Finally the album was completed and, though it took a terrible toll on Paul and Artie’s relationship, everyone was happy that it was done. I was invited to the studio to listen to the completed tracks with them and Paul’s parents and brother. Those situations can sometimes be awkward; the artists are so deeply invested in what they just played for you that if you feel any reservations at all, it’s nearly impossible to express them. That was not the case in this instance. I was moved by the beauty and power of what I heard, and it was a pleasure to tell them so. I felt privileged to be in the room.
Knowing my conviction about the importance of hit singles, the conversation quickly turned to what the first single should be. We had released “The Boxer” as a single months before the album’s release, and it had cracked the top 10. Now we were talking about the single that would announce the album and, hopefully, drive its sales. When Paul and Artie asked me what I thought, I said, “It just has to be ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water.’” They were bowled over. It was not at all a standard move to choose a big ballad as an album’s first single. They were convinced I would choose “Cecelia,” a more rollicking track that would become a top five hit a few months later. “We love ‘Bridge,’” Artie said, “and we planned to make it the album’s title song. But do you really think it could be the album’s first single?”
Clive Davis with Whitney Houston at her contract signing with Arista Records in New York, April 1983. (Photo: Ebet Roberts/Redferns/Getty Images)
Because music was getting louder and heavier -- Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix, for example -- releasing a ballad seemed like a counterintuitive strategy. And partly for that reason, it also seemed like the smartest strategy: Ignore the trend and let Simon & Garfunkel do what they do best -- create beauty, touch people’s hearts and define the cultural moment. And, most important of all, we had a stellar song that could accomplish all that. When you’ve truly got a great song, a potential all-timer, that trumps all the rules. “I can’t be absolutely positive,” I said. “But this is one time to go for a home run. It is the age of rock and this is a ballad -- and a long one at that -- but if it hits, it will become a classic.” To this day, whenever I run into Artie on the street or at an event, he never fails to say, “Remember when you picked ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ to be the single? I still can’t believe that!”
Released in January 1970 on the same day as the album to prevent any other song on the record from jumping out ahead of it to radio, “Bridge Over Troubled Water” won Grammys for song of the year and record of the year, and the album won for album of the year. The album spent 10 weeks at No. 1, and to date has sold more than 8 million copies in the United States alone. The album and song have also become markers for the end of the ’60s and its great hopes, a consolation for all that was lost.
They also became a marker for the end of the ongoing collaboration between Simon and Garfunkel. Relations between Paul and Artie had become frayed beyond repair, unfortunately. As much as anything else, it was a case of two young artists whose ambitions and egos got in the way of the brilliance of their collaboration. Artie was seeking a film career in part because of feeling overshadowed by Paul’s talents as a songwriter. Artie made about $75,000 for his role in “Catch-22,” while he made more than $1 million at the time from Bridge Over Troubled Water, so he clearly wasn’t acting for the money. Paul, on the other hand, grew jealous of the attention that Artie got as the group’s main vocalist and “frontman.” Unlike those in the know, casual fans might not realize that Paul wrote all the songs, and might view Paul merely as Artie’s accompanist. Paul has said in interviews that when audiences erupted in applause after Artie completed the bravura close to “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” he would be onstage thinking, “Yes, thank you, I wrote that song.” That’s not the way successful partners should be thinking.
So one day Paul called and said he wanted to meet with me at my office. When he arrived, he got straight to the point. “Before others find out, I want you to know that I’ve decided to split with Artie,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll be recording together again.” For all that I was aware of the difficulties they were having, I was still shocked. I was also torn in how I should respond. From a business standpoint, this was devastating news for Columbia. Simon & Garfunkel were standing in the highest tier of the most successful artists in the world at that point. They had become what I think of as an institution -- a combination that is much larger and more significant than the sum of its parts. Even if the parts are not equal, together they mean more than any individual member. Rarely do solo artists, however successful they become, enjoy a success equivalent to institutional groups they leave. More personally, I understood Paul’s frustrations, and his desire to have more control over his music. I simply believed there were ways to satisfy those concerns without breaking up the duo. I also knew how competitive Paul was and how much he valued success. It would be extremely difficult for him to achieve alone anything like the stratosphere he had reached with Simon & Garfunkel. I believed he was underestimating the challenge of what he was setting out to do, and that it was my job to be honest with him and make clear the risk he was taking.
