cream of the crate: album review #108 – paul simon: graceland
cream of the crate: album review #108 – paul simon: graceland
Graceland Vinyl cover – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

  This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site where publications ceased on that site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.

 

 

 

"Simon created an album about isolation and redemption that transcended "world music" to become the whole world's soundtrack.." - (Rolling Stone - 500 Greatest Albums of All Time) . . . "Graceland reached and conscientised millions of Simon followers who had never heard of South Africa. The explosion caused a very loud, ear-shattering, and earth-shaking, bang. " - (Hugh Masekela)

This is album retro-review number 108 in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and Cd albums in my collection.

The series is called
“Cream of The Crate” and each review represents an album that I believe is of significant musical value, either because of it’s rarity, because it represents the best of a style or styles of music or because there is something unique about the group or the music.

The first fifty reviews were vinyl only, and the second fifty reviews were CD’s only. Links to these reviews can be found at the bottom of this page. From review 101 onward I have mixed vinyl and CD albums and, try and present an Australian album every fifth review!

Paul Simon is a lasting icon to quality, in both composition and delivery, and this is certainly one album that highlights both these qualities.

Graceland
was released as a vinyl album in July 1986 on the Warner Bros label – 25447 (MX212283).

cream of the crate: album review #108 – paul simon: graceland
Vinyl label – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

My copy is still in good condition, which is surprising given the number of times played. Probably one thing that has added to the life of my vinyl LP’s, was in fact the introduction of Cd’s, which meant I could copy the vinyl across to a Cd which was easier to handle, and saved the vinyl.

But I am reminded when I play the vinyl, as I did with Graceland while writing this retro-review, of just how much better vinyl recordings sound.

The album featured a total of eleven tracks and comes in at just under 40 minutes of music. The album sits in a sleeve that has the lyrics printed on both sides, but as far as inserts go, it was a pretty poor effort and on my scale of one to ten, I rate it as 2/10.

The story of Paul Simon is a story that may well be told through a film one day, it sure deserves it!

Paul Simon was born on October 13, 1941, to Jewish-American parents living in New Jersey. Given as his career developed he became known for his “wordsmithing”, it probably comes as no surprise to learn that his mother, Belle, was an English teacher and his father, Louis, was both a teacher and a bandleader.

The family moved to Queens in New York, at a young age, where he met and befriending Art Garfunkel.

Art had a reputation as being “the most famous singer in the neighborhood.” In fact, Simon credits Garfunkel’s performance in the 4th grade talent show as his inspiration to start singing.

At Forest Hill High School, Simon and Garfunkel formed a duo called “Tom and Jerry.” Occasionally performing for school dances, they pooled together $7 in 1957 to lay down the track “Hey Schoolgirl,” which became a minor hit.

cream of the crate: album review #108 – paul simon: graceland
Tom & Gerry – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

Although the song’s success landed the pair a chance to perform on American Bandstand right after Jerry Lee Lewis, Tom and Jerry decided to go their separate ways for college after they failed to produce a follow-up hit.

cream of the crate: album review #108 – paul simon: graceland
Simon & Garfunkle – [CLICK to enlarge]
The two reunited a few years later, however, releasing their first album, Wednesday Morning 3AM, as “Simon & Garfunkel” in 1964.

 

Although the album was a commercial failure, it did encourage the two to keep singing and in fact, that album contained a version of a track that would later become a massive hit. the track was, “The Sound of Silence“.

 

They had a fair degree of success in recordings and live but in 1970, the “artistic differences” explanation was used to describe the breakup of the duo.

Paul Simon was now able to follow what he saw as his true music path and had some good success with tracks like “Mother and Child Reunion“, and, “Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard.

In 1982 there was an abortive attempt at a reunion with Garfunkle but all it did was make the gap between them even deeper and more nasty.

But undaunted, Paul Simon worked harder and began to embrace the move to “World Music”. In a biography on him, the next step of his career is beautifully summed up.

During the 1980s, Simon became fascinated by African and Brazilian music. His interests took him to South Africa in 1985, where he began recording his crowning achievement, Graceland.

Combining elements of rock, zydeco, Tex-Mex, Zulu choral singing and mbaqanga, or “township jive,” the album captured a sound that wasn’t quite like anything anyone had heard before.

