song of the day – “Infatuation” | ROD STEWART | 1984.

casey-kasem-at40-abc-billboard-650

On June 15, 2014, Casey Kasem, host of the longtime countdown program, AMERICAN TOP 40, passed away at the age of 82.  From my first blog post (and prolly some more inbetween then and now), I explained how, in 1979, I was a geeky, lanky and somewhat lost 12-year-old living in Central Maine, had a few friends and not a lot of interest in much of anything, but at some point early that year, I discovered AMERICAN TOP 40, and was glued to it every weekend.  Not only could I hear the 40 biggest songs in the country every week, but also Casey’s cool trivia and facts about the songs and the artists, a trait I treasure to this day.  For me, the show was No. 1 with a bullet.  And still is (thanks to the re-airing of broadcasts of AT40 on iHeart Radio).american-top-40-casey-kasem

In honor of my radio hero, Casey Kasem, for the entire month of June (and now through July), I will be highlighting a song each day (some days will have two songs!) that peaked in the Top 40 of the BILLBOARD Hot 100 (including five (real) one-hit wonders of the 80s), and with every blog post, just like on AMERICAN TOP 40, the hits will get bigger with each post.  On June 1, 2017, I featured a song that peaked at No. 40.  Sometime here in July, I’ll feature a “song of the day” that went all the way to No. 1. 

As Casey used to say on AT40, “And on we go!”

About 70 songs peaked at No. 6 between 1979 and 1989, and out of these songs I found many favorites, like “Lay Your Hands On Me” by Thompson Twins, “The Logical Song” by Supertramp, “Don’t Let It End” by Styx (a great song you almost never hear anymore), “Breakout” by Swing Out Sister, “Late In The Evening” by Paul Simon, the gorgeous “Piano In The Dark” by Brenda Russell featuring Joe Esposito, “Your Love” by The Outfield, “Neutron Dance” by The Pointer Sisters (from BEVERLY HILLS COP), “Come Dancing” by The Kinks, “Him” by Rupert Holmes (love those story songs), “Steppin’ Out” by Joe Jackson, “Family Man” by Daryl Hall & John Oates, “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman, “Funkytown” by Pseudo Echo, “Word Up” by Cameo, “Obsession” by Animotion, “Boogie Wonderland” by Earth, Wind & Fire with The Emotions (from CADDYSHACK), “Some Like It Hot” and “Election Day” by Duran Duran spinoffs The Power Station and Arcadia, respectively, and “I Drove All Night” by the incomparable Cyndi Lauper.  I’ll come back to Cyndi in a moment.

i drove all night

The No. 6 position was also a favorite for Huey Lewis & The News, who placed four songs at No. 6, and three of those were consecutive No. 6 hits from their monster 1983 album, SPORTS – “I Want A New Drug,” “The Heart Of Rock & Roll” and “If This Is It.” 

i want a new drug

Bryan Adams, Dr. Hook, Little River Band and John Mellencamp each had two No. 6 hits, plus there were two fantastic ballads by Bruce Springsteen from BORN IN THE U.S.A. (“I’m On Fire” and “My Hometown”), and two songs by Rod Stewart – “Love Touch” and one of my all-time favorite songs by the London native, “Infatuation.”

i'm on fire

On Friday, July 14, 2017, my oldest friend, Peter, and I had the absolute privilege of seeing Cyndi Lauper and Rod Stewart perform in Bangor, Maine.  Cyndi opened up for him, and was, of course, phenomenal, as I knew she would be.  If my math is correct, it was her first time performing in Maine since her 1986-1987 TRUE COLORS tour, and was definitely long overdue and yet so worth the wait. 

Cyndi 7.14.17

Cyndi Lauper on the big hi-def screen, stunning as evah.

