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Graceland (album)

Studio album by Paul Simon
Released August 25, 1986
Recorded October 1985–June 1986
South Africa, New York, Los Angeles, London, and Louisiana
Genre Worldbeat, pop, rock, folk
Length 43:18
Label Warner Bros.
Producer Paul Simon
Paul Simon chronology
Hearts and Bones
Negotiations and Love Songs
Alternate Cover
The original album cover released on CD in 1986. The text and image are larger on the CD cover than on the LP cover (displayed above).
Singles from Graceland
  1. "You Can Call Me Al"
    Released: September 5, 1986
  2. "Graceland"
    Released: November 1986
  3. "The Boy in the Bubble"
    Released: March 1987
  4. "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes"
    Released: April 1987
  5. "Under African Skies"
    Released: August 1987

Graceland is the seventh studio album by American singer-songwriter Paul Simon. Produced by Simon and Roy Halee, the album released on August 25, 1986 by Warner Bros. Records. In the early 1980s, Simon's career hit a low point. Following a very successful but contentious reunion with former partner Art Garfunkel, Simon's marriage fell apart and his previous record, Hearts and Bones (1983), was a significant commercial disappointment. In 1984, after a period of depression, Simon became fascinated with a bootleg cassette of South African township music. He planned a trip to Johannesburg in the new year with Halee, where he spent two weeks recording with South African musicians.

Recorded between 1985–86, Graceland features an eclectic mixture of musical styles, including pop, rock, a cappella, zydeco, isicathamiya, and mbaqanga. Simon created new compositions inspired by the recordings made in Johannesburg, collaborating with both African and American artists. Simon faced controversy for seemingly breaking the cultural boycott imposed by the rest of the world against South Africa because of its policy of apartheid. In addition, some critics viewed Graceland as an exploitive appropriation of their culture. Following its completion, Simon toured alongside South African musicians, combining the music of Graceland and their own music.

Despite the controversy, Graceland was a major commercial hit, becoming Simon's most successful studio album. His highest-charting effort in over a decade, Simon's return to the forefront of popular music was considered a remarkable comeback in a fickle music industry. It attracted rave reviews from music critics, won the 1987 Grammy Award for Album of the Year, and sold over 16 million copies worldwide. Graceland has been called one of the best albums of the 1980s with frequency, and is present on list of "greatest" albums by multiple publications. It was added to the National Recording Registry in 2007 for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically important."


  • Background 1
  • Recording and production 2
  • Music 3
    • Composition 3.1
    • Lyrics 3.2
  • Controversy 4
  • Release 5
    • Commercial performance 5.1
    • Critical response 5.2
    • Accolades 5.3
      • Grammy Awards 5.3.1
  • Legacy 6
  • Track listing 7
  • Personnel 8
  • Charts 9
    • Peak positions 9.1
    • Year-end charts 9.2
    • Decade-end charts 9.3
  • Certifications 10
  • Notes 11
  • References 12


Paul Simon, seen here in 1982, underwent a personal and commercial downturn in the early 1980s.

By the time he released his fifth solo studio album, Hearts and Bones (1983), Paul Simon began to encounter a difficult time personally.[1] Two years prior, he had reformed with former partner Art Garfunkel to perform at the hugely successful Concert in Central Park, in which the duo sang before half a million people, a record for the largest concert ever at the time. In response, the previously contentious duo set out on a string of concerts, but they once again clashed while on tour. Warner Bros. Records encouraged Simon to work with Garfunkel on his newest effort, and several vocal tracks were recorded for the album. Despite this, Simon chose not to include them upon the release of Hearts and Bones, which became a sore point between them for many years. The album was unsuccessful commercially, receiving virtually no airplay on FM stations and representing the lowest sales of his career. Meanwhile, his marriage with actress Carrie Fisher collapsed. "I had a personal blow, a career setback, and the combination of the two put me into a tailspin," he would recall.[2]

