Review Revue: Paul Simon - Graceland

graceland

Once upon a time it was 1986, and a man named Paul Simon released an album called Graceland, incorporating the sounds of South African township music (specifically the gorgeous voices of Ladysmith Black Mambazo) with the sounds of folky, poppy, white people music - and captivated a nation (including your intrepid reporter, who spent many an evening honking away on his alto saxophone in the basement: “DOOOO DOOT DOOT DOOT. DOOOO DOOT DOOT DOOT!” -- I believe I also thought Graceland was some mythical land of African myth for many years.) He had been on a bit of a downswing of late, but this brought it all back. He made a video with Chevy Chase; newly comfortable with tall people, he married Edie Brickell.

24 years later, as African sounds are again finding their way into the pop music of white Americans, and people are again wondering what it all means -- and trying to figure out if these bands are ripping off other cultures, or Paul Simon, or both, or neither, or who cares -- I thought it would be interesting to reexamine that moment of two dozen years ago, and see how the smart, cynical people at KCMU reacted to this particular album.

“African influences pervade this LP at all aspects. Particularly it focuses upon the ‘township jive’ of South Africa. Some of these artists backing Mr. Simon we’ve heard elsewhere, especially on the ‘Indestructible Beat of Soweto’ comp. Despite the fact that it’s Paul Simon and Warner Bros. it deserves attention because of the African aspect + just plain good music. Los Lobos also appear on a song. [Interesting story...] So does Adrian Belew, Linda Ronstadt + other notables. DL will hopefully show us where the white dots are. This may be the long overdue breakthrough of traditional African (South) into the popular white music scene.* If anything audition it so you know it exists.”

“*That, Scott Brewer, was prophetic.”

Huh. Turns out they liked it!

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3 Comments

  1. Posted April 16, 2010 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    I’m glad--albeit brief--that you point out how Simon ripped off Los Lobos. I think that needs to become the story of Graceland all these years later considering how much praise the album continues to receive.

  2. Posted July 9, 2010 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

    Justin, my thoughts exactly. The first thing I thought of when I looked at this post was, “And Los Lobos’ reaction to this album was...”

  3. Sean
    Posted April 29, 2011 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    Oh please, its a he said, he said thing.

    If they wrote the song where is it? Oh, right Los Lobos didn’t write it down anywhere or even record a rough demo of it, Paul did. The song is the universally considered the weakest on the record, sounds nothing like Los Lobos’ other work, and furthermore a sax riff and singing the one line “Myth of Fingerprints” doesn’t constitute writing a song. Compound that with the fact that writing credits were liberally assigned to artists other than P. Simon on the album, who haven’t voiced such grievances, and the whole ting begins to sound weak.

    I’m not saying I know Paul’s 100% innocent here, but I wouldn’t be so quick to leap to conclusions. The fact is no one will ever know the truth here, and people will choose what they wish to believe.

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