Simon & Garfunkel

Mrs. Robinson

Song Review by

The only new piece of Simon & Garfunkel music on the soundtrack to The Graduate, "Mrs. Robinson" had been lingering in Paul Simon's back pages for a while as an instrumental that did not work as such. Serendipitously, director Mike Nichols came sniffing around for Simon & Garfunkel material for the film that Simon claims he did not particularly like, based on an early-'60s novel he likened to "bad Salinger." Simon felt the film had little potential, but also felt the duo had little to lose by permitting use of their music. They used old songs like "April Come She Will" and "Scarborough Fair" to mark the places where the duo would later place new song inspired by the film. But Nichols liked the way the songs worked, which was a good thing, as Simon apparently had trouble getting inspired by the film. Partner Art Garfunkel suggested to Simon that he try inserting the character's name of Mrs. Robinson into the instrumental piece, and the rest is history; the film's use of the pop music to emphasize the narrative and give voice to the inner workings of the main character, Benjamin Braddock, was groundbreaking for a film that was not a musical. Simon & Garfunkel even fought against CBS Records' head, Clive Davis' insistence that they release a soundtrack record padded with the film's incidental music; the duo felt such an album would cheat their fan base and distract what they felt was a far more important work, their ambitious song-cycle album Bookends (1968). Only when Davis argued that the wider exposure of the film was beneficial to the duo and also agreed to not hold up that record -- releasing the two simultaneously -- did the pair agree to the soundtrack. As it turns out, the union of Simon & Garfunkel music and the zeitgeist-tapping film proved a symbiotic commercial jackpot for both. It was not until after the film was released that Simon developed "Mrs. Robinson" into a full song, having needed only small pieces of it for the soundtrack. The lyrics of the original are a bit more literal to the character. The instrumental performances are a little roughshod, existing in part as cues to the film, with Everly Brothers-meet-Bo Diddley guitar strumming and hummed melodies. The more well-known, hit version of the song was included on Bookends. As much as he sought to distance himself initially from the film, The Graduate was the perfect vehicle for Simon's songs; from the beginning of his songwriting career and continuing through Bookends, Simon had explored the recurring themes of the alienated individual, the lonely and prophetic voice of reason disenfranchised and disappointed by the unfulfilled promise of America, a promise replaced with the emptiness and ache of his song "America." The sense of the country's lost innocence is expressed in "Mrs. Robinson"'s most quoted verse: "Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio/Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you/Woo woo woo/What's that you say, Mrs. Robinson?/Joltin' Joe has left and gone away?" Simon claims that the song was also the first time the word Jesus was used in a pop song. Despite the controversy it caused at radio, the single went on to become the duo's best-seller thus far. The final Bookends version of the song is a slinky, funky, percussive, acoustic arrangement, heavy on conga drums and the duo's trademark ultra-smooth harmonies. While they were clearly influenced by Bob Dylan and the Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel were still most indebted to the Everly Brothers, the heroes of their youth on whom they modeled their first high school incarnation, Tom and Jerry. "Mrs. Robinson" is really just an update of the Everlys' sound. And continuing the update and the tradition of the song as a backdoor hit, punk-popsters the Lemonheads covered the song for the 25th anniversary re-release of the film/home video, an energetic reading that was recorded on the fly on tour in Europe and turned out to be the breakthrough recording for the band, added post-facto to the band's then-current album, It's a Shame About Ray (1992).

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
The Graduate [Original Soundtrack] 1968 Columbia 1:15
Bookends 1968 Columbia 2:17
No Image 1968 CBS Records
Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest Hits 1972 Columbia 4:02
Collected Works 1981 Columbia 4:05
The Simon and Garfunkel Collection: 17 of Their All-Time Greatest Recordings 1981 Smm 3:55
Forrest Gump 1994
Original Soundtrack
Epic 3:51
Old Friends 1997 Columbia / Legacy 4:02
Movie Music: The Definitive Performances 1999
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution 4:03
Sony Music 100 Years: Soundtrack for a Century 1999
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution 4:03
The Best of Simon & Garfunkel 1999 Columbia / Legacy 4:03
The Very Best of Simon & Garfunkel: Tales from New York 2000 Columbia / Legacy 4:04
Music of the Millennium, Vol. 2 [Universal] 2000
Various Artists
Universal International 3:51
The Columbia Studio Recordings, 1964-1970 2001 Legacy / Columbia 4:07
The Graduate: Music from the Broadway Comedy 2002
Broadway Cast Recording
Columbia / Legacy 4:03
No Image 2002 Sony Music Distribution 4:03
The Essential Simon & Garfunkel 2003 Columbia / Legacy 4:03
On Your Radio [Box] 2003
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution 4:02
Nostalgie 20 Ans La Légende: Légendes Internationales 2003
Various Artists
No Image 2004 Sony Music Distribution 3:54
Best Film...Ever! 2008
Various Artists
Pomaton EMI 3:51
Sounds of the 60's Generation 2008
Various Artists
Destra 4:03
Bookends/Sounds of Silence 2009 Legacy 4:07
No Image 2010
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution / Sony Music Entertainment 1:14
The Essential 3.0 2010 Columbia / Legacy / Sony Legacy 4:03
Lo Esencial De Los Grandes Temas De Películas 2010
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution 4:04
Pure... 60s 2012
Various Artists
Sony Music 4:01
Playlist: The Very Best of Simon & Garfunkel 2014 Columbia / Legacy 3:55
The Complete Albums Collection 2014 Sony Legacy 4:44
Tripping Down the Alleyways 2017 Go Faster Records 3:01
On Your 60's Radio
Various Artists
Columbia 4:02