My one previous post dedicated to a solitary song (the song in question being ‘Venus in Furs’) went down rather well, and as the recent tone of these here telegrams has reflected the combative, heated nature of the subjects under discussion, I thought it an opportune moment to take another musical break, if only to prove I’m not a one-trick pony with a one-track mind. This time round, I’ve gone from the extremes of The Velvet Underground’s sinister ode to kinky sex and immersed myself in one of the 1970s’ most underrated and overlooked chart-topping love songs, Art Garfunkel’s gorgeous 1975 version of ‘I Only Have Eyes for You’.
I definitely think a crucial ingredient of Art’s interpretation is the point in pop’s evolution at which it was recorded. There’s a deliciously dreamy sense of invocation to this luscious resurrection of an archaic crooner’s standard, one that works so well at summoning an especially hazy afterglow ambience in a way that wouldn’t have been possible a decade later; by then, the tedious thunder of programmed percussion and the chilly indifference of synthesized ivories would have swamped its sentiment in a cynical tsunami of faux-emotion determined to jerk a tear with a sledgehammer. Aural innocence was the victim of the sonic revolution to come, so Art’s intervention in the revival trend already mined by Lennon, Bowie and Ferry was timed to perfection.
It emerged in the autumnal tide of a year in which an earlier season had been enchantingly evoked in (bird) song by Minnie Riperton, and drifted across the airwaves with effortless languor, seducing the listener into romantic repose by sprinkling a love potion in his and her ears. It’s an exquisitely embroidered tapestry, though one possessing a shrewd economy of instrumentation, most of which was provided by Soft Rock artisan Andrew Gold. The slick keyboard shimmers in synch with the gentle reverberation of the guitar and a modest piano as an unobtrusive drumbeat shares this deceptively simplistic soundscape with soothingly soporific strings; and the final layer to be woven into the pattern is the superlative Garfunkel vocal.
Owing more to the celebrated 1959 doo-wop interpretation by The Flamingos – and its innovative use of reverb to manufacture a dreamlike effect – than the more traditional jazzy takes that had been included in the set-lists of all-round entertainers for decades, Garfunkel takes a number the listener has known forever and turns it into something a cut above other ‘couple’s songs’ doing the rounds in the mid-70s. The likes of Charles Aznavour and Demis Roussos were tailor-made to soundtrack suburban parties, where swapped wives controlled the turntable; Art Garfunkel, on the other hand, was never restricted to singing songs for swooning ladies; he appealed to guys as much as gals thanks to his former partnership – and guys are allowed to wear their hearts on their sleeves too. On ‘I Only Have Eyes for You’, he shows that half-a-decade’s separation from the man who had provided him with so many memorable melodies has not blunted his voice’s instinct for striking an emotional chord, able to breathe intimate new life into a cheesy old hat as effectively as he shook the walls of the musical cathedral in ‘Bridge over Troubled Water’.
Inviting newfound partners to joyfully kick their way through the leaves crackling in a misty sunset before pausing beneath the branches, Simon’s ex serenades the ultimate objects of desire with sublimely breathy grace until his voice soars into the ether on the final verse. It is a shared sonnet for lovers, not a solo for stalkers, and one for lovers yet to be jaded or rendered disillusioned by the inevitable failure of their feelings to outlast this moment. It is the soundtrack to accompany the catching of breath following the first shared intimacy between the sheets.
What the performance and production manage to crystallise with this gloriously ethereal recording is not so much the sensation of falling in love as the mutual awareness that love has been fallen into. The frenzied, hormonal hysteria and heart-skipping excitement of falling is better expressed in numbers infused with the kind of adrenalin rush this song doesn’t require. What Art Garfunkel’s interpretation does is not to capture the thrill and confusion that gatecrashes life when love unexpectedly strikes, but the ecstatic realisation it has arrived and is staying around. Even if that stay is only for the moment, the mystique of the moment is peerlessly preserved in vinyl amber for eternity, for this definitive version of a timeless classic never fails to return you to the realm where every dream seems plausible and possible because another’s hand has slipped into your own.
This is a song that paints a picture of love when it is at its most deliriously delightful, when lovers are overwhelmed by joy at having found each other; fortune is good and the future is glowing with anticipatory ambition. It’s difficult to depict true happiness in song without either saccharine soppiness or a certain trite triviality, demeaning the depth of feeling to upbeat banality, where all emotion exists on a superficial surface. Just as it’s much easier to convey angst and anxiety in relation to love, it’s easier for the songwriter to dwell in the dark recesses of despair and heartbreak that represent the death of a dream, even if the emotions enjoyed at the beginning are no less intense than those endured at the end.
Scaling the summit of the UK charts right at the very moment when four oiks in shredded threads were setting up their amps at St Martin’s College of Art to shatter the notion of love as a viable vehicle for the pop song, ‘I Only Have Eyes for You’ stands as one of the last credible missives from an old generation before a new one seizes the day. If the aim of the latter was to consign the former’s sensibilities to the cultural trashcan, it failed. Art Garfunkel’s rendition of this most evergreen homage to magic has yet to be surpassed as a melodic portrait of one of life’s most unfathomable mysteries at the peak of its potency.
© The Editor