Friday, 4 July 2008
Paul Simon "There Goes Rhymin' Simon" (1973) ('Core' Review #57, Revised Edition 2014)
Track Listing: Kodachrome/ Tenderness/ Take Me To The Mardi-Gras/ Something So Right/ One Man’s Ceiling Is Another Man’s Floor// American Tune/ Was A Sunny Day/ Learn How To Fall/ St Judy’s Comet/ Loves Me Like A Rock (UK and US tracklisting)
"That's a...that's a...groove!"
'Paul Simon' the record had been an ordeal. Columbia were so unsure about whether Simon and Garfunkel would have an audience separately that they'd ignored it as best they could, spending a minimal amount on promoting it. Paul too had been equally unsure, casting around for a fresh approach which he only found partway through making that album. However the record had sold well, better than anyone 'officially' involved with it had expected and instead of being turned off by Paul's more experimental attempts at new rhythms and styles the audience at home sent both 'Mother and Child Reunion' and 'Me and Julio' high up the singles charts. Paul was vindicated and - for the first time ever in his life - had the applause focussed on him and him alone. Suddenly the world was eager for another record and Paul was only too eager to oblige. Most Paul Simon albums took an age to make as their conscientious creator agonised over every possible decision about each part of every track, but most of the backing tracks for Rhymin’ Simon were wrapped up in a number of weeks rather than months and the album itself was released just over a year after Paul’s first LP – the shortest time between the release of any of his albums by far, Simon and Garfunkel included. Probably not co-incidentally, Rhymin’ has an informal, laidback swing about it that most of Paul’s albums just don’t have or only have in parts that none of his other records - however strong - possess. You could name other Simon records as being better or more rounded (for me it's 'Rhythm Of The Saints' that's Paul's most complete work) and not every song on this record works ('Was A Sunny Day' may well be his worst song of the 1970s), but by and large 'Rhymin' Simon' is a delightful companion, one that will make you laugh out loud and cry tears of joy as well as weep over weightier subjects the normal Paul Simon way. We tend to think of Paul as a serious writer and for the most part that's true - there are probably weightier subjects per minute of a Paul Simon album than probably any other artist of his period. But 'Rhymin' Simon' is a lot of fun, from its title down to the cover (with its glorious scrapbook collage of objects pertaining to each of the tracks - 'Learn How To Fall', for instance, being accompanied by a leg in plaster, plus a picture of a teenage Tom and Jerry era Paul to illustrate 'Kodochrome'. Alas, this is one of those detailed album covers that looks great on vinyl but demands 20/20 vision and a magnifying glass on CD.).
Much of this record's good-time feel comes from the cast of musicians. The Muscle Shoal session musicians have received some belated publicity down the years, thanks in the 1990s to Ocean Colour Scene naming their hit second album after the studios and in the 00s by a long-overdue BBC4 documentary. They're the perfect midwives for Paul's latest batch of songs, which like parts of his first album feature an interest in non-traditional sounds from foreign climes ('Mother and Child Reunion' being reggae before most people knew what it was). This time, though, Paul has travelled to the people who know how to play these songs instead of getting his usual backing crew to play a style they've never heard of before. The Muscle Shoal crew (guitarists Pete Carr and Jimmy Johnson, bass player David Hood, keyboard player Barry Beckett, drummer Roger Hawkins and 'The Onward Brass Band') hadn't really worked with many white musicians before - their background had mainly been in Tamla Motown and Soul. The difference in lifestyles became apparent too when the musicians were reluctant to turn up to the second week: their traditional method of being paid was by the song and they were most annoyed at having only finished four; Paul, used to struggling for months without getting a finished backing track, was thrilled! The parties resolved their differences by Paul's promise to pay per hours worked rather than the end result. One misnomer of this record is that the Muscle Shoals crew play on everything; that's not strictly true although they do play on about half of the record, with Paul hiring the band officially for 'Mardi Gras' and allowing the musicians the pick of his recent songs when they nailed it so speedily (they plumped for 'Kodochrome' 'St Judy's Comet' 'Loves Me Like A Rock' and 'One Man's Ceiling Is Another Man's Floor' for the rest of the session). The Muscle Shoal crew 's sound works exceptionally well, with a laidback groove that doesn't so much rock as float on every song. It's a shame Paul never went back to using the Muscle Shoals crew again as they are clearly sympathetic collaborators, with a love of rhythm and 'groove' that will later see Simon exploring Africa and Brazilian sounds come the next decade - a whole album of this sort of thing might have been exceptional.
