Simon and Garfunkel were no Lennon and McCartney. Unlike the lead Beatles songwriters, who co-signed their collaborations regardless of who’d done the heavy lifting, their pop-folk contemporaries were more meticulous in assigning credit. Paul Simon wrote nearly every recognizable song from S&G’s five studio albums and official credits indicate as much.
The Boxer, the lead single issued from the last of those studio albums, Bridge Over Trouble Waters, stands as perhaps the most notable exception. It was co-signed by both Art Garfunkel and Simon, confirming a level of collaboration unusual to their long and fruitful partnership.
Pocket Full of Mumbles covers The Boxer as part of its mission to revel in some of the late 20th Century’s finest song-writing — a path that starts in the S&G songbook and leads us =to less-celebrated but still-stellar folks like Tom Petty, Neil Young, Ed Crawford (fIREhOSE), Jay Farrar (Son Volt) and ourselves. We’re in preposterously good company, in both respects.
The Boxer, for example, has been covered by hundreds of artists across several spectra of musical genres, which brings us to another PFOM mission: To demonstrate that great songs tend to have great bones. They deserve to be reinterpreted so variedly because they CAN be reinterpreted so variedly. Ornate harmonies tend to typify S&G’s work (and dominate our perceptions of it), but further exploration reveals truly durable chord structures and lyrics that work regardless of singer, style, or level of orchestration.
The version of The Boxer that appears on the LP and lead single (B Side: the rollicking Baby Driver) includes the five verses we all know so well. But the song was originally written with six. See here the lost verse, which S&G performed in November 1969 (before release of the album/single) and reprised several times through the years, including, most famously, for their 1981 Concert in Central Park recording:
Now the years are rolling by me—
They are rockin’ evenly.
I am older than I once was,
And younger than I’ll be.
That’s not unusual;
No, it isn’t strange:
After changes upon changes
We are more or less the same;
After changes we are more or less the same.
During a New York City concert in October 2010, Simon stopped singing midway through this song to relate the story of a woman who stopped him on the street to tell him that she edits when singing to her young child. Apparently she elides reference to “whores” and instead goes with “just a come-on from toy stores on Seventh Avenue.” Simon admits this is “a better line.”
On June 3, 2016, in Berkeley, California, Simon again stopped singing partway through The Boxer — to announce in one sentence (before resuming the song) some breaking news: “I’m sorry to tell you this in this way, but Muhammad Ali passed away.”