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Paul Simon Looks Back at 9 Classic Solo Albums

Iconic songwriter tells the tales behind massive hits and underrated gems spanning his entire career

Paul Simon

Paul Simon

"All those hits I had in the Seventies, I never wrote any of them thinking, 'This will be a hit,'" Paul Simon says on a recent afternoon from his home in Connecticut. "All of the hits I had were pretty oddball."

What has Simon mulling over his back catalog is the release of a new box set, The Complete Albums Collection, which compiles all 14 of Simon's solo studio and live albums without Art Garfunkel. Simon released an earlier box set of studio albums almost a decade ago, but this upgrade includes two live albums as well as 1965's The Paul Simon Song Book, his first album without Garfunkel (and one that includes early versions of "I Am a Rock," "Patterns," "Flowers Never Bend with the Rainfall," and others later cut with his recurring partner). The box also upgrades the earlier set by including his latest studio album, 2011's So Beautiful or So What.

Simon isn't dwelling too much on the past these days. He's begun work on a new album, which he hopes to complete in the spring, and in February, he and Sting will embark on their first-ever dual tour. The two men, who've rarely performed together onstage, will meet in January to plot out a set list and format for the show, both of which are currently up in the air.

"There's a possibility of us being on the stage at the same time," Simon says. "There are a lot of interesting ideas, all of which will be talked about next month. But it has the potential to be something special. From what I heard at the benefit for the Robin Hood Foundation [in May, where he and Sting played "The Boxer" and "Fields of Gold"], the combination of our voices can be really beautiful."

In the meantime, Simon shares his thoughts on some of the classic and underrated albums stuffed into his new box set. — DAVID BROWNE

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‘One-Trick Pony’ (1980)

"Sometimes you just know when something is going to work. But no, this wasn't the case. When I finishing writing that screenplay, I thought, 'I'm never writing a screenplay again.' As an actor, I had … limitations [chuckles]. I don't even remember most of the songs, except for 'Late in the Evening.' But there's a line in 'Oh, Marion' that was very important: 'The boy's got a heart/But it beats on the opposite side.' That showed me a new way to write, where the lyrics were more abstract. It's not the best example of that, but it pointed me in a new direction." 

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‘Hearts and Bones’ (1983)

"That started as my album and then, after the Central Park concert [1981], it became a Simon & Garfunkel album. But Artie and I were thinking differently at that time about harmonies. So it went back to being my album. People were expecting a Simon and Garfunkel album, so it wasn't well received. But I still like 'Hearts and Bones,' and 'Think Too Much (b)' has some rhythms that are the beginning of my interest in African music. I always wanted to put that song on a compilation, but everyone says I can't because it wasn't a hit."

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‘Graceland’ (1986)

"It's one of those albums were, except for the last song, everyone knows every song. Once in a while, that can happen. I wasn't surprised that it was a hit. I loved it, and I thought, if I love it, then that's good enough, and maybe other people will, too. When we did the box set last year I saw some of the footage from those sessions that I'd forgotten about or maybe hadn't even seen, and I was surprised by how focused I was. The vision I had for that record was there when I arrived."  

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‘Songs From the Capeman’ (1997)

"These days, Sting and Cyndi Lauper can write Broadway musicals, but back then, people were suspicious of outsiders doing it. Capeman should have played out of town for six months, but we didn't have the money for that. It was a disappointment, and it's probably my most underappreciated album. People didn't really know the album because I never played any of those songs. I should have done what Sting is doing with his musical [The Last Ship]. which is do a concert where he performed the songs."

 

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‘Surprise’ (2006)

"I didn't like the way of making that album. I'd go into a studio with a drummer and then I'd make up guitar lines and fly over to England to show them to Brian [Eno] and he'd do his thing and then I'd fly back. It was just me and an engineer, and I found the experience very lonely. I was so separated."

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‘So Beautiful or So What’ (2011)

"I haven't listened to the album since I finished it. But I like some of the songs like 'Love in Hard Times.' And I enjoyed working with samples. I think back on it as a happy album."  

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