|Studio album by|
|Released||August 25, 1986|
|Recorded||October 1985 - June 1986|
|Studio||New York City, London, Los Angeles, Louisiana and South Africa|
|Paul Simon chronology|
|Singles from Graceland|
Following a successful but fraught reunion with his musical partner Art Garfunkel, Simon's marriage had fallen apart and his previous record, Hearts and Bones (1983), was a commercial failure. In 1984, after a period of depression, Simon became fascinated by a bootleg cassette of South African township music. He and Halee visited Johannesburg, where they spent two weeks recording with South African musicians.
Recorded in 1985 and 1986, Graceland features an eclectic mixture of genres, including pop, rock, a cappella, zydeco, isicathamiya, and mbaqanga. Simon created new compositions inspired by the recordings made in Johannesburg, collaborating with African and American artists. He received criticism for seemingly breaking the cultural boycott imposed against South Africa because of its policy of apartheid. Following its completion, Simon toured alongside South African musicians, combining their music and the music of Graceland.
Graceland became Simon's most successful studio album and his highest-charting album in over a decade; it is estimated to have sold up to 16 million copies worldwide. It was lauded by critics, won the 1987 Grammy Award for Album of the Year, and is frequently cited as one of the best albums of all time. In 2007, it was added to the National Recording Registry as "culturally, historically, or aesthetically important".
By the time he released his sixth solo studio album, Hearts and Bones (1983), Simon had begun to experience difficult times. Two years earlier, he had rejoined former partner Art Garfunkel for the Concert in Central Park, in which the duo sang before half a million people, the largest concert audience ever at the time aside from the Summer Jam at Watkins Glen. In response, the mutually antagonistic duo set out on a string of concerts, but they once again clashed while on tour. Warner Bros. Records encouraged Simon to work with Garfunkel on Hearts and Bones, and several vocal tracks were recorded for it, but Simon chose not to include them, which became a sore point between them for many years. The album was unsuccessful commercially, receiving virtually no airplay on FM stations and the lowest sales of his career. Meanwhile, Simon's marriage to Carrie Fisher collapsed. "I had a personal blow, a career setback, and the combination of the two put me into a tailspin," he recalled.
In 1984, Simon began to emerge from his fallow period, and he became fascinated with a bootleg cassette tape loaned to him by Heidi Berg, a singer-songwriter with whom he was working as a producer. It reminded him of 1950s rhythm and blues, and he made a habit of scat-singing melodies over it as the summer closed. He instructed contacts at Warner to track down the artist responsible for the tape, titled Gumboots: Accordion Jive Hits, Volume II. Through South African record producer Hilton Rosenthal, Warner confirmed that the music was composed by either the South African vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo or the Boyoyo Boys.[nb 1] "I first thought, 'Too bad it's not from Zimbabwe, Zaire, or Nigeria.' Life would have been more simple," he said at the time. Simon conferred with Rosenthal, who grew up in Johannesburg, and booked the album's recording sessions, to see if he could plan a trip to the city. Rosenthal sent him dozens of records from South African artists, which piqued his curiosity and played into his decision. Producer Roy Halee remembered that Rosenthal "knew everyone" and was able to assemble the variety of musicians who inspired Graceland.
Before leaving the US for Johannesburg with Halee, Simon was persuaded to contribute to the recording of "We Are the World", a charity single benefiting African famine relief organized by Quincy Jones and Harry Belafonte. Released in March 1985, the single became one of the top-selling singles ever. Simon spoke with Jones and Belafonte about recording in South Africa, considering the region's charged political atmosphere, and they both encouraged him to do it. In addition, the black musician's union in the country voted to let Simon come, as it could potentially benefit their culture's music, placing it on an international stage.
In February 1985, Simon and Halee flew to Johannesburg, intending their visit to be secret. Recording sessions took place at Ovation Studios. Halee was initially reluctant, fearing the studio would be a "horror show," but he was pleasantly surprised to find it "very comfortable." The studio was reminiscent of a garage, which Halee feared would be a problem for the production of the recordings, and none of the musicians wore headphones.
