Paul Simon



January 14th, 2005 | 178 replies

Release Date: 1986 | Tracklist

Released: 1986 (Warner Brothers)

Following the breakup of Simon & Garfunkel in 1970, Paul Simon launched a solo career that, in the eyes of most critics, wasn't going anywhere fast. Then came Graceland. Combining lyrics and folk rythms typical of Simon & Garfunkel with ebullient African tribal chanting and vocals, this was widely acclaimed as one of the best albums of the year, and remains in the eyes of many critics today one of the most innovative and best albums of all time.

The Songs:

1. The Boy In The Bubble. Starting with an accordion intro, this is Paul Simon at his storytelling best, poking fun at modern society, warning that "every generation throws a hero up the popcharts", in a wry reference to his fame followed by fall. It's also one of the most straightforward tracks on here, with only a choir barely audible in the background. A strong start, this gets 4.5/5.

2. Graceland. With a faster drumbeat driving this on, with a catchy guitar riff almost over Simon's vocals, this is a very wistful song, which I interpret as being about hero-worship and some of the dangers of it. It's very beautiful actually, and shows off the formidable talents of the band backing up Paul Simon here, and their ability to write music that won't overshadow him, while adding to the song. Again, this gets 4.5/5.

3. I Know What I Know. This is the first track on here where the African influence is very notable, with an all-female choir providing falsetto vocals during the chorus and adding whooping at intervals as well. This really takes the song onto a whole new level, and serves as an excellent addition to this track. Simon's songwriting is to the fore again, laughing with seeming understatement at the "kind of girl who could say things that really weren't that funny". A highlight of the album, and very well produced, layering the vocals increasingly towards the end. 5/5.

4. Gumboots. With another very breezy intro and a typical vocal from Simon, what really makes this for me are the saxophones which come in over the music at sporadic intervals. When I say a typical Simon vocal by the way, it's worth remembering, that at times he can combine the storytelling power of Dylan with the same melodious approach as Brian Wilson among others, so it's far from a criticism. 4.5/5.

5. Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes. With African choirs singing the intro in a "round" style, which alternate with Simon as being higher in the mix, this is arguably the best song off the album. The song then changes, with it becoming an ode to an overly wealthy girl while the melody underneath goes on. Towards the end of the song, the choir become more noticeable once again, with a beautifully elongated end to this song. 5/5.

6. You Can Call Me Al. This positively bubbles along, ruminating on the aging process in a way that nevertheless seems joyous. There's a very impressive bassline throughout as well, along with the choir which fade in and out of the music. As on many of the songs here, the drums are impressive, keeping a good rhythm, and occasionally adding to the song in a simple yet effective way. This also has a brilliant bass interlude which comes out of nowhere but makes you laugh by the sheer joy which you can feel has gone into this. 5/5.

7. Under African Skies. As the title suggests, this is explicitly about Africa, with the line "Joseph's face was as black as night.", but it doesn't lose anything due to it's more obvious subject matter. Featuring Linda Ronstadt on backing vocals, this gives the song a whole new style, and this bounces along with both Simon and Ronstadt joining what sounds like an African chant midway through. For me, this really makes it clear that this is not a record where the artist is using new influences for the sake of it, but genuinely out of interest and love for music. 4/5.

8. Homeless. Another real standout track, this is a gorgeous sung track by Ladysmith Black Mambazo, almost backed by Paul Simon without any instruments in the background. It has an incredibly soothing, lullaby quality to it that brings such a sense of calm and peace to you that it's quite amazing. I grew up listening to Ladysmith Black Mambazo as my parents loved their music, and quite frankly it's not hard to see why, as this is probably music in it's purest, most perfect form. 5/5.

9. Crazy Love, Vol II. After that, any song would be an anticlimax, and this is probably the weakest song of the album for me. It's still very good, and sounds like a more conventional song than many of the others featured here, with Simon singing that he doesn't "want no part of this crazy love." This has a very nice guitar line in the background, that carries the song for me, and it has a very good moment where the chorus begins and you feel some of the emotion Paul Simon put into this. 4/5.

10. That Was Your Mother. This has a very jazzy intro courtesy of more saxophones, with Simon singing of his experiences with girls during his life. The saxophone playing here is again brilliant, and the drumming in the background is very breezy, suiting the song perfectly. This has a surprisingly fast tempo, with the song being controlled, yet somehow feeling like it is on the edge of moving out of control. The drum solo late in the song before the saxophones rejoin reinforces this. 4.5/5.

11. All Around The World. With a straight rock drum intro, this song documents people's pasts and their futures, but again in a way that feels gorgeous and fresh as opposed to depressing as it could be. Featuring Cesar Rosas and David Hildago on backing vocals, this is another very well formed song that has all sorts of instrumental drama going on in the background that somehow feels simple and perfect despite the fact that it is a complex song. A very strong end, and 4.5/5.

