For those that purchased Bookends when it was first released in 1968, it might have come as something of a surprise that a folk-pop duo would have taken on board some of the psychedelic influences of some of their rowdier contemporaries. Yet there are the heavy electronic sounds that open up “Save the Life of my Child”, a pop rocker backed up with some sort of floating gospel choir that is fighting for space with Paul Simon’s rattled acoustic guitar, handclaps and groaning electronics. Hang on, weren’t these the guys who were singing about Scarborough Fair on their last studio album? Oh hang on, there was that “A Simple Desultory Philippic (Or How I Was Robert McNamara’d Into Submission)” number, on that last album wasn’t there?
In truth, a lot had happened in the eighteen months since Simon & Garfunkel’s previous studio album had been released. The soundtrack to The Graduate had lifted their already high profile, but beyond that, the wider musical landscape had undergone some radical alterations thanks to the rise of counter culture. 1967 had seen landmark releases from The Beatles, Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd, so what music fans expected an album to be had significantly shifted.
Bookends therefore had to all but completely reinvent Simon & Garfunkel, yet not alienate their existing fanbase, hence the ear-catching sound effects on “Save the Life of my Child”, the beautifully executed segue into “America”, one of the duo’s most enduring pop songs and the distinctly psychedelic pop of “Fakin’ It”. Actually, Bookends is chock full of career highlights. Aside from “America”, there are evergreen numbers like the impossibly mature “Old Friends” and “Bookends Theme”, and the stunning closing trio of “Mrs Robinson”, “A Hazy Shade of Winter” and “At the Zoo”, two slices of intelligent pop, and a playful closer.
This blend of pop culture influences and traditional Simon & Garfunkel stylings works remarkably well on Bookends, given that they managed to squeeze it all in under half an hour, and it still managed to be coherent. When you look at the track listing, it’s not difficult to argue that Bookends is one of the finest albums of the era, and one of the finest pop albums of all time.