Perhaps the biggest change to note is what a melodic album this is. We all know that Paul can write a sumptuous melody: his back catalogue is full of them. But if you'd have asked the average man in the street to name what Paul was famous for across the Simon and Garfunkel years or even the first album they'd have most likely answered 'lyrics'. From the 1980s onwards Paul's songs tend to be more about the rhythms. While sadly I wasn't hovering around Paul when he was writing so I can't tell you for certain, it seems likely to me that, ever restless for change, Paul changed his writing style in this period. Many of his early songs were written out like poems, the lyrics the 'canvas' hanging from a flagpole of music that either came along simultaneously or later. We also know for a fact that on later albums ('Rhythm Of The Saints' particularly) Paul tends to record his backing tracks first, set by rhythm tempo and metre more than tune, and only later adding lyrics to his songs (that's why 'Rhythm' is such a hazy blur of a record, random captured images that's quite alluring). 'Rhymin' Simon' sounds like another approach entirely: every single melody (even the lesser 'Was A Sunny Day') is instantly hummable, the record consistently catchy and the melodies sweeping into your heasd whenever you glance at the album's titles (something you can't say for, say 'You're The One' or 'Surprise', good albums though both are). Perhaps that's another reason this feels like such a 'warm' record - an aural hug if you will - especially compared to the two albums around it which are, for the most part, rather cold-blooded (in fact at times 'Crazy After All These Years' seems like a cold shower). 'Rhymin' Simon' fair drips with emotion though: longing, desire, need, frustration, resilience, even stubborness. This also inspires Paul to some of his greatest vocals, passionate empowered and bang on the money practically every time.
Not that Paul is the only star of this record. Even without the Muscle Shoals band there's plenty of other sounds to enjoy. Other guests on this record include singing team The Dixie Hummingbirds, who wrap 'Loves Me Like A Rock' up in a gospel flavoured suit and the Reverend Claude Jeter, whose high falsetto harmony is heard as second lead on 'Take Me To The Mardi Gras' (The story goes that Paul, eager to hire the services of a singer he adored, promised to do anything to appease him; the Reverend, not too keen on rock music, made Paul promise that there would be no bad language on this record. How must Reverend Jeter have felt when he was proudly sent this album in the post and heard this record's opening line of defiance: 'When I look back on all the crap I learned in high school...'?!) Interestingly there are no links with the past at all across this record: there's no Art Garfunkel, not even engineer Roy Halee and none of the attempts to re-use 'old friends' like Hal Blaine and Los Incas on this record. This is, additionally, the first time since the Tom and Jerry days that Paul had made some recordings outside of New York; it's also the last until as late as the African sessions for 'Graceland' in 1986 (we don't know why Paul didn't make another LP at Muscle Shoal - it could be that he just never got round to it or that he never considered any of his other albums to have that sort of a 'groove'; 'Still Crazy', for instance, his next LP, has a 'jazzy' vibe best served by New York musicians).