Simon recorded with artists such as Lulu Masilela, Tao Ea Matsekha, General M. D. Shirinda and the Gaza Sisters, and the Boyoyo Boys Band. Jam sessions ranged from 10 to 30 minutes, with Simon and Halee intending to assemble an album from them upon their return home. Though the playing style was technically simple, Simon found it difficult to mimic. Outside the studio, the general public was hostile toward Simon, but the Musician's Union received him warmly. At the end of the two-week trip, Simon found himself relieved of his former personal turmoil and with a revitalized passion for music.
Graceland was recorded throughout much of 1985-86, in several locations including New York, Los Angeles, London, and Louisiana. Simon began writing lyrics at his home in Montauk while listening to the six recordings. The process was slow, but he determined he had sufficient material to begin re-recording the tracks. He played the tracks backward to "enhance their sound," interspersing gibberish to complete the rhythms. He brought together numerous guest musicians, including childhood heroes the Everly Brothers, and Linda Ronstadt. Simon's trip to Louisiana with Richard Landry led to the recording of "That Was Your Mother" with local band Good Rockin' Dopsie and the Twisters. After seeing the group at a dance hall in Lafayette, he recorded the song with them at a small studio behind a music store. He felt that the accordion, central to zydeco, would make a pleasing transition back to his own culture. Afterward, he contacted Mexican-American band Los Lobos, with whom he recorded "All Around the World or The Myth of Fingerprints" in Los Angeles.
Tensions during the recording sessions in South Africa were considerably high due to the effect that Apartheid had on the musicians. As Simon recalled in an interview with Rolling Stone, sessions that started at noon would generally go all the way until the evening, at which point they were not allowed on the streets without the risk of arrest. Since black citizens were also banned from using public transportation, musicians would have to rely on the hope that they could find a car to bring them home, resulting in a shared feeling of discomfort across the group late in the evening. Paul recalled one particular moment in a 2012 interview with NPR in which he and saxophonist Barney Rachabane were working on the song "Gumboots." Simon wanted to work with Rachabane on a solo part of the song, but it was nearly 5 o-clock, and Rachabane had to leave because he didn't have a permit to be outside that late. Simon said that the moment was one of many moments during the middle of studio work that reminded him that he was in "[an] incredibly tense racial environment, where the law of the land was apartheid." Despite the effects of Apartheid, Simon made an effort to treat the musicians on equal terms, paying them wages of nearly $200 and promising due credit for creative input.
Simon flew several South African musicians to New York to complete the record three months after the original sessions in Johannesburg, paying them triple union rates to lure them to record, as many did not know who he was. He also offered writer's royalties to those he felt had contributed particularly to compositions. These sessions resulted in "You Can Call Me Al" and "Under African Skies".
Halee edited many of the recordings with digital technology, transferring analog tape recordings to the digital workspace countless times. He said: "The amount of editing that went into that album was unbelievable ... without the facility to edit digital, I don't think we could have done that project." He used tape echo and delay on every song, and paid particular attention to the bass, saying: "The bass line is what the album is all about. It's the essence of everything that happened." Each song was mixed in about two days at the Hit Factory, where most of the vocal overdubs were created.
Executives at Warner Bros. were uninterested in the project, viewing Simon as a bad investment due to the failure of his previous two solo albums. The label was much more invested in Prince and Madonna, viewing Simon as a has-been. Simon felt their indifference to him worked in his favor, as it gave him more freedom. According to Halee, he believed executives at the label viewed the duo as "crazy".
--Paul Simon, 1986
Graceland features an eclectic mixture of musical styles including pop, a cappella, zydeco, isicathamiya, rock, and mbaqanga. Mbaqanga, or "township jive", originated as the street music of Soweto, South Africa. The album was strongly influenced by the earlier work of South African musicians Johnny Clegg and Sipho Mchunu, and the Zulu-Western pop crossover music realized in their band Juluka. Juluka was South Africa's first integrated pop band. Simon includes thanks to Johnny Clegg, Juluka, and Juluka's producer Hilton Rosenthal in the "Special Thanks" citation included in Graceland's liner notes. Simon included American "roots" influences with tracks featuring zydeco musicians such as Rockin' Dopsie and Tex-Mex musicians.
