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In his 1984 Playboy interview, Simon revealed that he wrote this song when critics were writing harsh things about his music - he was the boxer. Said Simon: "I think the song was about me: everybody's beating me up, and I'm telling you now I'm going to go away if you don't stop. By that time we had encountered our first criticism. For the first few years, it was just pure praise. It took two or three years for people to realize that we weren't strange creatures that emerged from England but just two guys from Queens who used to sing rock'n'roll. And maybe we weren't real folkies at all! Maybe we weren't even hippies!" (thanks, Tristan - L.A., CA)
This song took over 100 hours to record, with parts of it done at Columbia Records studios in both Nashville and New York City. The chorus vocals were recorded in a church: St. Paul's Chapel at Columbia University in New York. The church had a tiled dome that provided great acoustics. It was an interesting field trip for the recording crew who had to set up the equipment in the house of worship.
With all this material to work with, a standard 8-track recorder wasn't enough, so the album's producer, Roy Halee, brought Columbia boss Clive Davis into the studio to demonstrate his problem and lobby for a new, 16-track recorder. Davis, who didn't become a legendary record executive by turning down such requests, bought him the new machine.
Simon found inspiration for this song in The Bible, which he would sometimes read in hotels. The lines, "Workman's wages" and "Seeking out the poorer quarters" came from passages.
Sometimes what is put in as a placeholder lyric becomes a crucial part of the song. That was the case here, as Simon used "Lie la lie" in place of a proper chorus because he couldn't find the right words. Other examples of placeholders that worked include the "I know" chorus in "Ain't No Sunshine
" and Otis Redding's whistling in "(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay
In a 1990 interview with SongTalk
magazine, Simon said: "I thought that 'lie la lie was a failure of songwriting. I didn't have any words! Then people said it was 'lie' but I didn't really mean that. That it was a lie. But, it's not a failure of songwriting, because people like that and they put enough meaning into it, and the rest of the song has enough power and emotion, I guess, to make it go, so it's all right. But for me, every time I sing that part, I'm a little embarrassed."
Simon added that the essentially wordless chorus gave the song more of an international appeal, as it was universal.
The legendary session drummer Hal Blaine created the huge drum sound with the help of producer Roy Halee, who found a spot for the drums in front of an elevator in the Columbia offices. As recounted in the 2011 Making of Bridge Over Troubled Water documentary, Blaine would pound the drums at the end of the "Lie la lie" vocals that were playing in his headphones, and at one point, an elderly security guard got a big surprise when he came out of the elevator and was startled by Blaine's thunderous drums.
The opening guitar lick came courtesy of the session player Fred Carter Jr., who Simon hired to play on the track. Simon would often use another guitarist to augment his sound.
This song was recorded about a year before the album was released.
Bob Dylan recorded a version of this on his 1970 album Self Portrait.
The "Midnight At The Oasis" singer is an Old Time gal.