One other reason this album is so charming is that so much of it is about family - unusual for a writer as closely guarded and as content with reflecting the outside world as Paul. By this point he's been happily married to second wife Peggy for a few years and his first child, Harper, was born in the interim period between these two records. What's more it seems to bring out the best in a writer who for so much of his career has been either driven or worried about the next 'hit' or both; suddenly Paul's been given a whole new life to live away from the studio and ironically it's opened his eyes to making new music and given him a new creative spurt (the 18 months it took to make this record is the quickest turn-around between albums since 'Parsley Sage' seven years earlier). What's more the 'family' Paul sounds like a great guy to be around compared to stories of his perfectionist musician self: so much of this album comes with a glorious self-mocking humour. Paul's lullaby for his son 'St Judy's Comet' is a real turning point in his songwriting, the moment when the weight of his million-selling records is truly lifted from him as he tries to sing his son to sleep and fails, complaining jokingly 'that it makes your famous daddy look so dumb!' 'Something So Right' is the most tender, smouldering Paul Simon romantic track since 'Kathy's Song' a near decade earlier, Paul letting down his guard enough to admit that he's not used to having such happy experiences in his life and that 'I can't get used to it', before admitting that he never notices when things get wrong so no wonder he's been taken by surprise by 'something so right'. Heck, even the album title seems a million light years away from the traditional 'serious' image of Paul Simon, as if a man whose eyes have just been opened to family life has suddenly realised just how absurd the day-job he's been concentrating on with such focus all his life really is.
History has always recorded 'Rhymin' Simon' as Paul's sweetest, fluffiest album - which it is and it isn't. This isn't some domestically content and cosy album, but actually another tough set of life lessons learnt the hard way: it starts not with a romantic ode but a curse as Paul damns all the 'crap' he learned in high school (the hint being that what he was taught back then wasn't preparing him for real life at all, as experienced now he's got married and become a father). 'Tenderness' is less content, hinting at the problems in the marriage to come (chronicled across the entire 'One Trick Pony' project at the start of the following decade) as Simon, wounded by all his wife's slights, asks for some 'warmth beneath your honesty', early signs of the strains of Paul's first marriage (the fall-out of which is revisited big-time in the 'One Trick Pony' film). 'One Man's Ceiling' is as troubled and wearisome as any song on Paul's first album, a typical Simon song about the unfairness of the world with the narrator seemingly pinned underfoot by a riff that makes the piano sound so heavy it must have taken twelve PG Tips chimps to shift it. 'Learn How To Fall' starts as a comedy, Paul inspired by his toddler son's faltering attempts to walk, but becomes serious quickly: to quote another Paul Simon song everything put together sooner or later falls apart and there's nothing you can do about it. This time around, however, there are good things to enjoy in life to make the worries and difficulties worth it: a wife, children (God? See our take on the seemingly out of place 'Loves Me Like A Rock') and the odd carnival and 'sunny day' is a strong balance to the uglier side of life so often visited across this record.
However much of this record is about still having a longing for something or for wish fulfilment. Much of this, naturally, is caught up with the marriage and family Paul's been waiting for so long, but even the songs written about other themes loosely cover the same idea. 'Kodochrome' yearns for the past - not as it was but as the narrator imagines it to be, the kodochrome camera a nice metaphor for the 'brighter colours' he imagines seeing in his past. 'Was A Sunny Day' covers similar ground, the meeting of two unlikely soulmates on a sunny day, without any clouds or 'negative words'. 'Take Me To The Mardi Gras' spends a whole three and a half minutes yearning to go outside the house and join in the mother of all parties, although we never get to find out whether the narrator goes or not (the Muscle Shoals crew working overtime to provide the atmosphere of New Orleans): it's the waiting for it that's important 'Learn How To Fall' is so eager for new experiences and to embrace the new that the narrator isn't learning things properly; no doubt inspired by watching his toddler learn how to walk, Paul is moved to write one of his better lyrics about the biggest life lesson being how to pick yourself up after a failure. 'One Man's Ceiling' is about jealousy, the idea that someone else is having a better time than you. Paul's response is that everyone still has good and bad days - it's just that the 'good' and 'bad' is measured in different ways. The narrator of the gorgeous 'American Tune' longs for a better America, invoking the spirits of the pilgrims on the Mayflower to rise up and show modern Americans how to live with their spirit. 'Tenderness' longs for the day when the narrator will get the affection he craves from someone he loves. 'St Judy's Comet's tired dad simply longs for his baby to get to sleep! Finally and most memorably 'Loves Me Like A Rock' is wide open to interpretation but seems to answer all the various narrator's issues, coming right at the end of the album to offer everyone unconditional healing love.
