The Art for Art’s Sake series of posts lurches into 1975, with the first track from Senor Garfunkel’s second solo album, Breakaway.
Here we are, then, in October 1975. Big month for Lorne Michaels. Carlton Fisk, John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen and Muhammad Ali, also.
Amidst the celebrity merry-go-round, re-enter our hero, Art Garfunkel, from stage left, second album in tow.
(Perhaps he is dreaming of the titular breakaway. Leave some dead presidents on the table to cover the bill; excuse himself from the party for a moment; take the subway to the bus station; and catch a Greyhound upstate for a couple of weeks until his head clears. Get on the bus, Gus. Make a new plan, Stan. This is a town full of losers and I’m pulling out of here to win. No, wait, bear with me — the signals from fall 1975 often get crossed at this distance. GENERALISSIMO FRANCISCO FRANCO IS STILL DAY-UD.)
The record comes out Tuesday, Oct. 14. The following Saturday, Art appears with old frenemy Paul Simon on the second episode of a new NBC late-night show, Saturday Night, to duet on two old songs and one new one. The episode consists almost entirely of musical numbers, so Art also gets a solo spot to perform the oldie “I Only Have Eyes For You.”
This highly visible evening of promo helps to lift Breakaway to the No. 9 spot on the album charts and bring Art three more U.S. Top Forty singles, further cementing Art’s status as a Successful Pop Performer of Significant Repute.
For one golden pre-Thanksgiving week, Breakaway even reaches Number One on the local charts in Columbus, Ohio, outmuscling such competitors as KISS’s Alive! (Check out the last of the four songs making their debuts in the New Music category that week. Kismet.)
We’ll get to all the hits in due time. For now, we’re limiting ourselves to the first song on the album, which finds Art covering a Stevie Wonder-Yvonne Wright composition that first appeared on 1972’s Talking Book.
Whereas Angel Clare began with an unsentimental travelin’ boy getting his arse out of the hayloft and onto the road, Breakaway begins with a lip-quivering burst of romantic self-pity:
Shattered dreams, worthless years
Here am I encased inside a hollow shell
Life began, then was done
Now I stare into a cold and empty well
This would be completely insufferable coming from the likes of Dan Fogelberg, Dan Hill or Randy VanWarmer, and not even the golden patina of Stevie’s genius period can completely redeem it. (The line about “encased inside a hollow shell” always makes me think of M&Ms.)
Things get better from there, though, as Our Narrator begins to tell some off-camera dame about the lasting love he foresees for the two of them. And the chorus, which arrives mercifully quickly, is simple, uplifting and memorable.
(After I wrote my post about “Second Avenue” — which involved several hours of listening to nothing but “Second Avenue,” on and off — I went for a long walk on a rail trail. All I could hear in my head was, not “Second Avenue,” but the chorus to “I Believe.” It sticks.)
The musical accompaniment, meanwhile, is pretty much the soft-rock bearhug you’d expect — lots of strings, piano, drums coming in on the chorus, that kind of thing.
A sizable roster of superstars and first-call session players contributes to Breakaway, including the inescapable Klaus Voormann, but if any of them appear on “I Believe,” their contributions are too professionally generic to be recognized.
My overall feeling at the end of “I Believe” is rather like Art at his banquet. Much has been laden upon me, and sweet words have been whispered in my ear, but after swallowing it all, I am still left uninspired.
I suspect much of the rest of Breakaway will leave me in the same place … but I’ve promised to go through it song by song. So unlike Art, I can’t sneak out and get lost; I’m here ’til the place closes for the night.
As a side note: I learned during the writing of this post that “I Believe” was also covered by Mike + the Mechanics on their 1995 album Beggar on a Beach of Gold, which has a front cover you wouldn’t pay a high-school art student for. If I ever promise to review every Mike + the Mechanics song ever, come find me and shoot me.