|The Essential Paul Simon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
Paul Simon is in a class by himself.
It's not easy to shift from a successful folk duo to a lasting songwriter career that has reinvented itself at least a couple of times.
Simon's breadth of styles and subject matter are as far-ranging as any songwriter I can think of.
I was listening to the Paul Simon album "Graceland" and posed myself a tough question: What are the Best Paul Simon Songs of All Time?
Impossible, I thought. But I like a good challenge. Here's what I came up with:
1. The Boxer
This story of a young man who moves to the city to seek his fortune is a heartbreaker every time I hear it. The melody does what melodies do in the best songs - convey the same emotions that the lyrics do.
In this case, the loneliness and hopelessness of the singer's situation are brought home by the rising and falling melody notes. He's tried his best and it isn't enough, but while he may be surrendering like a beaten boxer, and leaving, "the fighter still remains."
Some of the most heart-wrenching lyrics in American pop music are: "Asking only workman's wages / I come looking for a job / But I get no offers / Just a come-on from the whores on Seventh Avenue / I do declare, there were times when I was so lonesome / I took some comfort there."
It's fairly amazing that this song caught on at the time it did. Its African-inspired rhythm and meandering bass and guitar aren't exactly traditional pop. But something about the sweetness of the lyrics connected with listeners, and of course our national fascination with Elvis played a role.
I appreciate this song because it uses chord changes you don't expect. And it tells a story of pilgrimage to one of our "holy sites" without being heavy-handed or trying to teach a lesson about the perils of American celebrity (Elvis). It's just sweet, thoughtful, intricate. It's one of a kind.
3. Father and Daughter
OK, I'm biased. I played this song at my daughter's baby naming ceremony. But for my money, there are few songs that express the feeling a parent has for a child without getting maudlin or silly.
Every father knows the powerful truth of the lyric, "There will never be a father / loves his daughter more than I love you." Yet the song stays playful with a hopping rhythm and the cascading guitar lines, West African in flavor, that serve as the song's hook. It's a song that never gets old.
Whether you agree with my list of the best Paul Simon songs or not, there's no disputing he's in a genre of his own, and still making great music.
If you like Paul Simon songs, then you might also check out Justin Jude, an artist with great storytelling skill and beautiful songs. Click here to download a copy of his latest single for free.
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