Hello there! Welcome to a new feature: “Tim’s Cover Story Goes To The Movies.” In this series, we will discuss a famous song that makes an important contribution to a major motion picture.
Our first song in this series is Mrs. Robinson. This is a terrific folk-rock song written by Paul Simon. It was featured in the 1967 movie The Graduate, directed by Mike Nichols and starring Dustin Hoffman.
We will start with a brief review of the career of Simon and Garfunkel. We will then review the movie The Graduate, with an emphasis on the importance of music in the film, and in particular the song Mrs. Robinson. Then we will review two covers of this song, one by Bon Jovi and the second by The Lemonheads.
Simon and Garfunkel, Mrs. Robinson:
We have previously written about Simon and Garfunkel in our blog post on their song Bridge Over Troubled Water. In that post, I mentioned that I saw Paul Simon in fall 1965 when he was performing solo in London.
Below is a photo of Art Garfunkel and Paul Simon at a concert in Madrid in 1967, at the start of their European tour.Embed from Getty Images
Simon and Garfunkel’s career was kick-started by the tune The Sound of Silence from their 1964 album, Wednesday Morning 3 A.M. Although the album was initially a flop, that song started to gain traction on the East Coast when a Boston DJ began playing it on his show.
At this point, producer Tom Wilson decided to re-mix the song by adding an instrumental backing. Inspired by the recent musical style introduced by The Byrds, Wilson converted The Sound of Silence into a folk-pop hybrid, and re-released it. The tune then became a blockbuster hit, reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop charts and establishing a tremendous demand for Simon and Garfunkel songs.
Unfortunately, Tom Wilson neglected to tell Paul Simon that his track was being re-mixed. Simon was horrified to see his “pure” folk song turned into folk-rock. But the re-packaged folk-pop Simon and Garfunkel songs were smash hits.
Their next album, the October 1966 release Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, was another blockbuster. In addition to the song Scarborough Fair/Canticle, the album included such hits as Homeward Bound and The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy).
Again, this album combined Simon and Garfunkel’s beautiful harmonies with Simon’s acoustic guitar, plus a number of pop touches here and there – a harpsichord, some memorable keyboards, chimes, and bongos.
Several of the songs on this album had been written by Simon during his period in London. There was some grumbling from folk purists: they didn’t like the pop touches; and wasn’t it a bit much that Simon and Garfunkel assigned themselves songwriting credit for Scarborough Fair, a traditional tune at least a couple of centuries old?
But these were minor quibbles. Simon and Garfunkel were a dynamite duo and for as long as their partnership lasted, their albums went straight to the top of the charts.
We will now take a detour to discuss the movie The Graduate, and the relationship between the movie and the song Mrs. Robinson. We will then return to Simon and Garfunkel.
The Graduate and Mrs. Robinson:
The Graduate was a 1967 film based loosely on the novel of that name by Charles Webb. The movie was directed by Mike Nichols, with a script written by Buck Henry and Calder Willingham.
Nichols had originally been a big success when he teamed up with Elaine May to form a comedy duo. The two had released a number of best-selling comedy record albums. Nichols then set his sights on Broadway, and rapidly became one of its most successful stage directors.
In 1966, Nichols turned his attention to directing films. His first movie, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, starred the husband-and-wife team of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in a film version of Edward Albee’s caustic play. This was a major hit; in fact, every single member of the cast of that movie was nominated for an Academy Award.
The Graduate was Nichols’ second film. Apparently the original idea was that Doris Day would play Mrs. Robinson and Robert Redford would play the male lead, Benjamin Braddock. However, Day refused to do a nude scene, and Mike Nichols was convinced that nobody would find Redford credible as an insecure nerd.
So the choice was made to cast Dustin Hoffman as Benjamin and Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson. This turned out to be an absolutely brilliant pairing. At the time, The Graduate was one of the top-grossing films in movie history. It received seven Academy Award nominations.
At left is a publicity photo from The Graduate; it pictures Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) staring at Mrs. Robinson’s (Anne Bancroft) extended leg.
An interesting bit of trivia is that the only Oscar won by The Graduate was Best Director for Mike Nichols. No picture since has won the Oscar only for Best Director, and in no other category.
During the filming of the movie, Mike Nichols was obsessed with Simon and Garfunkel’s music, so he played their song The Sound of Silence while shooting scenes. The idea was that the Simon and Garfunkel song would be replaced in editing by a custom-written film score. However, as filming progressed, Nichols became more convinced that Simon and Garfunkel’s songs would be a perfect fit for his movie.
So Nichols met with Paul Simon and pitched his idea. They contracted for Simon to write three songs specifically for the film. However Simon, who found it difficult to compose songs under a deadline, had written only one song when filming was completed and the movie was being edited.
Simon told Nichols that he had recently written one new song, but it was not for the movie. Nichols convinced Simon to play him a few notes of a song tentatively titled Mrs. Roosevelt. Nichols immediately said, “It will be called Mrs. Robinson, and it’s perfect for my film.”
The narrator in Mrs. Robinson appears to be someone at a retreat or medical center, talking with a potential patient. The lyrics are somewhat ambiguous.