In 1984, Simon began to emerge from his fallow period, and he became fascinated with a bootleg cassette tape loaned to him by Heidi Berg, a singer-songwriter who he was working with as a producer. It reminded him of 1950s rhythm and blues, and he made a habit of scat-singing melodies over it as the summer closed.[3] He instructed contacts at Warner to track down the artist responsible for the tape, titled Gumboots: Accordion Jive Hits, Volume II. Through South African record producer Hilton Rosenthal, Warner confirmed that the music was composed by either the South African vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo or the Boyoyo Boys.[nb 1] "I first thought, 'Too bad it's not from Zimbabwe, Zaire, or Nigeria.' Life would have been more simple," he said at the time.[4] Simon conferred with Rosenthal, who grew up in Johannesburg and booked the album's recording sessions, to see if he could plan a trip to the city. Rosenthal sent him dozens of records from South African artists, which piqued his curiosity and played into his decision.[3] Producer Roy Halee remembered that Rosenthal "knew everyone," and was able to assemble the variety of musicians that inspired Graceland.[5]

Before leaving the States for Johannesburg with producer Halee, Simon was persuaded to contribute to the recording of "

  1. ^ a b c Ethan Zuckerman (November 29, 2014). "The Internet is not enough: Paul Simon’s "Graceland," Malcolm Gladwell and the importance of real connections".  
  2. ^ Eliot 2010, p. 186.
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  6. ^ Eliot 2010, p. 189.
  7. ^ a b c Eliot 2010, p. 190.
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  10. ^ Eliot 2010, p. 191.
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  12. ^ a b c d e f g  
  13. ^ a b Eliot 2010, p. 192.
  14. ^ Geoff Hill The Battle for Zimbabwe: The Final Countdown 2003 - Page 211 "The song was written jointly by Paul Simon and Joseph Tshabalala, the lead singer of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and the melody is from an old Zulu wedding song: We are homeless, we are homeless . . . Somebody cry, why, why, why?"
  15. ^ Caffrey, Scott (2006-11-03). "Lone Wolf: Hangin' With Steve Berlin". JamBase. 
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  23. ^ Eliot 2010, p. 195.
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  46. ^ "The 100 Greatest American Albums of All-Time".  
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  48. ^ "Top 40 albums — the USA TODAY way".  
  49. ^ Q August 2006, Issue 241
  50. ^ Tyrangiel, Josh (November 2, 2006). - The ALL-TIME 100 Albums"Graceland".  
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  54. ^ "Past Winners Search". Retrieved October 2, 2012. 
  55. ^ Jon Pareles (November 8, 1989). "Review/Music; How African Rock Won the West, And on the Way Was Westernized".  
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  57. ^ "THIRTEEN’s Great Performances Chronicles Paul Simon’s Graceland Journey", press release, WNET THIRTEEN, New York
  58. ^ McCall, Tris, "Paul Simon's 'Graceland' boxed set revisits controversial and brilliant album", The Star-Ledger, June 03, 2012
  59. ^ Andrew Leahey (June 28, 2012). "Paul Simon, Graceland 25th Anniversary Edition". Retrieved November 21, 2014. 
  60. ^ Elisa Bray and Alison King (June 2, 2012). "Paul Simon's Graceland - The album that changed their world".  
  61. ^ "Premiere: Givers, 'That Was Your Mother' feat. Dickie Landry".  
  62. ^ Evan Schlansky (March 17, 2011). "Paul Simon Defends Vampire Weekend".  
  63. ^ Paul Simon (December 13, 2013). "Remembering Days of Miracle and Wonder".  
  64. ^ "Alonzo Johnson". All Music. Retrieved 18 May 2014. 
  65. ^ Billboard - November 1 - 1986. Retrieved October 13, 2012. 
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  69. ^ Billboard. Retrieved 25 September 2011. 
  70. ^ Pennanen, Timo (2006). Sisältää hitin - levyt ja esittäjät Suomen musiikkilistoilla vuodesta 1972 (in Finnish) (1st ed.). Helsinki: Kustannusosakeyhtiö Otava. p. 263.  
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  73. ^ Oricon Album Chart Book: Complete Edition 1970-2005.  
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  83. ^ "Graceland" Paul Simon – (ASP). Hung Medien (in Dutch). Ultratop. Retrieved October 2, 2012. 
  84. ^ "Graceland" Paul Simon – (ASP). Hung Medien (in French). Ultratop. Retrieved October 2, 2012. 
  85. ^ "Top of the Shops - službena tjedna lista prodanih albuma u Hrvatskoj". 2009-06-29. Retrieved 2012-11-03. 
  86. ^ (25th Anniversary Edition)"Graceland" Paul Simon – . Hung Medien, (in Dutch).  
  87. ^ " chartverfolgung". Retrieved October 2, 2012. 
  88. ^ "Top 75 Artist Album, Week Ending 12 July 2012".  
  89. ^ (25th Anniversary Edition) by Paul Simon"Gracelandポール・サイモン-リリース-ORICON STYLE-ミュージック "Highest position and charting weeks of . (in Japanese).  
  90. ^ "Graceland"Paul Simon – (ASP). Hung Medien. Retrieved October 2, 2012. 
  91. ^ "Chart Stats – Album chart for 19/11/2011".  
  92. ^ Caulfield. "Chart Moves: Hall & Oates' Highest Charting Album Since 1988 On Billboard 200, 'Rock of Ages' Soundtrack Debuts". Retrieved October 2, 2012. 
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  96. ^ "Best-selling albums of 1986. - BBC". Retrieved 2011-08-10. 
  97. ^ " - Jahreshitparade 1987". Hung Medien. Retrieved 2010-05-30. 
  98. ^ "Top 100 Albums of '87". RPM. 1987-12-26. Retrieved 2010-12-06. 
  99. ^ "Dutch charts jaaroverzichten 1987" (ASP) (in Dutch). Retrieved April 2, 2014. 
  100. ^ "Les Albums (CD) de 1987 par InfoDisc" (PHP) (in French). Retrieved 2012-01-29. 
  101. ^ " - Schweizer Jahreshitparade 1987". Hung Medien. Retrieved May 29, 2011. 
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  103. ^ "Year End Charts - Year-end Albums - The Billboard 200". Archived from the original on 2007-12-22. Retrieved 2009-08-06. 
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  105. ^ "Årslista Albums – År 2012".  
  106. ^ "Artist Chart History". London:  
  107. ^ "ARIA Australian Top 20 Catalogue Albums – 20 May 2013".  
  108. ^ "French album certifications – Paul Simon – Graceland" (in French).  
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  110. ^ "Dutch album certifications – Paul Simon – Graceland" (in Dutch).  
  112. ^ "Portuguese album certifications – Paul Simon – Graceland" (in Portuguese).  
  113. ^ "Spanish album certifications – Paul Simon – Graceland" (PDF) (in Spanish).   Select the "Chart", enter ' in the field "Year". Select ' in the field "Semana". Click on "Search Charts"
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  115. ^ "American album certifications – Paul Simon – Graceland".   If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Album, then click SEARCH


