Paul Simon: Graceland

“My typical style of songwriting in the past has been to sit with a guitar and write a song, finish it, go into the studio, book the musicians, lay out the song and the chords, and then try to make a track. With these musicians, I was doing it the other way around. The tracks preceded the songs. We worked improvisationally. While a group was playing in the studio I would sing melodies and words – anything that fit the scale they were playing in.” – Paul Simon

Paul Simon’s Graceland, released in 1986, was his 7th studio album. I had gracelandno idea that I liked Paul Simon before now. I guess you could say that it is a theme that I can say I’ve just never given these musicians a chance. I would not have been able to name one of his songs without doing an internet search! Oh, and did you know that Simon was the Simon from Simon and Garfunkel? Well, of course you did and now I do too!

Graceland was an interesting listen because it uses a combination of musical styles. Within it, you can hear pop, zydeco, a capella, isicathamiya, and mbaqanga. Yes, I did have to look some of those up! He had spent time in South Africa recording and had been inspired by musicians he collaborated with there. His going to Johannesburg, collaborating, and recording there was a bit of a controversy at the time. During this period, there was a bit of a cultural boycott on South Africa because of its policy on apartheid. Simon crossed the picket line, so to speak, and his album is amazing.

The album alternates between more serious tracks and more upbeat tracks. Paul Simon compared this album to writing a play in where the mood must keep changing.

A little note of interests (at least to me): Graceland was the highest-selling release in South Africa (at this time) since Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

This is an album that spanned two countries, embodied many styles, and contributed to the collaboration of too many musicians to even mention. At my count, there were over 50 musicians that contributed to this album, including The Everly Brothers and Linda Ronstadt!

This album was created with a lot of improvisation and I will think it is amazing just because of that aspect. Paul Simon=artist. He is definitely not given a lot of credit for his skills. He is often written off as a has-been or an artist that reached his peak during his Simon & Garfunkel days. Friends, this is not the case.

There are a lot of songs on this album that I can call out as having loved. However, I have a special love for “You Can Call Me Al.” Firstly, I had no idea that this was a Paul Simon song (of course). I have known this song for at least half of my life. I first learned it as a saxophone player in my school’s pep band. I loved playing it as it had a really nice feel. So, when I heard it come on as I was listening, I had to look and listen several times!

Go listen to this album. Listen to the infusing of South African rhythms, musical styles, and melodies. Listen to the influence of improvisation. Listen to the story that Paul Simon is telling. It is compelling and well worth your time.

Oh and check it out: Chevy Chase is in the video! haha


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