The Perfect iPod™ Collection

Sharing my life experience collecting music.

6. Paul Simon

Paul Simon is a singer, songwriter and guitarist from Queens, a borough of New York City, New York. Simon’s father Louis was a professor at the City College of New York, and a part time bandleader, who gradually gave up his musical aspirations to support his family. Like many New York boys growing up in the forties and fifties, Simon’s first love was baseball, but he took a greater interest in music during elementary school. Simon met longtime collaborator Art Garfunkel in sixth grade; by eighth grade Simon was writing songs that the two would sing together. Success came early for the duo; as teenagers the two had a hit song. Billed as Tom & Jerry, “Hey, Schoolgirl” was a top 50 national hit in 1957.

SimonGarfunkel.PS_.5948.1

After high school, Simon and Garfunkel each attended college, and only performed occasionally. Simon graduated from Queens College with a degree in English, while Garfunkel received a degree in mathematics from Columbia University. Simon continued to write songs, performing them solo, or with Garfunkel and other musicians. In 1964, the duo had a successful audition with Columbia Records, and recorded an album of folk songs titled Wednesday Morning, 3 AM. Sluggish sales prompted Simon to leave and pursue a solo career in England, but he returned a year later when an electrified version of “The Sounds Of Silence” became a surprise #1 hit. Simon & Garfunkel reunited and became one of America’s most beloved folk rock groups, with four acclaimed albums, culminating with the Grammy Award winning Bridge Over Troubled Water in 1970.

Here Paul and brother Ed Simon play the finger picking standard “Anji”, originally by British guitarist Davy Graham:

Paul Simon (b. 1941), guitar, songwriter, singer, bandleader
Art Garfunkel (b. 1941), singer

Solo Career

Bridge Over Troubled Water is Simon & Garfunkel’s most diverse album, with Simon beginning to experiment with different rhythms and instrumentation. At the height of their career, Simon & Garfunkel disbanded, and both men pursued solo careers. Though Art Garfunkel had success as both a singer and actor, it was Paul Simon who embarked on a long, influential career that includes dozens of literary and music awards, plus the grand distinction of being a member of Saturday Night Live Five-Timers club.

As an independent songwriter, with no affiliation to a specific group of musicians, Paul Simon traveled far and wide to create different musical backgrounds. He traveled to Jamaica to record “Mother And Child Reunion” and Muscle Shoals, Alabama to record “Loves Me Like A Rock”. He traveled to South Africa and Brazil to record compelling native rhythms, and returned to New York to complete the tracks with lyrics and studio musicians, the songs for the albums Graceland and Rhythm Of The Saints. The talents of New York’s finest studio musicians are featured throughout his career.

An artist of uncommon stamina and longevity, Simon created what is considered his greatest work (Graceland) in his mid-forties. His most recent album, the highly acclaimed So Beautiful or So What from 2011, includes “The Afterlife”, my favorite song in the last few years. Simon also “reunites” every now and then with Art Garfunkel to play Simon & Garfunkel songs. Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 1990, and Simon was inducted as a solo artist in 2001.

An incomplete list of New York City’s best studio musicians, a small subset of those who contributed to Paul Simon’s music:

Steve Gadd (b. 1945), drums
Richard Tee (1943-1993), keyboards
Bill Lee (b. 1928), bass
Eric Gale (1938-1994), guitar
Joe South (1940-2012), guitar
The Brecker Brothers (Michael (1949-2007) and Randy (b. 1945)), core horn section
David Sanborn (b. 1945), saxophone

Emory University: Paul Simon Brings a New Verse to the Ellman Lectures, Sept. 25, 2013

Songwriting

“No, the early songs, I can’t say I really like them. But there’s something naive and sweet-natured, and I must say I like that about it.

They’re not angry. And that means that I wasn’t angry or unhappy. That’s my memory of that time; it was just about idyllic. It was just the best time of my life, I think, up until recently, these last five years or so, six years…This has been the best time of my life. But before that, I would say that that was.”

– Paul Simon

Simon is somewhat dismissive of his early work; I like the Simon & Garfunkel songs better than he does. Songs like “I Am A Rock”, “Homeward Bound” and even the playful “At The Zoo” are among my favorite Paul Simon songs. Taken together, Simon & Garfunkel’s earliest music paint my imagined portrait of life growing up as a schoolboy in New England; I feel the chill of their winter, and the warmth and happiness of life there. An older person still appreciates, and often longs for younger days. Songs about winning or losing love, and wanting to be home, ring true forever. Like emptiness and harmony, I need someone to comfort me. It’s hard not to reminisce fondly, even if life didn’t go according to plan.