Mistakes are the other theme that crops up time and time again. 'Learn How To Fall' is of course the obvious one but other songs refer back to the idea of getting things wrong and having to try again. Both 'Something So Right' and 'St Judy's Comet' actually offer apologies for Paul's mistakes, while 'Kodochrome' and 'Was A Sunny Day' both suggest that their narrator's are easily fooled and that their memories don't necessarily relate to fact. Talking of which, 'American Tune' is the album's central song, sensibly placed slap bang in the middle, suggesting that this theme is now universal. Released near the end of a turbulent year ('the age's most uncertain hour', the moment when Richard Nixon got re-elected by a landslide, much to the disdain of the counter-culture and people who already had suspicions regarding their president's actions before Watergate) that 'I don't know a soul whose not been battered, don't have a friend who feels at ease'. Named - perhaps rightly - by Rolling Stone Magazine as 'song of the decade', 'American's Tune' star has sli[pped somewhat nowadays to the point where it isn't a natural shoe-in on Paul Simon compilations nowadays (it never was a single). However it's the classic the album needs, the moral in between the soothing messages and comfort blankets, the explanation behind why so many of the other songs here are how they are. 'Paul Simon' had picked up on this general feeling of distrust and malaise, full of songs titled 'Paranoia Blues' and a song about illness caused through stress. There's none of the equivalent of that on 'Rhymin' Simon's other songs, interestingly, whose worst excesses seem to be a lack of sympathy and a toddler that won't shut his eyes. Don't be fooled though: Paul still 'can't help' but wonder 'what's gone wrong?' when things are as 'right' as this. More of that on his next why-aren't-I-worried?-I'm-always-worried-I-know-let's-create-some-problems-that-aren't-really-there-and-mope album 'Still Crazy After All These Years'...
However, unlike America in 1972, there's nothing much wrong with this record at all. There are many special Paul Simon songs littered throughout his catalogue, but Rhymin’ is one of the more consistent records of Paul’s career, featuring the songwriter at his most informal, joyous and bursting with ideas. Nearly every song here is well known and pretty much all of the record succeeds in taking the thin line of being easy to listen to without sacrificing depth or ideas. However good the backing crew, however grand the performances, an album simply won’t work without the songs to go with them and this album has some of Paul’s best, mixing some unusually simple and basic melodies with some of the songwriter’s deepest thoughts and ideas. This album is hardly a forgotten gem, regularly gaining plaudits from Paul Simon fans and until Graceland came out this album was nearly always referred to as the singer’s best. However, in the 20 years since that album’s confusing mix of African and Americana, Rhymin’s reputation and influence has all but vanished, not least because Paul Simon is currently the most out of fashion he has ever been in these days of empty shallow pop songs and raucous dance/guitar groups. I might only be repeating most of the critics of yester-year when I include this album on this list (editor's note: 'Rhymin' Simon' is one of the AAA's earlier reviews, included on our 'core 101' list of neglected albums everyone should own), but it’s an opinion that’s been forgotten in the years since. Sadly, too, like St Judy's Comet herself this moment of happiness and confidence is only a fleeting moment in Paul Simon's back catalogue, soaring across the sky - but the good news is what a lovely spray of diamonds it leaves in its wake. Though the songs are strong, the performances exceptional and the themes suitably deep for the most part, what really makes 'Rhymin Simon' stand out though is how lovely it all is, with this second solo record not just one of Paul's most beautiful works but one of the prettiest AAA albums of them all. Highly recommended.
