Paul Simon – was the leading partner in the hugely successful Simon and Garfunkel (see previous post), so we were all surprised when they split up in 1970. I can remember quite clearly when I first heard Paul’s solo album – simply titled Paul Simon in 1972….it was in a restaurant on constant play along with the original Evita (see E). But Paul had actually released an album in 1965, titled The Paul Simon Songbook. He was in England for over a year after Simon and Garfunkel’s first album had poor sales. He was touring the folk clubs and slowly building a reputation – I am not sure if the album was an attempt at a real career, or as a showcase for his brilliant song-writing. Anyway, the album itself sounds like a demo really, but a familiar one, as almost all the songs would be re-recorded by the duo over the next two or three years. Quite pleasant acoustic versions – and in some ways I prefer Paul’s voice. His solo career really took off with his self-titled album Paul Simon (1972). And what an album it was; not only the two hit singles, the reggae infused ‘Me And Julio’ and ‘Mother and Child Reunion’ but every song is brilliant. A couple of blues; the great rhythm track ‘Paranoia Blues’ and some lovely slow songs ‘Everything Put Together Falls Apart’ and ‘Peace Like A River’ – but almost my favourite (but how can you choose) is ‘Duncan’ – not forgetting the instrumental duet with Stefan Grapelli ‘Hobo’s Blues’. What an album this was. And yet Paul would simply go on and on getting better and better. There Goes Rhymin Simon (1973) was named because of a couple of critics who had dismissed him as Rhymin Simon (but in actuality almost all songs rhymed – that’s how we remember them). Despite the somewhat daft title this was yet another superb record. Kicking off with the excellent ‘Kodachrome’ – a highly infectious rhythm song, the record just rolls along. There are two gospel infused songs ‘One man’s Ceiling Is Another Man’s Floor’ and the closer ‘Loves Me Like A Rock’. There are wonderful slow songs like ‘Tenderness’ and ‘American Tune’ (where he returns to the state of his country). There is the wonderful hit ‘Take me To The Mardi-Gras’ which seems like it has just stepped out of New Orleans. And even a reggae song – ‘Was A Sunny Day’. Not a poor song on the album at all. He toured the album and released a live record Live Rhymin – which featured much of these two albums and a string of Simon and Garfunkel Songs too. Whether this was an attempt to show us that he never needed Artie at all, or just reclaiming and re-enforcing that he was the genius all along, they are superb renditions. However, if you already had the original albums this could be considered a tad unnecessary. Paul was really on fire these years and in 1975 he released Still Crazy After All These Years. Wow. Another absolutely immaculate album. Paul had been taking singing lessons – though I found nothing wrong with his voice, this album sounds more rounded with more ‘accomplished’ or slick even, vocals. Superbly produce with red-hot session players and even a duet with Art Garfunkel ‘My Little Town’ – this was a million miles from 10 or even 5 years ago. A gospel, soul sound pervades the album, with The Jesse Dixon Singers on one song ‘Gone At Last’ (duet with Pheobe Snow) and the gentlest of, almost crooned, love song – ‘I Do It For Your Love’, not to forget the huge worldwide hit ’50 Ways To leave Your Lover’. Hard to pick an absolute favourite, but the gentle and sad ‘Night Game’ takes some beating. So where to go from here? Well, Paul was always exploring and seeking out some new sound or genre. Never content to just put out another similar record, so he turned to film. Paul got bogged down with screenplays and casting and filming and eventually spent 5 years on One Trick Pony, released in 1980. Well, the film of the same name did poorly at the box-office (it is the story of Jonah, played by Paul, struggling to succeed playing really great jazz) – I haven’t seen it; apparently the film versions of many of the songs differ from the album. But the album is pretty strong, though it failed to sell as well as many of his earlier records. Maybe he had been out of the public eye for too long, or the mood just wasn’t right. There was one hit single ‘Late In The Evening’ and a couple of other great songs; The title track, and ‘Ace In The Hole’ ‘Stranded In A limousine’ and ‘Jonah’ – but the record doesn’t seem to be breaking new ground. Still by any other artist it would have been one of their best. Things didn’t really improve much with his next release Hearts and Bones (1983). Paul had been working again with Artie, laying down tracks for this new album. There was a dispute, possibly as Art assumed that this would be a new Simon and Garfunkel album and Paul had other thoughts. Anyway, whatever happened, Paul decided to re-record all the vocals himself. Whether those original tapes will ever surface we don’t know. But the album was very much a mixed bag; a handful of brilliant songs and several of a quite lower quality. The title track is rather lovely and ‘Train in The Distance’ is pretty good, but the best song by far on the album is ‘Rene And Georgette Magritte With Their Dog after The War’ where, inspired by a photo with that caption, Paul imagines the couple arriving in New York and dancing to the DooWop music of the time. In fact the whole feel of the record is a reflection of those times and Paul’s love of this music.