To a degree that I didn’t fully understand at the time, Paul was not at all happy to hear this. Maybe my ideas just seemed so obvious to me that I didn’t think sufficiently about how they might affect him. I read later in an interview that Paul wanted unqualified support from me, something that for both personal and professional reasons it was impossible for me to provide. It was simple: I did not want Simon & Garfunkel to break up.
Of course, Paul has gone on to an extremely successful solo career, and there’s no doubt that he has personally lived with more fulfillment and less anguish by being able to proceed individually. I’m pleased, however, that he has also made room for occasional reunion tours with Artie. It’s an arrangement not unlike what I originally hoped he might do, though in my fantasy scenario, he and Artie would have continued to record new material. That would have been the best of both worlds. Even Graceland, Paul’s groundbreaking 1986 album, which was a commercial blockbuster, has not exceeded the staggering 14 million–plus sales of Simon & Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits. There was a magic about that duo that would be tough for anyone to beat.
And speaking of institutions and solo artists, I had a memorable encounter with the definitive example of that contrast, and it was occasioned by my going to a studio in New York in 1973 to hear an early version of Paul’s album There Goes Rhymin’ Simon. He was extremely eager to play it for me, and I was knocked out by it. “Kodachrome,” “American Tune,” “Loves Me Like a Rock” and “Something So Right” -- it seemed that one song after another was simultaneously thought-provoking and appealing. I was confident that he would do very well with it. Paul stayed in the studio to continue working on the album with the producer Roy Halee, and I left in an extremely good mood to go home.
I was still living at 88 Central Park West, and, as often happens with Jews, I got hungry for coffee and cake. So I met a friend and we went to a little coffee shop on Columbus Avenue and 72nd Street. We ordered, and as we were sitting there, my friend said, “My God, you’ll never guess who’s sitting behind us over there.” It was John Lennon and Yoko Ono. No matter how many famous people you’ve met, a Beatle sighting is definitely a big deal, particularly then and particularly with Lennon, who so often seemed to go off the radar.
We had never met, but when I turned around to look at him, he saw me and gestured with his finger for me to come over to their booth. “Oh my God,” I said. “What brings you here?” And Lennon said, “You know, we’re going to move to the Dakota,” the legendary New York building at the corner of 72nd Street and Central Park West, just a block from the café. I said, “I wish I had known you were in the neighborhood. I just came from the studio, where I heard Paul Simon’s new album. I would have loved to have heard it with you, as someone from an iconic group who’s also gone solo.”
We discussed those issues a bit, and I told him how much I liked Paul’s album. Then I asked him, “Do you listen to the radio a lot in order to keep current? Do you keep current?” I wanted to know if he kept track of what was happening when he was away from the music scene. He said, “I don’t listen to the radio at all.” I was flabbergasted. “Not at all?” I said. “When you’re not recording, you really have no interest in knowing what else is happening? Not to copy, not to be imitative, just to hear what’s going on? To see what else is out there?”
“No,” he said. “I haven’t listened to any new music at all.” Then I said to him, “You know, I’m really shocked.” He gave me one of those patented Lennon looks, half smiling, half well-aware of who he was, and he said, “Clive, let me ask you a question: Do you think Picasso went to the galleries to see what was being painted before he put a brush to canvas?” It was an unforgettable rejoinder, and a telling comment on the nature of true, unique creativity.
From the forthcoming book titled “The Soundtrack of My Life” by Clive Davis and Anthony DeCurtis. Copyright © 2013, by Clive Davis. To be published by Simon & Schuster. Printed by permission.