If we hadn’t known about Simon & Garfunkel when we first heard the solo Paul Simon album in 1972, I think we’d still have been pretty impressed.
It had “Me And Julio Down By The School Yard”, “Mother And Child Reunion” (with a not yet common Reggae rhythm), “Peace Like A River”, and 8 more solid songs. Since we did know about the famous duo, if you were like me, you missed the harmony of Simon & Garfunkel. But, it was still a really great start to his solo career.
Paul Simon continued to prove himself an American treasure as a songwriter. His second solo album, There Goes Rhymin’ Simon in 1973, included the classic “American Tune”, and the hits “Kodachrome” (#2), “Loves Me Like A Rock” (#2), and the ballad “Something So Right”. Then, his third album, Still Crazy After All These Years in 1975, returned him to the top of the charts with “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover”, and won the Grammy Award for Album Of The Year.
Paul Simon performed with George Harrison on Saturday Night Live in 1976. They sang “Here Comes The Sun” and “Homeward Bound”. That SNL Thanksgiving episode is famous for Simon opening the show by singing “Still Crazy After All These Years” while wearing a turkey costume. Who said he was too serious? Simon has made over a dozen appearances on SNL through the years.
Paul Simon only had one more hit in the 1970’s, with “Slip Slidin’ Away”, at #5 in 1977. He finally released his fourth album One-Trick Pony in 1980, and although it had another top ten hit, “Late In The Evening” (#6), it wasn’t a success by his standards, nor was the accompanying film a hit in theaters. What to do?
He put on a live concert in Central Park with old pal Art Garfunkel. At the time, it was one of the largest concerts ever. The crowd was estimated at half-a-million people. The event and the live album transported Simon back to more successful times, but that didn’t last long. In 1983, he released Hearts And Bones, which turned out to be a commercial low point in his career. He was even quoted as wondering if he was still a commercially viable artist.
After hearing a cassette of some South African music in late 1984, Paul Simon was inspired. He began writing new songs, and enlisted the help of musicians from South Africa. This was a risk, because there was a boycott against the South African government over Apartheid, and some accused Simon of breaking that boycott. Paul Simon said he was simply working with fellow musicians, and they shouldn’t be limited because they were living under an unfair government. Despite the controversy, the result was his most popular solo album ever…Graceland…in 1986.
The album was a hit with fans and critics. Popular cuts included “You Can Call Me Al” (with a funny video featuring Chevy Chase), “Under African Skies” (with Linda Ronstadt), “Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes”, and the title track. Graceland went on to win Grammy Awards for Album Of The Year, and Record Of The Year, and it sold an estimated 16-million copies.
Paul Simon was once again among the most popular musicians in the world, and he embarked on very successful tours. His follow-up album came in 1990, Rhythm Of The Saints. This time, Simon used Brazilian style music on “Born At The Right Time”, “The Obvious Child” and “She Moves On”. The album was well received by most critics, but it didn’t have the commercial impact of Graceland.
In 1991, he did another “Concert In The Park”, only this time it was a solo effort, backed by African and South American musicians. The crowd was reported as being 750,000…50% larger than his previous park concert with Art Garfunkel. Over the years, he has received almost every song-writing and musical honor that could be applied to his long stellar career.
Paul Simon has continued performing, sometimes doing concerts with Art Garfunkel (when they’ve gotten along), and releasing albums that have had reasonable popularity. His latest, 2016’s Stranger To Stranger includes the popular song “Wristband”. The song features Italian electric dance beats provided by the artist Clap! (yes, with an exclamation point). It’s a cool song that tells the story of Simon being locked out of the stage door of his own concert, and then not being able to get back in the front doors, because he doesn’t have a wristband for admission. Of course it has a deeper meaning of disadvantaged people not being allowed into society.
That’s Paul Simon…still relevant after all these years.
Update: Paul Simon 2/5/18 statement on retiring: