Paul Simon played his beloved classic "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard" when he appeared on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert earlier this month, but his solo work extends well beyond the tunes you hear on classic rock radio. He's been releasing solo albums ever since The Paul Simon Songbook hit shelves in England 50 years ago, and his 2011 record So Beautiful or So What was absolutely brilliant and deserved to be heard by a wider audience. We asked our readers to select their favorite Paul Simon deep cuts. Here are the results.
Paul Simon originally intended for his 1983 LP Hearts and Bones to be a reunion project with Art Garfunkel, but when his marriage to Carrie Fisher collapsed, his new songs became so personal that he couldn't imagine singing them with anybody else. Garfunkel is pissed about that to this day, but a single listen to the title track makes it clear that Simon made the right call. The "one and one half Jews" taking the trip to Mexico are clearly Simon and Fisher, and when he sings, "Why can't you love me for who I am?" you can hear the agony in his voice. (Sidenote: This is the same year Fisher wore the famous metal bikini in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.)
"Hearts and Bones" wasn't released as its own single, though it was the B side to "Graceland" in 1986. The song didn't get a lot of live play when it was new, but ever since 2011 its been a regular part of Simon's concert repertoire.
Paul Simon wrote "Father and Daughter" for the 2002 kids film The Wild Thornberrys Movie and even got nominated for an Oscar for it, though he ultimately lost out to Eminem's "Lose Yourself." But it was a very touching song and four years later when he teamed up with Brian Eno for his LP Surprise he stuck "Father and Daughter" on at the very end. The LP got a mixed reception and in 2013 Simon told Rolling Stone that he didn't love the process of making it.
"I didn't like the way of making that album," he said. "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."
The brutal murder of John Lennon in 1980 really freaked out Paul Simon, and it got him thinking about all the great rock icons that died young, all the way back to 1950's R&B icon Johnny Ace who supposedly died in a game of Russian Roulette. The song reflects back to Simon's early days in London before Simon and Garfunkel broke big and he debuted it at the Concert in Central Park in 1981, though it didn't see release until Hearts and Bones two years later. He brought it back on his 2000 tour around the 20th anniversary of Lennon's death, but hasn't touched it since.
America was really falling apart by the time that Paul Simon began penning tunes for 1973's There Goes Rhymin' Simon. The Vietnam War was finally petering out, but it left the nation battered right as Watergate was quickly turning into a major constitutional crisis. Simon poured his grief into the lyrics of "American Tune," referencing everything from the Mayflower to "the Statue of Liberty sailing away to sea."
It's an absolutely beautiful tune that peaked at Number 35 on the Billboard Hot 100, meaning one could very easily argue it's not a deep cut. But it's not played on radio very often and it wasn't included on the hits collections Negotiations and Love Songs or Greatest Hits: Shining Like a National Guitar, so we're going to count it. It was a very close call though.
One can't blame Paul Simon for taking over four years to release a follow-up to Graceland. How could he possibly top an album that bold and innovative? He could have merely repeated the formula, but instead he decided to experiment with Latin American sounds on Rhythm of the Saints. It kicks off with "The Obvious Child," a percussion-heavy tune recorded with the drumming collective Grupo Cultural Olodum. It was one of the highlights of his 1991 Concert in the Park, though the single failed to rise higher than Number 92 on the Billboard Hot 100. It got a second life in 2014 when it was featured prominently in the Jenny Slate movie Obvious Child.
Paul Simon's 1972 self-titled LP wasn't his solo debut since The Paul Simon Songbook did get a European release in 1965, but it was his first work since the Simon and Garfunkel split and thus it garnered a ton of attention. Many were wondering if he'd be able to create the magic on his own, but songs like "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard," "Mother and Child Reunion" and "Duncan" quickly proved any doubters wrong. Hiding between those classics is "Peace Like a River," a gentle song that probably could have been a hit had it come out as a single. He didn't touch it live until 2011 when he played it at 63 shows.
"I don't listen back to my old albums very much, but this is one I did go back to after I heard all these indie bands were doing some of these songs, like 'Peace Like a River,'" Simon said in 2013. "And I thought, 'God, this is a good record.'"
The Rhythm of the Saints may have not generated quite as much heat as Graceland, it's still an amazing collection of tunes that only seems to improve with repeat listenings. One of the clear standout tracks is "The Cool, Cool River," which reflects on the possibility of the human spirit and how short man often falls of his potential. "And I believe in the future," Simon songs. "We shall suffer no more/Maybe not in my lifetime/But in yours, I feel sure." It was one of the few non-hits he played while on tour with Bob Dylan in the summer of 1999, and he brought it back while on the road in 2008 and 2009.
German photographer Lothar Wolleh took two famous photos of dadaist artist René Magritte and his wife Georgette: "René and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog During the War" and "René and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog." For his 1983 LP Hearts and Bones (which has proven to be oddly popular with our readers), Paul Simon paid tribute to these works. It's a sweet look back at a time long past that namechecks 1950s pop acts the Moonglows, the Orioles and the Five Satins. Simon hasn't played the song a single time since his 1984 summer tour.
This 1973 tune from There Goes Rhymin' Simon was never a single, but Paul must have realized it was special since he made it the B side of "Take Me to Mardi Gras" and, four years later, as the B side to "Slip Slidin' Away." The song is a confessional tune about Simon's inability to recognize when a relationship is going well. "They got a wall in China," he sings. "It’s a thousand miles long/To keep out the foreigners/They made it strong/And I got a wall around me/That you can’t even see/It took a little time/To get next to me."
Much like "The Boxer," Paul Simon's 1972 song "Duncan" is about a poor kid that tries to make his way in a scary, new world. Lincoln Duncan is the son of a fisherman who travels to New England, meets a woman preaching in the crowd, loses his virginity to her in a tent and then plays his guitar under the stars. There's no real conclusion, though it seems like Duncan has a revelation of sorts after the successful seduction. It was the third single from the Paul Simon LP and failed to reach higher than Number 52 on the Billboard Hot 100, but today is widely-seen as a masterpiece of simple songwriting.