Sunday, 15 January 2012

I remember there’s a radio coming from the room next door, my mother laughs the way some ladies do

Pick of the Week

“Late in the Evening” by Paul Simon (1980)

Imagine for a moment what the world would be like if the 5 o’clock train never showed up, or there were no such thing as hot dogs, or your grandma hopelessly and endlessly missed a stitch every time she knitted. Now think of a world without Paul Simon right?  It was Simon himself who said “every generation throws a hero up the pop charts”. He may not have been talking about himself, but damn he wrote some catchy pop songs.

The well-spring of beautiful songs that is Paul Simon is majestic. The songs of Paul Simon have a tendency to feel and fit so neatly into the wiring that is my brain: They are real. They are relevant. They are so well-crafted, and so cleverly written you can’t forget them. You fall easily into humming or singing them when they play on the radio like old friends coming to visit.   

Part of the international fame that was the duo Simon & Garfunkel, Simon was behind such boomer staples as “Homeward Bound”, “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”, “The Sound of Silence”, “I am a Rock”, “Mrs. Robinson”, “The Boxer”, “El Condor Pasa”, “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme”, “Scarborough Fair”, “59th Street Bridge Song”, “Cecilia” and “A Hazy Shade of Winter”.

Paul Simon did not have the advantage of an equal song-writer as did Paul McCartney with John Lennon (or of John Lennon with Paul McCartney if you prefer). His divine gift of musicality oozed songs with imaginative strings of lyrics intertwined with magically-derived musical melody and rhythm. What might have been had Simon collaborated with someone of this calibre? We will never know?

Many people think the first solo effort of Paul Simon was the album “Paul Simon”. Actually in 1965 when he was in England playing coffee houses and touring he recorded “The Paul Simon Songbook”. This includes an alternate take on “I am a Rock”, “Kathy’s Song” a song to his then girlfriend, Kathy Chitty, as well as others where we saw him continue to hone his already amazing skill.

In 1972, two years after Simon & Garfunkel broke up, with his solo, self-titled album Simon continued to pound out the pop song medley that started with “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” and “Mother and Child Reunion” which is considered to be one of the first attempts at reggae by a white performer. The prolific Simon would persevere...

1973’s “There Goes Rhymin’ Simon” continued the trend with “Kodachrome” and “Loves Me Like a Rock”. Much more commercially successful this was followed up with “Still Crazy After All These Years”, still smashing the charts with “My Little Town” (with Art Garfunkel) and tongue-in-cheek “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover”.

The last part of the 70’s Simon laid low, although he geared back up for 1980’s “One Trick Pony”, a movie which Simon wrote and starred in. It produced the hit “Late in the Evening”. The polished album “Hearts and Bones” did not find an interested public – they were interested in disco at the time.

1984, frustrated by his lot in life, interest in his work having waned, he was listening to the “Boyoyo Boys'” African township music and was digging it. He decided to write lyrics to their instrumental "Gumboots: Accordion Jive Volume II" and it became the roots of the “Graceland” album if you will. Going to Johannesburg, Simon made an eclectic mixture of pop, Zulu style music and a cappala to wield the mighty “Graceland” album up the pop charts.  With the help of African group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Linda Ronstadt and Los Lobos, the public and the critics embraced it and it slowly rose to the top of the charts.

Attempting to follow up with this success, Simon produced the Brazilian music-based “Rhythm of the Saints”, but it did not have the same inspiration and fell short. Never with the success of “Graceland” again, Simon continued into the 90’s and the “00s with “Songs From the Capeman” and “You Are the One”. Most recently he released “So Beautiful or So What”, which is worth a listen.

Here are my top ten favourite Paul Simon songs.  You should be familiar with most of them I think.

1)      Late in the Evening
2)      Mother and Child Reunion
3)      Me and Julio Down by the School Yard
4)      Slip Slidin’ Away
5)      My Little Town
6)      Graceland
7)      Loves Me Like a Rock
8)      Rene and Georgia Magritte with Their Dog After the War
9)      Kodachrome
10)   Boy in the Bubble

Paul Simon has won 13 Grammy awards, including “Lifetime Achievement”, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He also received the ‘Time’ magazine award in 2006 for one of the “"100 People Who Shaped the World”, and many other awards. He has sold tens of millions of albums.

Are you convinced yet that this man is one of the most important musicians of the twentieth century? His gift to the world is nothing short of astounding!

What is your favourite Paul Simon song?

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