I was more than pleased to see the Maine crowd welcome back Cyndi, and the crowd went nuts when Maine Senator Susan Collins came out to the stage.  In 2015, Senator Collins – a longtime Maine Republican Senator – chaired a bipartisan committee to look into the serious issue of homeless youth.  Cyndi testified before Senator Collins and the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations subcommittee, to seek legislative funding programs for homeless teens.  (For years, Cyndi’s wonderful True Colors Fund, has existed to help combat homeless LGBT youth, “creating a world in which all young people can be their true selves.”  Please go to TrueColorsFund.org for more info and find out how you can help.)

true-colors-fund

Cyndi was about to go into another song when one of her crew members came out and whispered that Senator Collins was backstage.  I think I heard Cyndi say, “Bring her out!”  And once the Senator came out to greet Cyndi, Cyndi told the audience, “This woman is a hero.  And she’s my hero.  And she’s a Republican.  She’s helped us so much with the LGBT homeless youth and all the homeless kids.”  And then Senator Collins got the hug I wanted, dammit!  It’s all good.  I may not agree with all of the political views of Senator Collins, but it was a really nice moment.  After the show, Cyndi even tweeted a selfie of Senator Collins, Rod Stewart and herself. 

cyndi rod n susan 7.14.17

What a great selfie: Maine Senator Susan Collins, Rod Stewart and Cyndi Lauper.

Speaking of Sir Rod Stewart, holy cats!  I don’t know why exactly I had never seen Rod perform live before, but I’m so glad I got to see him this time.  The guy is 72, and still had the moves, the looks, an incredible band, lovely ladies who could sing, dance and play instruments, and he sure knew how to work the crowd.  And he could kick the shit out of a soccer ball (er, football for everyone outside of the U.S.) (he gave away signed soccer balls by kicking them out to the crowd; one went over Pete and I, and about five people scrambled to get it, though they forgot a barrier was there.  Oopsie!).

Rod Stewart 7.14.17

What almost looks like a huge painting is actually a very elated Rod Stewart, wowing the crowd in Bangor, Maine.

The first song he sang surprised me, but it was so great to hear – “Infatuation.”  Between 1979 and 1989, Rod Stewart reached the Top 10 seven times, including his No. 1 hit, “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?”, which incidentally was the first 45 I ever bought with my own money back in 1979, and the last song he played in Bangor. 

The upbeat Rock / Dance hit featuring the incredible Jeff Beck on guitar (he also appears in the music video), “Infatuation” was released in advance of Rod Stewart’s 13th studio album, CAMOUFLAGE.  It debuted on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 in late May 1984 way up at No. 47, and would have been the highest-debuting song of the week, but Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing In The Dark” had other plans, and debuted within the Top 40.

camouflage

The following week, “Infatuation” jumped into the Top 40, and from there made a slow but steady climb up the chart, reaching the Top 10 in late July 1984, and spent the next two weeks at its peak position of No. 6.  “Infatuation” departed from the Hot 100 by late September 1984 and finished the year at No. 58.

There was even a bit of infatuation for “Infatuation” across the globe, and it was a Top 20 hit in Canada, Ireland, Sweden and Switzerland, and a Top 30 hit in the U.K. and Germany.  It also reached No. 5 on BILLBOARD’s Mainstream Rock chart and No. 19 on BILLBOARD’s Dance chart, his last of five songs to date to reach that chart.

infatuation

Rod continued to chart well on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 into the the first half of the 1990s, and his last Top 10 hit was also his last No. 1 single to date – “All For Love” (from the 1993 film, THE THREE MUSKETEERS), with Sting and Bryan Adams.  It was No. 1 for three weeks in early 1994.

bryan rod sting

Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart and Sting, teaming up for one of the biggest hits of 1994. And now I’ve seen all three perform live!

Over on the album charts since then, especially with his GREAT AMERICAN SONGBOOK series since Y2K, Rod Stewart has seen a ton of success all over the world.  In Bangor, he also played a lovely track from his most-recent album, 2015’s ANOTHER COUNTRY, called “Love Is.”  The album went Platinum in his U.K. homeland and reached No. 2 there.

another country

Though I don’t know why it took me decades to finally see Rod Stewart perform, I’m so glad I did.  I was honestly there to see Cyndi perform, but I had always a fan of Rod’s music, so I thought it’d be great to see him too.  Little did I know just how impressed I would be with his performance and then some. 

Rod and Cyndi also did a wonderful duet together – “This Old Heart Of Mine,” a 1966 song originally by The Isley Brothers that he covered in 1975, and which reached No. 83 on the BILLBOARD Hot 100.  In 1989, he covered the song again with Ronald Isley, and it became a Top 10 hit, surpassing the original.  Rod’s duet with Cyndi was one – of many – highlights of the night.

