“Bridge Over Troubled Water” Lyrics Meaning

“Bridge over Troubled Water” is a song by the American folk duo Simon & Garfunkel. It was released in January 1970 as the second single from their fifth studio album, also titled “Bridge over Troubled Water” (1970). The song was written by Paul Simon and produced by Simon & Garfunkel along with Roy Halee.

This song is all about offering support to someone who’s going through a tough time. When it says, “Like a bridge over troubled water,” it’s like saying they’re there to help during difficult times. The line “I will lay me down” talks about the sacrifices and determination to help them get through their problems.

In this article, we’ll dig into what these lyrics mean and why this song still connects with so many people.

Inspiration Behind “Bridge Over Troubled Water”

“Bridge over Troubled Water” is a song written by Paul Simon in 1969. 

At that time, Simon had been listening to a lot of music by the gospel group The Swan Silvertones. The group became famous in the 1940s and 1950s when Claude Jeter led them.

In the end, it’s a line from Claude Jeter in a 1959 song called “Mary Don’t You Weep” that inspired Simon to write the song “Bridge over Troubled Water.” Paul Simon even acknowledged this inspiration by giving Jeter a check.

Paul Simon also mentioned that Johann Sebastian Bach’s “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” influenced parts of the melody. He initially wrote the song on the guitar but later changed it to the piano to give it a gospel feel and match Art Garfunkel’s voice.

The line “Sail on, silver girl” is often thought to be about heroin, but it’s actually about Paul Simon’s girlfriend (and later wife), Peggy Harper. She found a few gray hairs and was upset, so the lyric was meant as a joke. Simon called her “Silver Girl” because of her hair.

“Bridge Over Troubled Water” Lyrics Meaning

[Verse 1]

When you’re weary

Feeling small

When tears are in your eyes

I will dry them all

I’m on your side

Oh, when times get rough

And friends just can’t be found

Verse 1 expresses that when someone is tired, feeling small, and crying, the singer promises to comfort and support them. He’ll be on the person’s side during tough times, even when friends aren’t available. It’s about offering solace and understanding during difficult moments.

[Chorus]

Like a bridge over troubled water

I will lay me down

Like a bridge over troubled water

I will lay me down

The chorus compares the singer to a sturdy bridge. He’s saying that just like a bridge provides a safe passage over troubled waters, he will be there to provide comfort and support when someone is going through difficult times. It’s a metaphor for being a reliable source of help and reassurance during challenging moments.

[Verse 2]

When you’re down and out

When you’re on the street

When evening falls so hard

I will comfort you

I’ll take your part

Oh, when darkness comes

And pain is all around

Verse 2 talks about being there for someone in a dire situation, possibly homeless or struggling on the streets, especially when night falls and it’s particularly tough. The singer promises to provide comfort and support during these dark times when pain is all around.

[Verse 3]

Sail on silver girl

Sail on by

Your time has come to shine

All your dreams are on their way

See how they shine

Oh, if you need a friend

I’m sailing right behind

Verse 3 of addresses a “silver girl” who is facing a moment to shine and fulfill her dreams. The singer encourages her to sail on and pursue her aspirations. He promise to be a friend and support her journey, sailing right behind her.

Some people thought “silvergirl” refers to a drug abuser’s hypodermic needle, as is sometimes claimed, but it’s not. It was actually written about Simon’s then-wife, Peggy Harper, who had noticed her first gray hairs and was jokingly called “silvergirl” by Simon.

[Chorus]

Like a bridge over troubled water

I will ease your mind

Like a bridge over troubled water

I will ease your mind

The chorus compares the singer to a reassuring bridge that eases the person’s mind during difficult times. It emphasizes the singer’s commitment to providing support and peace, acting as a source of solace for the person in need.

The Meaning Behind “Bridge Over Troubled Water”

“Bridge Over Troubled Water” was written in 1969, during a tumultuous time in American history. The country was grappling with the Vietnam War, the presidency of Richard Nixon, and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy in 1968.

The song spoke to the turmoil of the times and continues to adapt to more recent times, used as an uplifting anthem of hope and support in times of crisis.

The inspiration for “Bridge Over Troubled Water” came from the southern gospel group Swan Silvertones’ 1959 song “Oh Mary Don’t You Weep.” The line “I’ll be your bridge over deep water / If you trust in my name” inspired Paul Simon to write the song.

The song’s lyrics speak of a deep and unconditional love between two people, where one is willing to be there for the other in times of trouble and pain.

The line “Like a bridge over troubled water” is a metaphor for someone living through a trying time in their life. The song emphasizes the importance of having someone to rely on during difficult times. The line “I will lay me down” references the sacrifices and perseverance one must have to find a way through difficulty.

The third verse takes a slightly different turn, focusing on a girl, later revealed as a reference to Simon’s then-wife Peggy Harper. The verse speaks of her dreams and how they are coming true.

The line “See how they shine” suggests the potential for greatness and success. The final line “Oh, if you need a friend, I’m sailing right behind” emphasizes the importance of having someone to support and encourage you in your pursuit of your dreams.

As Simon and Garfunkel’s relationship began to fray preceding their 1970 breakup, Simon began to experience regret for allowing Garfunkel to sing it solo. However, the song has become an enduring classic and has touched the hearts of millions around the world.

Various Covers

Here are some of the most notable covers:

Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin recorded her gospel-infused version of the song in 1970 during the sessions for her album “Young, Gifted and Black.” She debuted the song on stage during her landmark Fillmore West concert in San Francisco in 1971.

Franklin’s version of the song was later released as a single and became a massive hit, reaching number one on the US R&B chart and number six on the pop chart. She won the Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for her rendition of the song.

Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley recorded his version of the song in 1970, and it was released on his album “That’s the Way It Is.” He continued to perform the song throughout his live shows, and his version was highly praised by music critics.

Chet Atkins and Jerry Reed

Chet Atkins and Jerry Reed recorded an instrumental version of the song and released it on their 1970 album “Me & Jerry.” Their version of the song won the Grammy Award for Best Country Instrumental Performance.

Linda Clifford

“Linda Clifford released an up-tempo disco version of “Bridge over Troubled Water” on her 1979 album “Let Me Be Your Woman.” The song features a highly original “Brazilian cuica on a disco beat” break and became a hit on the US disco chart, reaching number 11.”

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