Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The 59th St. Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)

One of S&G's most beloved, if shortest, songs... and no compilation is complete without it.

The song is shorter than "Cloudy," but with much the same breeziness. It also recalls some of the London imagery of "Sounds of Silence," with its "lamppost" and "cobblestones," while being nearly opposite that song in tone.

(Later, The Lovin' Spoonful would capture some of this songs summer-Sunday ease with "What a Day for a Daydream." So would the Rascals, with "Groovin'," which even borrows from S&G's title.)

The first verse here exhorts the listener to "slow down" and enjoy the morning, even if the music itself skips along as excitedly as a hopscotching child.

The next verse continues this vein, with the speaker playfully asking an inanimate object for help in composing the song. The lamppost, sadly, does not have any "rhymes," leaving the speaker to improvise some 1950's-style doo-wop.

The final verse, structured more like a chorus, paints a lovely picture of falling asleep, perhaps on the grass in a park, being covered in "dappled" sunlight and falling flower-"petals." "All is groovy," indeed.

(Note: This seems to be the only other time, aside from "We Got a Groovey Thing Goin'", that Simon uses this quintessentially '60s word. As to why the titles spell the word differently? It's a slang word with no official spelling; perhaps one song was written in England and the other in the U.S.)

The song is more about creating a mood than telling a story, and the mood is simply one of languid tranquility, something very rare (unless you are a cat).

Since it does not require much explanation, let us take this opportunity to examine some of its technical aspects. Even is a song about being unstructured, Simon weaves in patterns.

The song is replete with alliteration and assonance:
The first verse gives us: "move too," "make the morning," "last/Just," "kickin' down the cobblestones," "for fun and feelin'"
The second: "Hello lamppost," "What 'cha/watch your" and then "ain't 'cha"
The third: "deeds to do... dappled and drowsy and ready"

The meter is mostly iambic (two syllables, accented on the second) in the first verse: "Slow down, you move too fast." The effect is of someone putting their foot out in front of them to brake while running downhill.

The meter shifts to trochaic (two, accent on first) on the words "feelin' groovy." It stays that way for the second verse: "Hello, lamppost, what 'cha knowin." The speaker is now propelled forward by the joy of being out in the sunshine.

The thid verse shifts meters again, to anapests. These are three-syllable sets, accented on the first. Usually, they imply urgent movement, as they simulate a horse's galloping (notably in the Tennyson poem "The Charge of the Light Brigade," about a cavalry attack: "Half a league, half a league, half a league...").

But here, Simon uses anapestic meter to evoke sunlight broken up by tree branches and the random fall of flower petals: "...dappled and drowsy and ready to... morningtime drop all its petals on..." The speaker, now lurching, can barely drag himself forward, so complete is his relaxation.

The song is about expending no effort at all, and it seems like an improvised little ditty. Turns out, it takes a lot of effort to sound effortless.

IMPACT: The duo performed it, one of their most popular tunes, on the show of another key duo of the decade-- The Smothers Brothers!

Next song: The Dangling Conversation


  1. I believe this song had somewhat of an impact on Billy Joel's song, Vienna since both songs start with the words "slow down" and they are in the same key.

  2. William-- Interesting observation! Billy Joel's song is about his father, and it's an interesting and sad story if you want to look it up. But nothing says he didn't get his inspiration from Simon's song, 10 years later.
    If you are curious about a Billy Joel/Paul Simon "song conversation," look up my post on Simon's song "Tenderness," which is believe is in conversation with Joel's "Honesty."

  3. I may be wrong, but I always imagined the couplet in this song:

    I got no deeds to do, no promises to keep
    I'm dappled and drowsy and ready to sleep

    was an oblique reference to Frost's “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”: ' The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
    But I have promises to keep,
    And miles to go before I sleep.' Perhaps contrasting Simon's carefree protagonist with Frost's, who is tempted to abandon responsibility for transcendent beauty but ultimately finds himself unable in good faith to do so.

  4. Anon-- Of course Simon was familiar with this poem, so it's entirely possible he was referencing, and even responding to, it. A great insight, thanks!

  5. The Paul Simon Project is a collection of videos sung by various Irish musicians over the last two years (and ongoing once all the Corona Virus has settled down and we can leave our houses again). Thanks to Another Paul for allowing me post links to songs as appropriate here. Hope you enjoy. Feel free to share..

    Keith Burke sings Feelin' Groovy.