The iconic ballad “Bridge Over Troubled Water” was so stirring that even a young Paul Simon knew he was onto something special when he composed it 40 years ago.
“I thought, ‘Hmm. That’s better than I usually write,’” Simon recalled. “I was completely surprised that I wrote it — it was completely unlike anything I had ever done before.”
On Thursday, Simon’s magical moment — one of several in his long career — was honored by the Songwriters Hall of Fame in a ceremony that featured Billy Joel, John Mayer, Judy Collins and more while honoring legends including Leonard Cohen as well as wunderkind Taylor Swift.
Swift was not among the inductees into the Songwriters Hall. But the 20-year-old Grammy winner was given the Hal David Starlight Award, which pays tribute to young songwriters with promise.
Mayer, a Swift friend and collaborator, presented her with her award, saying “she’s no accident.”
“You could put her in a time machine in any era and she would have a hit record,” he said, adding this about her incredible success: “Don’t confuse everybody loving one thing as hype. Sometimes that’s everyone agreeing that it’s fabulous.”
When Cohen was young, he needed a little convincing of that. So the Canadian poet-turned-songwriter presented one of his works to Collins, the singer recalled, and asked her if it was a song. Her response? “It’s a song, and I’m recording it tomorrow.”
At the induction ceremony, she performed a pitch-perfect “Suzanne” and was then followed by k.d. lang’s moving version of Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”
A soft-spoken Cohen quoted from his enduring song when he accepted his honor, saying, in part, “I’ll stand before the lord of song with nothing on my tongue but hallelujah.” He received a standing ovation.
It was one of several on the night, which featured powerful performances and touching tributes.
The other inductees were Jackie DeShannon, whose hits include Kim Carnes’ “Bette Davis Eyes”; reggae great Bob Marley; the late singer-songwriter Laura Nyro; Johnny Mandel, creator of the theme for “M.A.S.H.”; David Foster, the Grammy-winning producer and songwriter who’s worked with top artists ranging from Michael Jackson to Barbra Streisand; the principal members of the legendary band Earth, Wind&Fire; the late jazz songwriter Jesse Stone; the late Sunny Skylar, whose hits included “Besame Mucho”; and the team of Tom Adair&Matt Dennis, now deceased, who wrote songs such as “Everything Happens to Me.”
“Bridge Over Troubled Water” was given the Towering Song Award, while Phil Collins, a previous inductee, was honored with the Johnny Mercer Award.
Producer Phil Ramone received the Howie Richmond Hitmaker Award, and music publisher Keith Mardak received the Abe Olman Publisher Award.