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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Happy birthday to Paul Simon, the man who's made more great pop records than anyone


"Baby Driver", a track from Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water", popped up on my iPod last night. It struck me, as it does from time to time, that Paul Simon's musical reputation suffers because he doesn't represent anyone but himself. I tweeted to the effect that no individual writer has more great pop records to his name than Paul Simon. @MaggieA, among others, contested this view, suggesting that Joni Mitchell had more.

Today is Paul Simon's 70th birthday so it seemed as good a time as any to offer this Spotify playlist as evidence. Life's too short to get bogged down in defining what is and what isn't pop. It stands for popular. Pop records, to my mind, exist independently of the artist. They are familiar to people who aren't very aware of who made them and don't much care. If I was putting music on the computer of a radio station these are the Paul Simon-authored records I'd put on there in the confident expectation that when they came up on the airwaves people would say "I know this one".

I've cheated in including his first hit "Hey Schoolgirl", which was in the fifties, but I haven't put in anything from his recent "So Beautiful Or So What" or any of his much-admired but relatively uncommercial records of the last few years. Even without those his achievement is exceptional. Big hits as a member of a duo, for whom he wrote all the songs and did most of the singing. Big hits on his own in the 70s. Even more big hits on his own in the 80s. Songs like "50 Ways To Leave Your Lover" and "Still Crazy After All These Years" which are still a boon to headline writers all these years later. Only Paul McCartney can boast a comparable span.

Oh, and I didn't include "Baby Driver".