Rod n Cyndi 7.14.17

Rod Stewart and Cyndi Lauper, singing “This Old Heart Of Mine.”

“Infatuation” isn’t regarded as one of those Rod Stewart songs most folks immediately associate with him, but I sure do, and I’m so glad he dug it out for what turned out to be an incredibly memorable show…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nH_xiZZheg4

rod 84

song of the day #2 – “What I Am” | EDIE BRICKELL & NEW BOHEMIANS | 1989.

casey-kasem-at40-abc-billboard-650

On June 15, 2014, Casey Kasem, host of the longtime countdown program, AMERICAN TOP 40, passed away at the age of 82.  From my first blog post (and prolly some more inbetween then and now), I explained how, in 1979, I was a geeky, lanky and somewhat lost 12-year-old living in Central Maine, had a few friends and not a lot of interest in much of anything, but at some point early that year, I discovered AMERICAN TOP 40, and was glued to it every weekend.  Not only could I hear the 40 biggest songs in the country every week, but also Casey’s cool trivia and facts about the songs and the artists, a trait I treasure to this day.  For me, the show was No. 1 with a bullet.  And still is (thanks to the re-airing of broadcasts of AT40 on iHeart Radio).american-top-40-casey-kasem

In honor of my radio hero, Casey Kasem, for the entire month of June (and now through July), I will be highlighting a song each day (some days will have two songs!) that peaked in the Top 40 of the BILLBOARD Hot 100 (including five (real) one-hit wonders of the 80s), and with every blog post, just like on AMERICAN TOP 40, the hits will get bigger with each post.  On June 1, 2017, I featured a song that peaked at No. 40.  Sometime here in July, I’ll feature a “song of the day” that went all the way to No. 1. 

As Casey used to say on AT40, “And on we go!”

Nearly 80 songs reached No. 7 on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 between 1979 and 1989, a list comprised of many (then) up-and-coming R&B / Hip Hop and Dance stars, like those awesome Beastie Boys (with “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)”), plus Young MC bustin’ a move, Babyface, Bobby Brown, Dino and Karyn White.

fight for your right

No. 7 was a popular number for hits for The Cars, Michael Jackson and Juice Newton, who had two No. 7 hits each.  There were also No. 7 hits from Bruce Springsteen, and Rhode Island’s answer to Bruce Springsteen – John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band, plus you had Heart and Corey Hart (“Who Will You Run To” when you have on “Sunglasses At Night?”).  Heart’s Ann Wilson also reached No. 7 with “Almost Paradise,” the love theme from FOOTLOOSE, a duet with (real) one-hit wonder Mike Reno of Loverboy.

smooth criminal

The No. 1 artist of the 80s, with his last hit of the 80s, one of two solo songs that reached No. 7 for Michael Jackson.

In 1989, though they would be their last Top 10 American hits, there were a few 70s superstars who had big comeback hits that reached No. 7 – Bee Gees (“One”; their first Top 10 hit since 1979), Alice Cooper (“Poison”; his first Top 10 hit since 1977), and Donna Summer (“This Time I Know It’s For Real”; her first Top 10 hit since 1983).

donna summer

1989 was a huge year for No. 7 hits on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 – 14 of them reached the peak that year.  One of those songs was a song was by a singer, at the time, that I could not stand and a song, at the time, I could stand even less – “What I Am” by Edie Brickell & New Bohemians.

Ever have some songs that just eat away at you for whatever reason?  Sure you do.  A handful of songs from the 80s do that to me.  Maybe one day I’ll mention them.  When “What I Am” came out, there was just something about it that was so as repulsive to me.  I don’t know if it was the hippie-ish nature of Edie Brickell, her voice, or the guitar style that sounded like something Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead would do (I was also not a fan of The Dead in 1989).  Whatever it was that bugged the fuck out of me about that song, it’s long gone now.

