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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
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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