The Rhythm of the Saints
by Paul Simon

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The Rhythm of the Saints by Paul SimonEver the artist searching for a new, authentic sound, Paul Simon went to Brazil and employed the heavily percussive samba known as Batucada for his 1990 album, The Rhythm of the Saints. Here Simon fuses his witty pop and folk roots with Latin musical and rhythm techniques by employing nearly 70 session musicians. Beyond the vast number of Latin and African musicians, Simon also brought in contemporary musicians such as guitarist J.J. Cale, drummer Steve Gadd and vocalist Kim Wilson.

The album’s conception came on the heels of Simon’s tremendous success with Graceland, the 1986 release where he worked with South African musicians and vocalists. This gave the composer a taste of world music which he chose to pursue again for his next project starting in the late eighties. While maintaining some musicians from the Graceland sessions, such as the vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, most of the backing musicians were from Latin America such as the popular Grupo Cultural Olodum.

Simon produced the album and first recorded most of the rhythm tracks in Rio de Janeiro, starting in December 1989. Guitarist Vincent Nguini performed on several of the tracks as well as helped out with several of the arrangements (and has remained a member of Simon’s band ever since). Overdubs were recorded and the album was mixed at The Hit Factory in New York City in mid 1990.


The Rhythm of the Saints by Paul Simon
Released: October 16, 1990 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: Paul Simon
Recorded: Rio de Janero, Brazil, December 1989–June 1990
Track Listing Primary Musicians
The Obvious Child
Can’t Run But
The Coast
Proof
Further To Fly
She Moves On
Born At the Right Time
The Cool, Cool River
Spirit Voices
The Rhythm of the Saints
Paul Simon – Lead Vocals, Guitars
J.J.Cale – Guitars
Naná Vasconcelos – Percussion

Although not originally intended to do so, “The Obvious Child” starts The Rhythm of the Saints off. As the lead single from this decidedly non-pop-oriented album, the label insisted that it be placed first on the album, (against Simon’s own wishes) and the track went on to be Simon’s final Top 20 hit. The military-type drums were recorded live in an outdoor square and add much contrast to the chanting vocals by Simon above strummed acoustic. The second track, “Can’t Run But”, is built on much more subtle rhythms, a xylophone, and a subtle bass, all too calm and cool against Simon’s signature rapid vocals. There is a slight bluesy guitar in the distance making this reminiscent of some of the Police’s more extravagant tracks, with lyrics that deal with the 1986 Chernobyl incident.

“The Coast” was co-written Nguini and starts with subtle hand drums, like a jungle rhythm in the distance. This song is built on brightly picked electric guitar with notes that nicely squeeze out and builds with some brass before relinquishing to a percussive chorus and starting over again. “Proof” contains good, strong brass horn accents over complex but subtle rhythms that topically rotate through an almost-digital like arpreggio while the bass rhythm uses simple 4/4 duo beats. There are also good vocal variations and plenty of interesting instrumental interludes. “Further to Fly” is more bass driven and almost jazzy in approach, but not quite as rewarding as the previous tracks, seeming like a more improvised, rehearsal-like track.

“She Moves On” may be the first song which reflects the folk roots of Simon, albeit it does have some jazzy bass, horns, and smooth guitars and (of course) a chorus of percussion. Written about Simon’s ex-wife, actress Carrie Fisher, this lover’s lament brilliantly incorporates a female chorus for a single line with great effect. “Born at the Right Time” is just as interesting, with bright guitars, bass, accordion, and a catchy melody which makes this one of the more accessible songs on the album. In contrast, “The Cool, Cool River” is one of the more modern sounding tracks, especially during the verses and kind of takes a left turn in feel and tempo during the ‘B’ sections.

Coming down the stretch, “Spirit Voices” is more music oriented than most of the tracks with a few complementing guitars and a wild fretless bass under Simon’s whimsical vocals. Co-written by Brazilian songwriter Milton Nascimento, this track is uplifting overall. The title track “The Rhythm of the Saints” finishes off the album and, like the title suggests, the percussive orchestra returns with a vengeance to the point of nearly overwhelming the light guitar, bass, and vocals of Simon. The later call and response vocals between Simon and a chorus are almost spiritual in nature.

It is hard to surmise whether The Rhythm of the Saints has an over-exuberance of percussion which distracts from the core song craft or if the opposite is true, meaning these track may not have been quite as interesting without the arrangements. In any case, this album was a critical and commercial success all over the world and yet another high water mark in the long and brilliant career of Paul Simon.

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There Goes Rhymin’ Simon by Paul Simon

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There Goes Rhymin Simon by Paul SimonFor his second post-Garfunkel effort, Paul Simon found a nice sonic balance with There Goes Rhymin’ Simon. This album is bookmarked by two of his top pop hits with a sandwich of soft-rock songs in between, covering such diverse styles as R&B, gospel, reggae, folk, and jazz. The album was both a commercial and critical success and firmly established Simon as a top-notch solo artist. After the deep, introspective, and often depressing tone of Simon’s 1972 debut album, this sophomore effort takes a decidedly positive approach with optimistic songs about faith, romance, family, and commitment, making it both enjoyable and uplifting.

For this album, the native New Yorker went south. Most of the album was recorded between Jackson, Mississippi and the famous Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama, with Simon employing the prolific “Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section” on several of the tracks. The compositions by Simon are contemporary narratives (something he would establish as his signature) yet there is enough variety that these songs were ripe pickings for other artists.

Simon co-produced the album with the legendary Phil Ramone, who was near the beginning of his brilliant career. Also helping out with production duties were former Yardbirds bassist Paul Samwell-Smith, Simon and Garfunkel producer Roy Halee, and the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section.


There Goes Rhymin’ Simon by Paul Simon
Released: May 5, 1973 (Warner)
Produced by: Paul Simon and Phil Ramone
Recorded: Muscle Shoals Studios, Alabama, & Malaco Studios, Jackson, MS, 1972
Side One Side Two
Kodachrome
Tenderness
Take Me to the Mardi Gras
Something So Right
One Man’s Ceiling is Another Man’s Floor
American Song
Learn How to Fall
Was a Sunny Day
St. Judy’s Comet
Loves Me Like a Rock
Primary Musicians
Paul Simon – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Pete Carr – Guitars
Barry Beckett – Piano, Keyboards
David Hood – Bass
Roger Hawkins – Drums, Percussion

“Kodachrome” plays like a commercial thematically, but is absolutely masterful sonically. The song is named after a Kodak product, causing it to be banned by the BBC because that name is trademarked. However the song was a major hit in the United States, peaking at #2. The image of color photography is a metaphor for imaginative vitality, setting the positive theme for the album. The song’s original working title was “Going Home” but Simon thought that title was too conventional. “Tenderness” follows as a totally retro ballad that is really the only throwaway on the album, once you get past the brief curiosity of a late-Fifties-styled doo-wop ballad.

“Take Me to the Mardi Gras” starts as an acoustic ballad with interesting deadened electric notes before ending with some legitimate Dixieland instrumentation. Reverend Claude Jeter contributed unique falsetto vocals to the mix. “Something So Right” contains a nice potpourri of instruments including an electric and acoustic piano, and a bass and double bass. These all provide the surface for Simon’s signature acoustic guitar and melodic vocals on this early classic. “One Man’s Ceiling is Another Man’s Floor” is a showcase for Barry Beckett, whose unique piano run bookends the song, an otherwise upbeat rocker with great background vocals.

The second side begins with “American Tune”, which is right out of the Simon & Garfunkel playbook. It is a folk-based motif on on the American experience with references to struggle, weariness, and hard work. The song was released as a single but failed to make any ripples on the charts. “Was a Sunny Day” is a hybrid of folk and reggae with a bouncy, McCartney-esque bass line by David Hood. “Learn How to Fall” is an upbeat acoustic jazz tune with some great instrumental sections packed into its brief two minutes and 44 seconds.

“St. Judy’s Comet” is the best song on the album, a lullaby of pure musical beauty. Beckett’s electric piano and vibraphone along with subtle electric guitar overtones by Pete Carr, accent the perfect, calm melody and hypnotizing acoustic riff by Simon. The album concludes with “Loves Me Like a Rock”, a pop song with heavy Gospel influence, especially with the background vocals of The Dixie Hummingbirds. This was the second song on the album to peak at #2 and remains one of Simon’s most famous songs.

There Goes Rhymin’ Simon proved to be a bigger hit than its predecessor (ironically peaking at #2 on the album charts and gave Paul Simon the latitude to continue his mix of pop and experimentation with future albums.

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1973 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1973 albums.

 

Paul Simon

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Paul Simon 1972 debut albumStaking his own claim in the musical landscape, Paul Simon began exploring world influences with his 1972 eponymous album. It was his first post Simon and Garfunkel album, and let Simon subtly explorations musical genres from America and around the world. While there is much experimentation, most of the album;s songs have a stripped-down arrangement with a low-key feel, allowing Simon to shine brightly with his truly solo compositions. Paul Simon was actually the second solo album by this artist, as he had recorded and released an album in the U.K. in 1965, which remained unreleased in the U.S until 2005.

Simon was actually teaching songwriting classes at New York University shortly after the split from Garfunkel in 1970. He then traveled to several locations to record demos and tracks for this album. Recordings took place in Kingston, Jamaica, Paris, and New York. Much of these recordings are individual performances with differing levels of production quality, but this serves to make the album all the more interesting. Since the album uses instrumentation so sparingly, the additional riffs and melodies make a greater impact during their short sequences.

The album contained many autobiographical elements lyrically, with several songs making explicit reference to Simon’s marriage to Peggy Harper, while others make more veiled references to Simon’s own adolescence, the place he grew up, and the challenges of the music industry.
 


Paul Simon by Paul Simon
Released: January 14, 1972 (Columbia)
Produced by: Roy Halee & Paul Simon
Recorded: Various Locations, January-March 1971
Side One Side Two
Mother and Child Reunion
Duncan
Everything Put Together Falls Apart
Run That Body Down
Armistice Day
Me and Julio Down By the School Yard
Peace Like a River
Papa Hobo
Hobo’s Blues
Paranoia Blues
Congratulations
Primary Musicians
Paul Simon – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Percussion
Larry Knechtel – Piano, Organ
Hal Blaine – Drums

 
Recorded in Jamaica, “Mother and Child Reunion” may have been the very first mainstream use of reggae, something that would cascade in the years to follow. The song also includes a strong dose of Motown influence, making it a bit more unique that many of its pop successors. The song included a plethora of background musicians who would not appear anywhere else on the album. A sharp musical turn takes place with Celtic influenced folk song “Duncan”. The ringing guitars, banjo, dual flutes, and cheap and distant hi-hats accent this song of travel and discovery with a slightly Dylan-esque in lyrical approach (with flutes replacing harmonica).

I was playing my guitar, lying underneath the stars, just thanking the Lord for my fingers…”

The remainder of side one explores some soft jazz compositions. “Everything Put Together Falls Apart” is the shortest and sparsest song, finger-picked acoustic nearly throughout with just a dash of bluesy piano. “Run That Body Down” is in the same basic genre, with a fuller musical arrangement using the whole spectrum of rock instruments and some surprise musical interludes, including an excellent guitar solo using heavy jazz wah-wah by Jerry Hahn. On “Armistice Day”, Simon really attacks the acoustic guitar with the most base type of musical discovery, almost violently, until the song evens out a bit with an electric guitar overlaid along with some topical horns.

