Where To Start With... Paul Simon
This week sees the release of Paul Simon's Ultimate Collection, featuring a career retrospective of 19 tracks and, unlike previous 'Greatest Hits' compilations from the legendary singer-songwriter, this new collection is billed as the first to include hits from both his solo career and his partnership with golden-voiced folk troubadour Art Garfunkel.
We've picked 5 highlights from the collection's track list as a handy guide for new initiates to the work of one of America's most enduring and unique songwriters...
'The Sound of Silence'
Some of Simon & Garfunkel's best moments are those songs which, as well as being ridiculously catchy, have a darker edge to their subject matter and 'The Sound of Silence' is a perfect case in point. Beginning with the immortal line “Hello darkness, my old friend / I've come to talk with you again”, this haunting and powerful song offers one of the best examples of Art Garfunkel's ability to harmonise brilliantly with his counterpart. The song has been used in too many film soundtracks to list and it's easy to see why. Perhaps not their biggest hit, but this is real showstopper.
One of the folk duo's most enduring hits, 'Mrs. Robinson' also features some of Paul Simon's most enigmatic lyrics, but much of the reason for that is down to how the song came about. Originally given the working title 'Mrs. Roosevelt', the song was initially being written about Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of the former U.S. president and a campaigner for equal rights. The drafted lyrics were written around the theme of a loss of values in American politics and the media, hence the lyric referencing baseball legend Joe DiMaggio, whose marriage to Marilyn Monroe was constantly dogged by unwelcome news stories, such as her romantic involvement with both John F. Kennedy and his brother Bobby.
However, film director Mike Leigh had commission the duo to write a song for his movie The Graduate and after turning in two songs that left Leigh unimpressed, they finally decided to change the song's lyrics to match the name of the film's famous cougar. The result is a lyric that is a bit of a mish-mash of influences, but it's certainly kept people guessing over the years.
'Me & Julio Down By The Schoolyard'
Taken from Simon's eponymous solo LP released in 1972, the songwriter reportedly considered this ditty about he and two friends running into trouble with the law as a bit of a throwaway, but it's proved to be one of his most well-known and best-loved tunes. Its's been covered numerous times by everyone from Jack Johnson to Streetlight Manifesto and has featured in a number of film soundtracks, perhaps most notably in Wes Anderson's brilliant 2001 film The Royal Tenenbaums.
'50 Ways To Leave Your Lover'
Underpinned by an iconic drum groove laid down by legendary session drummer Steve Gadd, '50 Ways To Leave Your Lover' was first included on Simon's 1975 solo album Still Crazy After All These Years, reaching No.1 in the Billboard Top 100 in 1976 and landing Simon one of his biggest hits since the Simon & Garfunkel days. Simon won a Grammy that year for Best Album and famously thanked Stevie Wonder for “not releasing an record” that year, the Motown legend having taken home the award the two previous years in 1974 and 1975, subsequently doing so again in 1977 for his double LP Songs in the Key of Life.
'You Can Call Me Al'
Taken from the 1986 album Graceland, 'You Can Call Me Al' represented something of a comeback for Paul Simon, following an ill-fated reunion with Art Garfunkel in the early 1980s and a poorly received solo LP in the form of Hearts & Bones. With its African-influenced rhythms, bold brass riffs and one his most memorable hooks in a long time, the song proved to be one of Simon's biggest hits in a decade. The single was also accompanied by a video conceived by legendary Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels, featuring Chevy Chase lip-synching his way through the lyrics.