade of Winter,” “Old Friends,” “America,” “Fakin’ It,” and “Bookends Theme.” It’s a beautiful musical portrait of 1968, an album I highly recommend.