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Music / Paul Simon

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If you'll be my bodyguard,
I can be your long-lost pal.
I can call you Betty,
And Betty, when you call me you can call me Al.
— "You Can Call Me Al"

Paul Frederic Simon (born October 13, 1941) is an American folk and rock musician known both for his initial career in the Folk Rock duo Simon & Garfunkel and his eclectic solo career, which has ranged from straightforward pop, rock and folk to world music explorations.

Raised in Queens, New York, Simon first began performing with his school chum Art Garfunkel in 1957 under the name Tom and Jerry (even having a minor chart hit that year with their single "Hey Schoolgirl"), but the partnership only became permanent following the success of their 1965 chart-topper and Signature Song "The Sounds of Silence". The duo released a string of critically acclaimed albums and became famous for their close harmonies and Simon's alternately surreal, poetic and humorous lyrics, before calling it a day in 1970.

Simon quickly moved on to a solo career, releasing the eponymous Paul Simon in 1972. For the rest of The '70s, Simon pursued a jazz-pop sound with occasional elements from other genres such as gospel ("Loves Me Like a Rock") and reggae ("Mother and Child Reunion"). While his first three albums were greeted warmly by the record-buying public and critics, he went on a hiatus after 1976, dabbling with acting for a while. His supposed "comeback" records between 1980-1986 saw him abandoning his jazzy sound in favour of more experimentation and sold poorly.

However, Simon rebounded with Graceland (1986). Recorded in South Africa with a cast of talented African musicians and containing a fusion of Western pop-rock and folk music with African genres such as isicathamiya and mbaqanga, the album was released in 1986 to a wildly positive response despite considerable controversy surrounding Simon's decision to record in South Africa at the height of both Apartheid and a United Nations-led cultural boycott against South Africa meant to protest Apartheid. The album re-established Simon as a successful artist and became an enduring benchmark by which "world music" experiments by other pop artists are measured, though the Graceland controversy still chases him around here and there even today.

Away from the music world, Simon is a member of the Saturday Night Live Five-Timer's Club (even appearing in the original titular sketch). His memorable music video for "You Can Call Me Al" features Chevy Chase.

Studio Discography:

  • The Paul Simon Songbook (1965)
  • Paul Simon (1972)
  • There Goes Rhymin' Simon (1973)
  • Still Crazy After All These Years (1975)
  • One-Trick Pony (1980)
  • Hearts and Bones (1983)
  • Graceland (1986)
  • The Rhythm of the Saints (1990)
  • Songs from the Capeman (1997)
  • You're the One (2000)
  • Surprise (2006)
  • So Beautiful or So What (2011)
  • Stranger to Stranger (2016)
  • In the Blue Light (2018)
  • Seven Psalms (2023)

"You Can Call Me Tropes":

  • Album Title Drop: From "Everything About It is a Love Song"
    At a birthday party
    Make a wish and close your eyes.
    Surprise, surprise, surprise.
  • American Title: "American Tune".
  • Born in the Wrong Century: Inverted and defied by "Born At the Right Time".
  • Call-Back: The line about "The little harbor church of St. Cecilia" in "The Coast" might be one to Simon & Garfunkel's "Cecilia".
  • Coming of Age Story: "Duncan" is largely this, complete with dose of Sex as Rite-of-Passage towards the end.
  • Concept Album: Graceland.
  • Culture Clash: All the questions in "How Can You Live in the Northeast?" point to one.
  • Either/Or Title: "The Myth of Fingerprints, or, All Around the World".
  • Father's Quest: Simon recorded "Slip Slidin' Away" in 1977. The third stanza describes a father who's been absent from his son's life, and decides to make amends.
    And I know a father who had a son
    He longed to tell him all the reasons for the things he'd done
    He came a long way just to explain
    Kissed his boy as he lay sleeping, then turned around and headed home again.
  • Lyrical Dissonance:
    • "Boy In The Bubble" - in Simon's own words, "Hope and dread... that's the way I see the world — a balance between the two, but coming down on the side of hope."
    • Also from Graceland - "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.
    • "Mother and Child Reunion" - An upbeat, reggae-flavored song about a father trying to console a child about the death of the mother.
    • "You Can Call Me Al", despite its upbeat melody is about a middle-aged man having a mid-life crisis, questioning why he's "soft in the middle", his short attention span and losing respect in an idol who "ducked back down the alley with some roly-poly little bat-faced girl", although in the third verse it's implied he gets over said crisis and finds a resolve in South Africa.
  • Noodle Incident: Not even Simon knows what Mama saw in "Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard".
  • Non-Actor Vehicle: 1980's One Trick Pony, which he wrote as well as starred in and composed the music for. Interesting since his character is explicitly not an Author Avatar; he's a One-Hit Wonder from The '60s struggling to make a comeback. It famously has a character (played by Rip Torn) who's a blatant Take That! to Columbia Records president Walter Yetnikoff (whose feuding with Simon led to him switch labels), among other In-Jokes about the music industry. The movie completely bombed, but it generated a hit song with "Late in the Evening".
  • Performance Video: "You Can Call Me Al" is a parody of this, with Chevy Chase lip-syncing the lyrics while Simon plays various instruments.
  • Right Through the Wall: Alluded to in "Duncan".
  • Rule of Three: "The Late Great Johnny Ace" features three Johns: Ace, Kennedy and Lennon.
  • Self-Titled Album: Simon's 1970 album.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: "A Simple Desultory Philippic (Or How I Was Robert McNamara'd Into Submission)"
    • From "You Can Call Me Al": "All along along/There were incidents and accidents/There were hints and allegations"
    • "The Dangling Conversation".
  • Shout-Out:
    • "Old", from You're The One. It not only name drops Buddy Holly, but is very reminiscent of Holly's guitar riffs.
    • The zydeco song "That Was Your Mother":
      Clifton Chenier, the King of the Bayou
      Standing in the shadow of Clifton Chenier
    • "The Late Great Johnny Ace", from Hearts and Bones, is at once a Shout Out to Johnny Ace, John F. Kennedy and in memorial to John Lennon — three Johns who were killed by a firearm.
    • "Rene and Georgette Magritte with Their Dog after the War" shouts out the famed surrealist painter as well as the popular doo-wop groups of The '50s: The Penguins, The Moonglows, The Orioles and the Five Satins.
    • "Mother and Child Reunion", besides homaging Reggae (the music of Jimmy Cliff in particular), has these lines.
      Oh, little darling of mine
      I can't for the life of me
      Remember a sadder day
      I know they say "let it be."
  • Signature Style: Lyrically, at least.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Started cynical-ish, especially on early Simon & Garfunkel records, but he's always had a foot in idealism.
  • To Absent Friends: Combined with Drowning My Sorrows at the end of "The Late Great Johnny Ace".
  • Trope Codifier: He was one of the first to succeed at bringing world music to mainstream America's attention, preceded by The Beatles experimenting with Indian music on Rubber Soul and Revolver.
  • Truck Driver's Gear Change: Done in the middle of the last verse of "Still Crazy After All These Years".
  • Uptown Girl: "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" from Graceland is explicitly about this trope.
  • Word Salad Lyrics: "Boy In The Bubble" borders on this.
  • World Music: His experiments in this date back to the Simon & Garfunkel days (most memorably "El Condor Pasa", where he wrote English lyrics to a Peruvian song), and he dipped into it occasionally in his earlier solo career, using Latin rhythms in songs like "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard" and "Late in the Evening". But he embraced the concept wholeheartedly with the exploration of South African music on Graceland, and continued it on his next album, The Rhythm of the Saints, with Brazilian music as its focus.


We Are The World

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