We continue our song-by-song stroll through Art Garfunkel’s Seventies oeuvre. This tune, you probably know.
Three minutes and forty-three seconds.
That’s the precise amount of time (listening time, not recording time) it took Art Garfunkel to leave behind his roles as wandering recluse, retired second banana, semi-successful actor, and math teacher and return to being a Pop Star.
Not a Bobby Sherman/Tiger Beat kind of Pop Star, of course, but rather the sort of performer whose new releases would be noticed on the mass market, widely purchased, and reviewed in all the best places.
A visible figure in the crowded pop-music firmament.
The sort of person whose plans to start recording a new album, or whose appearance to pal around backstage at someone else’s show, would be noted in the press.
A player in the pop game.
(Art managed to hold onto this public status throughout the Seventies. Signs of slippage would become noticeable by the end of the decade — though, to be fair, hanging onto Pop Stardom does not seem to have been Art’s first priority or his greatest interest.)
Like so many of Art’s other big musical moments, “All I Know” begins with Larry Knechtel’s piano. Two-and-a-half minutes later, it’s swelled to a reverberant orchestral crescendo.
But the story throughout is the voice — soaring here, diving there; shimmering with vibrato; by turns wistful, wounded, hopelessly devoted, and at last triumphant.
The Italians like to say that God gave Ferris a wheel, Cruyff a turn and Garfunkel a voice.* “All I Know” is the ideal, outsized showcase for that set of pipes, and for the heart-on-the-sleeve vocal sensibility of the guy who owns them.
America snapped it up, sending “All I Know” to Number One on the adult contemporary chart for pretty much the entire month of October 1973 and into the pop Top Ten the following month. That success did much in turn to drive sales of Angel Clare, which reached No. 5 on the album charts and remains the artist’s most successful solo album.
(The ARSA database of local radio play charts indicates Art was Number One in Sarasota, Florida, for one week in mid-November, nudging out Ringo Starr and the DeFranco Family. In Pawtucket, Ringo held off Art for the top spot, with Peter Cetera closing third and Gladys Knight fourth. Gods walked the earth in those days. Some sang better than others.)
By the end of 1973, Art Garfunkel, in the eyes of the average record buyer, would have moved firmly from “wonder what he’s up to?” to “wonder when the next record’s coming out.”
If “All I Know” has a drawback, it might be that it dominates just about everything else on Angel Clare. Even the winning moments — the gentle Haitian folksong; the goofy tropical jam; the boy-on-the-road drama — seem like bumps in the road next to the epic hit single.
It would probably have been too much to expect Art to record 10 songs of the scope of “All I Know.” You can only climb the emotional mountain so many times, after all. Even Bridge Over Troubled Water didn’t have 11 “Bridge Over Troubled Water”s. It had its lightweight and lighthearted tracks, including another one of those inescapable Everly Brothers covers.
I still like to imagine Seventies Art hiring an orchestra for a few sessions and cutting a full Sinatra-style album of heartfelt, knife-in-the-gut ballads, or even eight ballads and two token foot-tappers.
I would listen to Art Garfunkel Sings For Bruised Hearts shamelessly, frequently and with pleasure … probably more pleasure than I derive from most of the records Art actually did release.
But, that’s not where Art’s taste and vision took him.
We’ll always have this, anyway:
* No, not really. They should, though.