In this song, Paul Simon and his longtime 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.
Suggestion credit: 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."
There are no rhymes in this song, which is quite a feat of songwriting. In his Songfacts interview, Gerry Beckley of America (no relation) broke it down: "The entire song is prose. There's not one line that rhymes and I will tell some of the best songwriters you've ever met that particular element and you can see them stop and go through it in their head. We're oblivious to that being an ingredient because we're so involved in the story. You're not sitting there going, 'That didn't rhyme, wait a second.' It's not an issue."
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."
Other musicians on the track include Joe Osborn on bass and Larry Knechtel on organ.
At their live show in Central Park, Simon & Garfunkel 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.
Suggestion credit: 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.
Suggestion credit: 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."
Paul Simon gave Bernie Sanders permission to use this song in a campaign ad when Sanders was campaigning for the Democratic nomination against Hillary Clinton in 2016. Simon told Billboard magazine: "Look, here's a guy, he comes from Brooklyn, he's my age. He voted against the Iraq War. He's totally against Citizens United, thinks it should be overturned. He thinks climate change is an imminent threat and should be dealt with. And I felt: Hats off to you! You can use my song."
Marty from Cleveland, OhNice melody and nice recording, but in my opinion the lyrics are pretentious and self-absorbed dreck sung by a spoiled kid. He's aching and empty? Instead of feeling sorry for yourself, do something constructive.
Simon wrote a few songs during that time that were painfully pseudo-intellectual (e.g., "The Dangling Conversation"). But he can be forgiven because in retrospect, many/most/all of us did embarrassing things when we were that age.
Sam from North CarolinaA lot of people have one song they consistently think of as their favorite. This has always been mine.
Bucky from Boca RatonPaul Simon is talking about the persist of happiness in this song. The main character and his girl friend have made plans to travel around the country because they believe they will find freedom and happiness in doing so. As the song continues we begin to see little things breaking down. Kathy and he attempt at entertaining each other or having interesting conversation is reduced to each other trying to be witty or funny ( "she said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy. I said be careful his bow tie is really a camera."), they run out of cigarettes and we get the feeling they didn't plan ahead to buy extra packs or they don't have enough money. Their adventure is reduced to him staring at the scenery and her reading her magazine. Not the most exciting stuff, and they're not inter-reacting anymore. Finally the realization that he won't find America (happiness) in this manner or with this person hits him. (Kathy, I'm lost, I said though I knew she was sleeping. I'm empty and aching and I don't know why". Why doesn't he tell her when she's awake? Because he has been faking it with her and pretending to be happy so he is telling himself first.
Tom from Perth, AustraliaWalked 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.
Steve from Sheffield, United KingdomI 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.
James from Atlanta, Ga1-2-3 (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].
Bryan from Capistrano Beach, CaSorry retraction on Garfunkel's comment - the part about the most beautiful song written by Paul. It was "April Come She Will". I agree. Sorry
Bryan from Capistrano Beach, CaGreat 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.
Smith from Oslo, NorwayI 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")
Coffeegod from Brandon, Ms"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.
Daniela from Buenos Aires, ArgentinaI heard this song in Almost Famous for the first time! It's so pretty and relaxing :)
Josh from Westborough, Mait's true - everyone counts the cars on the New Jersey turnpike.
Dean from Sydney,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.
Mark from Manassas, VaI 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.
Jay from Brooklyn, NyTry 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.
Howard from St. Louis Park, MnOne of Simon and Garfunkel's best songs. It might be the only song to mention The New Jersey Turnpike.
Rjh from London, United Kingdombeautiful, 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 too
Mike from Seattle, WaRafael 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?)
Kombucha Mushroom :) from Millihole, Australia~ I first heard this song on my favourite movie ever which is um. . . Almost Famous which has an absolute killer soundtrack :) ~
Susan from Tampa, Fl"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!
Sadie from Dallas, TxThis (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...
Heather from Los Angeles, CaI 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.
Sean from Chicago, IlI 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...
Eddie from Northern, NjI 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!
Steve from Torrance, CaYes' 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.
Jim from Somewhere, PaSeems 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.
Gary from Miami, FlThe 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.
Rafael from Pasadena, CaEvery 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.
Luke from Melbournewhat 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.
Don from Phoenix, AzAs 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."
Katie from Somewhere, NjI first heard this in Almost Famous. Now I love the song! And yes, the NJ Turpike traffic is really bad... lol.
AnonymousAmerica 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!
Jerrybear from Flint, Mione 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...
Adam from Poplar Bluff, MoThis 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.
Tone from Brisbane, United StatesA particularly gorgeous interpretation of this wonderful song is by Australian jazz pianist Joe Chindamo as played by his trio...
Barry from New York, NcLong 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.
Jay from New York, NyThis 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.
Caitlin from A City, NcJosh Groban has a beautiful version of "America" on his "Josh Groban: Live at the Greek" CD and DVD.
Julian from Oakland, ArDavid Bowie performed this song at The Concert for New York 9/11 benefit concert.
Nathan from Anchorage, AkYa, but this the origanal. Almost Famous is my favorite movie of all time.
Nicola from Perth, Australiai really like this song... its tops
Lindsay from Tucson, Azgreat great song...i guess thats all there is to say.
Daniel from Perth, Akgreat song, maybe about the immigration of jews and others in to new york or america
Robert from Chicago, IlThis song can't compare to the more extended Yes cover, which is 10 1/2 minutes, rather than a measly 4 minutes.
Charles from Charlotte, NcYes recorded an excellent version of this in 1972.