Paul Simon has been a hugely influential figure in music history. He's been successful with the public, earning four chart-topping songs and three number one albums to his credit. He's been acclaimed by his peers in the music industry, winning twelve Grammy Awards. And he's been inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame both as a member of Simon & Garfunkel and as a solo artist. Simon was born October 13, 1941, so in conjunction with his 75th birthday we're discussing his career and impact. Some of the WYEP staff had an online chat about some of our favorites in Simon's extensive catalogue.
Mike Sauter: (Director of Content and Programming) What songs from any part of Simon's career do you consider his most important, either culturally or to you personally?
Joey Spehar: (Morning Mix Co-Host) This will always be my favorite Paul Simon album.
It's completely perfect from beginning to end. I'm sure it has a lot to do with my mom playing it a ton around the house when I was a kid. When I "discovered it" on my own in my 20s, it all felt so familiar. There's a great mix of styles on the record and it's (without a doubt) the best use of a coat on an album ever.
Mike: That is a nice coat!
Cindy Howes: (Morning Mix Host) I agree with Joey about Paul Simon, Paul Simon. It's a perfect album. I always knew "Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard". A friend of mine pointed out the song "Armistice Day" to me for being a really special song. The dynamics and lyrics were amazing to me. I also love that you can hear creaky chairs and face scratching on the record.
This song will always remind me of living in Somerville, MA with my roommates playing music in our kitchen. We had a cranky older woman living below us that would bang on our door or use a broom to bang her ceiling when we were disturbing her. She was the worst! She would leave nasty notes on our door and was never a pleasant person to deal with. We would turn up the volume to loud and dance around to this Paul Simon song. It was very cathartic.
Also "The Only Living Boy In New York" is a favorite. I remember watching Garden State in the movie theater and being very moved by the placement of the song.
I know everyone loves Graceland (I love it, too!), but there is something to be said for the album The Rhythm of The Saints. The way he incorporated more Latin sounds to his songs as well as African was very effective. The drums on the opening track are incredible!
Rosemary Welsch: (Afternoon Mix Host & Senior Producer) I also love The Rhythm of the Saints and think it didn't get its due because it followed Graceland. "Can't Run, But" is one of my favorites on that album. The lyrics are so beautiful and the music so haunting.
Cindy: Can't even tell you how pleased I was with Paul Simon's 2011 record [So Beautiful or So What]. After the disappointment of Surprise, it was hard to say what would come next. The whole album sounds great. He sounds free and open on that album. I especially love the title track.
Kyle Smith: (Music Director & Midday Mix Host) I have many Paul Simon memories, but one song in particular always makes me stop what I'm doing, in order to listen to every note. "The Only Living Boy in New York" was playing on WYEP on a Thanksgiving evening, roughly one year after I moved to Pittsburgh. I was driving on McArdle Roadway up to Mount Washington to a gathering at a friend's house. I was the only car going up, the city was illuminated and almost empty, and the song was the perfect one at that moment.
Cindy: Two very impressive live albums that he's released were the two Central Park shows he recorded (one billed as a "Paul Simon" show and the other "Simon & Garfunkel):
Joey: Also, I'm pretty partial to "Father and Daughter" ever since I became a dad. I can't listen to it without tearing up. Like, it's impossible to not cry for me :sob::sob::sob::sob:
Kyle: "Father and Daughter," over the years, has brought in some of the highest volumes of requests, reactions, and tears from WYEP listeners.
Cindy: This is one of my favorite music videos ever. Chevy Chase is so funny:
Mike: For me, I'd have to go with Bridge Over Troubled Water for my favorite album from Paul Simon's career. I mean - c'mon! Side 1 of this album is pretty perfect: "Bridge over Troubled Water," "El Condor Pasa," "Cecilia," "Keep the Customer Satisfied," and "So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright." And side 2 is no slouch either.
Simon has always been a fascinating lyricist, from "The Sound of Silence" in 1964 all the way through to his recent song "Wristband." "The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls" has to be up there among my favorite lines he's ever sung. What do you think are among his best lyrics?
Kyle: “Cattle in the marketplace, scatterlings and orphanages/He looks around, around, he sees angels in the architecture” in "You Can Call Me Al". Simon sees the beauty juxtaposed with poverty in South Africa.
“The way the camera follows us in slo-mo/The way we look to us all” in "The Boy in a Bubble" is even more relevant today with the 24-hour news cycle of competition and repetition of message. I think Simon was saying it's forcing us all to see ourselves through the lens that gets turned into entertainment and how we view people in other cultures.
Mike: I've always been impressed with his song "Old," from 2000's You're The One. Like this year's "Wristband," "Old" manages to blend his own rock and roll experiences with some social commentary and he pulls it off with a deft mix of seriousness and lighthearted wordplay. Like in the opening verse:
"The first time I heard Peggy Sue I was twelve years old
Russians up in rocket ships and the war was cold
Now many wars have come and gone, genocide still goes on
Buddy Holly still goes on but his catalog was sold..."
Rosemary: Another cool note about the album There Goes Rhymin' Simon is the female back-up singers were Maggie & Terre Roche. Simon went on to produce the first Roches album – just Maggie & Terre, Seductive Reasoning – shortly after this album.
People tend to focus on Simon's "serious" work. I like his humor as in "Cecilia," "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover," and "You Can Call Me Al."
Mike: One thing I have to say. When I was doing research in 2015 about the history of music on Saturday Night Live in conjunction with its 40th anniversary, I found that Paul Simon is the music guest who has appeared on the most episodes of SNL over the years (16, to be precise). No doubt that's partially due to his friendship with show producer Lorne Michaels and being a "local" to where SNL originates.
But it also speaks to the enormous longevity of Simon's relevance. He has been recording songs and albums that matter, and that have a life outside of his hardcore fan base, longer than the vast majority of performers. And while there are certainly others from his generation who still make music of high quality and that resonates in popular culture, it's a very small club.
Plus, reviewing his SNL appearances, it's clear that few other musicians of his caliber would ever agree to appear on the show in a turkey costume. So there's that, too.
What are your favorites from Paul Simon's career? Let us know via our Facebook comment thread.