  1. ^ According to multiple sources, this artist was Ladysmith Black Mambazo, but other articles, including the album's original liner notes, credit the Boyoyo Boys.[1][3]


Region Certification Sales/shipments
Australia (ARIA)[107] 8× Platinum 560,000^
France (SNEP)[108] Platinum 300,000*
Germany (BVMI)[109] 3× Gold 750,000^
Netherlands (NVPI)[110] Platinum 100,000^
New Zealand (RMNZ)[111] Platinum 15,000^
Portugal (AFP)[112] Platinum 40,000x
Spain (PROMUSICAE)[113] Platinum 100,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[114] 5× Platinum 1,600,000^
United States (RIAA)[115] 5× Platinum 5,000,000^

^shipments figures based on certification alone
xunspecified figures based on certification alone


Peak positions



No. Title Writer(s) Length
12. "Homeless" (demo version) Shabalala, Simon 2:28
13. "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" (alternate version) Shabalala, Simon 4:43
14. "All Around the World or the Myth of Fingerprints" (early version) Simon 3:17
  • A 2004 CD reissue of the album includes three previously-unreleased bonus tracks:

Additional tracks

Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Length
6. "You Can Call Me Al"   Simon 4:39
7. "Under African Skies"   Simon 3:37
8. "Homeless"   Shabalala, Simon 3:48
9. "Crazy Love, Vol. II"   Simon 4:18
10. "That Was Your Mother"   Simon 2:52
11. "All Around the World or the Myth of Fingerprints"   Simon 3:15
Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. "The Boy in the Bubble"   Forere Motloheloa, Paul Simon 3:59
2. "Graceland"   Simon 4:48
3. "I Know What I Know"   General MD Shirinda, Simon 3:13
4. "Gumboots"   Lulu Masilela, Jonhjon Mkhalali, Simon 2:44
5. "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes"   Joseph Shabalala, Simon 5:45

Track listing

There was the almost mystical affection and strange familiarity I felt when I first heard South African music. Later, there was the visceral thrill of collaborating with South African musicians onstage. Add to this potent mix the new friendships I made with my band mates, and the experience becomes one of the most vital in my life.[63]

