“He’s a one trick pony
One trick is all that horse can do.
He does one trick only
It’s the principal source of his revenue.
And when he steps into the spotlight
You can feel the heat of his heart
Come rising through.”
As a member of Simon & Garfunkel, Paul Simon established himself as one of his generation’s preeminent singers and songwriters. After a string of hit singles and albums, the duo disbanded in 1970, at the height of their success with “Bridge over Troubled Water” on longtime label Columbia Records. While Art Garfunkel attained some level of success as an actor, Simon simply continued his work as a songwriter and performer with Warner Brothers Records. His success as a solo artist has mainly been due to his ability to weave expert songwriting from his folk background with a variety of musical styles and genres.
Beginning a string of solo successes, the eponymous “Paul Simon” was released in 1972. Much like George Harrison’s solo declaration “All Things Must Pass”, the album felt like a culmination of pent up musical frustration. It not only possessed a number of top ten hits (“Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” and “Mother and Child Reunion” among them), but it introduced the influence of reggae and South American music to the general record buying public. This trend continued throughout the 1970’s, with the albums “There Goes Rhymin’ Simon” and “Still Crazy After All These Years” making Paul Simon a household name. After 1975, Simon took time away from the recording studio, unheard of at the time for a major artist, but released a stop gap single, “Slip Slidin’ Away”, a top ten hit in 1977.
Consistency is a hallmark of many great writers, and in the case of Paul Simon, his popularity has never been directly related to the quality of his material. After years of uninterrupted hit LPs, Simon released two albums that sold poorly and were deemed unsuccessful at the time of release: 1980’s “One Trick Pony” and 1983’s “Hearts and Bones”. Both albums are well written and expertly performed, seen today as overlooked masterworks. “One Trick Pony” is the soundtrack to the 1980 film of the same name, featuring Paul Simon in the lead role of Jonah Levin, a character much like Simon himself: a 60’s folk troubadour trying to fit in with the current climate of popular music. The film is a gem, written and directed by Simon, but the real magic occurs in the music attached to the project. Songs like ‘One Trick Pony’, ‘Ace in the Hole’ and ‘Late in the Evening’ project a rawness lacking in some later Simon projects. Performed by his stripped down touring group of studio vets (the incomparable team of Steve Gadd, Tony Levin, Eric Gale and Richard Tee), the songs are the truest rock & roll compositions in the Simon songbook. Produced by Simon and longtime associate Phil Ramone, the album is a combination of live performances and studio cuts.
Paul Simon reemerged as a worldwide phenomenon with the 1986 release “Graceland”. Simon himself acknowledged that “Graceland” was made possible due to his open schedule after several years away from the spotlight, continuing his world music experimentation on “Rhythm of the Saints” in 1990. In the years since, he has released only a handful of solo albums, returning to his rock roots on 2000’s “You’re the One” and recording with Brian Eno on 2006’s “Surprise”. Whatever genre Paul Simon approaches, it is done with quality, due to his unending dedication to the craft of songwriting in the tradition of true American folk music.