This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
KEXP: 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”, the song, comes from “Graceland”, the album, which 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”, the album, 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 black, South African musicians; recording tracks for several songs with musicians there and 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, even though he did nothing at all with the Government. 2- Paul Simon always said that one of the joys of making an album like “Graceland” was the African influences and, furthermore, being able to shine a brighter light on some of these musicians, 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, which was good. But, there were many naysayers that accused Simon of a form of “cultural appropriation” by profiting from African music under his own name. Overall, Paul Simon 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……..” and, it goes on from there.
Later on, he mentions a woman from NY 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 and, the rest, as they say, is history.
So, without further delay, here is the song, “Graceland” by Paul Simon. Enjoy.
The link to the video for the song, “Graceland” by Paul Simon, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Paul Simon, can be found here.
Thanks, as always, to KEXP, for helping to inspire the writing of this post. The link to their official website can be found here.