Those of you who check the Request a Review thread will have seen that I have been talking about doing this for a long time now, and there's a reason for that. I've reread this now, and although I have rewritten this numerous times, there isn't any real way I can convey the brilliance of this album. It helped start a new school of thought in music, which has been copied by many, such as Damon Albarn, but, I believe, bettered by none. From start to finish it is crammed with songs that are simply brilliant on their own, but as a whole it reaches near-perfection. If you have never heard this before, then I can honestly reccomend it to anyone who reads this, regardless of what sort of music you listen to, as I feel that it is an album that will strike a chord with whoever hears it in one way or another. An absolutely marvellous album, my final rating for this is 5/5.

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Comments:Add a Comment 
September 12th 2004


Good review :thumb:

I strongly respect Simon and this album, being that it has opened up the USA to foreign music, particuraly African. As Mickey Hart and Sting have also done.

September 30th 2004


OK, I'm bumping this. I really can't believe that there is just one person who reads the forum and knows this album or likes it. Rereading my review I don't think I've done it justice, which is at least partially due to the fact that this album is sheer brilliance in my opinion. Anyone?

October 1st 2004


it is a brilliant album, can be appreciated on many levels and is such a nice fusion of simons folk pop sensibilities and african native sense of rhythm and melody. i saw the classic albums show on it a while ago and it was so interesting to see how his experiences in south africa came through on the album. its a must have imo

October 5th 2004


OMG can't believe i didn't see this revied earlier.

I love this album. this album is part of my childhood, as is simon and garfunkel stuff. I hate you now. i wanted to review this album :upset:

October 5th 2004


You can be my bodyguard
You can be my long lost pal

October 5th 2004


*praises God loudly*

FINALLY!! Good to see there are people on here that have, and love this album. And me Al :cool:.

October 20th 2004


Nice review - I think you captured the brilliance of Simon's masterpiece quite well. On a few technicalities - it's Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and Graceland has little to do with Elvis or hero worship; its' Simon's Volume II song on his breakup with Carrie Fisher. His first was Hearts and Bones.

October 20th 2004


Damn...I knew that about Ladysmith Black Mambazo, I was listening to them earlier, but just messed up writing it. Thanks for pointing it out.

November 3rd 2004


i love you can call me al, that bass part is awsome!

November 8th 2004


my god, i'm also reeeaaally sorry for not seeing this review earlier, i'd hate to have seen a Gracelands lover (and an excellent reviewer) feeling like their work has gone to waste. This album is unbelievable. It's quality is immeasurable. Personally, it was the first music i ever heard, i think when i was 4/5 years old on holidays in Ireland - It quite literally changed my life and led the way for everything musical i've loved since. It's the greatest collection of songs i believe ever to exist, it's value to society and music is completely underrated, and should be given the praise it deserves on a greater scale. GREAT REVIEW, man, and i laughed at your comment that it was too great to explain in words - that's exactly how the album leaves you, speachless.

"sometimes when i'm falling, flying, tumbling in turmoil i say 'woh, so this is what she means'............she means we're bouncing into Graceland"

December 24th 2004


This is a great album, good review Medopalis

December 25th 2004


You can call me al is one the best songs ever made.. Hehe
The rest of the cd is truly amazing too

December 25th 2004


I have no idea why, but when my dad bought this when I was probably around 10 years old, maybe younger, I would listen to it non-stop. Great album.

November 8th 2005


I absolutely love 'You Can Call Me Al'. I'm not too big a fan of Paul Simon, but that song is just purely awesome.

November 8th 2005


I like the song he did for the tv show "The Wild Thornberries"

January 19th 2006


Album Rating: 5.0

Med57, another good review, well done. Your ratings are spot on aswell, all these songs are worthy of credit. Graceland has the craziest riff in the world! This album is a 5er i beleive.

February 6th 2006


Album Rating: 4.5

Great album. I'm really digging this album right now. I've been on a Simon and Garfunkel kick recently and I decided I'd listen to this album because I hadn't listened to it in a while. I rediscovered how awesome it is.

Great reviw too. I agree with all your ratings too.

February 6th 2006


Once again, great review. And i've come to enjoy more Paul Simon than just You Can Call Me Al. The video is still rad, though.

April 24th 2006


Album Rating: 5.0

Wonderful to see so many people in love with this music. Its truly fantastic- a significant part of my childhood, and once i rediscovered it later in life, i never let it go.

It is instantly uplifting and inspiring and so incredibly beautiful. I agree that the song 'homeless' completely banishes rumours that Simon was exploiting black singers. Great review

September 29th 2006


One minor bit of beef about the review, that is that the song Graceland is maybe the most deserving of 5/5 on the album and has been proposed by Paul Simon himself as the best song he's ever written. Paul Simon's guitar work is stunning on this album, the way he almost 'trickles' guitar melodies into the songs, note particularly 'Diamonds......' and 'Crazy Love, vol. II'. I reckon if you stood next to Paul Simon taking a piss it would sound melodic. Sorry, another bit of beef, 'Under African Skies' is top 3 on the album for me so i'd give it 5/5. cool review.

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