Monday, August 15, 2011

Essential Albums of the '80s: Paul Simon - Graceland (1986)

Graceland is probably Paul Simon’s most acclaimed work. His seventh studio album, it won the 1986 Grammy Award for Album of the Year and its title track won Record of the Year the following year. The album’s sound draws on a rich mix of instrumentation, most notably its use of South African musicians, but there are other sounds too like the accordion of “The Boy in the Bubble,” which begins the album on a buoyant, festive note. It’s easy to hear how groups like Vampire Weekend were inspired by the sound of songs like “Graceland,” ostensibly about a road trip to Memphis, but also about the loss of love, perhaps referencing the recent dissolution of Simon’s marriage with Carrie Fisher. “I Know What I Know” skewers Hollywood elitism (“Don’t I know you from that cinematographer’s party?”) contrasted with the far-from-Hollywood sound of South African musicians General M.D. Shiranda and The Gaza Sisters. “Gumboots” strikes me as a Woody Allen-esque moment, talking about sharing a taxi downtown with a friend having a breakdown. “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” has an a cappella beginning that transitions to a laid-back vibe. “You Can Call Me Al” is the most recognizable of the album’s songs and its most mainstream sound. It’s rich horn-heavy production contrasts with the a cappella arrangement of the following track, “Homeless,” featuring African singers Ladysmith Black Mambazo. “Crazy Love, Vol. 2” is another bright, pop-oriented highlight.

Best: Graceland, You Can Call Me Al, I Know What I Know, The Boy in the Bubble, Crazy Love Vol 2.

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