For the first time in ten or so artists, I passed on reading a full biography of Paul Simon. I’m very familiar with his music, and sensed I would not learn much. Besides, Bob Dylan is up next and I have to study and prepare. That’s not a knock on Simon; Dylan is a complex character with a vast library of music. This is as good a place to point out that Simon may prefer his post-Garfunkel music because he, like virtually all young folk songwriters, was so influenced by Bob Dylan, that he was not satisfied until he broke free and found a more authentic voice.

I reviewed Simon’s long interview in Paul Zollo’s “Songwriters on Songwriting”, and used a few quotes to facilitate a discussion.

Amazon.com Link to “Songwriters On Songwriting”, by Paul Zollo

“As soon as your mind knows that it’s on and it’s supposed to produce some lines, either it doesn’t or it produces things that are very predictable. And that’s why I say I’m not interested in writing something I’ve thought about. I’m interested in discovering where my mind wants to go, or what object it wants to pick up.

It always picks up on something true. You’ll find out much more about what you’re thinking that way than you will if you’re determined to say something. What you’re determined to say is filled with all your rationalizations and your defenses and all of that. What you want to say to the world as opposed to what you’re thinking. And as a lyricist, my job is to find out what it is that I’m thinking. Even if it’s something that I don’t want to be thinking.

I think when I get blocked, when I have writer’s block (though I never think of it as writer’s block anymore), what it is is that you have something to say but you don’t want to say it. So your mind says, “I have nothing to say. I’ve just nothing more to say. I can’t write anything. I have no thoughts.” Closer to the truth is that you have a thought that you really would prefer not to have. And you’re not going to say that thought. Your mind is protected. Once you discover what that thought is, if you can find another way of approaching it that isn’t negative to you, then you can deal with that subject matter.”

– Paul Simon

I’ve used this philosophy for the blog, especially the last couple of years. After reading and listening to music for a few weeks, I write whatever emerges. No thought is given to organization until the profile is in progress; at some point I find the logical path to a satisfactory conclusion. For the second time in the last six months (Neil Young post), I’ve had writer’s block, not knowing how to start. I’m out of my league; I can’t possibly offer insight or reasonable analysis of Paul Simon’s fifty-plus year career, impossibly long and diverse to capture in a couple thousand words, even if I had the formal musical training. I can write down a list of songs I like, and the ones I like best, but even then I’m having yet an inner crisis over the concept of attaching a rating to songs. Recently, I’ve had like-minded critics and analysts question assigning a value to artistic expression. Another friend said recently that ranking songs was against her principles. The closer I get to finishing this project, which began over four years ago, the more I feel the rating exercise is misguided at best, and at times I feel sheepish and stupid evaluating my favorite musicians and songs in numerical terms. But I am nearly done, compelled to finish what I started, and show how my calculating mind thinks. Though the ratings connote some hierarchy of music, my words nearly always champion the artists and their brilliance.

Simon On Beginning And Ending Songs

“Because how you begin a song is one of the hardest things. The first line of a song is very hard. I always have this image in my mind of a road that goes like this (motions with hands to signify a road that gets wider as it opens out) so that the implication is that the directions are pointing outward. It’s like a baseball diamond; there’s more and more space out here. As opposed to like this (motions an inverted road getting thinner.) Because if it’s like this, at this point in the song, you’re out of options.

So you want to have that first line that has a lot of options, to get you going. And the other thing that I try to remember, especially if a song is long, you have plenty of time. You don’t have to kill them, you don’t have to grab them by the throat by the first line.

In fact, you have to wait for the audience — they’re going to sit down, get settled in their seat…their concentration is not even there. You have to be a good host to people’s attention span. They’re not going to come in there and work real hard right away. Too many things are coming: the music is coming, the rhythm is coming, all kinds of information that the brain is sorting out.

So “You Can Call Me Al”, which was an example of that kind of writing, starts off very easily with sort of a joke: “Why am I soft in the middle when the rest of my life is so hard?” It’s a joke, with very easy words. Then it has a chorus you can’t understand. What is he talking about, you can call me Betty, and Betty, you can call me Al? You don’t know what I’m talking about. But I don’t think it’s bothersome. You don’t know what I’m talking about, but neither do I, at that point.

The second verse is really a recapitulation of the first: A man walks down the street, he says…another thing. And by the time you get to the third verse, and people have been into the song for long enough, now you can start to throw abstract images. Because there’s been a structure, and those abstract images, they will just come down and fall into one of the slots that the mind has already made up about the structure of the song.

So now you have this guy who’s no longer thinking about the mundane thoughts, about whether he’s getting too fat, whether he needs a photo opportunity, or whether he’s afraid of the dogs in the moonlight and the graveyard, and he’s off in, listen to the sound, look what’s going on, there’s cattle and…”

– Paul Simon

Describing what makes a song enjoyable is a complicated proposition. I have my favorite subjects — love, God, work, nature, beauty: the small handful of life’s most precious things. Good songs can have simple words, or be complex and literate. There are good songs using only one or two chords, with monotonous melodies that compel the listener into a trance-like groove. There are good songs with elaborate chord structures and unusual melodies, that must be listened to several times to even begin understanding. How the singer “phrases”, accenting and punctuating the words within the melody to tell the story, is essential, a reason why I generally prefer an author’s original version. It’s also why I gravitate to “plain” singers over the wailers and belters of the world. By singing at a medium volume, and not yelling every word, allows the plain singer to emote more effectively, to enunciate each word, and accent the song with higher or lower volume where appropriate. Many of my favorite artists are great songwriters who don’t have particularly strong voices, but they sing with finesse. John Lennon, Paul Simon, and Jerry Garcia are among those who interpret a song well.

Ambiguity

I like songs whose words can be interpreted in more than one way. The classic example I often use to illustrate this is Van Morrison’s “Have I Told You Lately”:

“Have I told you lately that I love you,
Have I told you there’s no one above you,
Fill my heart with gladness,
Take away my sadness,
Ease my troubles, that’s what you do.

There’s a love that’s divine,
And it’s yours and it’s mine,
And it shines like the sun.
At the end of the day, we will give thanks
And pray, to the One.”

– Van Morrison

The song can be viewed as either romantic love or religious devotion. This type of ambiguity is a rare and wonderful trait. Paul Simon’s practice of letting his subconscious participate lends itself well to lyrics open for interpretation.

Mini-Concert

Let’s look at a couple of Paul Simon performances. My favorite song on Graceland has always been “Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes”, featuring the South African singing group Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Performed in concert, the song displays the singing group’s grace and agility:

In the fall of 2003, Simon & Garfunkel embarked on the elaborate “Old Friends” tour, in which they assembled a fine orchestra, and invited their heroes, The Everly Brothers, to participate for a few songs each evening. First, here is Simon & Garfunkel performing “The Boxer” as a duet on the David Letterman show. Note the inclusion of the song’s “missing verse”.

And here, with the full orchestra, Simon & Garfunkel perform “I Am A Rock” in 2003:

In 2007, Paul Simon became the first recipient of the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. The concert to commemorate this occasion included a performance of Simon’s “Loves Me Like A Rock”, featuring the Dixie Hummingbirds on vocals and Stevie Wonder on piano and vocals. Complete with false start, “Loves Me Like A Rock” begins around the eight minute mark of this fifteen minute video:

Ever since I saw this video, “Loves Me Like A Rock” is the song that makes me think about Mom. What a great, unselfish person she was. And boy, did she ever love me love me love me.

The Afterlife

“After I died, and the makeup had dried, I went back to my place.
No moon that night, but a heavenly light shone on my face.
Still I thought it was odd, there was no sign of God just to usher me in.
Then a voice from above, sugar coated with Love, said,

Let us begin.
You got to fill out a form first, and then you wait in the line.
You got to fill out a form first, and then you wait in the line.”

In the first verse, Simon introduces the topic — he died, so what happens next? One good thing is he gets to go back to his place. I like the rhyme of “usher me in” with “let us begin”. We now know that heaven requires a bit of paperwork before entry is granted.

“OK, a new kid in school, got to follow the rule, you got to learn the routine.
Whoa, there’s a girl over there, with the sunshiny hair, like a homecomin’ queen.
I said, “Hey, what you say? It’s a glorious day, by the way how long you been dead?”
Maybe you, maybe me, maybe baby makes three, but she just shook her head…

You got to fill out a form first, and then you wait in the line.
You got to fill out a form first, and then you wait in the line.

Buddah and Moses and all the noses from narrow to flat,
Had to stand in the line, just to glimpse the divine, what you think about that?
Well it seems like our fate to suffer and wait for the knowledge we seek,
It’s all his design, no one cuts in the line, no one here likes a sneak.