The album alternates between playful and more serious songs. Simon thought of it as like a play: "As in a play, the mood should keep changing. A serious song may lead into an abstract song, which may be followed by a humorous song." On many songs, Simon and Halee employ a Synclavier to "enhance" the acoustic instruments, creating an electronic "shadow".
"The Boy in the Bubble" is a collaboration with Lesotho-based Tao Ea Matsekha. "Graceland" features the playing of bassist Bakithi Kumalo and guitarist Ray Phiri. Simon remarks on the album's original liner notes that it reminded him of American country music, and wrote: "After the recording session, Ray told me that he'd used a relative minor chord -- something not often heard in South African music -- because he said he thought it was more like the chord changes he'd heard in my music." Steel guitarist Demola Adepoju contributed to the track some months after its completion. "I Know What I Know" is based on music from an album by General M.D. Shirinda and the Gaza Sisters. Simon was attracted to their work due to the unusual style of guitar playing, as well as the "distinctive sound" of the women's voices. "Gumboots" is a re-recording (with additional saxophone solos) of the song with which Simon first found himself enamored from the cassette tape that spawned Graceland.
Joseph Shabalala also contributed to "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes", with Ladysmith Black Mambazo and the Senegalese singer-percussionist Youssou N'Dour. It was recorded a week following their appearance on Saturday Night Live. The pennywhistle solo featured on "You Can Call Me Al" was performed by Morris Goldberg, a white South African living in New York. "Homeless" was written jointly by Simon and Shabalala, the lead singer of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, to a melody from a traditional Zulu wedding song. In the song, "the figure of Joseph becomes the dual image of a dispossessed African black man and the New Testament Joseph." For the song, Simon sent Shabalala a cassette demo, and the two later met at Abbey Road Studios in London, where the rest of the song was completed. "Crazy Love" features music from Stimela, Phiri's group that was very successful locally in South Africa.
The Mexican-American group Los Lobos appears on the last track, "All Around the World or The Myth of Fingerprints". According to Los Lobos' saxophone player Steve Berlin, Simon stole the song from them, giving them no songwriting credit:
It was not a pleasant deal for us. I mean he quite literally--and in no way do I exaggerate when I say--he stole the song from us ... We go into the studio, and he had quite literally nothing. I mean, he had no ideas, no concepts, and said, "Well, let's just jam."... Paul goes, "Hey, what's that?" We start playing what we have of it, and it is exactly what you hear on the record. So we're like, "Oh, ok. We'll share this song.
Paul Simon answered:
I don't care whether the album comes out without Los Lobos on it. I was getting really tired of it--I don't want to get into a public slanging match over this, but this thing keeps coming up. So we finished the recordings. And three months passed, and there was no mention of "joint writing". The album came out and we heard nothing. Then six months passed and Graceland had become a hit and the first thing I heard about the problem was when my manager got a lawyer's letter. I was shocked.
To write lyrics, Simon listened to the recordings made during his time in Johannesburg, identifying patterns in the music to fit to verses. He said:
It was very difficult, because patterns that seemed as though they should fit together often didn't. I realized that in African music, the rhythms are always shifting slightly and that the shape of a melody was often dictated by the bassline rather than the guitar. Harmonically, African music consists essentially of three major chords -- that's why it sounds so happy -- so I could write almost any melody I wanted in a major scale. I improvised in two ways -- by making up melodies in falsetto, and by singing any words that came to mind down in my lower and mid range.
Simon told Robert Christgau in 1986 that he was bad at writing about politics, and felt his strength was writing about relationships and introspection. In contrast to his previous album, the more serious Hearts and Bones, the subject matter on Graceland is more upbeat. Simon made an effort to write simply without compromising the language. Composing more personal songs would take him significantly longer to complete, as this process would involve "a lot of avoidance going on". Rewrites were necessary as Simon ended up using overcomplicated words. A perfectionist, Simon rewrote songs only to scrap the newer versions. Many songs, such as "Graceland" and "The Boy in the Bubble", took three to four months, while others, such as "All Around the World" and "Crazy Love", came together much more quickly.
