Saturday, July 26, 2008

Art Takes Us To Watership Down

By the time Art Garfunkel hit #1 in the U.K. during 1979 with the song ‘Bright Eyes’, he had already had a presence on world music charts for over 20 years. He first hit the charts in the U.S. in late 1957 as one half of the duo Tom & Jerry. In case you didn’t already know Tom & Jerry were old school mates Art Garfunkel and Paul Simon. In that guise they scored the US#49 hit ‘Hey, Schoolgirl’.

After time apart the pair joined forces again in the mid 60s, this time under their own names. The folk-rock duo of Simon & Garfunkel would go on to score no less than sixteen U.S. Top 40 hits in a five year period. This would include their global 1970 #1 ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, the first time Art Garfunkel would be involved in a British chart topper, but not the last.

Following their split in 1971 both Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel released a steady line of solo albums, though it’s fair to say that for the most part Paul Simon garnered the higher profile and greater commercial return of the pair. Though perhaps not receiving the critical or commercial acclaim of his former partner, Garfunkel in his own way established himself quite a prestigious solo career, particularly during the 1970s.

Though he never scored a solo U.S. #1 (1973’s US#9 ‘All I Know’ was his best effort), Garfunkel hit the apex of the British charts twice. His first #1 in the U.K. was a cover of the old Flamingos hit ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’, which sat atop the heap for 2 weeks in late 1975. Art Garfunkel’s second U.K. #1 would set a benchmark that his more esteemed former cohort Paul Simon would never equal.

Songwriter Mike Batt had penned the song ‘Bright Eyes’ back in 1976 for the proposed animated film version of the book ‘Watership Down’. Batt himself had been writing hit songs for some time, but was not known as an artist in his own right. His work as a singer/songwriter and producer was better known under the name The Wombles. Batt penned and recorded eight British hit singles (including four top 10) and four hit albums under the guise of a bunch of mythical furry creatures who resided in Wimbledon. In summer 1975 Mike Batt charted for the only time in his career under his own name, when he was credited with New Edition on the UK#4 hit ‘Summertime City’.

When Mike Batt wrote ‘Bright Eyes’ he had Art Garfunkel firmly in mind as the man to voice the song, but he didn’t envisage that Garfunkel would agree to do it. Having recorded it for the film soundtrack in 1978, the singer was initially reluctant to even have the song included on his next album, let alone have it released as a single. But upon learning of the box office success of the film ‘Watership Down’ across Britain and Europe, Garfunkel agreed to have his version of the Mike Batt written/produced song released as a single.

An animated promotional clip was specially commissioned for ‘Bright Eyes’ and within five weeks of having debuted on the British charts, the song was sitting at #1. It remained their for six weeks, selling over a million copies and becoming the biggest selling hit in Britain for 1979. It reached #1 in several other European countries and also reached #2 here in Australia, where it charted for a total of 24 weeks. Suffice to say Garfunkel also agreed to have ‘Bright Eyes’ included on his album ‘Fate For Breakfast’. The album reached #2 in Britain and #3 in Australia (his biggest selling solo album in those two countries), due in no small part to the huge popularity of ‘Bright Eyes’. The album also yielded the minor hit ‘Since I Don’t Have You’ (a cover of the Skyliners song), and another beautiful track called ‘Finally Found A Reason’. Bizarrely the song ‘Bright Eyes’ didn’t even crack the Top 100 in the U.S., just emphasising what disparity there was at that time between particularly the U.S. and U.K. markets.

Garfunkel of course has continued to record and tour in the 30 or so years since, and even reunited on one or two memorable occasions with Paul Simon. Though it’s fair to say that Paul Simon has had more hit singles and albums than Garfunkel, one statistic which he is unlikely to ever match is the fact that Garfunkel has scored two British #1 hits as a solo artist, something Simon has yet to do even once.

Mike Batt continued to write and produce hits for other artists throughout the 80s and 90s, including work with Cliff Richard, David Essex (1983’ ‘A Winter’s Tale’) and the Moody Blues’ Justin Hayward. He also wrote or co-wrote music for stage and screen, and collaborated with artists in the classical and opera realms. More recently he was a driving force behind the all-girl violin pop-quartet Bond, and is the guiding force in the career of Katie Melua, writing her beautiful 2003 hit ‘The Closest Thing To Crazy’.

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