You got to fill out a form first, and then you wait in the line.
You got to fill out a form first, and then you wait in the line.”

In the self-explanatory second and third verses, Simon addresses the two great mysteries in life. There’s always the magnetic appeal of a beautiful woman. And while you’re waiting in line, notice that no one is exempt from final judgement. After a short, shimmering instrumental passage, Simon returns with the final verse.

“After you climb up the ladder of time, the Lord God is near.
Face to face, in the vastness of space, your words disappear.
And you feel like swimming in that ocean of love, and the current is strong.
But all that remains when you try to explain is a fragment of song…

Lord, is it ‘Be Bop A Lu La’ or ‘Ooh Poo Pah Doo’?
Lord, ‘Be Bop A Lu La’ or ‘Ooh Poo Pah Doo’?
‘Be Bop A Lu La’.”

Assuming I have time to think about life before I die, I’m sure to swim in that ocean of love and reminisce about the great times I’ve had. Words to describe my gratitude will not suffice. Life’s a struggle, but when my time gets near, I’ll give up battling and just swim.

It seems like a throwaway, but “Lord, is it ‘Be Bop A Lu La’ or ‘Ooh Poo Pah Doo’?” is the key statement. After four beautifully constructed verses of rhythmic, literate prose, he finally distills what he wants to say. And he’s right, it’s ‘Be Bop A Lu La’.

Paul Simon Song Notes:

Most of these songs are easy to find. The exceptions are:

1. “Hearts And Bones/Mystery Train/Wheels (Live)” can be found on iTunes Festival: London 2011 — EP.

2. “Paranoia Blues (Alt)” can be found on Paul Simon.

3. “Something So Right (Live)” can be found on Paul Simon In Concert: Live Rhymin’.

4. “The Afterlife (Live)” is the official YouTube performance as presented in the blog.

5. “The Sound Of Silence (Alt)” can be found on The Columbia Studio Recordings — 1964-1970.

6. “Scarborough Fair/Canticle (Live)” and “I Am A Rock (Live) can be found on Live 1969.

7. “The Sound Of Silence (Live)” can be found on Live from New York City, 1967.

8. “A Hazy Shade Of Winter (Live)”
“I Am A Rock (Live)”
“At The Zoo (Live)”
“Baby Driver (Live)”
“Homeward Bound (Live)”
“The Sound Of Silence (Live)”

can be found on Old Friends: Live On Stage.

9. “Homeward Bound (Live)”
“The Boxer (Live)”
“Fakin’ It (Live)”
“The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) (Live)”
“Anji (Live)”
“America (Live)”

can be found on the unauthorized live recording 59th Street Bridge Songs: France 1970.

Simon & Garfunkel Songs

Homeward Bound, Simon & Garfunkel ★★★★★

The Sound Of Silence (Alt), Simon & Garfunkel ★★★★
The Boxer, Simon & Garfunkel ★★★★
America, Simon & Garfunkel ★★★★
I Am A Rock (Live), Simon & Garfunkel ★★★★

At The Zoo, Simon & Garfunkel ★★★
The Sound Of Silence, Simon & Garfunkel ★★★
Mrs. Robinson, Simon & Garfunkel ★★★
Scarborough Fair/Canticle, Simon & Garfunkel ★★★
I Am A Rock, Simon & Garfunkel ★★★

Bridge Over Troubled Water, Simon & Garfunkel ★★
Baby Driver, Simon & Garfunkel ★★
Peggy-O, Simon & Garfunkel ★★
Wednesday Morning, 3 AM, Simon & Garfunkel ★★
Anji, Simon & Garfunkel ★★
The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy), Simon & Garfunkel ★★
The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy), Simon & Garfunkel ★★
Fakin’ It, Simon & Garfunkel ★★
A Hazy Shade Of Winter, Simon & Garfunkel ★★
Scarborough Fair/Canticle (Live), Simon & Garfunkel ★★
I Am A Rock (live), Simon & Garfunkel ★★
The Sound Of Silence (Live), Simon & Garfunkel ★★
Homeward Bound (Live), Simon & Garfunkel ★★
The Boxer (Live), Simon & Garfunkel ★★
Anji (Live), Simon & Garfunkel ★★

