The “Listen Again” series went over well enough here in the L. A. area that your favorite rockin’ record reviewer decided to follow the lead of some Los Angeles TV executives and do a spin-off. In this series we once more examine previously-released albums BUT the platters we shall peruse in this particular series will be (Rolling Stone magazine) FIVE-STAR albums. This edition we discuss Paul Simon’s Paul Simon.
Those not up on their pop history may not recall that Simon was half of the memorable performing duo Simon & Garfunkel. Of course, that is a bit of an understatement in that the American singer-songwriter wrote the bulk of the noteworthy material the act performed throughout their career. Simon is responsible for the hits for which the pair is still remembered.
After their initial break-up in 1970, Simon briefly taught songwriting at New York University and then went to California to record some demos. He began to expand on his signature sound by experimenting with numerous, new music styles with the intention of putting together a solo album. Although he had put out a solo LP in the UK in 1965 this would be his first solo release made and released in America.
His interest in world music would heavily influence his future work. As 1971 began, Simon once more stepped into the studio and took the lead with his acoustic guitar, vocals and percussion. He would also take responsibility as producer and arranger. He would be backed by many other artists on different tracks including Hal Blaine, Winston Grennan Victor Montanez (drums), Huks Brown (lead guitar), Ron Carter, Russel George, Jackie Jackson and Joe Osborn (bass), Stephane Grappelli (violin), Stefan Grossman (bottleneck guitar), Jerry Hahn (electric guitar), Neville Hinds (organ), Larry Knechtel (acoustic and electric pianos, harmonium and organ), Denzil Laing and Airto Moreira (percussion), Fred Lipsius, John Schroer (horns) and Steven Turre (horns), Los Incas (flute, charango and percussion), Mike Mainieri (vibes), Charlie McCoy (bass harmonica), David Spinozza (acoustic guitar), Wallace Wilson (rhythm guitar) and Cissy Houston, Von Eva Sims, Renelle Stafford and Deirdre Tuck (backing vocals).
The finished 11-track work—Paul Simon— would have a running time of over 34 minutes. The folk rock album—although a direct follow-up to his work with Garfunkel—combined his signature sound, world music influences and talent with an apparently new appreciation for the idea of an album as a single work of art. The cuts contained traces of different musical genres including blues, jazz and Latin with themes having to do with drugs, adolescence and autobiographical elements.
This was Simon’s premiere platter in the US and he wrote all but one of the songs himself. The opener, “Mother and Child Reunion”, was reggae-influenced and is perhaps the first song in the genre to be composed by a white artist. The second selection, “Duncan”, is a ballad in E-minor about a man named Lincoln Duncan who goes off on a reverie after he’s unable to get any sleep in his motel thanks to the loud sex the couple next door is having.
It’s followed by the drug referencing, short track “Everything Put Together Falls Apart”. In fact, the record includes many personal references including mentions of his rough marriage to Peggy (nee Harper). Most notably, his troubled marriage is the subject of “Run That Body Down” which mentions “Paul” and “Peg” by name. The first side ends with often-overshadowed “Armistice Day”.
The flip side opens on “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard”. While the song is about two boys who engage in some illegal activity—said by Simon himself to be “something sexual”—he also admitted in an interview with Rolling Stone that he had “no idea” what it specifically was. This tune, like “Mother and Child Reunion”, features some excellent percussion work by Moreira and the Andean band Los Incas. This one also foreshadows some of Simon’s future international flair included on later works such as Graceland.
The next numbers, “Peace Like a River” and “Papa Hobo”, precede the only song not a solo Simon composition—“Hobo’s Blues”. This all-too short track was co-written with Stéphane Grappelli. “Paranoia Blues”—a song which Simon wrote two versions–follows and the album ends on “Congratulations” which also references Simon’s then rocky marriage (which would end in 1975).
Originally released on Columbia Records in January 1972, Paul Simon was to some a “definitive announcement” that the act known as Simon & Garfunkel had met its end. The album was both a critical and commercial success due in part to the different musical genres explored as well as the confessional nature of the lyrics. It made the charts in over a dozen different countries including number 4 on the US Billboard Pop Album charts and number one positions on the charts in the UK, Finland, Japan, Norway and Sweden.
It would also spawn two hits. The Jamaican-inspired “Mother and Child Reunion” made it into the top five in both the US and the UK. “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” would also later climb into the top 30 on the US charts. As is the case with many five-star albums, the recording would not be forgotten and the album would go platinum in 1986.
The new millennium would witness additional recognition of the works timeless greatness. The album was reissued in 2004 on CD. It would include three bonus tracks: demos of “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” and “Duncan” as well as another version of “Paranoia Blues”. This recording set the stage for Simon’s future growth.
The release somehow has a significance all its own. Singer-songwriter Susan DeVita—whose writing is strongly influenced by John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Simon commented: “This album is the Old Testament for me!” Indeed, it is more expansive albeit rougher than any of the Simon & Garfunkel albums with some quirky reggae tracks and a sense of lost innocence that speaks to the necessity of the duo’s demise. Paul Simon’s Paul Simon/Col. PC-30750 is to date one of his indispensible albums worthy of inclusion in any worthwhile music library.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.