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Music / Graceland

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"I am following the river down the highway, through the cradle of the Civil War."

Graceland is the sixth studio album by Paul Simon, released in 1986. It is perhaps his most famous solo album, well known for hits such as "The Boy in the Bubble", "Graceland", "Diamonds On the Soles of Her Shoes" and "You Can Call Me Al". It's certainly his best-selling record in commercial terms; it sold over 14 million copies and won the 1987 Grammy Award for Album of the Year.

The album is famous for featuring the cooperation of many South African musicians, thus providing a very African atmosphere and giving those musicians the Colbert Bump. However, that same cooperation ended up attracting significant amounts of controversy for Simon, as it meant that he was visiting and operating in South Africa during a time when the United Nations had instituted a cultural embargo against the country, with artists being encouraged to avoid visiting in protest towards Apartheid.

Simon's visit to South Africa was seen as a defiance of this popularly-supported boycott, with the problematic aspects behind it being something that Simon would end up spending the rest of his career adamantly refuting. Simon additionally drew criticism from African-American groups in the United States for what they perceived as cultural appropriation, despite Simon actively working with South African artists to provide a proper and authentic representation of their culture.

In 2007 "Graceland" was inducted in the National Recording Registry for being "historically, culturally and aesthetically important." A documentary about the creative process behind the album can be seen in the Classic Albums TV documentary series, as well as in the 2012 documentary film, Under African Skies by Joe Berlinger. The latter additionally goes in-depth into the controversy that followed the album's release, thoroughly displaying the multitude of different ways that the album was received and ultimately leaving it up to the viewer to form their own perception of Graceland based on the testimonies shown.

Alongside So by Peter Gabriel, Graceland is further significant in that it represented the peak of the worldbeat boom that had been going on throughout the 1980's, first kickstarted by Gabriel's Melt and Talking Heads' Remain in Light, both in 1980. However, the controversy this album spawned served as a leading factor in the decline of worldbeat throughout the remainder of the decade, as more and more people began to question the ethical and sociopolitical implications of white artists like Simon, Gabriel, and Talking Heads making use of sounds and styles from nonwestern countries. Gabriel and the members of Talking Heads (particularly frontman David Byrne) would eventually manage to free themselves from the debate as their socially conscious sides and earnest appreciation for World Music became increasingly well-known, but Simon would remain dogged by the controversy up to the present day.

Graceland was supported by five singles: "You Can Call Me Al", the Title Track, "The Boy in the Bubble", "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes", and "Under African Skies".


Side One

  1. "The Boy in the Bubble" (3:59)
  2. "Graceland" (4:48)
  3. "I Know What I Know" (3:13)
  4. "Gumboots" (2:44)
  5. "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" (5:45)

Side Two

  1. "You Can Call Me Al" (4:39)
  2. "Under African Skies" (3:37)
  3. "Homeless" (3:48)
  4. "Crazy Love, Vol. II" (4:18)
  5. "That Was Your Mother" (2:52)
  6. "All Around the World or the Myth of Fingerprints" (3:15)

Bonus Tracks (2004 Reissue):

  1. "Homeless (Demo)" (2:28)
  2. "Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes (Alternate Version)" (4:43)
  3. "All Around The World Or The Myth Of Fingerprints (Alternate Version)" (3:17)

If you'll be my bodyguard, I can be your long-lost trope:

  • Aborted Arc: When the album kicks off you hear a lot of African instruments and you expect the record to go deeper into this, but no. Only "Under African Skies" has lyrics that directly reference Africa.
  • A Cappella:
    • "Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes" starts off a cappella, but then instrumentation falls in.
    • "Homeless" is entirely a capella, accompanied by Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
  • Actor Allusion: Not only does Linda Ronstadt sing harmony on "Under African Skies", Simon has confirmed that one of the verses is about her as well.
    In early memory
    Mission music
    Was ringing 'round my nursery door
    I said take this child, Lord
    From Tucson, Arizona
    Give her the wings to fly through harmony
    And she won't bother you no more
  • Added Alliterative Appeal: Twice in "The Boy in the Bubble"
    There was a bright light,
    A shattering of shop windows,
    The bomb in the baby carriage
    Was wired through the radio.
    The boy in the bubble
    And the baby with the baboon heart
  • Affectionate Nickname: "Graceland".
    There's a girl in New York City who calls herself the human trampoline
    And sometimes when I'm falling, flying or tumbling in turmoil
    I say: "Whoa, so this is what she means."
    She means we're bouncing into Graceland.
  • African Chant: Omnipresent throughout the album. The musical sounds of this album were very much inspired by South African musicians Johnny Clegg and Sipho Mchunu and their band Juluka. Despite this only the track "Under African Skies" directly references Africa. The title track takes place in Graceland, Memphis Tennessee, USA, for instance!
  • Album Title Drop: "Graceland".
    I'm going to Graceland, Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee
  • Alliterative Title: "I Know What I Know".
  • The American Civil War: Mentioned in the Title Track.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes and Homeless have lines in Zulu.
  • Bubble Boy: The Boy In The Bubble. Sort of obvious...
  • Call-and-Response Song: "Homeless"
    Somebody say ih hih ih hih ih
    Somebody sing hello, hello, hello
    Somebody say ih hih ih hih ih
    Somebody cry why, why, why?
    Somebody say ih hih ih hih ih
    Somebody sing hello, hello, hello
    Somebody say ih hih ih hih ih
    Somebody cry why, why, why?
    Somebody say ih hih ih hih ih
  • Celebrity Cameo: In the music video of "You Can Call Me Al" Chevy Chase makes a cameo and basically lip-syncs the main vocals while Paul Simon lip-syncs some of the backing vocals.
  • Damned by Faint Praise: The narrator of "I Know What I Know" actually does this to himself.
    She looked me over
    And I guess she thought I was all right
    All right in a sort of limited way for an off night
  • Dude, Not Funny!: "I Know What I Know"
    She said there's something about you
    That really reminds me of money
    She is the kind of a girl who could say things that weren't that funny
  • Either/Or Title: "All Around The World Or The Myth Of Fingerprints"
  • Genre Roulette: The album continuously rotates between pop rock, folk music, and traditional South African music, oftentimes intersecting.
  • Have We Met?: "I Know What I Know".
    She said, "Don't I know you
    from the cinematographer's party?"
    I said, "Who am I
    to blow against the wind?"
  • Homeless Hero: "Homeless".
    And we are homeless, homeless
    Moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake
    Homeless, homeless
  • Location Song: "Graceland", where the protagonist is driving to the place to visit it.
  • Lyrical Cold Open: The first minute of "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" is in a capella.
  • Lyrical Dissonance:
    • "Boy In The Bubble", a cheery song about with lyrics that aren't that upbeat:
      There was a bright light
      A shattering of shop windows
      The bomb in the baby carriage
      Was wired to the radio
    • Zig-zagged in the chorus, making it an example of Mood Whiplash. Simon himself commented that the song combines "hope and dread... that's the way I see the world — a balance between the two, but coming down on the side of hope.":
      These are the days of miracle and wonder
      This is the long distance call
      The way the camera follows us in slo-mo
      The way we look to us all
      The way we look to a distant constellation
      That's dying in a corner of the sky
      These are the days of miracle and wonder
      And don't cry baby, don't cry, don't cry
    • "That Was Your Mother" - The upbeat zydeco music disguises the fact that the lyrics are basically a father complaining to their child that he and his mother don't have much fun since he was born.
  • New Sound Album: Compared to Paul Simon's previous output, this was the first album where he drew on musical influences from Africa, which changes his entire sound.
  • One-Man Song: "You Can Call Me Al"
  • One-Word Title: "Graceland", "Gumboots", "Homeless".
  • Ripped from the Headlines: "The Boy in the Bubble" includes allusions to David Vetter and Ted DeVita, two boys born with severe immunodeficiency which forced them to live inside special "bubble" chambers, and Baby Fae, a child that had a baboon heart transplant since no human donor was available. She lived 21 days and much controversy surrounded the event.
  • Road Trip Plot: The protagonist in "Graceland" is driving to Graceland, Tennessee with his son from a previous marriage.
  • Shout-Out: To Zydeco legend Clifton Chenier in "That Was Your Mother". His son C.J. Chenier made a guest appearance on Simon's follow-up album The Rhythm of the Saints.
  • Special Guest: The Everly Brothers provide backing vocals on the title tune, Linda Ronstadt duets with Simon on the verses of "Under African Skies", and the band Los Lobos accompanies Simon on "All Around The World Or The Myth Of Fingerprints".
  • Uptown Girl: "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" examines this trope in a wistful way.
  • Weirdness Magnet: The men in "You Can Call Me Al" wonder why they feel bad or why certain things happen to them.
  • World Music: The album is one of the most famous fusions of world music, in this case from South Africa, of all time.