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Record Reflections 4: "Graceland" by Paul Simon

A series of record "reviews" where the author shares their thoughts & memories about an album, instead of the technical aspects

Unlike previous records discussed in this series, not only is this record not from the 90's but it's also not one I even heard in its entirety until I was well into adulthood. I was only five or six when it came out so Paul Simon wasn't exactly on my radar at that age. Sure, it has the quintessential 80's sax hit, "You can call me Al" with the iconic video starring Simon and Chevy Chase, but, this album is more than that.

Paul Simon, Graceland

Paul Simon, Graceland

Buy Graceland here.

Paul Simon "Graceland"

To base you opinion of this album solely on that smash hit would be to disregard the beauty and complexity of the entire record. Not only is it an exploration in genre bending, but it's a record that draw awareness to the plights of those who are less fortunate than us. In the case of this record, that would be the starving in Africa, which was the celebrity cause du jour in the 80's. That's not to minimize the suffering on the Dark Continent, but only to point out that this record serves as a socially conscious time capsule of a long gone era, without ever being preachy or condescending.

Graceland is my all time favorite record. There is no hesitation when asked this question. This is the only correct answer for me. The only one that feels true.

It's just beautiful. Pragtige, as they say in Afrikaans. I like that. This album deserves a strong, unique word to describe it. And, when you consider that much of it was recorded in Johannesburg with African choirs and African musicians, and other portions recorded in New York City, it's not any wonder the album feels so worldly rich and diverse. If this record were made today in the hyper PC world we live in, Simon may have been accused of cultural appropriation. In reality, Simon is paying tribute to the beautiful music created in Africa-- music that inspires the rock, blues, gospel and jazz that we take for granted today. In way, even though Simon was a well established rock star when he recorded this album, it's a return to his roots. It's his nod to the influences in his life that made him who he was when he record the album in 1985.

The album opens with The Boy in the Bubble which almost has a zydeco feel to it. The very first sound you hear is an accordion. You already know you're in for a unique experience when you hear an accordion on a rock record. From it's grooving bass line to the introspective lyrics, it sets the tone for the entire record, while also giving nothing away. This leads straight into the title track which offers a totally different vibe while somehow seeming like a perfect complement. And this is how the album proceeds, from start to finish. Different sounds, different instruments, different genres. it's a pop record but in many ways, it's incredibly experimental. In every way it's unique.

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This album is important to me because it enhanced and expanded my already diverse tastes in music. It introduced me to afrobeat, world music, pop. It offers syncopation, melody, harmony. And perhaps, most importantly, it offers a glimpse into the soul of the impoverished and less fortunate. It reminds us that the world is bigger than our own little bubble. It draws awareness to the importance of diversity and to the contributions of other cultures on western culture. And, while some of these things are mentioned in the lyrics, like the true poet that Simon is, he lets the words and music speak for themselves. You're understanding the message without even needing the words.

This is one of those rare albums with no missteps. It's musically and lyrically perfect.

Paul Simon "Boy in the Bubble"

The rest of the Record Reflections Series

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