Paul Simon

TrackAlbum
American TuneThere Goes Rhymin’' Simon
The CoastThe Rhythm Of The Saints
Dazzling BlueSo Beautiful or So What
Diamonds On The Soles...Graceland
Hearts And BonesHearts And Bones
Late In The EveningOne Trick Pony
Mother And Child ReunionPaul Simon
Rene And Georgette Magritte...Hearts And Bones
Slip Slidin'’ AwayCBS single / Greatest Hits, Etc.
You Can Call Me AlGraceland

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Contributor: Peter Viney

This is like doing The Beatles or Bob Dylan. Even a Top 40 is hard enough. Both Graceland and Hearts And Bones are albums where every track is worthy of inclusion. No more than one per album would be a cop-out, but I have tried to spread it a bit. It’s tempting to combine Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes and You Can Call Me Al as they’re usually combined in concert, separated by a drum solo. Just the first on its own runs to nine and a half minutes live on 1991’s Paul Simon’s Concert In The Park, much of it drum solo. And we need the original voices on Diamonds.

A chronological justification of my choices:

The Paul Simon Songbook was the first solo album, recorded in England, and only released in Europe at the time. It was CBS UK’s first ever use of the studio they had inherited when they bought Oriole and Woolworth’s Embassy label. I like the early solo versions of I Am A Rock and The Sound Of Silence very much, but the sweetened ones with Garfunkel’s voice are on the Simon & Garfunkel page. Leaves That Are Green is a contender. A title like A Simple Desultory Philippic is not rock and roll.

Three tracks leapt out from the first post Simon & Garfunkel solo album, Paul Simon: Mother And Child Reunion, Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard and Duncan. For the first two, it’s one or the other, but not both. Mother And Child Reunion won by a whisker. Duncan is a great song, but even better done in Andes style on Live Rhymin’.

There Goes Rhymin’ Simon is a strong album throughout, but American Tune is like an American Jerusalem, an all-time song about the nation and its spirit. You can go for the orchestral backing here, or strip it down to solo on Live Rhymin’. Hard choice, but I’ll take the earlier studio version. Kodachrome is very close to being included.

Live Rhymin’ had two possibles, on an album inexplicably missing from the remastered albums box set. Urubamba add to Duncan, and American Tune may benefit from solo voice and guitar. The Jesse Dixon Singers contribute to a memorable Bridge Over Troubled Water.

Still Crazy After All These Years has Steve Gadd’s military drumming on the title track, And the whoozy long sax part on Have A Good Time a song which would have made a Top Twelve or even a Top Eleven.

Slip Slidin’ Away as a single release brings tears to my eyes with its poignancy. Its first album appearance was on Greatest Hits, Etc but all this stuff is on one of half a dozen compilations.

One Trick Pony was the soundtrack to an unsuccessful film. Late In The Evening leaps out and is the song that continues to be performed live. Douglas Adams says in the front of one of his novels that it was written to One Trick Pony in the background. I was amazed … I wrote a short series of ELT books to One Trick Pony on replay too. Late In The Evening comes out best live, and somehow the audience cheering wildly on I stepped outside to smoke myself a J is part of it, so Paul Simon’s Concert In The Park adds to the mood.

Then comes Hearts And Bones in 1983, originally a reunion album, but Paul Simon changed his mind and erased Art Garfunkel’s vocals. It stands with Graceland as a solo masterpiece. The autobiographical title track Hearts And Bones was first choice. Rene And Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After The War was next, but any track on this album is arguable, except maybe Cars Are Cars and Allergies, but they’re still very good. Train In The Distance, Think Too Much, When Numbers Get Serious, The Late Great Johnny Ace, Song About The Moon … all great compositions.

Graceland. 1985. Forget the political crap. All these guys still want to play with Paul Simon, who did wonders for the profile of South African music. Like Bookends, it is slightly marred by the addition of a couple of filler tracks to round it out. That Was Your Mother was recorded with a New Orleans Zydeco band, and All Around The World with Los Lobos. The last has caused the sort of bitterness over both credits and payment that Scarborough Fair created. Both are fine tracks. Neither fit the concept. The African material is faultless: Boy In The Bubble, Graceland, Under African Skies, I Know What I Know, Gumboots are all worthy of a place. The expanded Graceland 25th Anniversary Edition has an alternate take of Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes with voice, chorus and bass guitar, which is the best example of bass guitar playing I can think of.

