Remembering Aretha Franklin’s dazzling live performance of ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ from 1971
Simon & Garfunkel cemented their place in history books when they released their fifth and final studio album, Bridge Over Troubled Water, which arrived in 1971. With it, the title track rose to the top of Billboard charts and remained there for six prolific weeks and arrived as the perfect way for the duo to bow out.
However, just twelve months after its release, the great Aretha Franklin would cover the track and truly take it to another dimension—a moment which would result in Art Garfunkel even suggesting that the legacy of the cover remains superior to the original.
Franklin’s cover was released in the March of 1971 but, like so much of Franklin’s work, it is the live version of the track which sees her work really come into its own. The song was originally penned solely by Paul Simon who, somewhat humbly, spoke in detail about his shock that he could write something as beautiful as ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, saying in 2011: “I have no idea where it came from. It came all of a sudden. It was one of the most shocking moments in my songwriting career. I remember thinking, ‘This is considerably better than I usually write.”
Despite being written entirely by Simon, it was Art Garfunkel who provided all of the vocals on the track which would take the world by storm which both parties think it should have been the songwriter for the song who had this duty. Garfunkel publically stated: “I’m sorry I didn’t do it” and on Simon’s final performance on his 2018 farewell tour he introduced the track by saying “I’m going to reclaim my lost child.”
The piece is more of a hymn than it is a traditional song so it is no surprise that considering Franklin’s gospel background—and the track’s structure—as to why her sound was more of a match than Art Garfunkel’s was on the original. Elvis Presley also tried his hand at covering the track but even The King’s version was no match for Aretha.
Paul Simon still thinks that his former partner in crime Art Garfunkel’s version ranks slightly superior to Franklin’s, stating: “Aretha’s version is tremendous, the best I ever heard except Artie’s.” However, this sentiment is not one that Garfunkel seems to echo who implied in 2018, speaking to Rolling Stone following Franklin’s death that he thinks Aretha’s version of the track edges his own: “Paul says he heard the phrase ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ sung as a Baptist riff. I took it to mainstream radio. Then Aretha so brilliantly brought it back to church.”
Franklin would go on to win a Grammy for ‘Best R&B Performance’ for her rendition of the track, which when hearing the live performance from at San Francisco’s Filmore West, will still send shivers immediately down your spine and reminds you of what a one of a kind talent she was at the peak of her powers.
Listen to Aretha’s version to the track below and decide for yourself which version you prefer out of the two.