From The Rolling Stones, we take a 142 place jump up the chart to position number 71 where we find Paul Simon with his iconic album Graceland. Once a member of pop superduo Daphne and Celeste (no, that doesn't sound quite right), Simon's solo career began in earnest in 1972 with the release of his self-titled first album. Graceland was his seventh studio album and was released in 1986.
The album is fundamentally about rebirth, which is no surprise as it came at a tumultuous time in Simon's personal and professional life. His previous album Hearts and Bones had not been as successful as hoped, peaking at number 35 in the US Billboard chart. He was also in the process of divorcing from his second wife, Carrie Fisher. This is dealt with in particular in the title track Graceland. The album's most introspective track, it tells the story of a man taking a road trip after the end of a love affair. As a form of musical pilgrimage, accompanied by his young son, he travels to Elvis' iconic home in Graceland. The song is about finding yourself again after the breakdown of a relationship. It is about feeling free, searching for that fresh start, whilst also looking back at the remnants of what has been lost.
This theme of viewing the world, as a conflict between good and evil that is marginally being won by the former, is also prevalent in Boy In The Bubble. Simon juxtaposes images of desolation and marvel, positing the 'bomb in the baby carriage' alongside the 'baby with the baboon heart' whilst punctuating everything with the sentiment that 'these are the days of miracle and wonder'. He captures the eternal spirit that must sometimes be called upon to carry on when all around us appears to be falling to pieces.
The musical style also carries the theme of a phoenix of optimisim rising from the ashes of despair. The album has a strong South African influence, something which did not go down well at the time. Simon was criticised by many for breaching the cultural boycott put in place as a show of dissent against the country's apartheid regime. He was accused of cultural misappropriation – taking, without consent, the cultural property of a minority group and using them out of context or gratuitously.
I have to say, with the significant benefit of hindsight, I disagree. It genuinely feels as if Simon has immersed himself in a country's culture and used the influence of their songs to jump start his own creativity. The resulting album is a celebration of music and the emergence of artists as a result of this album, most notably Ladysmith Black Mambazo, is surely a signifier of its respect for South African culture. South Africa experienced its own rebirth five years after Graceland with the abolition of apartheid legislation and Nelson Mandela's release from prison. However you feel about Simon's methods for putting the album together, I believe it now stands as a testament to how, even in the darkest of times, music has the ability to bring people together and inspire hope.
Politics aside, the album is spectacular. Seeing Paul Simon as a solo artist, there is no doubt that he was the flavoursome, moreish preserve to Art Garfunkel's drier, blander bread. His surreal songwriting reminds me of looking at a Dali painting yet he tells stories that have an air of Woody Allen about them. Real people, real situations, real relationships, all viewed with a childish, whimsical spark.
Graceland went on to sell an estimated 16 million copies worldwide. It reached number 1 in the UK charts, number 3 in the US Billboard charts and won the Grammy for Album Of The Year. You Can Call Me Al, the album's lead single, went on to be Paul Simon's biggest solo hit. It also has the most iconic music video of all time that stars Chevy Chase. Fact.
Then again, I might be wrong. I am a Musical Moron, after all...
Lyric Of The Week
“The Mississippi Delta was shining like a National guitar//
I am following the river, down the highway, through the cradle of the Civil War”
Gives South Africa a call
To halt career fall
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