On a personal level, Simon recalled his experiences with the record in 2013:

The album has influenced a wide variety of musicians, among them Regina Spektor, Bombay Bicycle Club, Gabby Young, Casiokids, The Very Best,[60] Givers,[61] and Vampire Weekend. The latter faced particular criticism that their 2008 debut album was too similar to Graceland, due to its origins in African music. Simon later defended the band, remarking, "In a way, we were on the same pursuit, but I don’t think you’re lifting from me, and anyway, you’re welcome to it, because everybody’s lifting all the time. That’s the way music grows and is shaped."[62]

Graceland transcended racial and cultural barriers. "Graceland was never just a collection of songs, after all; it was a bridge between cultures, genres and continents, not to mention a global launching pad for the musicians whose popularity been suppressed under South Africa’s white-run apartheid rule," said Andrew Leahey of American Songwriter.[59] Presenting the album in a modern context, Tris McCall of the Star-Ledger writes that "In a sense, Simon was ahead of his time: The curatorial approach he took to assembling full tracks from scraps of songs and pre-existing recordings is closer in execution to that of Kanye West than it is to any of his contemporaries."[24]

Alongside albums such as Peter Gabriel's So and Talking Heads' Remain in Light, writer Jon Pareles of The New York Times singled Graceland out as an album that popularized African rock in the western world.[55] A 2012 documentary film, Under African Skies, directed by Joe Berlinger celebrates the 25th anniversary of the album's release, and includes archival footage, interviews, discussion of the controversy associated with the original release, and coverage of an anniversary reunion concert.[56][57][58]


Year Recipient/Nominated work Award Result
1987 Graceland Album of the Year[52] Won
Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male[53] Nominated
"Graceland" Song of the Year[53] Nominated
1988 Record of the Year[54] Won

Grammy Awards

Year Publication Country Rank List
Rolling Stone US * The Year In Records[42]
The Village Voice 1 Albums of the Year
New Musical Express UK 6 Albums of the Year
Q * Albums of the Year
1987 Rolling Stone US 56 The Best Albums of the Last Twenty Years[43]
1989 5 The 100 Best Albums of the Eighties[44]
1993 Entertainment Weekly 4 The 100 Greatest CDs of All Time
1997 The Guardian UK 69 The 100 Best Albums Ever
1999 NPR US * The 300 Most Important American Records of the 20th Century[45]
2002 Blender 60 The 100 Greatest American Albums of All-Time[46]
Pitchfork Media 85 Top 100 Favorite Records of the 1980s[47]
2003 USA Today 26 Top 40 Albums of All Time[48]
Rolling Stone 81 The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time[41]
2006 Q UK 39 The 80 Best Records of the 80s.[49]
Time US * All-Time 100 Albums[50]
2012 Slant Magazine 19 Best Albums of the 1980s[51]

It was placed 81st (71st in the updated version from 2012) on the list of Rolling Stone magazine's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time as "an album about isolation and redemption that transcended 'world music' to become the whole world's soundtrack."[41] The song "Graceland" was voted #485 in the list of Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

The success of the album earned Paul Simon the Best International Solo Artist award at The Brit Awards in 1987.[40] It was also ranked #84 in a 2005 survey held by British television's Channel 4 to determine the 100 greatest albums of all time.


Retrospective reviews have continued to be positive. "Graceland became the standard against which subsequent musical experiments by major artists were measured," said AllMusic's William Ruhlmann.[39] Joe Tangari of Pitchfork Media praised the album as a personal favorite, writing, "its songs transcend the context as listening experiences. These songs are astute and exciting, spit-shined with the gloss of production that bears a lot of hallmarks of the era but somehow has refused to age. Taken as a whole, the album offers tremendous insight into how we live in our world and how that changes as we get older."[31] Patrick Humphries of BBC Music wrote that "it may well stand as the pinnacle of his remarkable half-century career [...] Simon fashioned a record which was truly, blindingly original, and – listening to it a quarter of a century on – modern and timeless."[31] "The character of the base music here is overwhelming: complex, ebullient and life-affirming, and in yoking this intricate dance music to his sophisticated New Yorker sensibility, Simon created a transatlantic bridge that neither pandered to nor patronised either culture," said Andy Gill of The Independent.[37]

