Over at Roger’s, the case is made for “The Boxer” as the finest record in the Simon and Garfunkel oeuvre:
Very few major artists could get away with the opening line to this song, but Simon’s delivery not only suspends mundane reality, it welcomes the listener into a story so matter-of-factly that one simply assumes its authenticity. Garfunkel’s intimate, intuitive harmony is so finely crafted and performed that it’s nearly transparent; like the guitars, it focuses attention on the song, rather than itself. The inclusion of the bass harmonica compliments and emphasizes the narrative so well, that it achieves an aura of inevitability.
Roger, incidentally, says he didn’t write that: a spammer, he says, left it, and he decided to make use of it. I conclude that he gets higher-quality spammers than I do.
Incidentally, even people who don’t particularly care for S&G endorse “The Boxer.” Dave Marsh, circa 1988, considered it the 801st best song of the rock era:
More than any of their other sixties collaborations, “The Boxer” remains a record, meaning its gimmicks mainly outweigh its pretensions, that the performance brings the composition to life, and that filtering in the orchestration toward the end actually works as something other than a post-Beatles pop convention.
Which is something you’d never say of, for instance, “A Simple Desultory Philippic.”
“The Boxer” is, you should know, one of my top three S&G tracks, alongside “For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her,” which makes no damn sense at all but which brings a chill every time I hear it, and the non-LP “You Don’t Know Where Your Interest Lies,” by far the nastiest lyric Simon ever aimed at anyone in those days, which is probably why it was buried on the B-side of “Fakin’ It.” They did play it live in New York in 1967, though Simon said at the time that it wasn’t finished yet.