The Graduate turns 50 years old this year. The Mike Nichols classic, which starred Dustin Hoffman as aimless college grad Benjamin Braddock, and Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson, the older family friend who seduces him, was released just before Christmas in 1967. The hit film went on to receive Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress (Katherine Ross), and more. Nichols won the Oscar for Best Director.
The Library of Congress praised The Graduate for its “cultural significance,” and in honor of the film’s 50th anniversary, a digitally restored version will play in more than 700 theaters across the country on April 23 and 26.
But while the movie received accolades, the soundtrack to The Graduate was just as significant as the acting was. Performed by newcomer folk-rock duo Simon and Garfunkel, the soundtrack song “The Sound of Silence” became an anthem for an alienated generation.
More than any other movie in history, the soundtrack is the glue that holds The Graduate together. William Daniels, who played Hoffman’s father in the film, told the New York Post he wasn’t even sure what The Graduate was about — until he heard “The Sound of Silence.”
“Mike said, ‘I’m gonna play a recording I got here of these two kids — one is really tall, and the other is really short,’” Daniels said of Simon and Garfunkel. “At that point, I assumed that Anne Bancroft was the star. But when they played that, I suddenly realized that this was about the kid…and that it was a picture for the young people.”
Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel became household names as The Graduate soundtrack shot to No. 1 on music charts thanks to the songs “Mrs. Robinson,” “The Sound of Silence,” and “Scarborough Fair.”
The Graduate soundtrack remains a major part of pop culture history, and over the years many artists have covered the songs that the duo made famous.
The Sound of Silence
This Graduate soundtrack song hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and it has been featured in many movies and TV shows over the past five decades, including Old School and Arrested Development. But 50 years after the song was first released, heavy metal band Disturbed covered the song and performed it on Conan O’Brien’s late night show, causing the original version to resurface on the charts.
After the live performance, Paul Simon sent Disturbed frontman David Draiman a message praising the hard rocker’s version of The Graduate soundtrack song. Draiman returned the compliment, revealing that his band “only hoped to pay homage and honor to the brilliance of one of the greatest songwriters of all time.” The music video for Disturbed’s “The Sound of Silence” has well over 200 million views on YouTube, while the Conan performance has surpassed 50 million views.
This traditional English ballad got a makeover from songwriter Martin Carthy, who “gave” his arrangement of the song to Simon in 1965.
“I wrote the whole thing down, with lyrics and chords, and handed it to him,” Carthy told U.K.’s The Telegraph.
Simon turned the song into the inspiration for the 1966 album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme, and it was later released as a single as part of The Graduate soundtrack. Unfortunately, Simon failed to credit Carthy for his part in the movie’s signature song, which resulted in a 35-year rift between the two men. The two reconciled when Simon invited his old friend to perform with him at a London show in 2000.
“It turned out he had never claimed to have written the song, and had never received authorship royalties for it,” Carthy later said.
In 1992, hard rock group Queensryche performed an unforgettable version of the classic song on MTV’s Unplugged. Lead singer Geoff Tate told rock website Noisecreep “Scarborough Fair” had been in the band’s repertoire for a while.
“We played it live a few times, and we were goofing around with it in the studio and [guitarist] Chris [DeGarmo] had an idea of recording it with an electric sitar,” he said. “And it sounded really cool, so we recorded it. “
This Graduate single was the first rock song to win the Grammy Award for Record of the Year, but it wasn’t originally written about the film’s seductress. Entertainment Weekly posted a clip from the HBO documentary Becoming Mike Nichols, in which the legendary film director revealed that he rejected Simon and Garfunkel’s first attempt at a soundtrack song and ended up lucking out with this gem.
Nichols revealed that as production on The Graduate neared completion, Simon had only managed to finish one of the several songs he had promised to write, but he told him about a song he was working on “about times past — about Mrs. Roosevelt and Joe DiMaggio and stuff.” Nichols suggested he swap out the former first Lady’s name for Mrs. Robinson, and a Graduate classic was complete.
As for unlikely covers, punk rockers the Lemonheads recorded the famous song for The Graduate’s 25th-anniversary video release, but frontman Evan Dando despised his band’s version of the song, telling American Songwriter he “never would have done that song” if it hadn’t been for the reissue.
“Someone bought the rights to the video cassette, it was the 25th Anniversary, to get the kids into The Graduate, and they released it as a single,” he said. “I never would have done that song. I hate that song. I hate Paul Simon…I like a couple of his songs actually. I guess it was intensified by having to do ‘Mrs. Robinson.’”
The Graduate turns 50 on December 22, 2017.
[Featured Image by Central Press/Getty Images]