A groundbreaking and risky departure from Simon’s earlier projects, Graceland proved to be one of the unlikeliest hits of the 1980s, helping put South African music on the world stage and restoring Paul Simon to superstardom.” [Paul Simon Biography)

Track Listing:

A1. Boy In The Bubble
A2. Graceland
A3. I Know What I Know
A4. Gumboots
A5. Diamonds On The Souls Of her Shoes

B1. You Can Call Me Al
B2. Under African Skies
B3. Homeless
B4. Crazy love Vol II
B5. That Was Your Mother
B6. All Around The World or The Myth Of The Fingerprints

 

cream of the crate: album review #108 – paul simon: graceland
Rear Vinyl cover – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

So that brings us back to the album, Graceland.

So many good tracks, to kick off I have gone with the first two tracks from side 1 of the album.

The album opens with The Boy In The Bubble. It made sense for this to be the opening track as it was the first song he worked on when he went to South Africa in 1985, to record with musicians from the townships.

This is an incredibly clever and complex track, which at the same time has a wonderful melody line and a dance beat hard to resist.

Here is Paul Simon in one of the worlds most ancient countries, some say close to the birthplace of the human race.

It is ancient, it moves at its own pace and sings of a history that should be remembered. Yet, at the same time it is a country being dragged, not necessarily screaming, into the (then) 20th Century.

We have the dichotomy of the ancient land and its people but we have the technology as used, or in this case, misused by terrorists.

The technology of the worse possible use – a bomb, which is wired through the radio, and, if this is not enough, it is pressed home in an even more ruthless many, because the bomb, is in a baby carriage!

However, tugging against this misuse of technology, is Simon acknowledging the wonders of technology! “These are the days of miracle and wonder, the long distance call“.

The mobile telephone means we can reach, and be reached almost anywhere!

The song is full of technological references, such as, “Medicine is magical and magical is art, The Boy in the Bubble, and the baby with the baboon heart.” You do remember the television film “The Boy in the Bubble”? about the baby with the serious immune deficiency?

It challenges us to look past clever lyrics and look deeper into the meaning, and in doing so, to challenge ourselves to be aware that every “gift” can be used well, or, misused terribly!

The music is a wonderful mid-paced groove with, surprisingly, the bass taking the lead line – that in itself was a great piece of music arranging.

The Boy In The Bubble

 

Track number two is the title track, Graceland.

The Mississippi Delta was shining
Like a National guitar
I am following the river
Down the highway
Through the cradle of the civil war
I’m going to Graceland
Graceland
In Memphis Tennessee
I’m going to Graceland
Poor boys and pilgrims with families
And we are going to Graceland
My traveling companion is nine years old
He is the child of my first marriage
But I’ve reason to believe
We both will be received
In Graceland

She comes back to tell me she’s gone
As if I didn’t know that
As if I didn’t know my own bed
As if I’d never noticed
The way she brushed her hair from her forehead
And she said losing love
Is like a window in your heart
Everybody sees you’re blown apart
Everybody sees the wind blow

I’m going to Graceland
Memphis Tennessee
I’m going to Graceland
Poor boys and pilgrims with families
And we are going to Graceland

And my traveling companions
Are ghosts and empty sockets
I’m looking at ghosts and empties
But I’ve reason to believe
We all will be received
In Graceland

There is a girl in New York City
Who calls herself the human trampoline
And sometimes when I’m falling, flying
Or tumbling in turmoil I say
Oh, so this is what she means
She means we’re bouncing into Graceland
And I see losing love
Is like a window in your heart
Everybody sees you’re blown apart
Everybody sees the wind blow

In Graceland, in Graceland
I’m going to Graceland
For reasons I cannot explain
There’s some part of me wants to see
Graceland
And I may be obliged to defend
Every love, every ending
Or maybe there’s no obligations now
Maybe I’ve a reason to believe
We all will be received
In Graceland

cream of the crate: album review #108 – paul simon: graceland
Paul Simon on the Graceland Tour



OK, just how does this fit into an album like Graceland?

We all know that Elvis Presley lived in Graceland and that it is in Mississippi. But how do we reconcile this with an album focused on South Africa?

Interestingly this was a discussion held by Oprah Winfrey and her friend Gale.

In discussing this apparent contradiction, their discussion and disagreement probably mirrored the same conversation over this track, that was held everywhere.

Here is a transcript of the discussion between Winfrey and Gale.

Oprah says she and Gayle got into the worst spat of their 30-year friendship somewhere outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

What did they argue about? Song lyrics. 



