The wordless refrain has turn into a gimmick in sing-along balladry and throwaway pop. Accomplished badly, it feels like lazy songwriting or — to take a phrase from Somerset Maugham — “unearned emotion.” At its finest, a wordless refrain is a second of sublimity, expressing magnificence or tragedy earlier than which language fails. Both approach, it normally begins as a placeholder, in brackets. (As in, “we’ll put one thing higher right here once we get round to it.”) Solely later within the songwriting course of does it turn into a alternative.
In what could also be one of many biggest decisions of wordless choruses on file, Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer” channels its uncooked energy in solely two repeated syllables (and probably a phrase?): “Lie-la-lie, Lie-la-lie-lie-lie-lie-lie….” The refrain of Paul Simon’s hit from 1970’s Bridge Over Troubled Water wants no extra elaboration than the “arresting whipcrack of a snare drum” (performed by wrecking crew drummer Hal Blaine), Dan Einav writes at Monetary Instances:
[The Boxer] was the results of a painstaking and protracted recording course of that took greater than 100 hours, used quite a few backing musicians and even spanned numerous places — from Nashville, to St Paul’s Chapel at Columbia College, to the considerably much less ethereal setting of a hallway abutting an echoey elevator shaft at one in every of Columbia Data’ New York studios.
Simon’s epic narrative tune was hardly like “the unvarnished, homespun data that had been maybe extra intently related to folks music on the time,” and that was precisely the concept.
Some noticed the “lie-la-lie” as a dig at Bob Dylan’s inauthentic presentation as a Woody Guthrie-like determine. Simon debunked the idea in a 1984 interview quoted within the Polyphonic video on the high. “I believe the tune was about me: everyone’s beating me up.” He defined the theme of the crushed however unbowed contender as popping out of the figurative drubbing he and Artwork Garfunkel had taken from the critics:
For the primary few years, it was simply reward. It took two or three years for individuals to understand that we weren’t unknown creatures that emerged from England however simply two guys from Queens who used to sing rock ‘n’ roll. And perhaps we weren’t actual folkies in any respect! Might we weren’t even hippies!”
He properly steered the tune away from a story a few man who wasn’t even a hippie. And being a man from Queens, he might inform a New York Story like few others might. Simon references his frustration at being misunderstood, however his protagonist’s battle to make it within the massive metropolis is way extra common than a songwriter’s angst.
The boxer is an “archetypal character consultant of the battle and loneliness that may include working class life,” notes Polyphonic. “The second verse is a cautious portrait of this existence, depicting the boxer as a younger man looking for his footing in a harsh world.”
Once I left my house and my household
I used to be not more than a boy
Within the firm of strangers
Within the quiet of the railway station
Laying low, in search of out the poorer quarters
The place the ragged individuals go
In search of the locations
Solely they might know
The center-class Simon didn’t stay this character’s life, nor did he pursue a boxing profession. However his capacity to think about the lives of others by means of story-songs like “The Boxer” has been one in every of his biggest strengths as a author. Simon’s narrative present served him properly again and again in his profession, and has served his followers. We will really feel the sentiments of Simon’s schoolyard delinquent, his pissed off lover searching for a approach out, and his bitter, down-and-out tragic hero attempting to make it within the massive metropolis, whether or not or not we’ve been there ourselves.
Within the movies above, you possibly can be taught extra in regards to the writing of this basic cry of desperation and battle from Polyphonic; and, be taught in regards to the recording from musicians who performed on it, together with drummer Hal Blaine. Then, see Simon and Garfunkel fill out the tune’s melody with their timeless harmonies stay in Central Park, and, simply above, see Simon by himself in 2020, enjoying a solo model devoted to his fellow New Yorkers combating the worry and struggling of COVID throughout lockdown.
Associated Content material:
Watch Simon & Garfunkel Sing “The Sound of Silence” 45 Years After Its Launch, and Simply Get Hauntingly Higher with Time
Paul Simon Tells the Story of How He Wrote “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (1970)
Paul Simon Deconstructs “Mrs. Robinson” (1970)
Josh Jones is a author and musician primarily based in Durham, NC. Comply with him at @jdmagness.