El Condor Pasa (If I Could), Simon & Garfunkel
The Only Living Boy In New York, Simon & Garfunkel
Kathy’s Song, Simon & Garfunkel
Richard Cory, Simon & Garfunkel
Cloudy, Simon & Garfunkel
The Dangling Conversation, Simon & Garfunkel
Flowers Never Bend With The Rainfall, Simon & Garfunkel
A Simple Desultory Phillipic (Or How I Was Robert McNamara’d), Simon & Garfunkel
Old Friends, Simon & Garfunkel
Bookends Theme, Simon & Garfunkel
Sparrow, Simon & Garfunkel
Somewhere They can’t Find Me, Simon & Garfunkel
Bleecker Street, Simon & Garfunkel
Patterns, Simon & Garfunkel
The Sound Of Silence (Live), Simon & Garfunkel
A Hazy Shade Of Winter (live), Simon & Garfunkel
At The Zoo (Live), Simon & Garfunkel
Baby Driver (live), Simon & Garfunkel
Homeward Bound (live), Simon & Garfunkel
Fakin’ It (Live), Simon & Garfunkel
America (live), Simon & Garfunkel

Paul Simon Songs:

The Afterlife (Live), Paul Simon ★★★★★

Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes, Paul Simon ★★★★
Late In the Evening, Paul Simon ★★★★
The Afterlife, Paul Simon ★★★★

Mother And Child Reunion, Paul Simon ★★★
Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard, Paul Simon ★★★
Under African Skies, Paul Simon ★★★
Graceland, Paul Simon ★★★
Something So Right, Paul Simon ★★★
Born At The Right Time, Paul Simon ★★★
Loves Me Like A Rock, Paul Simon ★★★
Dazzling Blue (Video), Paul Simon ★★★

Take Me To The Mardi Gras, Paul Simon ★★
Slip Slidin’ Away, Paul Simon ★★
She Moves On, Paul Simon ★★
50 Ways To Leave Your Lover, Paul Simon ★★
That Was Your Mother, Paul Simon ★★
Dazzling Blue, Paul Simon ★★
Hobo’s Blues, Paul Simon ★★
Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes (Alt), Paul Simon ★★
Something So Right (Live), Paul Simon ★★
Homeless, Paul Simon ★★
Hearts And Bones, Paul Simon ★★

Father And Daughter, Paul Simon
The Boy In The Bubble, Paul Simon
Gumboots, Paul Simon
You Can Call Me Al, Paul Simon
Crazy Love, Vol. II, Paul Simon
Still Crazy After All These Years, Paul Simon
Kodachrome, Paul Simon
Train In the Distance, Paul Simon
Duncan, Paul Simon
Paranoia Blues (Alt), Paul Simon
Proof, Paul Simon
Can’t Run But, Paul Simon
The Coast, Paul Simon
Born At the Right Time (Demo), Paul Simon
Getting Ready For Christmas Day, Paul Simon
Rewrite, Paul Simon
One Man’s Ceiling Is Another Man’s Floor, Paul Simon
St. Judy’s Comet, Paul Simon

Related Songs:

Angi, Davy Graham ★★

Bridge Over Troubled Water, Aretha Franklin ★★

January 22, 2014 - Posted by | Folk, Gospel, Pop, Psychedelic, Rock, Soul

2 Comments »

  1. I’m glad you included the song “Late In The Evening.” Everybody forgets that song, since it’s the only highlight of an otherwise boring soundtrack to an inexplicable movie (One Trick Pony). Besides proving that Paul Simon could write a straight-up rock song when he felt like it, the lyrics paradoxically point up something else–after an album or two, songwriters don’t write about themselves.

    All the lyrics to “Late In The Evening,” about being in a band playing in a nightclub, have nothing to do with Paul Simon’s professional experience. Yes, he played nightclubs early in his career, and so on, and but not in a band–the feelings of “Late In The Evening” are real, but Paul Simon the writer is projecting about an experience he never had.

    Of course, we know songwriters make stuff up–it’s widely understood that Johnny Cash did not actually shoot a man in Reno just to watch him die. Yet we somehow think that if a song isn’t set in the old west or something, the details “must” be true. While many writers use their life for their initial work (their first album or first novel), in order to have a sustained career, they have to be able to invent something. Since Paul Simon’s performance career is relatively well known, “Late In The Evening” is a reminder that Paul Simon’s power as a songwriter was his ability to universalize feelings without actually, necessarily, having 50 ways to leave his lover.

    Comment by corry342 | January 22, 2014 | Reply

    • Hi Corry,

      Thanks so much, not only for your thoughtful remarks, but also to reinforce my belief that “Late In the Evening” is a top song. I’ve liked that one forever.

      John

      Comment by theperfectipodcollection | January 22, 2014 | Reply


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