Paul Simon – Negotiations and Love Songs 1971-1986

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 2)

When I was growing up in the 1980s, Paul Simon had achieved what I always thought of as a puzzling sort of celebrity. For reasons I’ve never discerned, Simon enjoyed popularity in my middle school for a brief but intense period of time. “Cecilia” and “Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard” were particular widespread favorites. Beyond that, Simon was on Saturday Night Live multiple times and was married (and later again involved with) Star Wars icon Carrie Fisher. While his musical career foundered before Graceland, that album made him a superstar, and he was everywhere. Inescapable. Still, I never warmed to him.

What I Think of This Album

Is this a good or bad Paul Simon comp? I have no idea. And the mystery does not keep me up at night. I feel like this gives me what I need, and also a whole lot I don’t. Your mileage may vary. At one point, I owned Simon’s self-titled debut – entirely because I had read that Billy Bragg had based the “I was 21 years when I wrote this song / I’m 22 now but I won’t be for long” lyric from “A New England” on a song on that album but it turns out that is incorrect, as the line is from “Leaves That Are Green” which is on Simon & Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence. The point is that I have some exposure to an actual Paul Simon studio album. Like I said, I feel that this album is sufficient.

This collection gathers 16 tracks from the six albums Simon released from 1971 to 1986. For some reason, that seems like a low output for such a long span, but I suppose he was also busy with other projects. Relatedly, 16 tracks seems like not enough from six albums, unless the albums were shitty. But Graceland by itself could have been basically grafted onto this – it is bewildering that only two of its songs are here when so many other lesser ones are included – so again I have to wonder:  maybe this is a poorly curated album.

On the one hand, this has the famous Simon solo songs that I know I like:  “Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard,” “Kodachrome,” and “Late In the Evening.” And other songs that I was less familiar with and think are fine, like “Mother and Child Reunion” and “Loves Me Like a Rock.”

I always thought the lyric in “Me and Julio” was “the radical grease gonna get me released,” which I frankly think makes more sense – or anyway is better – than “the radical priest.” Whatever. I love the Latin percussion on this (courtesy of Airto Moreira). The use of gospel singers The Dixie Hummingbirds is what elevates “Loves Me Like a Rock.”

“Kodachrome” is phenomenal. Just a great melody with a stellar arrangement (love the drumming, and so well mixed, and the piano part towards the end is eye-opening), and a touch of sociopathy in the lyrics. The other true standout is “Late In the Evening,” with drummer Steve Gadd employing four drumsticks, a fun, compelling lyric, and a great Latin horn part.

I fully admit that “Slip Slidin’ Away” is cheesy – it’s got the Oak Ridge Boys on it – but I swear to God it gets me, clip-clopping into my ear drums. The Graceland tracks are by definition excellent.

But some inclusions confuse me. “Something So Right” seems pretty wrong – snoozer. Same for “St. Judy’s Comet,” I guess written for Simon’s son; on top of being a lullaby, it’s a waste of the Muscle Shoals musicians. “Hearts and Bones” is exactly what I would expect from Paul Simon in 1983, as is the even more pandering “Train In the Distance.”

I understand why “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” is here but I’ve always hated it – it’s nothing but gimmick, and shoddily done (lyrically) at that. Similarly, it’s not surprising to find “Still Crazy After All These Years,” but it’s a ponderous, heavy-handed slog. “Have a Good Time” is a fucking embarrassment, or at least should be. 

There is nothing about “Rene and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After the War” that could in any way burnish Simon’s reputation. If anything, it speaks to two of his great, interrelated weaknesses. One is his refusal to let his talent be what it is and to instead aim for transcendence, only to land on pretension. The other is that Simon often conveys a lack of sincerity, preferring to instead advertise himself as a protean craftsman. Thus, “Magritte” could have been a touching, tender song about an elderly couple strolling past sex shops and dancing in their home to doo wop, but he had to make it a piece of historical fiction and both borrow significance and manufacture sentimentality from Magritte’s stature.

So maybe this a bad collection, or maybe I just don’t like Simon that much.

Random fact:  Cissy Houston sings backup on “Mother and Child Reunion.” 

The Best Thing About This Album

“Late In the Evening”

Release Date

October, 1988

The Cover Art

The shadow from the blinds is the only acceptable thing about this art.

One thought on “Paul Simon – Negotiations and Love Songs 1971-1986

Add yours

  1. I’ve been visiting this site for years, and it never fails to impress me with its fresh perspectives and wealth of knowledge. The attention to detail and commitment to quality is evident. This is a true asset for anyone seeking to learn and grow.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Proudly powered by WordPress | Theme: Baskerville 2 by Anders Noren.

Up ↑