The fight had been brewing for two days. While driving across the plains, Oprah and Gayle began discussing the meaning of ´Graceland,´ a Paul Simon song that Oprah says is one of her all-time favorites. 



´Was he talking about Elvis Presley´s Graceland when he did that?´ Gayle said. 

´He was talking about going to Graceland,´ Oprah said. ´Yes.´ 



´I thought he was talking about something in Africa, and his love for Africa,´ Gayle said. ´The story doesn’t make any sense about going to Elvis Presley´s home. ´I understood ´Bridge Over Troubled Water.´ That made sense.´ 



´Gayle, it does,´ Oprah said. ´He obviously liked Elvis Presley, and h’s finding some solace there.´ 



After a lengthy disagreement, Oprah says she was very frustrated with her friend. ´What I wanted to do was stop the car, open the door and get out,´ she says.

Instead, Oprah took a few ´cleansing breaths´ and continued on toward Tulsa. 

Even with a copy of Paul Simo’s lyrics, Oprah and Gayle could’t agree on the meaning of his song, ´Graceland.´

Who did they find to settle their dispute? The songwriter himself! 



´Let me see if I can clarify the issue a little bit,´ Paul says.

´Oprah, you’re right.

The song is about a real trip that I took to Graceland. It’s not really autobiographical, although there are elements that are. It is about a trip there with a father and his 9-year-old son trying to find some kind of solace from a loss of love.´ 



Before Oprah can gloat, Paul says that Gayle’s interpretation is also right!

´The song is also about Africa,´ he says. ´The song was made in South Africa, and the musicians were South African.

´The South Africans were going through a time when they went through the reconciliation with their past, and in that way, that’s what the father was looking for in his trip to Graceland and hoping to find there. So in a sense, you’re both right!´ 



Now that the spat is settled, Gayle says she’s never discussing ´Graceland´ ever again! [Paul Simon explains]

So, does that help settle the meaning for you?

One thing is for certain, it has a most infectious beat.

Paul Simon is quoted as saying that it’s the best track he has ever written.

Graceland



As history has shown tracks three and five (I Know What I Know and Diamonds On The Souls Of Her Shoes) went onto gain not just great acceptance, but fan favourites.

Track number four – Gumboots, became lesser known by the broader listening audience, Simon fans recognised that this track was special to Simon as it is a “stylistic” track, that is to say, it is based heavily upon the style of music that workers in the mining and rail industry enjoyed.

Turn the vinyl album over and track one is a real funky dance track – Call Me Al.

It was the first single released from the album and initially hit number 44 in the US in 1986.

However, when the record company really decided to push the track it reentered the US charts and reached number 23. In the UK it made it right up to number 4.

You may be familiar with palindromes, they are words where the second half is the mirror of the first, so that the word reads the same backwards as forwards, such as The Grateful Dead’s 1969 album “Aoxomoxoa”.

So it is that this track uses a palindromic bass run.

Played by Bakithi Kumalo, the bass run was used for the first half of the track, and then it was reversed for the second half.

Legend has it that Paul and his wife Peggy were at a party where famous composer Pierre Boulez was attending and insisted on calling Paul -“Al” and kept referring to Peggy as “Betty”.

So it is, the story goes, that this inspired the words to the song.

What is notable are the simple but magnificent background vocals by Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Never has an “Mmmmm Mmmmm”, sounded so good!

Call Me Al

 

Side 2 Track twoUnder African Skies is a seriously beautiful, almost an uptempo ballad, except its more a walking rhythm. I love this track.

Track number three is Homeless. I will pause and discuss this track as it is magic! As the liner notes acknowledge, the track was co-written by Joseph Shabalala who was both a composer in his own right and the lead singer of Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

Joseph Shabalala & Paul

 

It’s a capella track and the balance of the voices of the ten person Ladysmith, and Paul Simon works to perfection.

cream of the crate: album review #108 – paul simon: graceland
Ladysmith Black Mambazo & Paul Simon

 

This is a track that has the ability to make the hair on the nap of your neck stand up. It is a seriously wonderful collaboration and once and for all cemented a true music relationship between a western and an African composer.

