What's the best Paul Simon song

Hall of Fame Paul Simon - Graceland

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After years of failure, Paul Simon finds new inspiration in South Africa. With "Graceland" he creates one of the best albums of the 80s - and the blueprint for global pop for bands like Vampire Weekend and Foals.

Status: 11/12/2009 | archive

1986 Paul Simon is in the 15th year of his solo career after Simon & Garfunkel. His album "Hearts & Bones" is three years old and despite all the benevolence it can be described as the commercial and artistic low point of his career. Simon repeats himself, sounds empty and uninspired. Then a cassette with African mbaqanga falls into his hands.

If you translate Mbaqanga from the Zulu into German, then the name of the reggae-soul-jazz mixture is quite unpretentious: porridge. When Simon asked where the porridge came from that he couldn't get out of his head, he is said to have sighed: Why not Zimbabwe or Nigeria - life could be so beautiful and simple. Because the township jive comes from Soweto. South Africa has been officially outlawed internationally for its apartheid policy since the mid-1970s. "I Ain't Gonna Play Sun City" swear by superstars like Bruce Springsteen or U2: They are boycotting the South African amusement park. Legend has it that Paul Simon asks producer legend Quincy Jones for advice on ignoring the international boycott and traveling to South Africa. If you deal fairly with the musicians on site, why not, was Quincy's answer.

Overriding common sense

Paul Simon - Graceland (Cover)

In 1985 Simon went to Johannesburg with a dozen compositions to go to the studio with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Miriam Makeba and Youssou N'Dour. Back in America he also brings Los Lobos and the Everly Brothers on board - the result is an unprecedented mix of folk, calypso, zydeco, soul, rock and of course Mbaqanga. And Simon's plan works: "Graceland" receives five platinum awards, two Grammys and a permanent place in every "The best albums of all time" ranking.

As soon as it appears, the United Nations put "Graceland" on the index. Only after a thorough examination does the anti-apartheid committee of the UN take back the warning that "Graceland" is an excellent representation of the talent of black artists. What remains, however, is the pale aftertaste: The intellectual white pop star is no longer kicking anything, he has even tried twelve-tone music - he simply makes use of black African culture. That is not exploitation, but here two worlds collide that have nothing to do with each other. Vampire Weekend sing: "This feels so unnatural, Peter Gabriel too". Above all, a superimposed authenticity would appear unnatural. And neither Paul Simon nor his heirs Vampire Weekend pretend.

Simon was accused that his criticism of the apartheid regime could only be read between the lines. But: "Graceland" is less of a political album than perhaps the most beautiful escape from reality in pop history. No song illustrates this more than the blindly optimistic title track: The story of a broken-hearted man who's obsessed with finding peace exactly where the King found his undignified, lonely end: Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee.