Past Sunday Dozens have been mash notes to some of my favorite artists all of whom I have some personal affection for. With Paul Simon and me, it’s strictly business.
By most accounts, Paul Simon is not a nice man. His ongoing feud with his former junior partner Art Garfunkel is exhibit one. He’s also been accused of sharp business practices by Steve Berlin of Los Lobos among others.
I’ve established that Paul Simon is NOT someone I’d want to hang out with. BUT he’s a brilliant singer-songwriter: I think he’s a better lyricist than his contemporary Bob Dylan. Plus, he enunciates when he sings.
I also respect Simon’s spirit of musical adventure. He started off as your basic earnest folkie and has explored a wide variety of musical genres. That’s more important in my book than his NOT being Mr. Nice Guy. It’s the music that matters.
As always, this list reflects my own taste and is arranged in chronological order. It’s weighed 7-5 with his solo work on top, His solo career has lasted nearly three times as long as Simon & Garfunkel, after all.
The Sound Of Silence was originally found on a 1964 S&G album that flopped: Wednesday Morning 3 AM. The song started getting airplay in 1965 and turned into a monster hit. This story proves *why* patience is a virtue.
America features some of Simon’s finest lyrics: “Let us be lovers, we’ll marry our fortunes together.”
The Graduate was one of the first movies for grownups I ever saw. I loved it and Mrs. Robinson kick started my S&G fandom. Koo koo kachoo.
Bridge Over Troubled Waters harkens back to the songwriting of the Gershwins and Harold Arlen. The melody is gorgeous, and the song is powered by Larry Knetchel’s piano. Simon continued to perform the song, but his vocals never matched Artie’s.
The Boxer is perhaps Simon’s best story-song. On the right day, it can move me as much as it did when I first heard it as a tadpole.
American Tune is one of the best things Paul Simon has ever written. I used it in a post about the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue shootings: Kristallnacht In Broad Daylight.
Can a Jewish singer-songwriter make gospel music? Loves Me Like A Rock answers that question in the affirmative: “Who do you think you’re fooling? I’m a consecrated boy.”
Still Crazy After All These Years is the song that has launched many Adrastos titles and turns of phrases. Thank you, sir.
Late In The Evening has a swinging Latin beat thing going on. It’s rollicking and joyful like a group of kids dancing on the street as a broken fire hydrant sprays water.
The Boy In The Bubble is the first track on Simon’s best album, Graceland. I had an argument with a friend who thought Simon’s literary lyrics didn’t fit the musical style. I thought that verged on racism and was relieved when said person recanted those views.
The road trip song is a venerable genre. Graceland is one of the best ever. It’s a perfect song by an imperfect man.
The Obvious Child served as a Saturday Odds & Sods theme song way back in 2015. “Crosses in the ballpark, why deny the obvious child?”
Paul Simon has retired from touring, but continued recording in the 21st Century. He’s recorded some good songs but none of them grabs me the way his 20th Century stuff does. So it goes.
Let’s circle back to Paul Simon’s body of work with a sub-list of my half-dozen favorite Simon solo and Simon & Garfunkel albums ranked in order of preference. Chronology be damned.
- Rhythm Of The Saints
- There Goes Rhymin’ Simon
- Bridge Over Troubled Waters
- Paul Simon’s Concert In The Park
I don’t usually include live albums on my lists but this one is fabulous. Besides, Dr. A and I saw that tour. It was a great and memorable show.
This week we have a lagniappe threesome. We begin with S&G covering The Everly Brothers:
Aretha Franklin transformed Bridge Over Troubled Waters into a gospel extravaganza. Her interpretation inspired Simon to get all gospelly with Loves Me Like A Rock.
Finally, Sunday Dozen veterans Yes with their brilliant cover of Simon’s brilliant song, America.
4 thoughts on “The Sunday Dozen: Paul Simon”
I’m pretty sure Sounds of Silence was revamped with electric backing from its original acoustic version, and that’s what led to its breakout.
The Graceland tour was one of the best concerts I ever saw. We need to credit him for International Beats (or whatever you want to call it) music, which opened up rock and pop to new aesthetics. It was sad when he was accused of colonizing the music when he brought exposure to many artists. And yeah the Steve Berlin accusations were sad to hear but seemed truthful.
Thanks for commenting here and not on social media. From a friend on Twitter:
Hey, I like Van Morrison and Eric Clapton too. Van makes Paul look like a choir boy.
it sparked an independent of him US tour of a group of all kinds of African musicians (i think called Africa Oye) which i saw on the DC stop. it was fabulous.
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