The New Bohemians formed as a trio in Dallas, Texas in the early 80s.  The drummer for The New Bohemians, Brandon Aly, guitarist Kenny Withrow and percussionist John Bush had all attended the same magnet performing arts school as Dallas native Edie Brickell, though at the time, Edie was there for art, not music.

In 1985, Edie Brickell was asked to join the band onstage and sing with them, and she continued on from there.  After being a local favorite for years, playing in clubs and even backing Bo Diddley one time, the band’s big break came in August 1988, when they released their first album as Edie Brickell & New Bohemians, SHOOTING RUBBERBANDS AT THE STARS.

shooting rubberbands

Edie Brickell was just 22 years old at the time (I believe they were all young), and SHOOTING RUBBERBANDS was incredibly well-received for a debut album by a young band.  In a review on the AllMusic site by Kelly McCartney, Edie Brickell’s “simple observations offer deep contemplations for the willing disciples of her musical philosophies.  ‘What I Am’ is the perfect example: ‘I’m not aware of too many too many things / I know what I know, if you know what I mean…’  Zen and the art of songwriting.”

Well, the songwriting, the vocals, the Alt-Folk tunage – it all found a place in homes and radio stations and record stores across the country, and eventually SHOOTING RUBBERBANDS AT THE STARS sold than two million copies in the U.S. alone. 

The first single from SHOOTING RUBBERBANDS, “What I Am,” was released in November 1988, a few months after the release of the album.  By month’s end, it debuted on BILLBOARD’s Hot 100 chart at No. 96.  By mid-January 1989, “What I Am” had found its way to the Top 40 of the Hot 100, and for several weeks since debuting on the chart, had been in competition with Information Society’s “Walking Away,” which debuted a couple places below “What I Am” back in late November 1988. 

what i am

By mid-February 1989, “What I Am” surpassed “Walking Away” for the first time since they debuted, and in early March 1989, “What I Am” spent a week at its peak position of No. 7.  And, in good form (though unintentional, I’m sure), both “What I Am” and “Walking Away” walked away the Hot 100 in early April 1989.

walking away

Around the globe, “What I Am” was a No. 6 hit in Canada, and it reached No. 11 in New Zealand, No. 18 in Australia, No. 23 in Ireland and No. 31 in the United Kingdom.  It also reached No. 4 on BILLBOARD’s Modern Rock chart, and No. 9 on BILLBOARD’s Mainstream Rock chart.  

Edie & The New Bohemians charted on the Hot 100 just one more time, with “Circle,” the follow-up single to “What I Am,” which stopped at No. 48, and was a modest hit around the globe, reaching the Top 40 in Belgium and the Netherlands.

circle

paul n edie march 2016

Paul Simon and Edie Brickell, March 2016.

QUIRKY FUN FACT: On November 5, 1988, the same month “What I Am” was released, Edie and the band performed the song on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE.  Well, Paul Simon was there by a cameraman, and in a January 2011 interview with the TODAY show, she said, “Even though I’d performed the song hundreds of times in clubs, [Paul] made me forget how the song went when I looked at him,” she said smiling. “We can show the kids the tape and say, ‘Look, that’s when we first laid eyes on each other’.”  Paul Simon and Edie Brickell were married in late May 1992, and they have three children – Adrian, Lulu and Gabriel.

After a six-year break in the 90s, Edie Brickell & New Bohemians have been together for the past 20 years, most-recently playing three sold out nights in April 2017 in the Dallas suburb where Edie was born, Oak Cliff. 

edie april 2017

Edie Brickell, Oak Cliff, Dallas, Texas, April 2017.

When she’s not working with New Bohemians (their last album was in 2006), she’s released several of her own albums, including her other band, The Gaddabouts, and has recorded two Bluegrass albums with the brilliant Steve Martin – 2013’s LOVE HAS COME FOR YOU and 2015’s SO FAMILIAR.  Both albums went to No. 1 on BILLBOARD’s Bluegrass Albums chart.  LOVE HAS COME FOR YOU was BILLBOARD’s No. 1 Bluegrass album for 2013, and No. 3 for 2014.  SO FAMILIAR was the No. 3 Bluegrass Album for BILLBOARD in 2016, six positions higher than the year-end chart for the year it was released.

so familiar

In the liner notes for SHOOTING RUBBERBANDS AT THE STARS, Edie Brickell wrote out some annotations about each song on the album, replete with illustrations. For “What I Am,” she wrote, “‘What I Am’ is a smart-alec’s way out of a deep discussion on the universe as it relates to the self.” 

