This short, sparse song features Simon showing off his guitar work a bit, strumming and picking a strolling, somewhat meandering, line, punctuated by bent blues notes and flamenco flourishes... with a lovely bridge wafted in by Garfunkel.
It's a breakup song: "Why don't we stop fooling ourselves?/The game is over." Like "Dangling Conversation," it is about a relationship which has run its course, leaving nothing left to say: "There's no laughs left, 'cause we laughed 'em all." The relationship was a quick one at that; these laughs were laughed "in a very short time." The over-riding sense of ennui is symbolized by rather arch pun: "There's no times at all, just The New York Times." Another day, another newspaper.
The living arrangement is hard to fathom. On the one hand, they "sleep separately," so they do not share living quarters. On the other, they "pass... in the hall," so they... do? Do they share an apartment but have separate bedrooms? Are they students with their own rooms, but in a co-ed dorm? Do they live apart but work in the same office? Ultimately, it does not matter-- their intimacy is in the past.
Then, another image of sameness, the habit of saccharin. No longer in wide use due to carcinogenic effects, this was one of the first sugar-substitute sweeteners; it is still available in pink "Sweet-n-Low" packets at some diners. (Today, the word means "falsely sweet," and is an insult applied to such cloying subjects as Barney the Dinosaur.) Not only is this relationship a bad habit, it is not even genuine sweetness that they share, when then "drop a smile" in those halls, but a manufactured one.
(The song then employs what I personally find a weak, obvious effect: stopping the music after saying the word "Stop" in a song. James Taylor does it in the song "How Sweet It Is" ("I just wanna stop... and thank ya baby.") One of the first famous uses of this device is in the Supremes' song "Stop in the Name of Love." Never do we hear the music in a song speed up once the word "Go" is sung, but for some reason, we must actually, literally stop singing to appreciate the meaning of the word "Stop." This cliched idea must... stop.)
The song, ultimately, is not a breakup song. For, at the end, the speaker is still uncertain as to whether to break off the relationship. We, the listeners, do not know why. The speaker has had nothing positive whatsoever to say about either the relationship or the other person in it.
In other Simon songs, there have been partings and distances of various sorts, but there is always a sense of loss. In "Wednesday Morning," our thief leaves "her hair, in an fine mist." In "Kathy's Song," she is the speaker's still point in his turning world: "The only truth I know is you." In "April," she "rests" pleasantly "in [his] arms." In "Dangling Conversation," there had been some intellectual stimulation. Even in "Groovey Thing Goin'," the couple, well, had a groovey thing goin'.
But here... while there is nothing to keep the couple together, there is nothing to break them apart, either. It is easier to allow inertia to keep the speaker in this day-in-day-out relationship than to be completely alone. Even bad habits are easier to keep than break.
The song is called "Overs," but "over" is a preposition, a sort of word not usually pluralized. The pluralization in this case is not mainly due to the repeated word "over" in the first verse. It is due to two of the meanings of the word. At first, it's "over," in the sense of "finished, done." At the end, the same word means "complete"; to "think it over" means to think about an idea or situation in its entirety, with all implications considered, similar to "work him over" or "talk things over."
The main theme of the song, however, is time. In the relationship, there are "no times at all," no shared experiences, good or bad. But alone, the speaker muses about the time he is wasting on this relationship. Time, he says, "is tapping on [his] forehead," worrying him. It's "hanging from [his] mirror," facing him every time he faces himself. It's "rattling the teacups," disturbing his peace of mind like a mild earthquake tremor. His two habits are her... and "feelin' kinda blue" because of her.
He is biding time in this relationship, perhaps feeling that he might as well be in it until he finds a better one. But the inertia is eating at him, and he does "try on the thought of leaving," the way one would try on a jacket to see if it fit, evidently with some regularity. Maybe because he is so devoid of feeling, he focuses on his thoughts, which in turn become just as paralyzed by his patterns.
We get the sense that, while the song is addressed to her, he has never said any of this to her. It seems that he is rehearsing his breakup speech in his mind, but cannot bring himself to say it aloud.
Perhaps he should. Chances are high that she would feel as much relief as he.
IMPACT: While it was not a hit, they did perform it on The Smothers Brothers show.
Next Song: Old Friends
Response to Prof. Bennighof:
First, thank you for commenting on (and even finding) my blog. I am glad to know that I characterized your book correctly. And yes, I agree, there is much more to music-- especially Simon's music-- than just the melodies. I would love to read your book when I am finished with this blog, as I don't have the musical background, as I mentioned, to properly discuss the stimulating "conversations" between Simon's words and music, so I am anxious to know what I am missing. For my part, I have tried to listen to the work of every musician Simon has recorded with, and this effort has been a fascinating and highly educational journey. Thanks for your good wishes for my project; long haul that it is, I have already started to plan my next "Every Single Song" subject... (Suzanne Vega? Leonard Cohen?) Oh, and a belated Happy Birthday to your daughter!