Did you know The Graduate soundtrack was the number 1 album for more weeks in 1968 than any other album? Or that Simon & Garfunkel spent more weeks at the top of the charts in 1968 than any other artist, thanks to this soundtrack and their album Bookends. In a year that was bookended by sales of Magical Mystery Tour and the White Album the summer of 1968 belongs to Simon & Garfunkel, who were propelled to stardom on the strength of the movie and their perfect pop song, “Mrs. Robinson.” On a side note: the full version of “Mrs. Robinson” isn’t on the soundtrack, only the brief versions heard in the film are.
You may be wondering, why bother? Isn’t it overrated? It’s easy to dismiss things that are classics; stuff that’s become so much a part of our culture we don’t think twice about it. My original pressing wasn’t purchased with the intention of being played. Someone had given me one of those record frames for my apartment and I didn’t have a record that I was willing to stick behind glass so I went to my local record shop. The familiar cover grabbed me instantly. I liked the movie, thought it would look great on my wall, and so it stayed for years until one day I realized I wanted to play it.
The juxtaposition between the folk/pop musings of Simon & Garfunkel and the contemporary score by David Grusin is what stands out the most; individual introspection versus societal conformity in song form. Grusin’s score being typical of films of the time brings to mind cocktail parties and zany farces, representing the adult world that Ben isn’t so sure about. “Sunporch Cha-Cha-Cha,” for example, plays early in the movie after Ben takes Mrs. Robinson to her house and she’s fixing him a drink. In escalating personal language, we see that Mrs. Robinson is coming onto him and the music makes light of the scene, adding a comedic tone to what would likely be a shocking situation for any young adult. Simon & Garfunkel, whose contributions to the soundtrack were mostly previously released (common now but not so much back then), speaks to Ben’s inner world. “The Sound of Silence” starts the soundtrack, which shows Ben moving along on the airport walkway in the film’s opening, thinking about the future. It also plays after Ben begins the affair, floating in the hotel pool, in the room with Mrs. Robinson, and back at his parents’ shutting the door to them as he sits alone, no dialogue whatsoever. “April Come She Will” is such a beautiful song, heard when Ben is lying in bed at the hotel while Mrs. Robinson is fluttering about getting dressed, cutting to Ben back at home sitting around and jumping in the pool, and back to the hotel again. Not so shocking now but the gentleness of that song paints a sharp contrast against the sordid affair Ben has embarked upon. What most people will think of is Ben racing to find Elaine, car running out of gas while the second version of “Mrs. Robinson” plays. The song gives an increased tension to his situation and the audience is on pins and needles wondering if he’ll pull it off. The movie and soundtrack closes with “The Sound of Silence,” as heard in the beginning, this time playing as Ben and Elaine are on the bus, and again Ben looks serious and unsure of the path ahead bringing us full circle. There’s a great mix of tracks here with the score lightening the mood and the songs taking you deep into your soul.
It’s a fun, contemplative soundtrack and when it enters my rotation I probably listen to it several times a day for days at a time, wishing it was longer. Next time you’re at your local record shop, go ahead and pick up that old copy of The Graduate soundtrack you keep passing in the bins. Take it home, fix yourself a classic ‘60s cocktail and give it a spin. Think of one word while you do… plastics.
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