The second side begins with the most popular song from this album, “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard”. Although upbeat and melodic, this song has some darker undertones about crime and drug use along with some cryptic lyrical puzzles. “Peace Like a River” is a kind of a bluesy folk song with some great arpeggio riffs throughout, and a very non-symmetrical arrangement. “Papa Hobo” is waltz-like with a bluesy acoustic and a distinct big bass harmonica by Charlie McCoy.

The hobo sequence continues with “Hobo’s Blues”, an upbeat, jazzy instrumental feature the violin of Stéphane Grappelli, who also co-wrote the song (the only one on the album not completely written by Simon). “Paranoia Blues” is straight-out acoustic blues with consistent kick-drum and hi-hat by Hal Blaine and lyrics that sum up as an anti-New York screed. The mellow ballad “Congratulations” completes the album with a softer, yet still bluesy acoustic and pleasant electric piano by Larry Knechtel who plays completely solo as the song and album ends.

The juxtaposition of simple, American genres along with some complex and original arrangements makes Paul Simon the first of several gems by this unique composer. You can say what you will about Simon, you can never call him unoriginal.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1972 albums.

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Parsley Sage Rosemary Thyme
by Simon & Garfunkel

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Parsley Sage Rosemary Thyme by Simon & GarfunkelAlthough Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme is officially the third album by Simon & Garfunkel, they certainly did not take the traditional path to get to this point. Nevertheless, this album would be their commercial and artistic breakthrough which would launch them into international stardom through the rest of the 1960s (and far beyond that for Paul Simon). This album, like many albums from 1966, fused different styles and genres while it experimented with non-traditional instrumentation which helped push out the outer walls of the rock n roll universe.

Starting out a decade earlier as the teen duet Tom & Jerry, these natives from Queens in New York City struggled for years to find an audience and an identity. While attending college in 1963, Simon & Garfunkel began to catch on in the burgeoning folk scene in New York’s Greenwich Village and this ultimately led to a record deal with Columbia Records. Their debut album, Wednesday Morning, 3am, was recorded and released in 1964 and contained a few originals penned by Simon among mostly cover songs. However, it did not fare very well in popularity leading to a breakup of Simon & Garfunkel shortly afterward, with Paul Simon moving to England to pursue a solo career. There in 1965 Simon recorded his solo album, The Paul Simon Songbook and began his own rise through the English folk scene. But back in the states a song from the Simon & Garfunkel album called “The Sound of Silence” was slowly climbing the charts, due mainly to its vast popularity on college radio stations. Seeing an opportunity, the duo’s producer, Tom Wilson dubbed in some electric guitars, bass and drums onto the original, pure acoustic track of “The Sound of Silence” and released it as a single nationwide. The song climbed the charts an ultimately hit #1 on January 1, 1966. With this development, Simon & Garfunkel reunited and quickly recorded a bunch of songs, including five from Simon’s recent solo album, which were released as the album Sounds of Silence in early 1966. This album fared much better than the duo’s debut effort and gave them the creative freedom to work on an all-original album of new songs.

Released in October 1966, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, & Thyme got its name from a traditional English ballad that originated in the 16th century, which Simon learned while in the United Kingdom. The album would go an to receive popular as well as critical acclaim and serve as a lynchpin to Simon & Garfunkel’s career.
 


Parsley Sage Rosemary Thyme by Simon & Garfunkel
Released: October 10, 1966 (Decca, UK Version)
Produced by: Bob Johnston
Recorded: December 1965-August 1966
Side One Side Two
Scarborough Fair/Canticle
Patterns
Cloudy
Homeward Bound
The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine
The 59th Street Bridge Song
The Dangling Conversation
Flowers Never Bend with the Rainfall
A Simple Desultory Philippic
For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her
A Poem on the Underground Wall
7 O’Clock News/Silent Night
Primary Musicians
Paul Simon – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Art Garfunkel – Lead Vocals, Piano
Joe South – Guitars
Carol Kaye – Bass