Initial reviews of Graceland were very positive. Rolling Stone‍‍ '​‍s Rob Tannenbaum characterized the record as "lovely, daring and accomplished."[32] Stephen Holden of The New York Times commented, "With his characteristic refinement, Mr. Simon has fashioned that event into the rock album equivalent of a work of literature."[3] Robert Christgau of The Village Voice deemed it his best album and "a tremendously engaging and inspired piece of work."[4] It was so acclaimed by other critics that he later anticipated that it would top The Village Voice Pazz & Jop critics poll for that year (1986).[38]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic [29]
Robert Christgau A[30]
Pitchfork Media (9.2/10)[31]
Rolling Stone (Very favorable)[32]
Rolling Stone Album Guide [33]
American Songwriter [34]
Drowned in Sound (10/10)[35]
PopMatters (10/10)[36]
The Independent [37]

Critical response

By July 1987, the album had sold six million copies worldwide.[28] As of 2014, its sales have been estimated at over 16 million worldwide.[1]

It was the highest-selling release in South Africa at the time since Michael Jackson's Thriller.[28]

Commercial performance

Rolling Stone‍‍ '​‍s David Fricke summarized the album’s impact: "The robust bounce and soulful melodicism of township jive, which gave Simon’s brainy lyricism a rhythmic kick in his recent work, has become a daily soundtrack in urban yuppie condos and suburban living rooms and on radio airwaves from Australia to Zimbabwe."[28]

Graceland was released by Warner Bros. with little fanfare in September 1986.[27] "It could be that I've reached the point in my career where I can't be a viable commercial force in popular music," Simon remarked preceding its release, referencing the failure of his previous efforts on the charts.[3]

"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. That song to his son is just as good as 'Blue Suede Shoes': 'Before you were born dude when life was great.' That's just as good as 'Blue Suede Shoes,' and that is a new dimension."

Joe Strummer, in an interview with Richard Cromelin for the Los Angeles Times on January 31, 1988[26]


In 2012, Andrew Mueller of Uncut wrote that "Apartheid was of course a monstrosity, but it would be absurd to suggest that Simon's introduction of South Africa's music to the world prolonged it and quite plausible to suggest that it did some small amount to hasten its undoing."[25]

What was unusual about Graceland is that it was on the surface apolitical, but what it represented was the essence of the antiapartheid in that it was a collaboration between blacks and whites to make music that people everywhere enjoyed. It was completely the opposite from what the apartheid regime said, which is that one group of people were inferior. Here, there were no inferiors or superiors, just an acknowledgement of everybody’s work as a musician. It was a powerful statement.[8]

According to Simon,

In contrast, Simon received praise for encouraging South African music from Hugh Masekela, one of South Africa's most prominent musicians and an exiled opponent of apartheid, who subsequently toured alongside Simon and Miriam Makeba.[20] The worldwide success of the album introduced some of the musicians, especially the vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, to global audiences of their own. However, David Defries, a former bandmate of Jonas Gwangwa, criticized the notion that Simon was responsible for making South African music popular: "So, it has taken another white man to discover my people?"[22] Some critics viewed Graceland as an example of colonialism, in which Simon appropriated another culture's music to bring to the global market more polished.[24] As stated by Star-Ledger reporter Tris McCall in 2012, "Does it complicate matters to realize that these musicians were second-class citizens in their own country, one groaning under the weight of apartheid? How could Simon approach them as equal partners when their own government demanded that they treat him as a superior?"[24]

Although supported by the United Nations Anti-Apartheid Committee, as the album showcased the talents of the black South African musicians while offering no support to the South African government, even the ANC protested the collaboration as a break in the cultural boycott.[19] Critics condemned Simon for potentially damaging solidarity with his actions, criticizing him as naive.[22] The African National Congress voted to ban him from the country, while he was also initially added to the United Nations blacklist.[7] Simon was removed from both in January 1987,[23] and he also announced that he had been cleared by the ANC, but this was denied by Dali Tambo, the founder of Artists Against Apartheid. The Graceland tour's stop at London's Royal Albert Hall created protests from Dammers, Paul Weller and Billy Bragg. In 2012, The Guardian wrote that the controversy had been revived to an extent when Simon returned to London for a 25th anniversary concert celebrating the album.[22]