Kodochrome gets the album off to a flying start with a surprisingly rocky backing track and some great lyrics about breaking away from the past and how things always seem better in your memory than they were at the time. Yet the joyous chorus about how time makes us forgive and forget is off-set by the reality of the verses – the rubbish that Paul was taught at school that seems to have no relevance to his life now despite his happy memories and the girlfriends of his past that he yearns for yet probably wouldn’t interest him in the slightest if his older, more sophisticated self saw them for the first time now. By the song’s elongated ending though (‘momma don’t take my Kodochrome away…’), the narrator’s heart rather than his head has won out, leaving him desperate to live in the happier past even though he knows it to be a fallacy. A very Ray Davies-like song which would have fitted in perfectly on The Village Green Preservation Society, but with a boogie line more like Dr Hook, this track sounds very like the teenage Simon and Garfunkel records (credited to Tom and Jerry) than anything else Paul has recorded on his own so far (when Simon and Garfunkel performed this song at the Central Park re-union in 1983 they even segued the song into an old 50s favourite – Chuck Berry’s Maybelline - something you can’t imagine Paul Simon doing so neatly with any of his other songs). The song is one of its author’s best known tracks too, although its chances as a single were rather undermined by the one and only instance of Paul swearing (albeit lightly) on record during the opening line, reminiscing about his high school days (** see note 2). In case you are wondering about the ‘© Kodak copyright’ message on the record sleeve, no Paul didn’t write the song for a commercial as many fans have thought over the years but rather naively named his new song after a word invented by and owned by the photographic company. Rather than prevent the songwriter using the word, the Kodak organization elected to use the free publicity the song would get them by demanding that their trademark be printed on the sleeve!
Tenderness is one of this album’s many fine ballads and it’s one of Paul’s better analysis of the human psyche. Trying to work out where a relationship has gone wrong, the narrator decides that his partner’s honesty is no longer the help that it used to be because there is no ‘tenderness’ behind their honest answers anymore. The song takes longer to get burning than the bottom end of a 10-foot candle, but the effect is well worth it thanks to some moving blues piano and sympathetic backing vocals that eventually tweak the narrator’s real emotions out of his largely distant and cold vocal. The arrangement on this song – full brass, tinkling pianos and an oohing choir – is the perfect lavish warm backing that the narrator is crying out for in his current relationship, with a classic case of Paul Simon emotional contrasts going on here.
Take Me To The Mardi Gras chills things out with a slow shuffle on a track that would have been rather pedestrian if this stunning lot of players hadn’t got hold of it and turned into a rather enthralling jig. Many composers have written songs about carnivals (Paul McCartney for one, though you’ll have to dig out the flip side of the rather rare flop single Spies Like Us to hear it) and most of them get it wrong, manufacturing a fast and beaty backing track and a rather flat feeling of joy that can’t hope to re-create the feelings of a genuine party. Paul Simon’s approach is to make the track a delightful slow shuffle, picturing the narrator’s quiet feelings of joy at his brief escape from reality rather than the true noisy escapades going on around him. Listen out for the line ‘Take your burdens to the mardi gras, let the music wash your soul’, a rather buried line on the record that nevertheless makes it clear that the carnival is a source of comfort and escape rather than outright happiness. That’s the Onward Brass Band you can hear getting into the carnival spirit on the fade, as the brief procession slowly makes its way down the street and out of ear-shot.
If that song shows the weaker, more obvious side of Paul’s writing, however, Something So Right is the perfectionist, heart-warming Simon at his best. Featuring one of his most autobiographical (or at least autobiographical-sounding) lyrics, the song deals with its narrator’s capacity to be grumpy and his trait of always expecting the worst to happen – only to be delighted when he’s proved wrong. Another of this album’s orchestral songs that’s lyrically about being confused and unable to show emotions, this is again a classic Paul Simon exercise in contrasts, as the gorgeous melody and beautiful strings simply drip with the emotion and longing that the narrator can’t express. Comparing his love to such un-romantic images as the great Wall of China (as strong and sturdy as the narrator’s affections) and recounting such unhappy memories as the years the narrator spent of dodging the issue of love at all (‘it took a little time to get next to me’), this is still one of Paul’s most genuine-sounding yearning and passionate love songs, oozing reluctant romance out of every pore, no matter how many red herrings the narrator throws into the mix. Add some heart-tugging strings to the mix and a slowly cascading melody and you have possibly one of the strangest, backward-complimenting love songs in history, but also one of the strongest too. One of the more forgotten compositions on this album, this track is among its authors best ballads, particularly the spot-on vocal that expresses hidden emotion that can only be glimpsed from reading the lyrics.