[CHORUS] And here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson
Jesus loves you more than you will know
Wo wo wo
God bless you, please, Mrs. Robinson
Heaven holds a place for those who pray
Hey hey hey, hey hey hey.
We’d like to know a little bit about you for our files
We’d like to help you learn to help yourself
Look around you all you see are sympathetic eyes
Stroll around the grounds until you feel at home
Hide it in the hiding place where no one ever goes
Put it in your pantry with your cupcakes
It’s a little secret just the Robinson’s affair
Most of all you’ve got to hide it from the kids
There has been much speculation regarding the lines “Where have you gone, Joe Dimaggio … Joltin’ Joe has left and gone away.” Although the lyrics appear to be critical of Dimaggio, Simon has argued that
the line was meant as a sincere tribute to DiMaggio’s unpretentious heroic stature … He further reflected: “In these days of Presidential transgressions and apologies and prime-time interviews about private sexual matters, we grieve for Joe DiMaggio and mourn the loss of his grace and dignity, his fierce sense of privacy, his fidelity to the memory of his wife and the power of his silence.”
Here is a music video for The Graduate.
This video plays Simon and Garfunkel’s Mrs. Robinson, accompanied by clips from The Graduate.
For those of you unfamiliar with the movie, here is a summary of its plot. Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) has just graduated from college and is spending the summer back home in Pasadena while he tries to determine his future.
Braddock is seduced by Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), a bored housewife and friend of his family. Although he rebuffs her initial offer, Benjamin commences an affair with the much older woman. However, he finds that apart from the sex, they have virtually nothing in common.
Benjamin becomes attracted to Mrs. Robinson’s daughter Elaine (Katharine Ross). His parents urge him to date Elaine, although Mrs. Robinson warns Benjamin to stay away from her. When Benjamin starts dating Elaine, Mrs. Robinson tells both her husband and Elaine that Benjamin raped her.
Elaine subsequently rejects Benjamin, and her family arranges a marriage between her and her Berkeley classmate, Carl. After searching frantically for Elaine, Benjamin eventually discovers that she is being married that very day in Santa Barbara. He interrupts the ceremony, and Elaine abandons her wedding and runs off with him.
In the movie’s final scene, Elaine and Benjamin board a bus while running away from the enraged wedding party. The two sit together in the back of the bus, with Elaine in her wedding dress, and gaze silently and awkwardly at one another.
At this point in time, it was rare for a movie soundtrack to feature pop music. The movie included five songs written by Paul Simon and performed by Simon and Garfunkel. The tune The Sound of Silence was particularly appropriate, since much of the movie deals with Benjamin’s largely non-verbal attempts to sort out his future.
In retrospect, the Simon and Garfunkel songs were absolutely integral to both the plot and the atmosphere of The Graduate. As an interesting side note, The Graduate contains two different snippets of the song Mrs. Robinson; each is distinctly different from the recorded song, which appeared on the 1968 Simon & Garfunkel album Bookends.
OK, now back to Simon and Garfunkel. Here they are in a live performance of Mrs. Robinson.
Isn’t this terrific? It is from the Simon and Garfunkel reunion concert in New York’s Central Park in 1981. The free open-air concert drew well over 500,000 people.
Apparently, there was significant friction between Simon and Garfunkel during their career. Tensions between the duo were sufficiently high that they agreed on a temporary separation after recording their final album, Bridge Over Troubled Water.
Although they re-united a few times during the 70s, there was still a fair amount of hostility between the pair. But their Sept, 1981 Concert in Central Park was a phenomenal success, clearly demonstrating a great interest in future projects by the duo. As a result, Simon and Garfunkel planned a subsequent tour in 1982.
However, that tour was cancelled, and although the pair recorded several tracks for another album, Paul Simon decided to issue that album as a solo project, the 1983 release Hearts and Bones.
I have seen Simon and Garfunkel performing together a few times on TV since their breakup. My impression is that while Art Garfunkel makes an effort to be civil, Paul Simon goes out of his way to behave like a jerk.
For example, when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, Art Garfunkel called Simon
“the person who most enriched my life by putting those songs through me,” to which Simon responded, “Arthur and I agree about almost nothing. But it’s true, I have enriched his life quite a bit.”
In 2000, Paul Simon was inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame as a solo artist, and he said
“I regret the ending of our friendship. I hope that some day before we die we will make peace with each other,” then after a pause “No rush.”
What a shame – on their best songs, Simon and Garfunkel shared a magical chemistry. They were a brilliant pop duo. And we cherish the few albums that the two produced.
Bon Jovi, Mrs. Robinson:
Bon Jovi is a tremendously successful rock band that hails from New Jersey. The band was formed in 1983 with lead singer Jon Bongiovi, and was initially called “Jon Bongiovi and the Wild Ones.”
Eventually Jon assembled a quintet. The “big-hair” band is shown in 1986. From L: lead vocalist and guitar Jon Bon Jovi; lead guitarist and fellow songwriter Richie Sambora; keyboardist David Bryan; bassist Alec John Such; percussionist Tico Torres.Embed from Getty Images
Over the period 1984-85, the group adopted the name Bon Jovi and issued a couple of albums. Although record sales were modest, they allowed Bon Jovi to go out on tour where they opened for heavy-metal groups. The band was also invited to perform at a few festivals.
