As Paul Simon brings ‘Graceland’ to Hyde Park as part of the album’s 25th anniversary celebrations…
Given that African music is forged in the face of famine, genocide and sectarian beheadings, it’s hardly surprising that British-sized problems like misplaced car keys, paper jams and Ocado delivering a substitute for the HobNobs evaporate with the rubbery bounce of ‘The Boy In The Bubble’…
2It’s a genuine political statement…
With apartheid in full swing circa 1985, Paul Simon was initially condemned for breaking the cultural boycott on South Africa, before the world twigged he was actually giving black musicians a global platform and the regime the finger. All of which feels slightly more tangible than Lily Allen’s ‘Fuck You’.
Most ’60s behemoths would have accompanied ‘Graceland’ with sepia-tinted footage of themselves using a hand-plough and watching a vaccination. Respect to Simon, who simply flew into Johannesburg, stood toe-to-toe with the greatest musicians on the scene, knocked out a stone-cold classic, and quietly donated $100,000 of royalties to anti-apartheid charities.
“Wey-mama-si-lah-in-mah-weh!” boom the Ladysmith Black Mambazo choir in ‘Homeless’, and while it’s entirely possible these men are singing the instruction manual to a domestically-produced mini-kettle, it still sounds incredible.
Vignettes about porky archangels, babies with baboon hearts and roly-poly little bat-faced girls are frankly baffling, but utterly magnetic. “And I could say ooh-ee-ooh, and everybody would know what I was talking about,” notes the singer in ‘Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes’. Well, no, not really, Paul – but carry on.
Although that’s hardly surprising, given that it doesn’t feature Damon Albarn puffing into that fucking Fisher Price recorder.
7It’s massively influential #1
Oh sure: Ezra Koenig cites a suitably esoteric “compilation of ’80s Madagascan pop” as the starting-pistol for Vampire Weekend’s glistening Soweto sound. But come on: ‘White Sky’ and ‘Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa’ are such blatant ‘Graceland’ vibe-felches that even Noel Gallagher would blush.
Respect to the Roses, but ‘Don’t Stop’ essentially is the end of ‘Under African Skies’, three years later, and half as atmospheric. If you insist on doing things backwards – and seriously, must you? – then here’s the blueprint…
Their glovebox is a graveyard for yuppie set-texts, but Phil Collins’ ‘No Jacket Required’ is narrowly averted by the discovery of ‘Graceland’ beneath a tin of travel sweets. Oh God, now your dad is slapping the steering-wheel.
… the tight-fisted bastards never took my pre-pubescent self to see the legendary Graceland concerts of the late-’80s. Our generation finally gets its chance at this year’s 25th Anniversary World Tour (see his website for details).
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The official line remains that we do not play air instruments of any kind. Under pain of torture, though, we’ll confess: every time Baghiti Khumalo’s fruity slap breakdown hits at 3:45, we start wanking off an invisible donkey like Alan Partridge in the static home.
The voicebox pile-up at the climax of ‘Diamonds’ makes the Beach Boys sound like five horny foxes going through your bins.
Circa 1987, cattle-brained guitar-shop dullards were all learning ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’, when they really should have been mastering Ray Phiri’s glorious flourish at the 0:56 mark: a riff so glistening that it sounds like J.Lo’s jewellery box being tipped over a waterfall.
The late Clash man told ‘The Los Angeles Times’ in 1988:
I don’t like the idea that people who aren’t adolescents make records. Adolescents make the best records. Except for Paul Simon. Except for ‘Graceland’. He’s hit a new plateau there, but he’s writing to his own age group. ‘Graceland’ is something new.
And not just the almost-imperceptible-head-nod that you do when you’re leaning on the merchandise stand. We mean properly dance, using your hips and hands, like a disgraced uncle at a wedding disco.
Squabbling with Art Garfunkel and struggling to shift the tepid ‘Hearts & Bones’, in 1985, Paul Simon was widely perceived to be a washed-up half-pint. Then this happened: a comeback so monumental that it should have come with stigmata.
17It sounded fantastic live
‘Graceland’ without the lavish instrumentation would have sounded flat and neutered, like when McAlmont and Butler played ‘Yes’ without a string section. Thankfully, Paul Simon threw his chequebook at the ’80s concerts to create a sound that scraped the heavens, and he’ll surely do the same in 2012.
Classic Album Protocol stipulates that somewhere in the tracklisting there must lurk an incongruous turd that always comes on during a break in conversation at house parties. Not ‘Graceland’, which genuinely renders the skip button obsolete.
Now a quarter-century old, if ‘Graceland’ was a person, it would have a sallow complexion and would occasionally need to get up for a piss in the middle of the night. Somehow, Simon’s original ‘Graceland’ production job retains a spring-heeled vigour that has left purists moaning about the remastered version.
Given that ’86 was the high-water mark for grunting men in studded wristbands singing about pestilence, it’s no wonder that the lush intro of ‘Crazy Love Vol. II’ was like being let out of a headlock and given a head-massage.
Unless you’re an corpulent couple from Iowa called Harv and Jolene, who have a scatalogical obsession with a dead man’s thunderbox.
The body of opinion that Peter Gabriel should be beaten with a nose-flute and drowned in a hessian sack was countered by ‘Graceland’, which drills home the fact that five pockmarked white boys is not the only recipe for musical alchemy.
Previously, the accordion and penny-whistle were kept in a big metaphorical box marked: ‘For Use By Misguided Buskers and The Corrs Only’. From the opening wheeze of ‘The Boy In The Bubble’, this album broadened rock’s horizons.
We know there’s a recession on, but fuck me, surely that’s not beyond you?
OK, I’m spent. You lot can offer your own 25th reason below.