Discover: 18 Essential Paul Simon Records
Photo Credit: Don Hunstein
“There was a period where [Paul Simon] might have been one of the people to rebel against because he was so successful and musically slick,” David Byrne told Time Out New York on the eve of the singer’s residency at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2008. “But he manages to keep pushing himself into places where he’s not completely comfortable, where he has to write in a different kind of way. A lot of people from his generation just don’t do that.”
We couldn’t agree more. Between Simon’s lingering legacy and the simple fact that he just turned 70 and is set to release a career-spanning Songwriter collection on October 24th, eMusic thought there’s no better time than now to celebrate his back catalog. Not just his universally adored Graceland LP, an album that’s been praised by everyone from Grizzly Bear to Vampire Weekend; we’re also talking about his entire run with Art Garfunkel.
Presenting our Discover: Paul Simon guide, featuring 18 essential records. And if all of that sounds a little overwhelming, you can always revisit our Icon features, which cover his solo material and work with Simon & Garfunkel.
Paul Simon's 1972 debut dropped the nervous-student aspect of his songwriting and eased into a more conversational mode. On the 1973 follow-up, There Goes Rhymin' Simon, he re-embraced the pop savvy that had made his old duo into a tasteful sales juggernaut. "Kodachrome" and "Loves Me Like a Rock" were No. 1 hits for good reason, the former thanks to a melody as bright as the colors Simon's lyrics are so snide... about, the latter bolstered by warm backing vocals by the Dixie Hummingbirds. (A modern gospel standard, written by a Jew — a scenario out of a Paul Simon song.) Even a song as rueful as "Something So Right" has a lightness that buoys its key line: "When something goes wrong, I'm the first to admit it/The first to admit it, and the last one to know." Apart from some of the scenarios — Simon is not a glass-half-full kind of guy — very little goes wrong here.more »
There's more down than up on Paul Simon's 1972 solo bow, but often those moments are droll rather than depressive. The album's sequencing helps pick them back up, as when the muted "Everything Put Together Falls Apart" is followed hard by the wry answer song "Run That Body Down," which begins, "Went to my doctor yesterday." As that line indicates, Paul Simon works as a concept album about urban neuroticism, even if... that's not its explicit remit. Between the self-mocking "Paranoia Blues" (in which the singer's Chinese meal is swiped from under his nose) and the giddy "Me and Julio Down by the School Yard" ("When the radical priest come to get me released/We was all on the cover of Newsweek"), it's as rich and resonant a portrait of '70s New York as any Scorsese or Woody Allen movie, not to mention the high peak of the decade's singer-songwriter albums.more »
Too often, Still Crazy After All These Years doesn't take the advice Paul Simon lays out in the atypically upbeat "Have a Good Time": "Paranoia strikes deep in the heartland/But I think it's overdone/Exaggerating this, exaggerating that/They don't have no fun." That's especially true of the dreary "My Little Town," a reunion with Art Garfunkel, and "Night Game." But Still Crazy still contains some of his finest work: the title track and... "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" are the kind of instant anthems that makes you understand why Simon's such a fussbudget — no amount of time spent writing is too much when the results are this perfect. And "You're Kind" is one of Simon's meanest and drollest songs, in which he leaves the woman who's made a full-fledged human out of him because they disagree about whether the bedroom window should be closed at night.more »
Recorded in Nashville in 1966, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme is legendary for its production alone — epic overdubs, swooning arrangements, interwoven vocals and measured instrumentation (the harpsichord on "Scarborough Fair/Canticle," Paul Simon's rearrangement of a British folk ballad, is so well placed it's genuinely chilling — no small feat for a harpsichord). Balancing the studio trickery is "The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin 'Groovy)," one of the duo's goofiest pieces ("Hello... lamppost, what cha 'knowing? / I've come to watch your flowers growing /Ain't cha got no rhymes for me? / Doot-in 'doo-doo, feelin 'groovy").more »