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".


  1. Anonymous5:38 pm

    You could double the number you've included and still not reach the duff-er stuff. I've got about the same number of Paul Simon and Bob Dylan on my itunes (about 100+ each) and the Simon stuff is more played, more emotional, more liked. Big fan of Joni but she's a long way behind.

  2. I've noticed before that even a less well known song like 'Keep The Customer Satisfied' can have an incredible effect on a room full of people. A cover band did it at my brother's wedding. Easily the best received number.

  3. Wonderful composer. And incredibly driven. Apparently he was devastated by the lack of commercial success of those 80's albums, which led him in the direction of Graceland. But Hearts and Bones has, for instance, Rene and Georgette Magritte and Train in the Distance. Two beautiful songs, but creating them is not enough. He is driven to at least try and reach an audience. A lesson there.

    And this clip seems to find him in the midst of creation of the great Still Crazy.

  4. I completely agree. Paul Simon is possibly the most overlooked singer/songwriters in the wider media world behind Dylan, McCartney, etc yet equally as good.

    I remember hearing my brother play and sing Duncan for the first time and knew instantly it was Paul Simon from the lyrics and the style of the song.

    Then you get a track like Keep the Customer Satisfied which ends with a huge, triumphant horn section - a testament to the diversity of his abilities to write a song like that and songs like Duncan, or The Boxer, The Only Living Boy in New York, Homeward Bound, I Am a Rock, America...

  5. I totally share the admiration here for Paul Simon's talent, but I question slightly the premise behind the OP. Is he, in fact, critically overlooked? As far as I can see, his place in the pantheon is utterly secure, but maybe I've missed something.

    Like McCartney, all he needs to do is shuffle off this mortal coil and his genius will be fully acknowledged.

  6. Couldn't agree more with any of that (though, Joni Mitchell??) but my own personal choice for 'doesn't get enough respect' is the Gibb brothers.

  7. That you could put together a list of 37 tracks without a single one from my personal favorite 'Hearts & Bones' kind of proves your point because I realise there isn't really any room is there?

  8. I could have put together another one of all his great stuff from records that weren't commercially successful, like "Hearts and Bones".

  9. Had the good fortune to see him at the Roundhouse a few months back - best show I've seen in a good while. One of the few genuine craftsmen of songwriting.