Simon’s relationship with his former musical partner Artie had deteriorated, his marriage to actress Carrie Fisher had collapsed, and his previous record, Hearts and Bones had been a commercial failure. In 1984, after a period of depression, Simon became fascinated by a bootleg cassette of ‘mabanqa’, South African street music. He decided to fly there and track down some of the musicians he heard on the tape. He immersed himself in the exciting rhythms and voices he heard. After some initial recordings he invited several musicians to New York to record with him and Roy Hallee. The results were amazing and with Paul’s often sardonic New York lyrics together they created a masterpiece. The 1986 album Graceland was acclaimed and a huge and enduring hit, the centrepiece of Paul’s career. Almost every track is brilliant and this is one of those rare albums you can listen to time and time again and not tire of it. Hard to pick favourites – the singles ‘Boy In The Bubble’ and ‘You Can Call Me Al’ – obviously – but ‘Diamonds On The Soles Of Their Shoes’, ‘Graceland’ and ‘Homeless’ are classics too. Well, what to do after that. Paul has never liked to repeat himself and he had always loved the music of South America. He went there and made several field recordings of the subtle jazzy rhythms he discovered. The resulting album Rhythm Of The Saints (1990) was another commercial success, though not quite so popular as Graceland. Personally I was a bit disappointed; I struggled to love the album, despite the infectious leadoff single ‘The Obvious Child’. I have learnt to like it after repeated playing and can appreciate it more as I age – however I don’t really love jazz, and find I am struggling to find melodies. Best other songs are ‘Proof’ and ‘Born At The Right Time’. Paul collected the best of the musicians and singers from these two albums and toured extensively, culminating in (yet) another concert in Central Park (and the obligatory live album). Paul’s Concert In The Park (1992) was the result. Well – how many live concerts do you need – although this one, supplemented by African musicians was pretty brilliant. No new songs but very good versions of some old ones, including a few from the really old days of S. & G. I also have another double, billed as Unplugged, though not an official MTV album. It was a 1991 concert where he did perform mostly acoustically. Recorded for a radio broadcast, it came out a couple of years ago. I really like these acoustic versions – not that the big band renditions are not fabulous, but I suppose I just prefer the intimate singing and the room these performances allow for the delicate guitarwork I have always loved from Paul. No surprises in either of these live records – but in the unplugged one, the Rhythm of the Saints songs are much better; I sort of wish he had released these as a special disc – however. Paul then resurrected a longstanding idea he had to write a musical. He had already tried a film, One Trick Pony, which failed both as a film, and to a certain extent as an album – though I liked it. But Paul failed to realise how long this venture would take – not only getting the finances together but the cast and crew, not to mention writing the songs. But the biggest problem was that Paul was fixated on a terrible subject – a Puerto Rican kid who, along with an accomplice, had committed a couple of murders in New York in the 50’s. He enlisted Derek Walcott to assist in writing the lyrics. All in all it was a nightmare and when the Capeman eventually opened it was a flop and lost 11 million dollars, a lot of it was Paul’s money. He released an album Songs From The Capeman in 1997 (his first for 7 years) – and it became the lowest selling album of his career. Paul sings on a few songs accompanied by members of the cast. The songs reflect the doo-wop of the period – and despite everything I quite like the album, especially Paul’s songs – of which the final song ‘Trailways Bus’ is amongst his finest. Paul continued recording, but much more sporadically, he somehow seemed to have lost direction, or was less concerned in making successful and commercial albums and pursued whatever musical whim he was following. You’re The One (2000) was frankly below par…bordering on boring, and really a poor album. A couple of strange tracks – ‘Pigs, Sheep and Wolves’ and allegory on mankind maybe, ‘Hurricane Eye’ – and best of all, and the only really good track was ‘Darling Lorraine’ – a very cynical take on romance. Six years later and Surprise came along – a bit better I suppose, but still quite underwhelming. Again, he seemed to have lost his ear for catchy melodies – or maybe he just wasn’t into pleasing his fans anymore. A couple of songs were okay – ‘Wartime Prayers’ and ‘Fathers and Daughters’ certainly – but most songs just drifted away. So Beautiful, So What – came out in 2011 – Well, the music was better, more upbeat on a few of the songs, but the lyrics mostly seemed pointless, or just passed me by. Many of the songs seemed semi-religious and a bit fixated on death and beyond – not mon tasse de the. Best was opener ‘Getting Ready For Christmas Day’ which made you think this might be exciting – only to disappoint again. In 2016 Paul released what appears to be (but I hope not) his last album of original material – Stranger to Stranger. And, suddenly a much better record – not his best, as nothing could match Graceland really, but certainly a much better album. Different and varied rhythms and a few nice melodies, I quite like the album; best songs – ‘Wristband’, ‘The Werewolf’ and ‘The Riverbank’. What a pity that Paul has decided to not record any new songs. He has released In The Blue Light – a 2018 re-interpretation of some of his lesser known songs. I am not sure about this enterprise, it is interesting – but I prefer the original versions really. I can’t see the point, and as Paul has not repeated (so far) the exercise, maybe he doesn’t either. Maybe he just felt like doing it – who knows. With 4 songs from the underperforming and disappointing You’re The One album maybe Paul thought the songs weren’t appreciated in their original format – but overall I don’t think these versions improve things. I do like ‘Darling Lorraine’ and the Magritte song though. Of course, I have one of the many Greatest Hits – The Essential Paul Simon….and excellent it is. What a body of work this man has produced; almost incomparable really.