After spending several years dabbling in global rhythms and songforms — and kicking off his solo career in the wake of Simon & Garfunkel‘s dissolution — Paul Simon returned to his American roots for his second solo album, 1973′s ‘There Goes Rhymin’ Simon,’ resulting in one of the biggest hits of his career.
The album, released May 5, 1973, found Simon leading a peripatetic series of sessions that took place in a number of far-flung locations, including London and Mississippi. But the place that truly colored the album’s sound — and tied together its nimble explorations of gospel, folk, and dixieland — was the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, located in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Already the nexus for a series of classic soul recordings throughout the ’60s (including Wilson Pickett’s ‘Mustang Sally’ and James & Bobby Purify’s ‘I’m Your Puppet’), the studio would ultimately become something of a pilgrimage for a long list of rock artists, but when Simon started the sessions for his sophomore solo LP, he had no idea what to expect.
In fact, legend has it that Simon only sought out Muscle Shoals because he liked what he heard on another track cut there — the Staple Singers’ ‘I’ll Take You There’ — and showed up expecting to find a group of Jamaican musicians. Surprised to find a largely white crew, he rolled tape on what he thought would be one song: ‘Take Me to the Mardi Gras.’ As bassist David Hood later recalled, “We did it on the second take. He’s got all this time left over, and he’s not going to pay four days’ worth of studio time for one song. So he says, ‘What else can we record?’”
Continued Hood, “So he sits and plays and we tape ‘Kodachrome’ and a few other things. He was amazed, though, because he has always taken so long recording things, he couldn’t believe that we were able to get something that quickly. But we had our thing down to a real science by the time we started working with him, because we had done so much stuff, we could make a chord chart and get you a really good track in one or two takes. Songs we’d never heard before, we could do that.”
The band’s loose feel (as well as its signature quirks, such as the sanitary napkins Hood says they taped to the ceiling in order to ward off a leak) lent ‘There Goes Rhymin’ Simon’ an irresistible warmth — one entirely appropriate for a series of songs that, while not without a certain wearily mournful vibe, offered listeners a glimpse of Simon exploring themes of fatherhood (‘St. Judy’s Comet’), domestic tranquility (‘Something So Right’), comity (‘One Man’s Ceiling Is Another Man’s Floor’), and plain old happiness (‘Was a Sunny Day’). The result was an immediate hit, spinning off a pair of Top Five singles in ‘Kodachrome’ and ‘Loves Me Like a Rock’ (the latter featuring stellar background vocals from the Dixie Hummingbirds) while nearly topping the album charts and picking up Grammy nominations for Best Male Pop Vocal and Album of the Year.
Like the rest of Simon’s solo albums, ‘Rhymin’ Simon’ was more of a stylistic detour than a document of lasting change; although he’d invite some of the same personnel to join him on some tracks for his next record, ‘Still Crazy After All These Years,’ he was already moving on to his next sound. Still, this album has proven one of Simon’s most fondly remembered collections, with a number of tracks (including ‘Kodachrome,’ ‘Loves Me Like a Rock,’ and ‘American Tune’) remaining fan favorites over the last 40 years.
"There Goes Rhymin' Simon" was my favorite of his solo albums until "Graceland" came out. When Paul and Art split and went their separate ways I knew Paul would have the first solo album released and we all enjoyed this one.
I just don't know. It's always ranked very very highly on "All Time Greats" lists and the critical acclaim is almost unanimous so the fact that I just don't hear what makes it soooooooooo amazing is boggles me.... :
I'm not sure what it is that resonates with different folks when it comes to musical artists they like all I can say is that I feel if Paul had released 5 albums of Graceland's stature he would be considered equal to any solo singer songwriter of any generation. I know he's well respected by his peers, but Graceland was almost like the culmination of all his years as a musician, his pinnacle as it were.
I get into trouble with Steely Dan fans all the time because "The Royal Scam" is my favorite album, everyone else it's Pretzel, Aja, Katy, but me I like Scam the best.
I personally still rank Paul as one of the greatest songwriters ever and an even greater lyricist. I do love how he brought African folk music to the masses during the 1980's when that was FAR from what was trendy though. Maybe that's part of why "Graceland" is such a big deal, for breaking down that ground. I dunno.
You know I'm no stranger to controversial favorites (ahem....Axl) but as far as Steely Dan goes....I can't even pretend to know what I'm talking about.
He did take chances with Graceland, and it's success repaid him tenfold looking back.
I suppose when it comes to Paul's solo records, I think his first one and Graceland are the only two that can rival his work with S&G, I know that's a funny way to look at it but I can't help myself. Art even though he's got one of the most distinctive voices in rock music never came close to doing anything solo that was as good as S&G.
No comment on your Axl appreciation......but as far as SD goes, The Royal Scam was their hardest album, so I've always loved it and the debut the most of their catalog even though I enjoy their whole discography.