Well, as for this self, I’m not trying to get out of a deep, universal discussion as to why “What I Am” and Edie & Co. didn’t do anything for me for all those years, though maybe it was more of “Who I Am” than “What I Am.”  And while I’m still not a big fan (although I LOVE their 1989 cover of Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” from BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY), I’m glad the song eventually grew on me, and became part of what – and who – I like…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tDl3bdE3YQA

edie n co 1

song of the day – “You Can Call Me Al” | PAUL SIMON | 1986 / 1987.

casey-kasem-at40-abc-billboard-650

On June 15, 2014, Casey Kasem, host of the longtime countdown program, AMERICAN TOP 40, passed away at the age of 82.  From my first blog post (and prolly some more inbetween then and now), I explained how, in 1979, I was a geeky, lanky and somewhat lost 12-year-old living in Central Maine, had a few friends and not a lot of interest in much of anything, but at some point early that year, I discovered AMERICAN TOP 40, and was glued to it every weekend.  Not only could I hear the 40 biggest songs in the country every week, but also Casey’s cool trivia and facts about the songs and the artists, a trait I treasure to this day.  For me, the show was No. 1 with a bullet.  And still is (thanks to the re-airing of broadcasts of AT40 on iHeart Radio).american-top-40-casey-kasem

In honor of my radio hero, Casey Kasem, for the entire month of June, I will be highlighting a song each day (some days will have two songs!) that peaked in the Top 40 of the BILLBOARD Hot 100 (including five (real) one-hit wonders of the 80s), and with every blog post, just like on AMERICAN TOP 40, the hits will get bigger with each post.  On June 1, 2017, I featured a song that peaked at No. 40.  On June 30, I’ll feature a “song of the day” that went all the way to No. 1. 

As Casey used to say on AT40, “And on we go!”

Throughout the years, whether it’s because of an inclusion in a movie or a commercial or a TV show, or a radio station rediscovered it and started playing it again, songs sometimes have more one chart life.  The best example of this is Chubby Checker’s “The Twist,” which reached No. 1 on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 twice.  In its initial run, the dance craze favorite spent one week on top in September 1960, and again in January 1962 for two weeks.  No other song has done that here in America.  And, because of its two chart runs that ended at No. 1, “The Twist” is ranked at No. 1 on BILLBOARD’s Hot 100 for all time.

twist

CassingleFrontCoverSm

The 1989 cassette single (or “cassingles” – remember those?!) for “In Your Eyes.”

I believe all decades have had songs re-enter the chart with new chart runs, but I think no other decade has as many as the 80s did.  There were “second-chance singles” (as I like to call them) that went to No. 1 on the Hot 100, like “At This Moment” by Billy Vera & The Beaters and “When I’m With You” by Sheriff, “second-chance singles” that were “(real) one-hit wonders,” like Sheriff (again), Benny Mardones (“Into The Night”) and Moving Pictures (“What About Me”),  and songs that benefited from appearing in movies, like Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” (…SAY ANYTHING) and Billy Idol’s “Hot In The City” (BIG).

Then you have songs that were hits in other decades and, also due to their inclusions in films, were reissued and hit the chart again, like The Beatles’ “Twist And Shout” (featured in both FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF and BACK TO SCHOOL), Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” (from the incredible film of the same name), and The Contours’ “Do You Love Me” (from DIRTY DANCING).

Prince’s “1999” reached the Hot 100 four time in three decades, and reached the Top 40 three of those times.  In its original 1982 chart run (as the debut single from the album of the same name), it stopped at No. 44.  After “Little Red Corvette” reached No. 6, “1999” was re-released and reached No. 12 in 1983.  When the calendar changed from 1998 to 1999 (even though the song wasn’t about the year 1999), it re-entered the Top 40 for one week at No. 40.  And, as BILLBOARD has been doing for several years now, a number of Prince songs re-entered the Hot 100 following his sad passing in April 2016.  In its fourth Hot 100 appearance, “1999” reached No. 27.

