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Musically, "Mrs. Robinson" offers a nice example of how to add a mysterious edge to a campfire song.
The chorus ("and here's to you, Mrs. Robinson") is built on standard major chords and strummed on acoustic guitars. The lyrics, at least during the first three trips through the chorus, are positive and filled with cliché phrasing: "and here's to you… Jesus loves you… God bless you… Heaven holds a place for those who pray." Simon even throws in the "woo, woo, woo"s and "hey, hey, hey"s that make for a nice sing-along.
Simon shifts the mood of the song in the verses, though. He throws in a seventh and adds further dissonance through more complex instrumentation. His guitar fills at the end of each line break up the straight strumming of the chorus. Percussionist Hal Blaine adds an eerie pulse with congas to match the less cheerful lyrics. "We'd like to know a little bit about you for our files…. Hide it in a hiding place where no one ever goes."
Art Garfunkel probably had something to do with it as well. The poor guy is always being left behind.
Initially, Paul Simon intended this song to be about "Mrs. Roosevelt," not "Mrs. Robinson," but when The Graduate's director, Mike Nichols, pressed Simon for more songs for his movie, Simon re-cast the song's central figure.
Simon changed more, however, than just the title. The original song was going to take a nostalgic look at the past and heroic figures like Eleanor Roosevelt and Joe DiMaggio that were nowhere to be found in contemporary society. In order to make the song fit the movie, though, Simon kept only a portion of the original scheme.
DiMaggio was retained as a representative of the sort of hero that no longer existed in American society, but he was contrasted with Mrs. Robinson rather than coupled to Mrs. Roosevelt. Luckily "Robinson" and "Roosevelt" have the same number of syllables, otherwise Simon would've been right back where he started with the Mantle/DiMaggio problem.
The new verses about Mrs. Robinson could hardly have been applied to Mrs. Roosevelt. There was no mysterious stay in rehab or an asylum in her life. Her "pantry" was certainly not filled with secrets, although her "panties" may have been. There has been some speculation that she had an affair with one of her male bodyguards, and there are separate rumors concerning a lesbian relationship with a female reporter. For the most part, though, the reputation of America's longest serving First Lady has been strengthened over the years rather than muddied by rumors.
In fact, most now view Eleanor Roosevelt as the model for all subsequent First Ladies. She insisted on being more than just a hostess during her stay in the White House. Instead, she used her visibility to address contemporary issues. In fact, she was an outspoken supporter of civil rights and the rights of women.
It's certainly safe to say that "Mrs. Robinson"—along with other big hits like "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and "Sound of Silence"—is Simon and Garfunkel's calling card.
There's not too much to say here besides that Simon and Garfunkel were huge icons of the 1960s and continue to be loved years after their peak.
Not to mention, their hit song goes great with the hit movie The Graduate, too.