This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.
RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #342: Graceland by Paul Simon.
There is a lot going on in this song, this album and with this singer so, let’s dive in and have a look around, shall we?
Graceland was released in 1986. That album was crammed with hit songs including “Call Me, Al”, “The Boy in the Bubble”, “Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes”, “I Know What I Know” and “Graceland”. Graceland won the Grammy Award that year for Album of the Year. It is a wonderful album from start to finish but it was not without a bit of controversy.
Paul Simon was heavily influenced by African musicians on this album. The controversial part came in two phases: 1- Just as Peter Gabriel, Steve Van Zandt and a whole host of others musicians announced a complete boycott of South Africa because of that country’s Apartheid racial policies, Paul Simon announced that he was travelling there. He ended up working exclusively with South African musicians. He recorded tracks for several songs with musicians from South Africa, introducing African rhythms into many of the songs that came to be on the album. Not everyone was happy that he travelled to South Africa. Regardless of the pious nature of his intentions, the mere fact that he snubbed his nose at the organized boycott rankled many. 2- Paul Simon always said that one of the joys of making an album like Graceland was being able to shine a brighter light on some of these wonderful African musicians and thus, helping to introduce them to audiences back in America. The most famous of the musicians he invited back to America was the choral group Ladysmith Black Mambazo. They got to tour with him and appear on TV. But, again, there were many naysayers that accused Simon of a form of cultural appropriation by profiting from African music under his own name. Paul Simon has always maintained that his heart was pure and that what he ended up doing with Graceland was positive for all involved. What no one denies is that he produced a fantastic album and that has ended up being his lasting legacy.
The song “Graceland” recounts a journey he and his son took across the southern US to see Elvis Presley’s home (which is called Graceland and is now a museum that honours his memory). As is always the case with a wordsmith like Simon, his descriptions of the things he and his son see and do along the way is very poetic and descriptive. This journey happened in real life and came about because of a divorce. Simon references this in the verse that starts,
“She comes back to tell me that she’s gone.
As if I didn’t know that.
As if I didn’t know my own bed……..” It goes on from there.
Later in the song he mentions a woman from New York City called The Human Trampoline. I always figured that was a sexual reference but, as it turns out, Simon says that he saw a billboard for an exhibit in a museum that involved someone known as The Human Trampoline and thought that sounded interesting so, he included it in his own lyrics. Ironically enough, Paul Simon never intended this song to be called “Graceland”. That word was simply a placeholder title until he came up with something that pleased him more. But, as the recording process went on, Simon grew more comfortable with the mythology around what Elvis meant to America and how special places can feel like home. In light of that, he opted stick with “Graceland” as his title. The rest, as they say, is history.
Without further delay, here is the song, “Graceland” by Paul Simon. Enjoy.
The link to the official website for Paul Simon can be found here.
Thanks to Rolling Stone Magazine for helping to inspire the writing of this post. The link to their official website can be found here.
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