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America by Simon & Garfunkel

Album: BookendsReleased: 1968Charted:
97
25
  • In this song, Paul Simon and his long time girlfriend Kathy Chitty (from "Kathy's Song") are coming to America (moving from England). Paul is deeply confused and unsatisfied, but he doesn't know why. He just knows that something is missing. It is also about the "American Dream" - the guarantee that you will make it if you stumble upon this country. That is why they are coming to America. (thanks, Christine - Fairport, NY)
  • The song is a great example of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel singing in unison, which was a hallmark of their sound. Garfunkel is especially fond of the section where they sing, "And walked off to look for America." To told Paul Zollo in 1993: "That has a real upright, earnest quality because we both have the identical soul at that moment. We come from the identical place in our attitude, and the spine that's holding us up, we are the same person. Same college kid, striking out."
  • The prolific session drummer Hal Blaine played on this, and considers it one of his favorites. Blaine also played on Simon & Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson."
  • At their live show in Central Park, they repeated the line "Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike" because the home crowd could relate to the image of massive traffic on New Jersey highways. (thanks, Peter - Los Angeles, CA)
  • This was used by James Leo Herlihy in his all-but-forgotten classic novel, The Season of the Witch. The story begins with a pair of teenage runaways traveling by bus to New York, riffing off the lyrics all the way. When they actually see the moon rising over an open field, they feel their journey was meant to happen. (thanks, Ekristheh - Halath)
  • In the movie Almost Famous, the teenaged character Anita (Zooey Deschanel) plays this song to explain why she is leaving home to explore the country. The song is included on the soundtrack to the film.
  • The Progressive Rock band Yes recorded a vastly different version which they released as a single in 1972. Their rendition, with layered vocals and musical breakdowns, made #46 in the US. The single version ran 4:06, but a full 10:28 version was also released on a sampler album called The New Age of Atlantic later that year, and included on their 1996 Keys To Ascension album. In our interview with Yes bass player Chris Squire, he explained: "When Yes first formed, Simon & Garfunkel were very prevalent hit makers at the time and both myself and Jon Anderson were big fans of them. That's why we covered the song 'America.' But we did it differently than their way. We wanted to expand things, which is basically what we did. When Pop tunes were expected to be three minutes long, our mantra was, 'Let's make them 10 minutes long.' So that was really what we did."
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Comments: 42

Walked off to look for Australia a few times in my life. Ended the same way as it did for the characters in the song. Something ironic about looking for oneself geographically, but sometimes you won't work that out till you've tried it and, if so, you're the lesser for it if you don't.Tom - Perth, Australia
I agree with Sean from Chicago that the song can't be about Paul Simon and Kathy Chitty. If they were coming to America from England, they could fly directly to New York or New Jersey. Why would he end up in Saginaw and hitchhike alone for 4 days to meet Kathy in Pittsburgh before travelling together on a coach to New York? I think the man in the song and Kathy are just two characters he's invented taking a road trip together. "Let us be lovers" suggests they aren't even that close yet.Steve - Sheffield, United Kingdom
1-2-3 (later known as CLOUDS) actually played this song live some 5 years before Yes did their arrangement. The Yes version is quite clearly derivative of the 1-2-3 version, which you can hear 'live' on the CD "Up Above Our Heads [Clouds 1966-71].James - Atlanta, Ga
Sorry retraction on Garfunkel's comment - the part about the most beautiful song written by Paul. It was "April Come She Will". I agree. SorryBryan - Capistrano Beach, Ca
Great song. I often listen to it back to back. Garfunkel said it "was the most beautiful song Paul had ever written". The drummer sounds like Russ Kunkel not Blain.Bryan - Capistrano Beach, Ca
I especially like this line: "Toss me a cigarette, I think there's one in my raincoat"
To me this line sounds like a reference to the next stanza where he says "'Kathy, I'm lost,' I said". I take it as an expression of confusion/ uncertainty: He does not know what awaits him in his future ("And we walked off to look for America"), nor is he sure about what HE has to offer to the world (which is expressed in this very line -> "toss me a cigarette I think theres one in my raincoat")
Smith - Oslo, Norway
"Kathy, I'm lost," I said, thought I knew she was sleeping. "I'm empty and aching and I don't know why." God, been there.