Emaweni webaba
Silale maweni
Webaba silale maweni
Webaba silale maweni
Webaba silale maweni
Webaba silale maweni

Webaba silale maweni
Webaba silale maweni
Webaba silale maweni
Webaba silale maweni
Webaba silale maweni

Homeless, homeless
Moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake
Homeless, homeless
Moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake
We are homeless, we are homeless
The moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake
And we are homeless, homeless, homeless
The moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake

Zio yami, zio yami, nhliziyo yami
Nhliziyo yami amakhaza asengi bulele
Nhliziyo yami, nhliziyo yami
Nhliziyo yami, angibulele amakhaza
Nhliziyo yami, nhliziyo yami
Nhliziyo yami somandla angibulele mama
Zio yami, nhliziyo yami
Nhliziyo yami, nhliziyo yami

Too loo loo, too loo loo
Too loo loo loo loo loo loo loo loo loo
Too loo loo, too loo loo
Too loo loo loo loo loo loo loo loo loo

Strong wind destroy our home
Many dead, tonight it could be you
Strong wind, strong wind
Many dead, tonight it could be you

And we are homeless, homeless
Moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake
Homeless, homeless
Moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake
Homeless, homeless
Moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake

Somebody say ih hih ih hih ih
Somebody sing hello, hello, hello
Somebody say ih hih ih hih ih
Somebody cry why, why, why?
Somebody say ih hih ih hih ih
Somebody sing hello, hello, hello
Somebody say ih hih ih hih ih
Somebody cry why, why, why?
Somebody say ih hih ih hih ih

Yitho omanqoba (ih hih ih hih ih) yitho omanqoba
Esanqoba lonke ilizwe
(ih hih ih hih ih) Yitho omanqoba (ih hih ih hih ih)
Esanqoba phakathi e England
Yitho omanqoba
Esanqoba phakathi e London
Yitho omanqoba
Esanqoba phakathi e England

Somebody say ih hih ih hih ih
Somebody sing hello, hello, hello
Somebody say ih hih ih hih ih
Somebody cry why, why, why?
Somebody say ih hih ih hih ih
Somebody sing hello, hello, hello
Somebody say ih hih ih hih ih
Somebody cry why, why, why?

Kuluman
Kulumani, Kulumani sizwe
Singenze njani
Baya jabula abasi thanda yo
Ho

Homeless


The remaining tracks both compliment and supplement all that has come before on this album. from the gentle and syncopated rhythm of Crazy Love Vol II through to harder hitting, almost rock track All Around The World (Or The Myth Of Fingerprints), it is an album that has not just stood the test of time, it still excites when you listen back.

It would certainly surprise me if there were readers who had never heard any tracks from this fantastic recording. Certainly when it was released it was seen as groundbreaking, and when I listened, it was impossible not to enjoy it, as it is really a celebration in many ways. The album was not without its controversy, there was the contention that Simon was using African talent for personal gain. Just another white guy ripping off the black people, their culture and music. But Simon paid the musicians well and gave songwriting credits to the authors of the songs he based his tracks on. One such example being “The Boy in the Bubble“, which is credited to Simon and Forere Motloheloa.

Now with the freedom to look back in time, we see that Paul Simon not only did not set out to rip-off South Africans and their music, he was instrumental in helping many of us in the West understand more of the musical culture of the country as well as bring more of the injustices that were being perpetrated upon the people.

It is really hard to believe any serious music lover, let alone collector, would not have this album in his or her own crate. If your copy has gone missing or has seen better days because of hard playing, it’s easily replaced. For around Au$14.00 you can purchase the original vinyl, the Cd, or maybe spend a little extra and shout yourself the 25th Anniversary Special with bonus tracks and all sorts of goodies.

 


VIDEOS:

There are some excellent videos on Youtube. I have avoided the videos that were used to promote the album and sought out live performances of four tracks on this album.

Graceland

 

Call Me Al

 

Diamonds On The Souls Of Her Shoes

 

 


Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:

 

To view/listen the first 50 vinyl album reviews just click the image below –

cream of the crate cd review #2 : robert johnson – the complete recordings

 

To view/listen the first 50 Cd album reviews just click the image below –

 

Click to open the following Vinyl reviews from 101 onward:

#101:  Bo Diddley – Bo Diddley’s Beach Party (Live)

#102:  Les Paul and Mary Ford – The World Is waiting For The Sunrise

#103:  Captain Beefheart – Trout Mask Replica

#104:  Los Fronterizos – Misa Creole

#105:  Bobby Bright – Child Of Rock And Roll

#106:  The  Nylons – One Size Fits All

#107:  Jimmy Cliff – The Harder They Come [Soundtrack from the film]