However, Bon Jovi really made a splash with their third album, the 1986 release Slippery When Wet. That album contained two monster single hits, You Give Love a Bad Name and Livin’ On a Prayer.
Slippery When Wet was the top-selling album of 1987 on the Billboard pop charts, and Bon Jovi won an MTV Video Music Award, a People’s Choice Award and an American Music Award.
In the space of a year, Bon Jovi went from an opening act in small venues to headlining at large arenas. The band literally exploded into the public consciousness and became an overnight sensation, and Jon Bon Jovi became a superstar.
Bon Jovi followed up their first big album with an even bigger record; their 1988 release New Jersey contained five Top Ten hits and hit #1 on the charts in most English-speaking countries.
Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora performed an acoustic set at the 1989 MTV Video Music Awards show. It is generally believed that this was the inspiration for the MTV Unplugged series, and that their appearance sparked the entire “Unplugged” phenomenon.
This is interesting because, as you will see below, Jon and Richie perform a version of Mrs. Robinson that is reminiscent of their “Unplugged” performance. Although the song features electric bass and keyboards, Jon and Richie perform with acoustic guitars.
Here are Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora in a live performance from the UK entertainment show TFI Friday in March 1996.
How delightful! Jon and Richie sing and play acoustic guitars (Sambora’s is a double-neck job), with additional contributions from a bass, bongo drums and keyboards. The net result is highly entertaining.
Sambora’s guitar work and the presence of the bongo drums are reminiscent of the style of the Dave Matthews Band. This might explain why my copy of the audio of this Bon Jovi cover is incorrectly credited to the Dave Matthews Band.
For several decades now, Bon Jovi has maintained its superstar status. A couple of their tours were certified as the top-grossing tour of the year, and in 2009 Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
The band has sold more than 130 million records worldwide and has performed for over 34 million fans in 50 countries. The band has also been remarkably stable; until 2013 the only personnel change was to replace Alec John Such with Hugh MacDonald in 1994.
On a couple of occasions, Bon Jovi went on hiatus while its members recuperated from grueling non-stop touring. During those periods, both Jon and Richie issued solo albums.
However, in 2013 Richie Sambora left the band, amidst rumors that he had been fired, although both Jon and Richie deny this. Although Richie was replaced on guitar with Phil X, it’s difficult for me to recognize this as the band “Bon Jovi” without such an important member. To me, it’s something like “The Beatles” without Paul McCartney.
Oh well, I wish both Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora all the best in their respective careers.
The Lemonheads, Mrs. Robinson:
The Lemonheads are an alternative-rock band. The band formed in 1986 from a group of students at Boston’s Commonwealth School. Evan Dando and Ben Deily were initially the lead singers and songwriters.
For the next five years, the band played at small venues and issued records on minor labels while trying to score a major-record-label gig. They eventually succeeded with their breakout album It’s A Shame About Ray, a 1992 release from Atlantic Records.
Below is a photo of the guitarist and lead vocalist Evan Dando of The Lemonheads.Embed from Getty Images
The album It’s A Shame About Ray reached #5 on the Modern Rock Tracks charts, and gave the group some national exposure. The exposure increased when that album was re-released to include as a bonus track The Lemonheads’ cover of the Simon and Garfunkel classic Mrs. Robinson.
Here is a live performance of Mrs. Robinson by The Lemonheads.
This took place on the British TV show Top Of the Pops, in 1993. As mentioned by the MC, the Lemonheads recorded Mrs. Robinson as part of the 25th anniversary of Simon and Garfunkel’s big hit.
This is an energetic and pleasing hard-rocking version of that song. The Lemonheads cover has itself been featured in a couple of movies, the 1993 comedy film Wayne’s World 2, and also the 2013 Martin Scorsese drama The Wolf Of Wall Street.
Over the years, The Lemonheads have had a large number of band members. In fact, the only constant in these shifting bands has been guitarist and lead singer Evan Dando.
By the way, the Lemonheads have a connection with my hometown of Bloomington, Indiana. The bassist on the Mrs. Robinson record is Juliana Hatfield. She had previously been a member of the band Blake Babies, a Boston-area group that featured Bloomington natives guitarist John Strohm and drummer Freda Love.
In 1996, Strohm joined The Lemonheads as a guitarist, where he remained for four years. Following a fairly successful career with a number of alternative bands, Strohm eventually enrolled in law school. He is currently senior counsel for the firm Loeb & Loeb in their Nashville, TN office, where his field of expertise is Music Industry practice and he represents a number of Nashville musicians.
Back to The Lemonheads. Their last album was a series of covers called Varshons, released in 2009. I have heard rumors of Lemonhead reunion tours; however this spring Evan Dando is doing a solo tour of Europe, Australia and the U.S. This coincides with a re-release of Dando’s 2003 album Baby I’m Bored.
So we shall see if any genuine Lemonheads reunions materialize. Otherwise, we have to say “It’s a shame about Evan.”