Say what you will, they don't write lyrics like these anymore.
Coffeegod - Brandon, Ms
I heard this song in Almost Famous for the first time! It's so pretty and relaxing :)Daniela - Buenos Aires, Argentina
it's true - everyone counts the cars on the New Jersey turnpike.Josh - Westborough, Ma
Mark, Let me preface this by saying that I love and respect the Beatles. But Ringo's drums and McCartney's bass were never at this impeccable standard.Dean - Sydney,
I didn't see anyone mention the obvious Beatlesque elements in the song; from the Ringo-like drum fills and the McCartney sounding melodic bass line. I do love this song. It's not the Boxer or Bridge Over Troubled Water but it is in their top 10.Mark - Manassas, Va
Try listening to the sounds of the lyrics without thinking about their meaning. Forget the theme of loss and longing for a home. Just pay attention to how the sounds flow together. This is a lyricly beautiful song. From the beginning to the end, the words flow together perfectly. Perhaps the greatest line Paul Simon ever wrote is "Toss me a cigarette, I think there's one in my raincoat" - a line with no deep, important meaning and no cultural reference - a line that could be spoken in a conversation and not sound out of place. It is a great line (and this is a great song) not because of what it says but how it sounds. The words fit together like a puzzle.Jay - Brooklyn, Ny
One of Simon and Garfunkel's best songs. It might be the only song to mention The New Jersey Turnpike.Howard - St. Louis Park, Mn
beautiful, poignant mixture of external and internal observations, the excitement, insecurity, unrootedness of travelling where your companion is your only fixed point. like the comparison with Glen Campbell, it reminds me of his songs tooRjh - London, United Kingdom
Rafael in Pasadena. Thanks for the Glen Campbell tip. Some friends of mine and I brainstormed an Americana compilation for 4th of July's. This song by S&G is on there, but my two favorite are "Minutes to Memories" esp. with the line 'the rain hit the old dog (Greyhound Bus) in the TWILIGHTS LAST GLEAMING' and the song "City of New Orleans" (Good morning America- How are you?)Mike - Seattle, Wa
~ I first heard this song on my favourite movie ever which is um. . . Almost Famous which has an absolute killer soundtrack :) ~Kombucha Mushroom :) - Millihole, Australia
"Let us be lovers, we'll marry our fortunes together.., I've got some real estate here in my bag..." yeah, the songwriting is genious! Paul Simon is my favorite of all time, there is not one song by he or them as a duo that I do not adore!Susan - Tampa, Fl
This (along with The Boxer) is a song I can listen to over and over without getting weary of it. It paints a landscape of a moment of life that runs like a film in my mind. Not too deep, not too shallow. It feels real...Sadie - Dallas, Tx
I am amazed that there are no SongFacts entries for Kathy's Song (who is the same Kathy in this song) and "To Emily (wherever I may find her)" They are two of the most beautiful songs they recorded.Heather - Los Angeles, Ca
I find it odd that this song is about moving to America from England, considering that, at least at face value, the two characters are starting in Saginaw, Michigan, and heading east to New Jersey and possibly New York. My wife and I saw S&G in Atlantic City a few years ago, and of course, my wife and I had to prepare for an audience explosion when the Turnpike line was approaching...Sean - Chicago, Il
I was at the S&G Reunion concert in Sept. 18, 1981. It was a magical night. Having grown up with this Queens, NY duo, it was indeed a treat. I still remember the smirk on Paul's face singing 'Fellin Groovy'.
S&G were the orginal and no one else's version stands up to this.
Bookends is just a tremedous work of art, ah...what a duo!
Eddie - Northern, Nj
Yes' version appears on the following albums: "The Age of Atlantic" (1972), "Yesterdays" (1975), and "Keys to Ascension" (a live version - 1996). As far as song length goes, Yes' version was also severely editted for single release and radio play when it first appeared.Steve - Torrance, Ca
Seems to be alot of Yes fans here.. I am one also. However I must say that the S&G arrangment of this song is a classic in its own right, and well written. The Yes version is a completley different arrangment. Very original,and rumored to admired by Paul Simon. A mutual admiration by both entities.