"The Boy in the Bubble" discusses starvation and terrorism, but mixes this with wit and optimism. Simon concurred with this assessment: "Hope and dread - that's right. That's the way I see the world, a balance between the two, but coming down on the side of hope." The song retains a variation of the only lyric Simon managed to compose on his South African trip: "The way the camera follows him in slo-mo, the way he smiled at us all." The imagery was inspired by film clips of the John F. Kennedy assassination, as well as Ronald Reagan's attempted assassination. "Homeless" discusses poverty within the black majority in South Africa.
Throughout the recording process, Simon remained unsure of the album's thematic connection, and kept dozens of yellow legal pads with random words and phrases he would combine in an attempt to define the album. He derived the album's title from the phrase "driving through Wasteland," which he changed to "going to Graceland," a reference to Elvis Presley's Memphis home. In doing so, Simon believed that it represented a spiritual direction: just as he had embarked on a physical journey to collect ideas in Africa, he would spiritually journey to the home of the rock "forefather" to revitalize his love for music.
Following the album's success, Simon faced accusations by organizations such as Artists United Against Apartheid, antiapartheid musicians including Billy Bragg, Paul Weller, and Jerry Dammers, and the Ghanaian then-Ambassador to the United Nations James Victor Gbeho that he had broken the cultural boycott imposed by the rest of the world against the apartheid regime in South Africa. Before going to South Africa, Simon sought advice from Harry Belafonte, with whom he had recently collaborated on "We Are the World". Belafonte had mixed feelings and advised him to discuss the matter with the African National Congress (ANC). At an album launch party, Simon bluntly clarified his opinions on the controversy: "I'm with the artists. I didn't ask the permission of the ANC. I didn't ask permission of Buthelezi, or Desmond Tutu, or the Pretoria government. And to tell you the truth, I have a feeling that when there are radical transfers of power on either the left or the right, the artists always get screwed."
Although supported by the United Nations Anti-Apartheid Committee, as the album showcased the talents of the black South African musicians while offering no support to the South African government, the ANC protested the collaboration as a violation of the boycott. Critics condemned Simon for potentially damaging solidarity with his actions, calling him naive. The ANC voted to ban him from the country, and he was also added to the United Nations blacklist. Simon was removed from it in January 1987, and announced that he had been cleared by the ANC, but this was denied by Dali Tambo, the founder of Artists Against Apartheid. The Graceland tour's stop at London's Royal Albert Hall prompted protests from Dammers, Weller, and Bragg. In 2012, The Guardian wrote that the controversy had been revived to an extent when Simon returned to London for a 25th-anniversary concert celebrating the album.
In contrast, Simon received praise for encouraging South African music from Hugh Masekela, one of South Africa's most prominent musicians and an exiled opponent of apartheid, who subsequently toured alongside Simon and Miriam Makeba. The album's worldwide success introduced some of the musicians, especially Ladysmith Black Mambazo, to global audiences of their own. But Jonas Gwangwa has criticized the notion that Simon was responsible for making South African music popular: "So, it has taken another white man to discover my people?" Some critics viewed Graceland as colonialist, with Simon appropriating another culture's music to bring to the global market. As stated by Star-Ledger reporter Tris McCall in 2012, "Does it complicate matters to realize that these musicians were second-class citizens in their own country, one groaning under the weight of apartheid? How could Simon approach them as equal partners when their own government demanded that they treat him as a superior?"
According to Simon,
What was unusual about Graceland is that it was on the surface apolitical, but what it represented was the essence of the antiapartheid in that it was a collaboration between blacks and whites to make music that people everywhere enjoyed. It was completely the opposite from what the apartheid regime said, which is that one group of people were inferior. Here, there were no inferiors or superiors, just an acknowledgement of everybody's work as a musician. It was a powerful statement.
In 2012, Andrew Mueller of Uncut wrote, "Apartheid was of course a monstrosity, but it would be absurd to suggest that Simon's introduction of South Africa's music to the world prolonged it and quite plausible to suggest that it did some small amount to hasten its undoing."
