Keeping the customer satisfied

8 May 2010

I put on some Simon and Garfunkel, looking for a line I’d half-remembered (“I get all the news I need on the weather report”, since you ask) and going to work next day I couldn’t get a couple of the tunes out of my head.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s lots to dislike about S&G. I don’t like the teenage miserabilism of ‘I Am A Rock’, or the theft of the English folk canon, or the portentous power ballad that is ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water‘, or the preja vu ‘I got your cultural rhythm‘ of ‘El Condor Pasa‘, or, come to that, the trite social commentary of ‘The Boxer‘.

But listening to ‘America’ (“Kathy, I said, as we boarded the Greyhound in Pittsburgh”), the lyrics capture perfectly the games you play to break up the tedium of a long journey:

Laughing on the bus
Playing games with the faces
She said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy
I said “Be careful his bowtie is really a camera”.

‘Cecilia’ is so catchy that I heard a group of women – none of them old enough to have heard the song first time around – break into an impromptu chorus of it at a party recently. (“Cecilia, you’re breaking my heart…”).

Keep The Customer Satisfied‘ sums this up, in its way. Whatever the song’s narrator is up to, it can’t be that bad. It’s only the Deputy Sheriff who’s concerned, and jurisdiction stops at the county line. This is the stuff of misdemeanours rather than felonies. It’s a lot less dark than, say, The Grateful Dead’s ‘Friend of the Devil‘ (“sheriff’s on my trail/ And if he catches up with me I’ll spend my life in jail”).

And I think that’s the secret of the best of Simon and Garfunkel: they’re light enough to be perfect pop songs.

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