1999

These “second-chance singles” don’t always chart higher than their original chart runs (like the Moving Pictures, Peter Gabriel and Billy Idol singles mentioned above), but lots of times they do.  UB40’s “Red Red Wine” originally peaked at No. 34 in March 1984, but in a re-release (after being performed at Nelson Mandela’s 70th Birthday Concert in 1988), the album version of their Neil Diamond cover spent a week at No. 1 in October 1988.  And, the original version of The Pointer Sisters’ classic, “I’m So Excited,” stalled at No. 30 in late 1982, but after being remixed for their 1984 album, BREAK OUT, the song was reissued and did break out, reaching No. 9 on the Hot 100 about two years later.

red red wine

And, sometimes, “second-chance singles” get another shot at the Hot 100 for multiple reasons.  In the case of Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al,” its success can be attributed to growing praise and sales for its brilliant parent album, GRACELAND (and its big Album Of The Year Grammy Award), and a smart change in music videos.

“You Can Call Me Al” (a song about someone going through a midlife crisis), the first single released from GRACELAND, debuted on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 at No. 83 in early August 1986, about a month before the album was released.  The original video for “You Can Call Me Al” was a performance Paul Simon gave (in the perspective of a video monitor) during a monologue when he hosted SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE. 

graceland

Well, Paul Simon wasn’t happy with the video, which didn’t seem to attract many fans to buy the record, and GRACELAND had just been released (and wasn’t the brilliant classic most people associate with it now).  “You Can Call Me Al” spent a couple of weeks at No. 44 in September and October, and dropped off the chart in November 1986 after 14 weeks.

A new video was commissioned, and Paul Simon stayed with his friend and SNL creator, Lorne Michaels, to put together another video.  This one (one of my all-time favorite music videos) pairs Paul with another friend (and SNL alum), Chevy Chase, who lip-syncs Paul Simon’s vocals, leaving Paul to twiddle his thumbs, although Paul ends up lip-syncing his backing vocals throughout, and in the last 30 seconds of the video, the focus switches from Chevy to Paul (although Chevy almost takes Paul’s head off with a trumpet).  It’s an incredibly funny and smartly done video, and I think it resonated with fans, MTV watchers, and radio stations alike. 

al video

Paul Simon and his friend, Chevy Chase, from the hilarious video for “You Can Call Me Al.”

Between a hilarious new music video and a big Grammy win for GRACELAND in late February 1987, “You Can Call Me Al” re-entered the BILLBOARD Hot 100 in late March 1987 at No. 92.  About a month later, it surpassed its original No. 44 peak, and reached the Top 40.  About a month after that, it spent a couple of weeks at its (new) peak position of No. 23, departing the chart in early July 1987, with a total of 27 weeks spent on the Hot 100 (strangely enough, in its highe-charting second run, it spent one less week than the first chart run).  To date, it’s Paul Simon’s last Top 40 hit here in America.

you can call me al

Around the globe, “You Can Call Me Al” said, “You can call me a big hit in” Australia, Belgium, Ireland, New Zealand and South Africa (where it reached No. 2), plus the U.K. (No. 4), the Netherlands (No. 5), Finland (No. 9), France (No. 16) and Canada (No. 19). hyde park

Paul Simon is 75 now, and still very much active in the music scene.  In 2016, he released his 13th studio album, STRANGER TO STRANGER, which reached No. 3 on BILLBOARD’s Album chart, his highest-charting album since GRACELAND went to No. 3 three decades ago.  And, just this month, he released his fourth live solo album, PAUL SIMON – THE CONCERT IN HYDE PARK.

I don’t know what it is, but I love the idea of songs getting a second chance – for whatever reason – to do better on the chart than they did before.  And, though sometimes it doesn’t work out, the times it does happen can be pretty amazing.  And other times you just need a gifted comedic actor and friend to play off against, who’s a full foot taller than you to create a really fucking hilarious music video to help out a really cool song about trying to cope with middle age.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uq-gYOrU8bA

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song of the day – “Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes” | PAUL SIMON | 1986 / 1987.