Simon's choice to feature Linda Ronstadt as the duet singer on "Under African Skies" was criticized. In May 1983, three years prior to the release of Graceland, Ronstadt had performed in place of Frank Sinatra and Ray Mancini at Sun City, a South African luxury resort, in response to a given offer, unaware of the official boycott that had taken place there. After still insisting on performing after learning of the cultural barriers, Ronstadt received harsh criticism for ignoring the intricacies of the issue. Although Simon had declined similar offers to perform at Sun City, the selection of Ronstadt as a singer on the album was nonetheless seen as a poor choice in light of the issues, and was criticized by many people.
Graceland was released by Warner Bros. with little fanfare in September 1986. "It could be that I've reached the point in my career where I can't be a viable commercial force in popular music," Simon remarked preceding its release, referencing the failure of his previous efforts on the charts. The cover art was an Ethiopian Christian icon from the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum dating to around 1500.
Rolling Stone David Fricke summarized the album's impact: "The robust bounce and soulful melodicism of township jive, which gave Simon's brainy lyricism a rhythmic kick in his recent work, has become a daily soundtrack in urban yuppie condos and suburban living rooms and on radio airwaves from Australia to Zimbabwe."
|Christgau's Record Guide||A|
|Encyclopedia of Popular Music|||
|The Rolling Stone Album Guide|||
Initial reviews of Graceland were positive. Rolling Stone Rob Tannenbaum characterized the record as "lovely, daring and accomplished." Stephen Holden of The New York Times commented, "With his characteristic refinement, Mr. Simon has fashioned that event into the rock album equivalent of a work of literature."Robert Christgau of The Village Voice deemed it Simon's best record since his 1972 self-titled album, as well as "a tremendously engaging and inspired piece of work." It was so acclaimed by other critics that he anticipated that it would top The Village Voice Pazz & Jop critics poll for that year (1986).
Retrospective reviews have continued to be positive. According to AllMusic's William Ruhlmann, "Graceland became the standard against which subsequent musical experiments by major artists were measured." Joe Tangari of Pitchfork wrote that "its songs transcend the context as listening experiences. These songs are astute and exciting, spit-shined with the gloss of production that bears a lot of hallmarks of the era but somehow has refused to age. Taken as a whole, the album offers tremendous insight into how we live in our world and how that changes as we get older." Patrick Humphries of BBC Music wrote that "it may well stand as the pinnacle of his remarkable half-century career ... Simon fashioned a record which was truly, blindingly original, and - listening to it a quarter of a century on - modern and timeless." Andy Gill of The Independent wrote: "The character of the base music here is overwhelming: complex, ebullient and life-affirming, and in yoking this intricate dance music to his sophisticated New Yorker sensibility, Simon created a transatlantic bridge that neither pandered to nor patronised either culture."
Graceland earned Simon the Best International Solo Artist award at the 1987 Brit Awards. It was ranked #84 in a 2005 survey by British television's Channel 4 to determine the 100 greatest albums of all time.
It was placed 81st (71st in the updated version from 2012) on the list of Rolling Stone magazine's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time as "an album about isolation and redemption that transcended 'world music' to become the whole world's soundtrack." The song "Graceland" was voted #485 in the list of Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
|Rolling Stone||US||*||The Year In Records|
|The Village Voice||1||Albums of the Year|
|New Musical Express||UK||6||Albums of the Year|
|Q||*||Albums of the Year|
|1987||Rolling Stone||US||56||The Best Albums of the Last Twenty Years|
|1989||5||The 100 Best Albums of the Eighties|
|1993||Entertainment Weekly||4||The 100 Greatest CDs of All Time|
|1997||The Guardian||UK||69||The 100 Best Albums Ever|
|1999||NPR||US||*||The 300 Most Important American Records of the 20th Century|
|2002||Blender||60||The 100 Greatest American Albums of All-Time|
|Pitchfork Media||85||Top 100 Favorite Records of the 1980s|
|2003||USA Today||26||Top 40 Albums of All Time|
|Rolling Stone||81||The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time|
|2006||Q||UK||39||The 80 Best Records of the 80s.|
|Time||US||*||All-Time 100 Albums|
|2012||Slant Magazine||19||Best Albums of the 1980s|
|Year||Nominee / work||Award||Result|
|1987||Graceland||Album of the Year||Won|
|Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male||Nominated|
|"Graceland"||Song of the Year||Nominated|
|1988||Record of the Year||Won|
Alongside albums such as Peter Gabriel's So and Talking Heads' Remain in Light, writer Jon Pareles of The New York Times singled Graceland out as an album that popularized African rock in the western world. A 2012 documentary film, Under African Skies, directed by Joe Berlinger celebrates the 25th anniversary of the album's release, and includes archival footage, interviews, discussion of the controversy associated with the original release, and coverage of an anniversary reunion concert.
