Thursday , May 23 2024
Paul Simon's first four solo albums, remastered with bonus tracks.

Music Review: Paul Simon – Paul Simon, There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, Live Rhymin’, Still Crazy After All These Years

With the break up of Simon and Garfunkel in 1970, it was little surprise that Paul Simon would be the one who went on to big solo success. After all, it had been he who was responsible for most of the duo’s hits. But even a talent as big as Simon’s had to endure some growing pains. His association with Art Garfunkel had lasted many years, and could not be as quickly walked away from as he may have initially thought.

Paul Simon’s 1972 self-titled solo debut gets off to a fine start with “Mother And Child Reunion.” This track would have been unimaginable with Garfunkel. It was here that Simon introduced a trait that would become something of a trademark with him; his willingness to experiment with other forms of music. In the case of “Mother And Child Reunion,” Paul tapped into the burgeoning reggae market, which resulted in a top ten hit for him.

Following hot on the heels of “Mother And Child Reunion” was another Top 40 hit, “Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard.” This was an upbeat number as well, and seemed to solidify Simon’s status as a solo artist. For those who bought the album however, there were signs that he had much more in mind than simply being a successful singles artist. We find this most clearly in the suite of songs that close the record out. “Papa Hobo” is an interesting tale in which a young Simon confesses his desire to get out of town, and hit the road. This is followed by “Hobo”s Blues,” an instrumental duet between Simon (guitar) and the great Stephane Grappelli (violin).

“Paranoia Blues,” and “Congratulations” may or may not fit into this storyline. The former is about being intimidated by arriving in New York City, while the latter seems to herald the end of a relationship. Despite all of these wonderful new directions, Paul Simon had not fully shaken the ghost of Art Garfunkel in his writing yet. Songs such as “Everything Put,” “Run That Body Down,” and “Peace Like A River” seem to cry out for those lovely harmonies of his former partner. Still, Paul Simon is a strong solo debut from a major talent.

The Columbia/Legacy reissue of Paul Simon includes three bonus tracks. Two are 1971 demos; “Me And Julio Down By The School Yard,” and “Duncan.” There is also a previously unreleased version of “Paranoia Blues.”

Simon’s 1973 follow up, There Goes Rhymin’ Simon continued the man’s quest to add new elements to his music. Leading off with the #2 Billboard hit single “Kodachrome,” There Goes Rhymin’ Simon seemed keen to explore more R&B and soul stylings. “Take Me To The Mardi Gras” was recorded at the legendary Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama, and features the horns of The Onward Brass Band. The Muscle Shoals connection continues with “One Man’s Ceiling Is Another Man’s Floor,” and most especially “Loves Me Like A Rock.”

“Loves Me Like A Rock” was another big radio hit for Simon, and the gospel-inflected tune features the great backing vocals of The Dixie Hummingbirds. Another Muscle Shoals track “Was A Sunny Day” is a little more in the “traditional” Simon sound, although it does feature backing vocals from the as yet undiscovered Maggie and Terre Roche. The Roches had been students of Simon’s when he taught at New York University immediately after his break up with Art Garfunkel, in 1971.

There Goes Rhymin’ Simon contains four bonus tracks. These include a “work in progress” edition of “Let Me Live In Your City,” and demos of “Take Me To The Mardi Gras,” “American Tune,” and “Loves Me Like A Rock.”

While it may have seemed premature to release a live album with only two solo recordings under his belt, Paul Simon knew what he was doing. For one thing, Simon And Garfunkel had never released any live material, and for another, he had enough strong material on both of his solo releases to more than justify it. The early seventies were big for live records, although most of them were of the KISS, Deep Purple, or Grand Funk Railroad variety. In this context, 1974’s Live Rhymin’ could be viewed as a pretty gutsy move on Simon’s part.

The disc is almost evenly split between Simon And Garfunkel and Paul Simon solo tracks. Of the twelve tunes released on the original vinyl edition, five were Simon And Garfunkel songs, and five were from the solo Simon records. The addition of the Jessy Dixon Singers adds much to the version of “Mother And Child Reunion” here. The other act Simon took out on the 1973 – ‘74 tour was the South American outfit Urubamba. Their collaboration with the diminutive one on “El Condo Pasa (If I Could)” is another highlight.

Paul’s fascination with gospel music at this time had already been explored with “Loves Me Like A Rock,” but on Live Rhymin’ he makes his love of the form much more overt. “The Sound Of Silence” is reworked in this fashion, but “Jesus Is The Answer” is explicit. Turning the stage over to The Jessy Davis Singers, this is gospel as sung in the church. The song was written by Andre Crouch.

Simon knows his audience, and closes the concert out in a suitably strong fashion. Going from “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” to the rollicking “Loves Me Like A Rock,” and winding up with the beautiful “America” the record ends on a high note.

Columbia Legacy have added two songs from the tour which have never been previously released. These are both from There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, “Kodachrome,” and “Something So Right.”

One has to wonder if the release of Live Rhymin’ was to buy Simon some time. If so, it certainly was worthwhile – for what followed is considered by many to be his first masterpiece. Still Crazy After All These Years seemed to own the charts in 1975. Besides spawning four hit singles, the album topped the Billboard charts for the first time in his post-Simon & Garfunkel career. It also won the Grammy for Album of the Year in early 1976.

Simon certainly front-loaded the thing. It opens with the title track, then comes his one-off reunion with Art Garfunkel “My Little Town.” After the reflective “I Do It For Your Love,” comes his biggest hit single ever: “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover.” Just as an aside, the distinctive drum sound of the song was by Steve Gadd, who would go on to do some amazing work with Steely Dan a couple of years later.

In fact, a major criticism of Still Crazy After All These Years had to do with the all-star jazz musicians Simon recruited for the project. Among the many artists to appear on the album are Michael Brecker, Bob James, Tony Levin, Toots Thielmans, and David Sanborn. Phoebe Snow and The Jessy Dixon Singers also help out on the gospel call and response tune “Gone At Last.”

Still Crazy After All These Years would be Paul Simon’s biggest album until the appearance of Graceland, over a decade later. It remains one of his finest. Two bonus tracks are included on the reissue, both demos. We get a preview of “Slip Slidin’ Away,” which would become a hit in its own right in 1977, and “Gone At Last,” which in the demo version includes The Jessy Dixon Singers.

After the enormous success of Simon And Garfunkel, Paul Simon may have felt he had something to prove as a solo artist. With his first four releases he certainly established himself as more than up to the task. By reuniting with Art Garfunkel for the wonderful “My Little Town” on Still Crazy After All These Years, he also proved himself to be a class act.

About Greg Barbrick

Check Also

Brokeneck Girls: The Murder Ballad Musical

Theater Review (NYC Fringe): ‘Brokeneck Girls: The Murder Ballad Musical’

A tongue-in-cheek meta-fable with music and a serious message offers a fresh take on murder ballads and the battles of the sexes.