Monday, January 19, 2015


This one was mentioned by Marc Eliot in his biography of Simon, so thanks go to him for finding it.

In 1976, smooth jazz sax virtuoso David Sanborn-- who performed backup for Simon on record and in concert-- came out with his second album. It was called simply Sanborn, and the second track was titled "Smile." So this has nothing to do with the long-gestating Beach Boys album of the same name.

There are only six lines-- two verses of six lines each. The first line of each verse is the same. And the last line of each verse is the same, too, with the exception of one word. So, not much songwriting going on; it's more of a epigram.

The lyrics, in their entirety, are:

"And it was all in your smile
And it threw me off stride for a while
But when I looked up you were gone

It was all in your smile
Something I hadn't felt for a while
But when I woke up you were gone."

The first verse concerns someone who is gob-smacked by someone's stunning smile, to such a degree that he or she (it sounds like mostly women singing on the Sanborn track) is discombobulated and so cannot respond coherently. By the time she collects herself, the smiler has departed, consarn the luck.

The second verse starts as the first. The rhyme is even the same in the second line, but this time, there is less of an infatuation and more of a deep affection, so the two did find each other again. This is borne out by the word "woke," implying that the two had slept together, but now the other has gone... and taken his smile with him.

With saxophone solos and repeats of the lyrics, this number takes up nearly four minutes in its first recording. There are versions, however, that stretch past six and even ten minutes. Which may be typical for jazz. (The satirical newspaper The Onion mocked the tendency of improvisation-based groups to elongate songs thus: "Grateful Dead play 'Happy Birthday' to Jerry Garcia for four hours.")

There is not much more to say about "Smile," other than that Sanborn seems to still be performing it, so it must have become a fan favorite.

Someone posted the lyrics as "threw me off sky" which is poetic, but completely nonsensical, and clearly not what the singers are singing. Also, "threw me off stride" is a very common, even cliche, expression, and not one that can be mistaken for something else. Sadly, whoever wrote "sky" had their version copied and pasted to such a degree that it is all over the Internet.

The word "stride," while somewhat old hat, is still being used-- it is the name of a brand of chewing gum, for one thing, and shoe (Stride Rite)... and a form of New Orleans jazz about which a movie is being made. In the 1980s, Matthew Wilder became a one-hit wonder with "Break My Stride." So people should still know the word, even if the expression "threw me off stride" is old-fashioned enough to, well, throw someone off stride.

Next Song: Wristband


  1. Hey I just found your blog and I have some questions. Can you please send me a note? I'm Thanks!

  2. Peter-- Thanks for your note. If you have questions, please ask them in regard to each song, on that song's page. Thank you.

  3. You're kind of my hero. This is awesome.
    Happy birthday, Paul!

  4. I haven't heard this song but I think there's another interpretation of the last line.
    What I took from it is that he (or she) has dreamt about the smile.
    Moreover, the impression that this smile has made is not necessarily linked to sexual attraction. It could easily be the smile of an elderly person or a child who is simply radiating deep contentedness or joy. Could it be that, in a world of stressed anxiety and long faces, a joyful smile unexpectedly impresses upon the observer that innocent happiness is almost a forgotten state?

    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
    On a more general note, I've only just discovered your blog and I'm looking forward to delving into it. It's a great idea to do a song by song examination of Paul Simon's work. I agree with your opinion that he's one of the greatest popular songwriters of our times.

  5. Amy-- What a nice thing to say! Thank you. You made my day.

  6. Henry-- Thank you for the compliment. I hope you enjoy exploring Simon's songs with me-- there is a lot to discover.
    As to this song, "when I woke up, you were gone," implies that when he went to sleep, she was there. Before that, he "felt" something he had not for a while. I'm fairly confident that this feeling involved touching.

  7. I am looking for a few new songs to add to my workout playlist. I would like songs that are along the lines of alternate rock but if there are any other ROCK songs that would work feel free to add them.
    You Love Her Coz She's Dead

  8. Ben-- It wouldtake me a while to go through all the Simon and Garfunkel and Simon solo songs to suggest ones energetic enough for a workout. Off the top of my head? Baby Driver, Kodachrome, Me & Juilo, That Was Your Mother, and Born at the Right Time.