Today (8.25.2016) marks the 30th anniversary of the release of Paul Simon’s seventh solo studio album and masterpiece, GRACELAND.  After Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel parted ways in 1970, Paul embarked on a successful solo career in the 1970s, picking up multiple Gold and Platinum albums, five Top 10 hits on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 – including two No. 2 hits (1973’s “Kodachrome” and “Love Me Like A Rock”), and a No. 1 single (1975’s “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover”). 

The first half of the 80s were not as good to Paul Simon – his 1980 film and soundtrack for ONE TRICK PONY did not fare well (though “Late In The Evening” reached the Top 10), nor did his follow-up album, HEARTS AND BONES.  Paul’s marriage to Carrie Fisher (HEARTS AND BONES was about their relationship) lasted less than a year (they had dated for six years before that).

Sometime after the divorce, Paul Simon became interested and intrigued by the music of South Africa.  Before leaving with his co-producer, Roy Halee, for a two-week trip to Johannesburg, South Africa, to work with musicians there, he was talked into contributing to the historic recording of “We Are The World” (Paul was the third person to sing on the song). 

we are the world

From the day “We Are The World” was recorded: Clockwise from left: Lionel Richie, Daryl Hall, Quincy Jones, Paul Simon and Stevie Wonder.

At that recording, Paul asked the charity song’s organizers, Quincy Jones (who produced the song) and Harry Belafonte, if he should make the trip (it was right around the time of the Apartheid backlash and “Sun City”), and they both encouraged him to go.  Personally, I don’t think Paul Simon broke any “cultural boycott” in recruiting South African musicians for the recording of GRACELAND.  If anything, I think he just wanted to share what he discovered with the rest of the world.  And share he did.

GRACELAND would win the Grammy Award for Album Of The Year, it would reach No. 3 on BILLBOARD’s album chart and has sold more than 16 million copies worldwide since its release.  In 2007, GRACELAND was added to the National Recording Registry, for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important.”

graceland

The response to GRACELAND was unbelievable – it was universally loved by fans and critics alike.  ROLLING STONE’s Rob Tannebaum called GRACELAND “lovely, daring and accomplished.”  The magazine would later say that GRACELAND is “an album about isolation and redemption that transcended ‘world music’ to become the whole world’s soundtrack.”  High praise indeed.

Musicians were also mesmerized by GRACELAND.  The late, great Joe Strummer of The Clash brilliantly said this about the album in a 1988 interview: “I don’t like the idea that people who aren’t adolescents make records.  Adolescents make the best records.  Except for Paul Simon.  Except for GRACELAND.  He’s hit a new plateau there, but he’s writing to his own age group.  GRACELAND is something new.  That song to his son [“That Was Your Mother”] is just as good as ‘Blue Suede Shoes’: ‘Before you were born dude when life was great.’  That’s just as good as ‘Blue Suede Shoes,’ and that is a new dimension.”Diamondssoles

The fourth single released from GRACELAND is the gorgeous “Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes,” with guest vocals by South African choral music legends Ladysmith Black Mambazo, an act that’s been around since 1960 and still going strong today.  GRACELAND introduced the rest of the world (and yours truly) outside of South Africa to Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

While in South Africa, Paul Simon wrote this song with Joseph Shabalala of Ladysmith Black Mambazo.  Paul finished the album in New York City, but not without bringing the South African artists back with him.  And on May 10, 1986, Ladysmith Black Mambazo performed (singing in Zulu) with Paul on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE.  The Zulu to English translation is, “It’s not usual, but in our days we see those things happen.  They are women, they can take care of themselves.”  Yes they can!

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Paul Simon and Ladysmith Black Mambazo, SNL, 5.10.1986.

Senegal’s Youssou N’Dour (who would also work with Peter Gabriel in 1986, notably on “In Your Eyes”) helped provide percussion on “Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes,” which wasn’t really a hit anywhere, save for a Top 30 ranking in Belgium in 1987, though it’s always been a hit with me. 

It’s hard to believe GRACELAND is now 30, and harder to believe Paul Simon is turning 75 this year, in October 2016.  But, not at all hard to believe is how GRACELAND and songs like “Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes” have aged well and both will be shining like those diamonds for a long, long time to come…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-I_T3XvzPaM

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