 
“Scarborough Fair / Canticle” is a song unique in the Simon & Garfunkel library, with an almost psychedelic, Pink Floyd-ish vibe (although that band did not appear on the scene until 1967). This song would also set a template for future bands drawing on traditional folk such as Traffic’s “John Barleycorn Must Die”. But beyond just recanting the traditional song, which contains lyrics where a young man asks his female lover to perform impossible tasks, the song fuses with a counterpoint, “Canticle”. Here, Art Garfunkel sings a reworked version of Simon’s 1963 “The Side of a Hill” with new, anti-war lyrics. In stark contrast, the next song “Patterns” bursts through with sparks of musical notes by acoustic guitar, organ, bass, and various percussion, combined with lyrics about how life is a labyrinthine maze, following patterns that are difficult to unravel. Here the listener is already made aware of the diversity of this album.

Although most of its songs were written during 1966, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, & Thyme does include a few songs from the previous year, including a remake of “Cloudy” from Simon’s solo album and the single “Homeward Bound”, which Simon wrote while at a railway station near Liverpool during a long, overnight wait for the next train. The song itself is, perhaps mid-sixties folk at its best and became a huge, top-five hit for the duo.
 

 
Interspersed between a variety of simple folk songs are some radical departures, most of which work brilliantly. “The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine” is an upbeat, almost rock song. As is “A Simple Desultory Phillippic (or How I Was Robert McNamara’d into Submission)”, with its heavy fuzz guitar and high organ chops along with a Dylan-esque accent on Simon’s vocals. The later of these two is one of the more entertaining on the album, almost comical. “The Dangling Conversation” doesn’t quite work as well in its experimentation with strings and orchestral arrangements.

59th Street Bridge Song SingleAnother catchy pop song which greatly improved Simon & Garfunkel’s radio appeal is The “59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)”, although this ong was not officially released as a single until a few years later. Using the colloquial name of the Queensboro Bridge in New York City as a backdrop, the song’s message is immediate – in deep contrast to the rushed pace of city life, the protagonist is simply taking his time and enjoying the day, feelin’ groovy. It features Dave Brubeck Quartet members Joe Morello on drums and Eugene Wright on bass.

The album concludes with a couple of unique and interesting numbers. “A Poem On the Underground Wall” is almost psychedelic in its approach, containing an upbeat acoustic guitar up front and a contrasting deep, doomy organ in background. “7 O’clock News / Silent Night” is a haunting, artistic statement on the state of affairs in late 1966. On one side it contains a simulated news broadcast by Charlie O’Donnell, which amazingly forecasts subjects that will be front and center in years to come – Nixon, mass murderers, Martin Luther King, and war protests. On the other side is a simply arranged version of the Christmas carol “Silent Night”, backed by Garfunkel’s piano. The closing track with its dual themes and titles, mimics the opening tracks and bring the album full circle.

After Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, & Thyme, Simon & Garfunkel’s popularity continued to rise with the soundtrack to the film The Graduate and two more highly successful albums. They split up again for good in 1970, although they would reunite for several special shows and tours over the years.

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1966 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1966 albums.

 

Graceland by Paul Simon

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Graceland by Paul SimonIn some of our previous reviews from the year 1986, you’ve probably already heard us mention several times our distaste for the slick sound that was predominant throughout releases issued that year. We’ve also lamented the fact that even established acts like Genesis and Journey seemed to fall into the “group think” of replicating this uninspired, artificial, “modern” sound to some extent or another. In the midst of all this, comes a breath of fresh air in Paul Simon’s Graceland, a true original.

The album contains a wide array of styles and sounds from vast corners of the globe, often intermingled together in ingenious ways by Simon, who was also the album’s producer. He enlisted over 50 musicians and singers to perform on this album, with a vast amount coming from South Africa and receiving their first exposure to a western audience. But African music is just one element on this diverse album which also includes a healthy mix of country, Tex-Mex, and reggae influence throughout, while also maintaining some of the signature Paul Simon styles that he had developed throughout his long career.