Following the album's success, Simon faced accusations by organizations such as Artists United Against Apartheid,[19] anti-apartheid musicians including Billy Bragg, Paul Weller and Jerry Dammers[20] and the then Ghanaian Ambassador to the United Nations James Victor Gbeho[21] that he had broken the cultural boycott imposed by the rest of the world against the apartheid regime in South Africa, which was in its final years at the time. Preceding his trip to South Africa, Simon sought advice from Harry Belafonte, with whom he had recently collaborated on "We Are the World". Belafonte had mixed feelings on Simon’s idea, and advised him to discuss the matter with the ANC.[22] At an album launch party, Simon bluntly clarified his opinions on the controversy: "I'm with the artists. I didn't ask the permission of the ANC. I didn't ask permission of Buthelezi, or Desmond Tutu, or the Pretoria government. And to tell you the truth, I have a feeling that when there are radical transfers of power on either the left or the right, the artists always get screwed."[22]


Throughout the recording process, he would remain unsure of the album's thematic connection, and he kept dozens of yellow legal pads with random words and phrases he would combine in an attempt to define the album. He derived the album's title from the phrase "driving through Wasteland," which he changed to "going to Graceland," a reference to famous rock and roll icon Elvis Presley's Memphis home. In doing so, Simon believed that it represented a spiritual direction: just as he had embarked on a physical journey to collect ideas in Africa, he would trek to the home of the rock and roll "forefather" in a spiritual journey to revitalize his love for music.[18]

"The Boy in the Bubble" discusses starvation and terrorism, but mixes this with wit and optimism. Simon concurred with this assessment: "Hope and dread – that's right. That's the way I see the world, a balance between the two, but coming down on the side of hope."[12] The song retains the only lyric Simon managed to compose on his South African trip: "The way the camera follows him in slo-mo, the way he smiled at us all." The imagery was inspired by film clips of the John F. Kennedy assassination, as well as Ronald Reagan's attempted assassination attempt.[12] "Homeless" discusses poverty within the black majority in South Africa.[12]

"I'm no good at writing politics," Simon told Robert Christgau in 1986. "I'm a relationship writer, relationships and introspection."[4] In contrast to his previous effort, the more serious Hearts and Bones, the subject matter on Graceland is more upbeat. Simon made a conscious effort to write simply without compromising the language.[12] Composing more personal songs would take him significantly longer to complete, as this process would involve "a lot of avoidance going on."[12] Rewrites were necessary as Simon ended up using overly complicated words.[5] Simon, as a perfectionist, spent time rewriting songs only to scrap these newer versions. Many songs, such as "Graceland" and "The Boy in the Bubble", took three-to-four months, while others, such as "All Around the World" and "Crazy Love", came together much more quickly.[12]

I would play the tracks over and over again, improvising melodies until I thought I could perceive patterns in the music that would enable me to write matching verses. It was very difficult, because patterns that seemed as though they should fit together often didn't. I realized that in African music, the rhythms are always shifting slightly and that the shape of a melody was often dictated by the bass line rather than the guitar. Harmonically, African music consists essentially of three major chords — that's why it sounds so happy — so I could write almost any melody I wanted in a major scale. I improvised in two ways — by making up melodies in falsetto, and by singing any words that came to mind down in my lower and mid range.[3]

Listening to the six recordings made over his two-week trip to Johannesburg, the process of composing lyrics around the recordings was difficult:


"I just said at this stage I don't care whether the album comes out without Los Lobos on it. I was getting really tired of it—I don't want to get into a public slanging match over this, but this thing keeps coming up. So we finished the recordings. And three months passed, and there was no mention of 'joint writing.' The album came out and we heard nothing. Then six months passed and Graceland had become a hit and the first thing I heard about the problem was when my manager got a lawyer's letter. I was shocked." [17]

Paul Simon answered:

"It was not a pleasant deal for us. I mean he [Simon] quite literally—and in no way do I exaggerate when I say—he stole the song from us... We go into the studio, and he had quite literally nothing. I mean, he had no ideas, no concepts, and said, 'Well, let's just jam.' ...Paul goes, 'Hey, what's that?' We start playing what we have of it, and it is exactly what you hear on the record. So we're like, 'Oh, ok. We'll share this song.'" [16]

The Mexican-American group Los Lobos appear on the last track, "All Around the World or The Myth of Fingerprints". According to Los Lobos's saxophone player Steve Berlin, Simon stole the song from Los Lobos, giving them no songwriting credit:[15]

