This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #64: Mrs. Robinson by Simon and Garfunkel, from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the film, The Graduate.
If you are “working on commission”, it usually means that someone has approached you, as a creative type, and has formally requested the creation of an original work, with compensation being provided upon completion, to the satisfaction of the buyer. In the Art world, “commission work” is a fairly standard affair and is quite often how many artists make ends meet. We have already seen many instances where, in the music industry, there were songwriters whose main job was to write for singers whose job it was to strictly sing the songs that were written for them. Motown worked that way. The Brill Building in New York worked that way. When Garth Brooks first went to Nashville, he was a songwriter to hire, too. But, when we talk about the song, “Mrs. Robinson” by Simon and Garfunkel, we are speaking of a different sort of situation where Art was commissioned. In this case, we are talking about someone approaching an established singing act and asking them to sing something new just for the buyer. This is the story of how that happened and why, among many other things, “Mrs. Robinson” did not win the Academy Award for Best Song the year it was released.
In the mid-to-late 1960s, Simon and Garfunkel had established themselves as one of the “voices” of their generation. The poetry of their lyrics captured the mood of optimism and hope that was spreading across the land. The harmony of their paired voices was invoking a longing for a more innocent and carefree time. One of the people whose heart was touched by their songs was Hollywood director, Mike Nichol. Nichol was a big fan of Simon and Garfunkel, often listening to their music in between takes on the movie sets he found himself working on. He found their music soothing and inspiring. So, it came as no surprise that when he was putting together plans for a new movie called, “The Graduate”, to star Anne Bancroft and a young, Dustin Hoffman, that Nichol started making formal inquiries as to whether he could license some of Simon and Garfunkel’s work for his new movie. He had, “The Sounds of Silence”, along with “Scarborough Fair/Canticle” already in mind. But, he, also, requested that the pair come up with a new, original song for the soundtrack, too. In order to help them draw their own creative inspiration, Nichol provided Simon and Garfunkel with a portion of the script.
So, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel read the draft of the script for “The Graduate” and thought that Nichol’s take on a loss of innocence was timely because they, themselves, had felt the mood in America shifting beneath their feet….away from the heady, “Summer of Love”, Peace and Love, hippie vibe and moving toward something else….something more ominous and less innocent for their nation. So, Simon and Garfunkel agreed to write three new songs in exchange for a flat fee. Nichols agreed and paid up. In a few weeks, Simon and Garfunkel met with Nichols and played their three songs for him. The first two were dismissed outright by Nichols. Then, they played Song #3 which turned out to be “Mrs. Robinson”. The story really was that Paul Simon thought the first two songs were pretty good and was a little discouraged by their quick rejection. When he started to introduce the final song, he actually downplayed it a bit by saying that it really wasn’t totally complete and that any section that was still in “rough draft” form would have lyrics that went, “Dat, da da da, dat, da da da, dat, da da da, do”. For Simon, he said that the song, which was called, “Mrs. Roosevelt” at that moment in time, was more focused on the syllable count matching the beat of the song. So, he played his unfinished work. Nichol was thrilled with it; especially, the “Dat, da da da”-part. Because he knew enough to understand the syllable count mechanism that Simon and Garfunkel were using, he suggested that the title be changed from honouring Eleanor Roosevelt and, instead, become the famous, “Mrs. Robinson” that we know the song by today. *(“Mrs. Robinson” was the key female character in his film, played by Bancroft). Simon and Garfunkel agreed to the change. The song was polished and sold to Mike Nichols for inclusion in the soundtrack of “The Graduate” and the rest, as they say, is history.
However, a funny thing happened on the way to the Academy Awards. In retrospect, a classic song such as “Mrs. Robinson” that touched on losing innocence as a person and as a nation, would seem like it should have been a shoo-in for the Best Song Oscar. However, such is the busy nature of sales transaction and big budget film-making that no one thought to submit the song for consideration by the deadline for applications. Mike Nichols was too busy making his groundbreaking movie. Simon and Garfunkel were too busy working on their next album, “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” (which would be their final studio album together). So, Academy voters never had the chance to recognize “Mrs. Robinson”. Instead, “If I Could Talk to the Animals” from the movie, “Dr. Doolittle” took home the prize that year.
Paul Simon was known for touching on real people, places and things in his songwriting. “Mrs. Robinson” was no exception. One of the most famous lines in the entire song…..a line that touched everyone and added such depth and poignancy to the song….was when he wrote:
“Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?
A nation turns its’ lonely eyes to you.”
For those unaware, Joe DiMaggio was a famous baseball player who played his entire Hall of Fame career with Paul Simon’s favourite team, the New York Yankees. In a world of superstars with big egos and questionable character, Joe DiMaggio was a gentleman. He was briefly married to Marilyn Monroe. When he retired, he became the face of an ad campaign for a product called, “Mr. Coffee”. At one point in the 1970s, Paul Simon ran into Joe DiMaggio at an event. Joe asked Paul Simon why he had written him into “Mrs. Robinson” in such a way that seems to indicate that he, Jolting’ Joe, had let America down. Paul Simon was aghast that DiMaggio would have taken that point of view because it was, in fact, the exact opposite to what Simon had been trying to say. So, he explained to the Hall-of-Fame legend that he was actually lamenting the loss of class that DiMaggio had brought to the public stage and that he felt America was missing his example now that he was retired. Paul Simon went to great lengths to reassure Mr. DiMaggio that he actually considered him to be a hero. Being the gentleman that he was, Joe DiMaggio shook Paul Simon’s hand and the two embraced.
“Mrs. Robinson” is a landmark song from a landmark movie. It has become woven into the fabric of the times as they existed for so many in the 1960s. In fact, for many people, “Mrs. Robinson” is one of the songs that best exemplifies what the 1960s were all about. For all of us, as fans, we should be forever grateful that another fan, Director Mike Nichol, thought enough of their music that he sought them out to create this very song that touched so many lives. We should, also, be grateful that Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel thought enough of Mike Nichols vision for his new movie that they agreed to “marry their fortunes together”, as it were, and create this masterpiece that has as lyrics, nonsense words such as “Dat, da da da” that, somehow, reads like poetry.
So, without further delay, here is “Mrs. Robinson” by Simon and Garfunkel, from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the film, “The Graduate”. Enjoy.
The link to the video for the song, “Mrs. Robinson” by Simon and Garfunkel, can be found here.
The link to the video for the trailer for the movie, “The Graduate” can be found here.
The link to the official website for Simon and Garfunkel, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.