Simon & Garfunkel Sing “The Only Living Boy in New York”

simon_and_garfunkel_bridge_over_troubled_water_1970Listen to this track by folk-rock titans and close harmony bar setters Paul Simon and Arthur Garfunkel, known to the world by the partnership name of Simon & Garfunkel.  It’s ‘The Only Living Boy In New York” as taken from the duo’s 1970 album, Bridge Over Troubled Water, their final (to date) studio album and the B-side to their well-known favourite “Cecilia”. This song is the sound of the edge of the 1970s, and what would soon be a disolved partnership most associated with the 1960s.

The pair had made four albums before this one, gaining an audience as a folk-rock duo, with an impressive number of hit singles in that vein, making them one of the most prominent acts of that decade.  But, before they were Simon & Garfunkel, they were Tom & Jerry, a pop duo with a minor hit in the charts at the end of the ’50s in “Hey Schoolgirl“, influenced heavily by another titanic vocal duo – The Everly Brothers.  They even appeared on the venerated TV show American Bandstand under that moniker. So, when Simon sings about ‘Tom’ in this particular song, it’s not hard to imagine that he’s talking about his soon-to-be-erstwhile partner, who by the end of the ’60s had found a second career as an actor. Read more

Paul Simon Performs ‘Gumboots’ Featuring The Boyoyo Boys

480px-graceland_cover_-_paul_simonListen to this track by singer-songwriter, folk-rock pioneer, and world-music promoter Paul Simon.  It’s the album-track “Gumboots”, which among other things going for it, features the Afro-pop stylings of The Boyoyo Boys from South Africa.  Another thing this song has going for it of course is one of the best lyrical marriage proposals in pop music history: “why don’t we get together and call ourselves an institute?”

Paul Simon was lauded for his 1986 Graceland LP, off of which this track is taken. Coming back from a three-year recording hiatus, Simon married his interest in folk music to (among other styles) African pop music, creating a highly textured and idiosyncratic album that captured the imaginations of the critics and the record buying public.  But, he also took some flak, too.  Some leveled some pretty heavy allegations against the project, deeming it to be a product of cultural imperialism, and an implied dismissal of the anti-Apartheid boycott at the time .

The song was originally an instrumental by the Boyoyo Boys, which Simon heard and was fascinated by.  It captured his imagination enough to write lyrics to the song, sparking a project which would provide something of a path to a comeback album. That path would eventually frame South Africa as a rich musical hotbed, despite the political unrest for which it had been known since the National Party put the deliberately racist Apartheid system in place in 1948.

As for the resulting song itself, there is nothing like it in Western pop music, with jubliant sax lines against hyperactive percussion and fidgety accordion lines. It’s a joyful, happy tune, derived from a country which, at the time, wasn’t so joyful. I guess the closest style to which it might be compared is New Orleans Zydeco, a style that developed many thousands of miles away. It’s hard to say which style influenced which first, or even if the two styles developed completely independently.  It’s a mystery!

The point is, what works for a song, just works. It doesn’t ultimately matter where it comes from, even if the origins are fascinating to trace.  As far as cultural imperialism goes, to me music has always thrives best when cultures mix.  This is not exploitation, it’s evolution.  For Simon’s part, he was making a record characterized by textures that interested him at the time, which is not really a radical approach to making an album.   As such, the album features many African musicians and their respective styles, but also features Linda Ronstadt, The Everly Brothers, Adrian Belew, and Los Lobos, among others.

Many of the South African musicians he worked with to help him get the sound he needed must have most certainly seen the advantage of having a prominent Western musician as an ambassador. Their musical traditions, which hadn’t received a fraction of the attention it would get upon the reception of the Graceland LP, were as important to them as a thing to promote as the album was to Simon.  And arguably, the eye of the world may not have focused so keenly on the corruption of the Apartheid system in South Africa, if not for the exposure that country received, at least in part, because of this album.

Check the link for more information about Paul Simon’s Graceland album and how it was made.


The Song In My Head Today: ‘Late in the Evening’ by Paul Simon

Paul Simon One Trick PonyHere’s a clip of Paul Simon’s “Late in the Evening”, from his 1980 One-Trick Pony soundtrack album. This version is from Simon & Garfunkel’s Concert in Central Park, which was filmed the following year.

The song is a great example of a songwriter who understands the importance of economy, which is also notable in earlier songs like “America”. Much like that song, this later tune also manages to become cinematic in just a few short verses. The tune is similarly populated with characters – his mother who “laughed like some ladies do”, “the girls out on the stoops”, and the narrator himself who is “underage in this funky bar” who then precedes to blow away its patrons with his nascent guitar skills.

It makes sense then that this comes from a movie of the same name which Simon wrote and starred in. Perhaps he wanted to see whether his economic storytelling abilities would translate to the big screen. Critics at the time weren’t so sure. But, at least he didn’t forget to write a good tune or two to go with the film.

Another thing I love about this tune is that horn section, and the percussion lines, both of which are forces which really push this song along. That’s another thing which Simon understands well, of course – music which interlocks with the story he’s telling. And I love the calypso flavouring too, like this song was meant to be a Caribbean road march to celebrate Carnival or Crop Over. Overall, this song just screams celebration!

Paul Simon would follow this soundtrack album up with the underrated Hearts and Bones in 1983, and then really have the best 80s a pop icon from the 60s would ever have after the release of his seminal Graceland album in 1986.