JIM 3/20/07
Jim - Somewhere, Pa
The lyrics about the spy and the bow tie etc is simply endearing chatter between two close people - it has no further meaning, they are kidding each other joyfully.Gary - Miami, Fl
Every time I hear this song I really picture myself on a bus traveling into the country.

Much like the Glen Campbell songs and John Mellencamp's " Minutes to memories " it gives me chills.
Rafael - Pasadena, Ca
what dose it mean with the spy and the bowtie thats realy a camera? is it something to do with the cold war or something like that? also, this is the best song ever. love the lyrics, esp how they don't rhyme.Luke - Melbourne
As Julian noted, David Bowie performed this at the Concert for NYC after September 11. The simplicity of the arrangement, and the heartbreak in his voice, combine to capture the raw sadness of the moment. "I'm empty and aching, and I don't know why."Don - Phoenix, Az
I first heard this in Almost Famous. Now I love the song! And yes, the NJ Turpike traffic is really bad... lol.Katie - Somewhere, Nj
America is my all-time favorite.

The drums and the organ are simply unforgettable.

The Simon & Garfunkel Reunion Live DVD has a wonderful version with a great electric guitar solo. Check it out.

And I bet S & G liked the song too because they've chosen it as the theme in the DVD's intro!
Anonymous
one of my favorite S and G songs...just really seems to capture the mood of the time it was written, late sixties and the hippies and other counterculturalists trying to find their place in the world, and also the theme of "america" the reality versus "america" the myth...Jerrybear - Flint, Mi
This song can't compare to the more extended Yes cover, which is 10 1/2 minutes, rather than a measly 4 minutes.
- Robert, Chicago, IL

Are you insane Yes did do a good version of this song, but Simon & Garfunkel's version is in a class by itself. Now, some covers top the originals, but this is not one of those times.
Adam - Poplar Bluff, Mo
A particularly gorgeous interpretation of this wonderful song is by Australian jazz pianist Joe Chindamo as played by his trio...Tone - Brisbane, United States
Long forgotten folk singer Bert Sommer performed this at Woodstock on the first day of the festival. He also had this on his album.
Paul Simon has said this is his favorite cover version.
Barry - New York, Nc
This song does not rhyme. There is nothing close to a rhyme in it. Simon also wrote "Mrs. Robinson", "A Most Peculiar Man", and "Bookends" with little or no rhyme. It takes a talented writer to write an unrhyming poem while maintaining such perfect rhythm.
This song displays perfectly Simon's talent for fitting dialogue into song. The conversation is natural, yet rhythmic. It flows with the music.
Jay - New York, Ny
Josh Groban has a beautiful version of "America" on his "Josh Groban: Live at the Greek" CD and DVD.Caitlin - A City, Nc
David Bowie performed this song at The Concert for New York 9/11 benefit concert.Julian - Oakland, Ar
Ya, but this the origanal.
Almost Famous is my favorite movie of all time.
Nathan - Anchorage, Ak
i really like this song... its topsNicola - Perth, Australia
great great song...i guess thats all there is to say.Lindsay - Tucson, Az
great song, maybe about the immigration of jews and others in to new york or americaDaniel - Perth, Ak
This song can't compare to the more extended Yes cover, which is 10 1/2 minutes, rather than a measly 4 minutes.Robert - Chicago, Il
Yes recorded an excellent version of this in 1972.Charles - Charlotte, Nc