List item: Listen to the 1000 Most Acclaimed Albums
Title: Paul Simon
Artist: Paul Simon
As we are nearing the first anniversary of the UK heading into COVID-19 lockdown, the last you really want to hear on an album is “Rosie, queen of Corona”. Sure this lyric in ‘Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard’, may refer to a neighbourhood in Queens, New York – but wow is that a bit triggering to hear. The song might be good, but wow I that was a bit of a line that came out of left field.
This is the first time since switching lists (where I didn’t import a review from my previous blog) that I am continuing a discography. Last time was Graceland and that was a post I made seven years ago – about an album that was released 14 years later. These albums are extremely different, with this self-titled being a more straight folk affair – probably due to this being his second album since he went solo.
However, this isn’t a complete folk album. The album opener, ‘Mother and Child Reunion’, is heavily influenced by reggae – something that was pretty unique at the time for a white singer. It’s definitely a sign of things to come that Paul Simon would eventually become this big embracer of world music. The rest of the album, not so much, but it is an interesting indicator.
I know from talking with my husband, that this was an album that hit me a bit more than him. Then again, I am someone who leans more strongly to folk music – especially when I need something calming in the background as something more stressful is happening at work. I do like a good piece of folk music for that.
List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 33/250Title: Bridge Over Troubled Water
Artist: Simon & Garfunkel
The way that an artist develops over the years is fascinating. Previously I have looked at Paul Simon’s solo magnum opus Graceland which, whilst it still contain much of his original folk roots was heavily painted with African beats. When compared to Bridge Over Troubled Water which is, by far, the most acclaimed album whilst he was teamed up with Art Garfunkel you can see the beginnings of his turn to world music but here folk is the primary focus.
The thing is, you can not talk about this album without talking about the opening song ‘Bridge over Troubled Water’. It is an all time classic with Art, reluctantly, taking the lead vocals over Simon, something he apparently regrets. It’s hard to talk about a song everyone views as a classic since everything has been said by those far more eloquent than I; it’s a beautiful song that leads into a big ending, let’s leave it there.
Then you have ‘The Boxer’ opening up the second side of the record which is easily the most interesting song on the album. Yes, ‘Bridge over Troubled Water’ is a beautiful song viewed by many as one of the best songs ever made… but ‘The Boxer’ does it more for me. 100 hours of recording and a placeholder chorus that was meant to be replaced and never was (for the best since it is really what makes the song) leads to five tender minutes where it is just best to stop and listen. Then again, you can say that about the title track too… two truly great side openers.
One song that feels slightly out of place is the penultimate track ‘Bye Bye Love’. On an album of studio recordings is does feel slightly odd to have one live recording that is not a bonus track. There is nothing wrong with their singing or the backing track supplied by the in-time clapping of the audience (in fact it is one of my favourite songs on the album) but it does stick-out somewhat.
An interesting fact is that this is one of those rare classic albums that was recognised as such by the awards of the time. Looking at the list of albums in this Top 250 against the list of Grammy Award winners for Best Album (not the best list in the world but it’s the only one you really have for a long-running contemporary Best Album of the year) you can count the cross-references on two hands. Yes, albums like this, Graceland, Rumours and The Suburbs got an award but then you see albums like The Bodyguard OST and River: The Joni Letters which do make you wonder about who they have voting on this award nowadays.
List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 25/250Title: Graceland
Artist: Paul Simon
In a very odd pattern of semi-random choice this is the fourth album in the row placed as #-8 on the acclaimed list (at least before the update little while ago anyway). It has seen albums that encapsulate the rise of college radio, a turning point in female singer-songwriting and whatever superlative you want to attach to Odelay. The superlative that can be attached to Graceland is a rather interesting one, the album that brought African music into the Western music mainstream.
To put this into a historical musical context Graceland was recorded and released during the time of apartheid in South Africa, a time where boycotts existed against the cultural elements of the nation. As such, when Paul Simon crossed over the metaphorical picket line to work with South African musicians he had some explaining to do. Now here’s the thing, the musicians he chose to work with were the ones being discriminated against under apartheid and he never showed any support towards the government so… all was good.
The fact that Paul Simon did this helped to introduce a wide audience to music of black origin that did not fall into the world of jazz or rhythm and blues. It was also the album that helped the group Ladysmith Black Mambazo crossover and gain world prominence. It is also the album that inspired the likes of Vampire Weekend, so my thanks to Paul Simon there.
The reason that this album works so well and became a classic (as well as one of the select few albums in this Top 250 lists that also won the Grammy for Best Album) is how well the seemingly disparate genres mesh. This is most evident, at two ends of the spectrum, on tracks ‘You Can Call Me Al’ and ‘Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes’. On the one hand you have the latter, the closer of the first side of the album, where the stylings of Ladysmith Black Mambazo are very much at the forefront to make this a very atmospheric number. Then there is personal favourite ‘You Can Call Me Al’, a rather upbeat song about a man going through a midlife crisis (with a very memorable music video starring comedian Chevy Chase) where the fusion of genres is very much westward-leaning.
The rest of the album well accomplishes this meeting of musical worlds, just not as well as titular track ‘Graceland’ or the other two songs that I have previous mentioned. In the absence of Miriam Makeba’s eponymous album this may be the only time I get to listen to music with such obviously African elements. A pity really since it really helps an album to stand out.