Once you hear the hook to ‘Cecilia’, you will not be able to stop singing it for about 4 days. The track is a brilliant slice of classic folk music that my Mum really likes, and your Mum probably also likes, unless your Mum listens to Van Halen. It’s the second single off of that final Simon & Garfunkel record that, statistically, is probably sitting on the shelf or in the garage of nearly every Baby Boomer in the modern world because it was so successful, and with good reason. It’s the one that isn’t ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ or ‘The Boxer’; that other song that you know and if someone plays it to you, you will sing it back at them in full voice because it has that sort of effect on you, but you have no idea what it’s called, because it’s been a long time since 1970 and in the interim there were at least three (3) Nirvana albums and two (2) Sade albums full of track names you had to internalise for pub trivia. Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel went their separate ways after this record, which the former wrote almost all of while the latter was trying to be an actor. It was, one imagines, the most horrific break-up in the history of modern music (short of the Beatles) before Outkast. And like the true entitled Gen Y that I am, have picked over the remains of the duo’s discography – not to mention Simon’s laudable Canon of solo material – to find my favourite relics of a bygone era when folk meant sensitive and smart songwriting, as opposed to simply having a beard. ‘Cecilia’, then, is my prize.
The main reason I’ve been pumping ‘Cecilia’ through these terrible iPhone earbuds that have replaced my regular, broken headphones actually has nothing to do with Paul Simon at all. Rather, it’s concerned with a highly irritating American pop group called fun., who in addition to disrespecting the conventional rules of punctuation, happen to be particularly good at thieving musical ideas. Their current hit entitled ‘Some Nights’, has a hollering, shout chorus of a hook that sounds really familiar, and it’s only when someone older than you points it out to you that you realise it’s a direct swipe of ‘Cecilia’. Sure, there’s not a great deal of complexity in the notes, but that’s not the point. The point is I’m hearing ‘Cecilia’ every time I indirectly tune into ‘Some Nights’, which makes me want to listen to it more because a song like ‘Cecilia’ is just not as readily available on commercial radio and television as you might hope. It’s amazing. That rhythm, which hangs over the bar for ‘Ce-ci-lia’ and then chops it up for ‘You’re breakin’ my heart’ is pure genius. It’s the same melody applied differently, repeated again and then pushed down the scale. It’s backed up by harmonies that shine through like the sun on a cloudy day, probably Garfunkel’s seeing as he was too busy trying to win a Golden Globe to pick up a guitar for this session. They drop off the ‘Cec’ prefix from the lover/saint’s name on every second repeat, like they know her already.
You can hear the beginnings of Simon’s eventual career as a wholesale importer of African sounds into popular music on ‘Cecilia’, which begins with a mind-boggling additive rhythm that only settles with the entrance of the melody, and even then it’s pretty difficult. It honestly sounds like its entirely comprised of smacks to the bottom body of the guitar, foot stamps and hand claps, which would make it really easy to play live and should teach fun. a thing or do about economic songwriting. It’s this gorgeous, complicated-yet-uncomplicated ballad about the frustrations of young love and the ability to move beyond it. It’s what authentic sounded like before them put a ‘TM’ after it. And fifty years later, in some other dude’s song it’s still breaking my heart.
Simon & Garfunkel – ‘Cecilia’