During the 1960s, 204 different songs hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for at least one week. All of them appear somewhere in the countdown of The Top 1,000 Hits of the 1960s. They are not, however, the top 204 records.
I’ve seen some top-songs listings that automatically put all the #1 hits ahead of all the #2 hits, all of which are ahead of the songs that peaked at #3. I’ve never liked that system. Some of those chart-toppers rose quickly and then dropped just as quickly, but some other big hits got stuck at #2 behind other, even bigger hits, and are more deserving of high honors than a shorter-lived #1 hit. The point system I used does not penalize those not-quite-#1 songs because they were victims of bad timing. As a point of reference, the final rankings of the songs that hit #1 in the 1960s are from #1 to #650.
All of this is a roundabout way of stating that today, for the first time, the excerpt from The Top 1,000 Hits of the 1960s is about a #1 hit. And it’s a bona fide classic.
Mrs. Robinson / Simon & Garfunkel / Columbia 4-44511
(Total points: 1,609 / Chart debut: 4/27/1968 / Chart peak: 1 / Weeks on chart: 13)
Of the five Simon & Garfunkel hits to appear in our countdown, “Mrs. Robinson” is the biggest. It had quite a history before it was finally released as a single.
In 1967, Paul Simon underwent a serious case of writer’s block. Compared to many of his contemporaries, he was never prolific; he tended to make up for his lack of quantity with a higher percentage of quality. But he and Art Garfunkel were long overdue for a new album after Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme was released in October 1966. In the interim, four previously unreleased Simon & Garfunkel songs appeared on three 45s, but the new album was still nowhere near complete.
Meanwhile, director Mike Nichols, obsessed with Simon & Garfunkel’s earlier material, approached Columbia Records president Clive Davis to get permission to license several recordings to use in his upcoming film, The Graduate. Though Davis was receptive, Simon wasn’t at first, until he met personally with Nichols. Impressed with the script, Simon agreed to write three new songs for the film.
Several weeks later, the duo met with Nichols and had two completed songs, “Punky’s Dilemma” and “Overs,” neither of which the director particularly liked. (They ended up as tracks for the LP in progress, which would finally be released in 1968 with the name Bookends.) Then Simon presented an unfinished, one-minute-long melody, complete with “dee-dee-dee” lyrics where he hadn’t figured out the words yet.
At the time, the song was more or less known as “Mrs. Roosevelt,” but when he played around with it, Simon tended to use whatever three-syllable last name fit his mood. With the script of The Graduate on his mind, he started using the name “Robinson” more frequently. Garfunkel mentioned it in passing to Nichols, and the director wanted to hear it, fragmentary or not. Immediately, Nichols made room in the film for the incomplete song.
By the time the film was finished, “Mrs. Robinson” still wasn’t. Two short excerpts appeared on the soundtrack album: a 1:12 instrumental version, and a vocal chorus of similar length, half of which Simon would alter before he finally finished writing the song. To make up for the two originals Nichols rejected, he licensed “The Sounds of Silence” and “Scarborough Fair/Canticle” for the soundtrack album.
Simon at last completed “Mrs. Robinson” in early 1968, after the movie had been released. The final version contained a contemporary reference, inspired by the Beatles’ “I Am the Walrus”; Simon, like countless others over the years, misheard the actual John Lennon lyric “goo goo goo joob” as “coo coo ca choo.” He also referenced Joe DiMaggio, the former great New York Yankees baseball player, by paying tribute to his unpretentious celebrity.
In the interim, The Graduate, both the film and the LP, had become huge hits. Not only did the soundtrack hit #1 on the Billboard album charts, but Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme received a second sales wind when “Scarborough Fair/Canticle” was issued as a belated 45. All this put the pressure on for the final version of “Mrs. Robinson.” Simon & Garfunkel recorded it on February 2, 1968 at Columbia’s Studio A in New York City, and the anxiously awaited single was finally issued on April 5, basically at the same time as the finally completed Bookends album.
In its fourth week in the Hot 100, “Mrs. Robinson” already had sped to #2; two weeks later, it bounced “Tighten Up” by Archie Bell & the Drells from the #1 spot and spent three weeks at the summit. On the album chart, The Graduate and Bookends spent a combined 16 weeks at the top.
During the 1969 Grammy Awards, “Mrs. Robinson” became the first rock-related song ever to win the prestigious Record of the Year honor. And even though it barely made it into The Graduate, it is so closely associated with it that the American Film Institute ranked it at #6 in its 100 Years…100 Songs countdown in 2004, behind only “Over the Rainbow,” “As Time Goes By,” “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Moon River” and “White Christmas.”
Collector’s notes: We’ll do the easy part first; “Mrs. Robinson” was not issued with a picture sleeve in the United States.
One part of the record label’s history is straightforward. First pressings of the 45 on Columbia state “(From the Motion Picture ‘The Graduate’)” on the “Mrs. Robinson” side; later pressings state “From the Columbia LP ‘BOOKENDS/SIMON AND GARFUNKEL’ KCS 9529” on that side. But Columbia pressed 45s at three different plants, and none of the three have first pressings that simple.
First editions from Pitman, N.J. are the most common. They have “SIMON AND GARFUNKEL” on two lines, on their side, at 9 o’clock. The “Mrs. Robinson” master number under the record number is “ZSP 135935.” The B-side, “Old Friends/Bookends,” also has the reference “(From the Motion Picture ‘The Graduate’),” even though it wasn’t. Both sides contain an additional credit, “Produced by Simon, Garfunkel and Halee” at the bottom.
Copies that came from Terre Haute, Ind. have “SIMON AND GARFUNKEL” on their side at 9 o’clock, on three lines, with “AND” much smaller than the other two words. The “Mrs. Robinson” master number under the record number is “ZSP 135935-2.” Also, “Old Friends/Bookends” does not have a reference to the movie The Graduate. The producer credit is the same as from Pitman.
Finally, 45s from the Santa Maria, Calif. pressing plant have “SIMON AND GARFUNKEL” as three lines at 9 o’clock, but the name is right side up and not at a 90-degree angle. Otherwise, it’s similar to the Terre Haute pressing, with “ZSP 135935-2” and no reference to The Graduate on the “Old Friends/Bookends” side.
Even with the slight difference in the master numbers on the label, all stock copies with the original catalog number have the same mono version of “Mrs. Robinson” on them.
The second pressings are easier, as both sides have the reference to the Bookends album. Interestingly, neither side of this edition has any producer credit on it. At least one pressing from Pitman, N.J. is a hybrid, with the reference to The Graduate on the “Mrs. Robinson” side and the reference to Bookends on the “Old Friends/Bookends” side.
A white-label promo edition exists with a master number on the label of “JZSP 135935-3”; it contains a 3:39 edit of “Mrs. Robinson.” (The stock-copy time is listed as 4:00.)
Fast fact: “Mrs. Robinson” has been recorded countless times. The biggest of the remakes was a dashed-off version by The Lemonheads, recorded to commemorate the 25th anniversary of The Graduate and disliked by both the group’s lead singer Evan Dando and by Paul Simon. Nonetheless, it got as high as #8 on the Billboard Modern Rock chart in 1993.