But simply throwing together all these elements is not, in of itself, enough to make a great album. It takes a bit of musical genius as well as the courage to take chances and go against the musical mainstream. Simon surely does this on Graceland. He uses the bass guitar as a lead instrument throughout, he adds the world elements strategically and in judicious doses perfectly straddling the line between the deep, philosophical artist and jocular clown to reach a notch of originality which is truly his and his alone.
 


Graceland by Paul Simon
Released: August 12, 1986 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Paul Simon
Recorded: Johannesburg, London, & New York, February 1985 – June 1986
Side One Side Two
The Boy In the Bubble
Graceland
I Know What I Know
Gumboots
Diamonds On the Soles of Her Shoes
You Can Call Me Al
Under African Skies
Homeless
Crazy Love, Vol. II
That Was Your Mother
All Around the World
(or Myth of Fingerprints)
Primary Musicians
Paul Simon – Lead & Background Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Bass
Ray Phiri – Guitars
Adrian Belew – Guitars, Synths
Bakithi Kumalo – Bass
Ladysmith Black Mambazo – Vocal Ensemble
Isaac Mtshali – Drums
Ralph MacDonald – Percussion

 
Paul Simon’s previous album was 1983’s Heart’s and Bones, which has since been praised by critics (including this one), but was a bitter commercial disappointment at the time of its release. Simon felt that he had lost his popular momentum and that his commercial fortunes were unlikely to change. So for the album which would become Graceland, he decided to be highly experimental since he had nothing to lose. After hearing a cassette recording of a song called “Gumboots” by Boyoyo Boys, he traveled to South Africa to embrace the culture and find a suitable place to record the album. For this particular song, Simon wrote the lyrics and melody but pretty much left the rest of “Gumboots” in tact – a fast-paced accordian-driven song that sounds like a warped version of polka.

The popular South African choral group Ladysmith Black Mambazo play a big part in two songs – “Diamonds On the Soles of Her Shoes” and “Homeless” – the latter being completely a capella with much of the lyric in Zulu. The group was founded by the legendary Joseph Shabalala who co-wrote both of these songs with Simon. The final South African influence comes from the female vocal group The Gaza Singers who co-wrote and sang backup on the song “I Know What I Know”.

Paul Simon in 1986

The catchy and upbeat “You Can Call Me Al”, with lyrics describing a mid-life crisis, became the biggest hit from Graceland. Musically, the track features a penny whistle solo by Morris Goldberg and a palindromic bass run by Bakithi Kumalo. But the most memorable impression left by the song was the popular music video starring Simon and comedian Chevy Chase, in which the 6’9″ Chase lip-syncs the vocals while an annoyed-looking 5’3″ Simon mimics various instrumental sections, including the above-mention penny whistle and bass as well as percussion and horn parts. The video introduced the 45-year Simon to a whole new generation on MTV.
 

 
Graceland also contains several songs on which Simon collaborated with some of his American counterparts. He sings a beautiful duet with Linda Ronstadt in the calm and thoughtful “Under African Skies” and enlists Los Lobos as a backup band for the closer “All Around the World or The Myth of the Fingerprints”. But, by far, Simon’s most rewarding collaboration came in the album’s title song “Graceland”.

While still teenagers in the Bronx in the late fifties, a young Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel (who at the time called themselves “Tom & Jerry”) would spend hours trying to master the harmonies of Phil & Don Everly. For the song “Graceland”, these same Everly Brothers provided background harmonies for Simon nearly three decades later. The song at once contains an upbeat, almost country & western sound, while also providing ethereal and deliberate lyrics on top. Simon would later say that this was the best song he ever wrote. While that may be a stretch, we do agree it is a great song.

Warner Brothers almost didn’t release this album because they thought it was too far “out there” for a mainstream audience to accept. When they finally relented, they were surely glad that they did as Graceland went platinum five times over. In the end, Paul Simon provided yet another example of the wonderful things that can be created when a talented musician strips away all commercial concerns and just lets his talent and instinct take over.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration anniversary of 1986 albums.