Advocates for Graceland feel its music transcends the racial and cultural barriers of its production. "Graceland was never just a collection of songs, after all; it was a bridge between cultures, genres and continents, not to mention a global launching pad for the musicians whose popularity been suppressed under South Africa's white-run apartheid rule," said Andrew Leahey of American Songwriter. Presenting the album in a modern context, Tris McCall of the Star-Ledger writes that "In a sense, Simon was ahead of his time: The curatorial approach he took to assembling full tracks from scraps of songs and pre-existing recordings is closer in execution to that of Kanye West than it is to any of his contemporaries."
The album has influenced a wide variety of musicians, among them Regina Spektor, Bombay Bicycle Club, Gabby Young, Casiokids, The Very Best,Givers,Lorde, and Vampire Weekend. The latter faced particular criticism that their 2008 debut album was too similar to Graceland, due to its origins in African music. Simon later defended the band, remarking, "In a way, we were on the same pursuit, but I don't think you're lifting from me, and anyway, you're welcome to it, because everybody's lifting all the time. That's the way music grows and is shaped."
On a personal level, Simon recalled his experiences with the record in 2013:
There was the almost mystical affection and strange familiarity I felt when I first heard South African music. Later, there was the visceral thrill of collaborating with South African musicians onstage. Add to this potent mix the new friendships I made with my band mates, and the experience becomes one of the most vital in my life.
|1.||"The Boy in the Bubble"||Forere Motloheloa, Paul Simon||3:59|
|3.||"I Know What I Know"||General MD Shirinda, Simon||3:13|
|4.||"Gumboots"||Lulu Masilela, Jonhjon Mkhalali, Simon||2:44|
|5.||"Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes"||Joseph Shabalala, Simon||5:45|
|1.||"You Can Call Me Al"||Simon||4:39|
|2.||"Under African Skies"||Simon||3:37|
|4.||"Crazy Love, Vol. II"||Simon||4:18|
|5.||"That Was Your Mother"||Simon||2:52|
|6.||"All Around the World or the Myth of Fingerprints"||Simon||3:15|
|2004 reissue previously-unreleased bonus tracks|
|12.||"Homeless" (demo version)||Shabalala, Simon||2:28|
|13.||"Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" (alternate version)||Shabalala, Simon||4:43|
|14.||"All Around the World or the Myth of Fingerprints" (early version)||Simon||3:17|
|2012 reissue previously-unreleased bonus tracks|
|15.||"You Can Call Me Al" (demo version)||Simon||2:04|
|16.||"Crazy Love" (demo version)||Simon||2:32|
|17.||"The Story of "Graceland"" (as told by Paul Simon)||Simon||9:37|
|1||Homeless (Final remix)||Joris Voorn|
|3||I Know What I Know||Sharam|
|4||Crazy love, Vol. II||Paul Oakenfold|
|5||The Boy in the Bubble||Richy Ahmed|
|6||You Can Call Me Al||Groove Armada|
|7||Under African Skies||Rich Pinder/Djoko|
|9||That Was Your Mother||Gui Boratto|
|10||Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes||Thievery Corporation|
|11||All Around the World (or the Myth of Fingerprints)||Photek|
|12||Homeless (Kitchen table mix)||Joris Voorn|
|Australia (ARIA)||8× Platinum||560,000^|
|Germany (BVMI)||3× Gold||750,000^|
|New Zealand (RMNZ)||Platinum||15,000^|
|United Kingdom (BPI)||8× Platinum||2,480,000+^|
|United States (RIAA)||5× Platinum||5,000,000^|
*sales figures based on certification alone