Don’t worry about Paul getting un-typically romantic on us though - side one rounds out with one of his more sinister, serious songs. One Man’s Ceiling Is Another Man’s Floor looks at the differences between the have and have-nots of this world (monetary, physically, emotionally, you name it), but finally comes to the decision that however good or bad our life is generally, the whole bang lot of us have good days and bad days because we adjust to the situation we’re in and only have our own experiences to compare our present situation with. Therefore, a bad day for a millionaire might well be the equal of a good day for a penniless down-and-out—but because human emotions vary on a daily basis no matter how much money you have and because we always adjust to what our lives were like in the past and present, everybody enjoys happiness and sadness in roughly equal measure. Sort of. The whole song is married to some more uncharacteristic 50s boogie-woogie left over from Kodochrome and one of the composer’s more interesting musical hooks – a gradually circling piano riff that gradually unwinds itself down the pianist’s keyboard like a spider spinning a web, managing to be both playful and serious at the same time, especially when a deep bass piano lick comes out of nowhere to gatecrash the party. Crackling with tension and even intermittent anger, something only rarely heard in Paul’s music, this track is an interesting experiment that for the most part works rather well. This song has been deservedly rescued from obscurity by being featured in the singer’s recent concert tours, although this song’s tricky arrangement must mean its hell to play live.
Side two begins with one of Paul’s most-acclaimed songs and it’s not hard to see why. American Tune is a beautiful acoustic ballad that returns to the witty observations of Simon and Garfunkel’s America, but with a much older and wiser narrator talking to us five years on, after his naïve hopes and desires have been diluted but not quite extinguished. Battered and abused by the distrust going on in his home country, with a long list of friends who feel the same way, Paul begins to question what is so great about the American dream, until he has a ‘dream’ of his own which shows him how great the future for his country could really be if it lived up to it’s policies. Despite the weariness of the vocal and the struggle going on in the lyrics, Paul’s vision of the statue of liberty reaching her arms out to the homeless and the poor overshadows the tiredness of the song, dominating the narrator’s feelings even as he struggles to come to terms with the poverty, abuse and fear that is happening in her name. Based partly on a stately Bach hymn (The Scared State of St Matthew), this song is a clever mix of the traditional and the decidedly contemporary, starting off as peaceful acoustic protest that could pass itself off as a 15th century minstrel song and developing into a powerhouse string arrangement with Paul elongating his words with a slight jazz-feel by the end of the song. Realistic yet doggedly hopeful, this song deserves its classy praise. Both the realism and optimistic parts are impressive when taken separately—but together this is sterling stuff indeed, perhaps the peak of Paul Simon’s career long tactic of sitting two contrasting emotions together on the same song.
It’s a shame, though, that the effect is somewhat ruined by running the track straight into Was A Sunny Day, one of the most tuneless, lazy songs Paul ever wrote. The lyrics are very few and very slight, telling us simply that it’s a sunny happy day for everyone in Mexico in a re-write of The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feeling Groovy) without that song’s jovialness or amiability. The tune too doesn’t seem quite sure of what to do, unable to shake a leg out of its hammock and actually travel somewhere. Even the arrangement doesn’t quite ring true for about the only time on this album: the keyboards and guitars seem to be competing not complementing each other, Paul Simon’s cod-Jamaican accent is just irritating and the whole thing is drenched in such strong echo that its hard to hear anyway. Compare this track back to back with its South American close-cousin Duncan (featuring Simon and Garfunkel favourites El Condor Pasa) on the last LP and there’s no competition: Paul simply doesn’t understand this genre and can’t get to grips with it here, however hard he tries. There are still some nice harmonies on the chorus though, and the calypso backing is a brave attempt at trying something new, so what the heck, I’ll let it pass.
Learn How To Fall is one of the few guitar (rather than piano)-based songs on the album and it’s another superbly crafted philosophical song, this time about learning from past mistakes and not taking on too much in one go. Paul wrote several of slightly patronising ‘advice’ songs on his early solo albums - later admitting that most of them were written to warn himself rather than his audience - but this is quite possibly his best use of that idea, letting us listen in on his own past mistakes while confidentially letting us into the secret of how he overcame them. Even without lyrics, the song’s main verse-chorus structure is pretty impressive in itself, going in the complete opposite direction to what you expect even after several playings and the whole song sports one of the catchier melodies on the album. The keyboard counterpoint harmony lick is a nice touch too, but it’s the sudden-exploding middle eight with its rasping horns that makes the song a classic telling us that ‘it’s the same old story’ – no matter how much Paul listens to his own advice he can’t help getting enthusiastic and jumping into things head first. Another of the more obscure songs on this album, again it’s among the best pieces not only on Rhymin’ but on Paul’s records as a whole.
