Simon and Garfunkel – The Boxer

This is a truly great song. Wonderfully written by Paul Simon. The song peaked #7 in the Billboard 100, #6 in the UK, #3 in Canada, and  #9 in New Zealand.

This song was not recorded in one take and done. It took over 100 hours to record, with parts of it done at Columbia Records studios in both Nashville and New York City. The chorus vocals were recorded in a church: St. Paul’s Chapel at Columbia University in New York. The church had a tiled dome that provided great acoustics. It was an interesting field trip for the recording crew who had to set up the equipment in the house of worship.

Paul Simon: “I think the song was about me: everybody’s beating me up, and I’m telling you now I’m going to go away if you don’t stop. By that time we had encountered our first criticism. For the first few years, it was just pure praise. It took two or three years for people to realize that we weren’t strange creatures that emerged from England but just two guys from Queens who used to sing rock’n’roll. And maybe we weren’t real folkies at all! Maybe we weren’t even hippies!” 

 

From Songfacts

With all this material to work with, a standard 8-track recorder wasn’t enough, so the album’s producer, Roy Halee, brought Columbia boss Clive Davis into the studio to demonstrate his problem and lobby for a new, 16-track recorder. Davis, who didn’t become a legendary record executive by turning down such requests, bought him the new machine.

Simon found inspiration for this song in The Bible, which he would sometimes read in hotels. The lines, “Workman’s wages” and “Seeking out the poorer quarters” came from passages.

Sometimes what is put in as a placeholder lyric becomes a crucial part of the song. That was the case here, as Simon used “Lie la lie” in place of a proper chorus because he couldn’t find the right words. Other examples of placeholders that worked include the “I know” chorus in “Ain’t No Sunshine” and Otis Redding’s whistling in “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay.”

In a 1990 interview with SongTalk magazine, Simon said: “I thought that ‘lie la lie was a failure of songwriting. I didn’t have any words! Then people said it was ‘lie’ but I didn’t really mean that. That it was a lie. But, it’s not a failure of songwriting, because people like that and they put enough meaning into it, and the rest of the song has enough power and emotion, I guess, to make it go, so it’s all right. But for me, every time I sing that part, I’m a little embarrassed.”

Simon added that the essentially wordless chorus gave the song more of an international appeal, as it was universal.

The legendary session drummer Hal Blaine created the huge drum sound with the help of producer Roy Halee, who found a spot for the drums in front of an elevator in the Columbia offices. As recounted in the 2011 Making of Bridge Over Troubled Water documentary, Blaine would pound the drums at the end of the “Lie la lie” vocals that were playing in his headphones, and at one point, an elderly security guard got a big surprise when he came out of the elevator and was startled by Blaine’s thunderous drums.

The opening guitar lick came courtesy of the session player Fred Carter Jr., who Simon hired to play on the track. Simon would often use another guitarist to augment his sound.

This song was recorded about a year before the album was released.

Bob Dylan recorded a version of this on his 1970 album Self Portrait.

 

The Boxer

I am just a poor boy
Though my story’s seldom told
I have squandered my resistance
For a pocket full of mumbles
Such are promises
All lies and jests
Still a man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest

When I left my home and my family
I was no more than a boy
In the company of strangers
In the quiet of the railway station
Running scared
Laying low, seeking out the poorer quarters
Where the ragged people go
Looking for the places
Only they would know

Lie la lie, lie la la la lie lie
Lie la lie, lie la la la la lie la la lie

Asking only workman’s wages
I come looking for a job
But I get no offers
Just a come-on from the whores
On Seventh Avenue
I do declare
There were times when I was so lonesome
I took some comfort there
Le le le le le le le

Lie la lie, lie la la la lie lie
Lie la lie, lie la la la la lie la la lie

Then I’m laying out my winter clothes
And wishing I was gone
Going home
Where the New York City winters
Aren’t bleeding me
Leading me
Going home

In the clearing stands a boxer
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of every glove that laid him down
Or cut him till he cried out
In his anger and his shame
“I am leaving, I am leaving”
But the fighter still remains

Lie la lie, lie la la la lie lie
Lie la lie, lie la la la la lie la la lie
Lie la lie, lie la la la lie lie
Lie la lie, lie la la la la lie la la lie
Lie la lie, lie la la la lie lie
Lie la lie, lie la la la la lie la la lie
Lie la lie, lie la la la lie lie
Lie la lie, lie la la la la lie la la lie
Lie la lie, lie la la la lie lie
Lie la lie, lie la la la la lie la la lie
Lie la lie, lie la la la lie lie
Lie la lie, lie la la la la lie la la lie
Lie la lie, lie la la la lie lie
Lie la lie, lie la la la la lie la la lie
Lie la lie, lie la la la lie lie
Lie la lie, lie la la la la lie la la lie

Author: badfinger20 (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

34 thoughts on “Simon and Garfunkel – The Boxer”

  1. This is about as close to perfect as you can get with a song. All this time I thought they were singing, “Light a light.” It hurts to hear Paul feeling in any way deficient in his lyrics. It’s a nice touch to have a chorus be wordless “respite,” a space to absorb what’s been said before and prepare for what comes next. The sheer poetry of the lyrics blow me away, not to mention the instruments.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Your first sentence is what I should have led off the post with… Paul has had a few like that…this one Sounds of Silence, Bridge Over Troubled Waters, and America.
      The production is big but it doesn’t overwhelm the song.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m just guessing but it might be a bass harmonica.
      There is a steel guitar because Pete Drake plays it in the song. He is a famous studio musician from Nashville.

      Like

      1. I read it somewhere that it was him….I found this
        Praguefrank lists Pete Drake but I think the bmi.com article has more province. I hope Chalker kept up with the residuals and saw some dollars from a monster like this one.

        Like

  2. really good song, as was the norm for that pair. It sounds so simple though, you’d never guess it took that many hours and takes – but that’s a talent to make it sound so natural and not over-produced despite the perfectionism it took

    Liked by 1 person

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