The Rhythm Of The Saints suffers because it was such a conscious effort to replicate the Graceland idea, transferred to Brazil. The instant appeal of the massed drums on The Obvious Child opens it, but for me it was between The Coast, Born At The Right Time and The Cool Cool River. The Coast won.

The live Paul Simon’s Concert in The Park is only muddying the issue of choice. I found myself with one selection left to cover the four most recent albums, which is not unfair.

Songs from The Capeman was from the stage musical Paul Simon poured a fortune into, and the consensus is that it’s a turkey. Quality and The Vampires would be amazing by most standards, but this is Paul Simon.

You’re The One takes us to 2000, and the tour was excellent. Darling Lorraine is the standout track, but I thought his immaculately articulate voice was suffering from just a trace of slushiness around that point in time, and the album carries a hangover from The Capeman as if there are lyrics in search of a tune, rather than coming together. Old has a lot of punch to it, but I don’t like the chorus.

It was a long wait for Surprise which was heralded by the Father and Daughter single, which is tempting in itself. The album boasts sonic soundscapes from Eno. Another Galaxy echoes the emotions of Slip Slidin’ Away:

There is a moment, a chip in time
When leaving home is the lesser crime
When your eyes are bright with tears
But your heart can see another galaxy.

Paul Simon can invest more emotion in the vowel sound in ‘home’ than anyone else, and has proven it several times. His breakup with Carrie Fisher already provided Hearts And Bones and Slip Slidin’ Away. Enough! The song has such a lovely melody that I’d like to hear it stripped of Eno’s sonic soundscape.

So 2011 brings us So Beautiful or So What and Dazzling Blue walks away with the tenth slot. The best song of the last four albums. On the album, Vincent Nguini’s guitar work beats any sonic soundscapes (in fact, he’s not credited on Dazzling Blue). As an album, it’s the best since The Rhythm Of The Saints or even Graceland with Getting Ready For Christmas Day, The Afterlife, Rewrite and So Beautiful or So What.

As with Simon & Garfunkel, the quality of Paul Simon demands a suggested Alternate ten. I think the Toppermost list above is reasonably objective and matches the contents of compilations too, and most fans would get somewhere close to it.

Alternate Toppermost

Another Galaxy (Surprise)
Darling Lorraine (You’re The One)
Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes (Alt) (Graceland 25th Anniversary)
Duncan (Live Rhymin’)
Graceland (Graceland)
Have A Good Time (Still Crazy After All These Years)
Late In The Evening (Paul Simon’s Concert In The Park)
Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard (Paul Simon)
Rewrite (So Beautiful or So What)
The Vampires (Songs From The Capeman)

Official Paul Simon website

Paul Simon biography (iTunes)

TopperPost #78

2 Comments

  1. Roger Woods
    Mar 3, 2014

    I came here to offer my own Toppermost entry only to find it already covered by – no surprise – Peter Viney. The list is excellent but so would three or four different top tens. I haven’t yet looked at the Simon and Garfunkel entry – that’s next. I’d have some of Peter’s list but would swap Late in the Evening for Kodachrome (he included it in the last tour) and somehow I’d get Peace Like A River in there. I’m surprised there’ve been no comments. Maybe there’s little to say – Paul Simon is simply one of the most important artists of our times and one with an enormous repertoire.

  2. Peter Viney
    Mar 3, 2014

    Thanks, Roger. Both Paul Simon and Simon & Garfunkel fell into “Well, no one can seriously skip these ten” and “But what about these too?” We could do it about anyone with a long career, but with Paul Simon / S&G it seemed so clear that certain songs demanded a place that the split made sense. Then looking months later after your comment, my first reactions were “What! No “Obvious Child”? “What, no “Boy In The Bubble?” and that’s to my own list.

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