Artist – Album: Paul Simon - Graceland
Released: 12th August 1986
Sounds Like: Music for the world, by the world
There are some albums that, for all their failings, controversies and cheese, you just can’t help but love. Paul Simon’s Graceland is the Holy Grail for me, perfect in its imperfections, the most enjoyable and fresh album of the musical hinterland that is the Eighties.
I’m not inclined to go in to the hullabaloo that surrounds the album as: a) being only six years old when the apartheid in South Africa was finally lifted, I don’t have the requisite understanding of the intricacies and finer details and wouldn’t want to pretend that I fully understand both sides of the argument, b) that could make a bloody boring blog and c) because I don’t want to take anything away from the music. All that you really need to know is that when Simon enlisted the help of African musicians (including Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Youssou N’Dour, alongside well known Western artists such as The Everly Brothers and Linda Ronstadt) he brought to the attention of the world at large the beautiful, pure sounds of the Dark Continent. In turn, they gave him a new lease of life and granted his always exemplary lyrics with a vividly colourful background on which to rest. The gorgeous acapella of ‘Homeless’, the wonderfully evocative ‘Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes’, the playful ‘I Know What I Know’, the locomotive title track and the portrayal of an ever shrinking world in ‘The Boy in the Bubble’ are all stone cold classics, and they are songs that it is impossible to imagine could have existed without the help of his scouted companions.
The biggest hit was ‘You Can Call Me Al’, an exuberant pop rock anthem (with a killer Chevy Chase fronted video) that featured only smatterings of the African influence, save the bass-led instrumental breakdown (slappa da bass) and the Ladysmith backing vocals. But the song sets the scene for his journey to South Africa, as Simon wittily questions the direction his life was taking (“Why am I soft in the middle? The rest of my life is so hard”) before he finds himself on a “street in a strange world, maybe it’s the Third World”. His denouement of “angels in the architecture, spinning in infinity, he says Amen, Hallelujah” suggest an epiphany; that Simon has realised that this is where he’s supposed to be. After listening to this resulting gem of an album, it’s hard to argue that he was wrong.
Albumaday... rating: 10/10
1. The Boy in the Bubble – 3:59
2. Graceland – 4:48
3. I Know What I Know – 3:13
4. Gumboots – 2:44
5. Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes – 5:45
6. You Can Call Me Al – 4:39
7. Under African Skies – 3:37
8. Homeless – 3:48
9. Crazy Love, Vol. II – 4:18
10. That Was Your Mother – 2:52
11. All Around the World or the Myth of Fingerprints – 3:15
Listen to ‘You Can Call Me Al’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uq-gYOrU8bA
Also released on the 12th August:
1991: Metallica – Metallica