The album then winds down with Paul’s lullaby St Judy’s Comet, lovingly sung to Paul’s newly-born son Harper. Like Paul’s recent Father and Daughter (on his latest album at the time of writing, Surprise) only better, it’s a loving song full of observational touches that really do reveal the narrator’s love for his newborn child and his willingness to look after and protect him. This song also features one of the most sumptuous melodies of Paul’s career, although in truth it’s got far too many words in it to work as a traditional lullaby should and the jazzy accompaniment, even played acoustically, is more likely to keep a baby awake in excitement at seeing where the tune will go next! The tongue-in-cheek line about looking like an idiot because this daddy who croons for a living can’t sing his boy to sleep is also one of the sweetest couplets in Paul’s career. Gorgeously intimate, with a rolling gentle guitar and piano lick that drift around the track every so often like waves at a cozy little harbour, it is full of those classic Paul Simon-ish observational touches that show what a quick eye he has for a scene. With a chuckle in his voice, he notices that his child is beginning to rub his eyes as he always does before going to sleep and gently chastises his boy for being asked to sing to him yet again (‘I’ll sing it till your resistance is overcome’ is his wistful reply), it’s a lovely image which – if true – mean Paul’s real son Harper was a lucky lad indeed to have lullabies of this standard most nights. If you’re wondering about the name of the song, by the way, no its not a celestial body you’re ever going to see on Sky At Night – Paul nicked the name off one of his favourite session drummers called Robert St Judy when he was looking for words to fit the chorus. The name sounded so nice he decided to keep it when he was perfecting the lyrics later on!
The cosy loveliness of the last track might have put you to sleep, but Paul wants you to be wide awake again with the album’s rocking gospel closer Loves Me Like A Rock. The opening humming by the Dixie Hummingbirds is one of the most ear-grabbing ways to start a song on this list and that energy and exuberance at being alive doesn’t let up till the end of the track either. Although Paul sings the song as if he is urging a congregation up on their feet to enjoy the delights of life, the lyrics of this song are far more ambiguous than that, being one of the most fascinatingly surreal set of words the writer ever penned. Attacking the ‘president’ for lying (Nixon was only just out of power back then so, yeah, that fits) and contrasting the narrator’s mistrust of his government with the love of a mother and her offspring, the narrator seems to be searching out for truth in life rather than outright love as the singalong chorus first suggests. Also, what does that chorus exactly mean? Does the singer mean the relationship is as solid as a rock, as cold and clinical as a rock or as worshipful as a rock? (as in the religious artefacts that people go on pilgrimages to see, something suggested by this very Christian gospel backing). Even if the words are confusing, though, the melody isn’t and it’s a perfect, rousing way to end the album, summing up the general optimistic air that runs through much of this album. It was even used at the end of my mother’s meditation classes to help people wake up from their slumber and bounce back to face the outside world – something this gently buoyant, exuberant little song is very fitted to doing.
If first album Paul Simon was a dip-a-toe-in-the-waters-to-see-what-happens-after-Simon-and-Garfunkel album, then Rhymin’ Simon finds Paul completely at ease with himself and what forms his songwriting should take. His happiest and most informal solo album, Rhymin’ still manages to be one of his most serious and most crafted of LPs – the best of both worlds really. As a sort of phase two in Paul’s exploration of world music culture (after a brief start on Bridge Over Troubled Water and Paul Simon he dips into New Orleans-style backing tracks with a vengeance here), it’s also the signpost of where his music was going to go in the decades to come. An important, worthy addition to any self-respecting music collection, that will teach you all you need to know and give you a warm aural hug at the same time.