Thursday, September 10, 2009

Why Write About Paul Simon's Songs? And... How?

Paul Simon just may be the greatest songwriter who ever lived. No other songwriter, certainly of the modern age, matches his consistent poetic quality. No one leans as little on cliché, dares as many brave rhymes, or adventures into as many genres. Few cover the range of topics, ideas, and emotions Simon does, or describes things in that upexpected yet perfect way. Even if you disagree that he is the absolute best songwriter, you must consent that he has few peers... and fewer equals.

I have been a Simon fan and collector since childhood. I have ventured into songwriting myself, with one song published so far (which explains my ASCAP card) and others performed in public. I am also a nationally published music critic, 10 years running. And I have learned more about music from taking the tangents suggested by Simon’s music than from any other source.

The purpose of this blog is to comment on, as the title indicates, every single Paul Simon song. Naturally, this is technically impossible— many of his songs may be unpublished or unreleased, some may be released but decades out of print... and many may have been demo'd under one of his early pseudonyms to be lost in some dusty magnetic archive. So that is why there is also an asterisk (*) in the title.

The logical way to progress is chronologically. However, most readers will not be familiar with Simon’s early, pre-folk work (or even aware of its existence).

So I will begin with the first official Simon and Garfunkel album, Wednesday Morning, 3AM, and proceed from there, through all of their material. Simon recorded a solo album (recently re-released on CD as The Paul Simon Songbook) while with Garfunkel, but he used almost all of those songs again on S&G albums, so they will be dealt with in the order in which they appeared as recorded by the duo. The two folksongs he recorded only solo versions of there, and the song he recorded with Garfunkel years later ("My Little Town") will be dealt with at that point, neatly tying the ribbon on his S&G output.

Then I will begin Simon’s post-breakup career with his official solo debut, the album Paul Simon, and continue on to his most recent (as of this writing) release, So Beautiful or So What.

Lastly, I will return to Simon’s pre-folk era, when Simon wrote and recorded as Jerry Landis of Tom and Jerry (Tom of course being Art), Tico and the Triumphs, and other names. This period is interesting as it has Simon trying out the sounds of his contemporaries and learning his craft.

Predominantly, my comments will be on the lyrics. I will only bring the music into discussion if it marks a significant point in Simon’s development or is key to the song in some way. Along the way, Simon recorded some covers, and I will only comment on these to consider their choice relative to the album on which they first appear. Greatest-hits collections, box sets, and concert releases will be mentioned only to the degree that new songs appear on them.

Once a week, I will listen to one song and comment on it. I will not be able to provide audio samples; I encourage readers to (of course) purchase Simon’s music, borrow it from a library, or at least listen to the 30-second song samples available on that accompany each album.

I also will not provide (usually) complete lyrics. These are printed with every album, and most of Simon’s lyrics are available to view (often with guitar tabs) online, as well as in his book Lyrics: 1964-2011 (which I generally just refer to as "the Lyrics book." I will note when there are different versions in the liner notes, the Lyrics book, and the website, if I notice a significant difference.

About comments: I will not engage in debates over the relative merits of Paul Simon vs. Bob Dylan; I have one friend already with whom I have had such a debate for six years running, and that’s plenty. Please limit your comments to the work of Paul Simon and the specific song on that post if possible. I look forward to the insights and opinions (and even constructive criticism) of others.

If you are inspired to give your own favorite songwriter— Dylan, Lennon, Joni Mitchell, whomever— the “every single song” treatment, feel free. Like all good Quixotes, I would be honored if my insane quest sparked those of others.


  1. This is one of the coolest ideas for a music blog I've ever seen.

  2. Thank you! I hope others pick up on this. For instance, someone who knows more about Dylan can try to climb that mountain of songs, one by one!
    I admit I was inspired by the woman who wrote that blog about Julia Child's recipes, one by one. Also my wife, who said, "Why don't you do something like that?"
    So if you would like to "re-steal" the idea and review someone else's songs (or movies, books, paintings, etc.) one by one, please feel free. I don't own the idea.

  3. I have encountered yr blog when I was listening to 'Kathy's Song'.
    I very much enjoyed your analysis. Still, beyond Simon's words are Garfunkel's singing. You should have at least acknowledged that. Do you have a prejudice against Garfunkel? Just trying to understand your writing.

  4. I do not have anything against Art Garfunkel! I have even attended a solo performance of his. In fact, he wrote some of their Tom & Jerry songs and a book of poems, so I don't know why he keeps singing other people's material. If anything, I feel that Garkunkel's role in the duo has been unappreciated. He helped with a lot of the arranging and producing.
    But Simon is a master songwriter. He has multiple Grammys, an Oscar nomination, a Kennedy Center honor, the inaugural Gershwin Award, and an induction into the Songwriter Hall of Fame, as well as a solo induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
    In the Bibliography section of this blog, I mention a book that also takes Simon's songs, one at a time (although just the major-album releases) and also discusses the music element, something that author has much more authority to write about.

  5. How wonderful! I've recently been delving back into Paul's wonderful catalogue after reading Carrie Fisher's memoir, 'Wishful Drinking,' wherein she states, "If you can get Paul Simon to write a song about you, do it!" I am really looking forward to reading about each song as I replay what I believe to be a fairly comprehensive Paul Simon (& Garfunkel) playlist. More to come, but I can't wait!

  6. jen-- Thank you! Always gratifying to connect with another fan.