Tshabalala also contributed to "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes", with Ladysmith Black Mambazo and the Senegalese singer-percussionist Youssou N'Dour. It was recorded a week following their appearance on Saturday Night Live. The penny whistle solo featured on "You Can Call Me Al" was performed by Morris Goldberg, a white South African living in New York.[11] "Homeless" was written jointly by Paul Simon and Joseph Tshabalala, the lead singer of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, to a melody from a traditional Zulu wedding song.[14] In the song, "the figure of Joseph becomes the dual image of a dispossessed African black man and the New Testament Joseph."[3] For the song, Simon sent a cassette demo to Tshabalala, and the two later met at Abbey Road Studios in London, where the rest of the song was completed.[11] "Crazy Love" features music from Stimela, Phiri's group that was very successful locally in South Africa.[11]

Graceland audio sample

Problems playing this file? See .

"The Boy in the Bubble" is a collaboration with Lesotho-based Tao Ea Matsekha. "Graceland" features the playing of bassist Bakithi Kumalo and guitarist Ray Phiri. Simon remarks on the album’s original liner notes that it reminded him of American country music, while also sharing a recording anecdote: "After the recording session, Ray told me that he'd used a relative minor chord — something not often heard in South African music — because he said he thought it was more like the chord changes he'd heard in my music."[11] Steel guitarist Demola Adepoju contributed to the track some months after its completion. "I Know What I Know" is based on music from an album by General M.D. Shirring and the Gaza Sisters. Simon was attracted to their work due to the unusual style of guitar playing as well as the "distinctive sound" of the women's voices.[11] "Gumboots" is a re-recording (with additional saxophone solos) of the song Simon first found himself enamored with from the cassette tape that spawned Graceland.[11]

The album alternates between more serious numbers and playful, upbeat songs. Simon thought of the album as similar to composing a play: "As in a play, the mood should keep changing. A serious song may lead into an abstract song, which may be followed by a humorous song."[3] On many songs, Simon and Halee employ a Synclavier to "enhance" the acoustic instruments, creating an electronic "shadow."[3]

Graceland features an eclectic mixture of musical styles including pop, a cappella, zydeco, isicathamiya, rock, and mbaqanga. Mbaqanga, or "township jive", originated as the street music of Soweto, South Africa.[11] The album was strongly influenced by the earlier work of South African musicians Johnny Clegg and Sipho Mchunu, and the Zulu-Western pop cross-over music realized in their band Juluka. Juluka was South Africa's first integrated pop band. Simon includes thanks to Johnny Clegg, Juluka and Juluka's producer Hilton Rosenthal in the "Special Thanks" citation included in Graceland's liner notes. Simon included American 'roots' influences with tracks featuring Zydeco musicians such as Rockin' Dopsie and Tex-Mex musicians.

My typical style of songwriting in the past has been to sit with a guitar and write a song, finish it, go into the studio, book the musicians, lay out the song and the chords, and then try to make a track. With these musicians, I was doing it the other way around. The tracks preceded the songs. We worked improvisationally. While a group was playing in the studio I would sing melodies and words — anything that fit the scale they were playing in.

Paul Simon, 1986[3]



Executives at Warner Bros. were unconcerned with Simon's material, viewing him as a "bad investment" due to the failure of his previous two solo albums.[13] The label was much more invested in the music of Prince and Madonna, and they viewed Simon as a "has-been" performer from another time. This indifference worked in Simon's favor, he would later argue, as they offered no input on his content. According to Halee, he believed executives at the label viewed the duo as "crazy".[13]

He flew over several South African musicians to New York to complete the record three months after the original sessions in Johannesburg,[11] paying them triple union rates in order to lure them to record, as many did not know who he was.[12] He also offered writer's royalties to those who he felt had contributed particularly to the song's compositions.[3] These sessions resulted in "You Can Call Me Al" and "Under African Skies".[11] In engineering the album, Halee edited much of the recordings using digital technology: "The amount of editing that went into that album was unbelievable [...] without the facility to edit digital I don't think we could have done that project."[5] They would transfer from analog tape recordings to the digital workspace, doing this an endless amount of times before it was completed. Halee used tape echo and delay on all songs, paying particular attention to the bass of each song ("The bass line is what the album is all about. It's the essence of everything that happened"). Each song on Graceland was mixed in about two days at the Hit Factory, where most of the vocal overdubs were created.[5]

Graceland was recorded throughout much of 1985–86, in several cities and locations, including New York, Los Angeles, London, and Louisiana. Simon began with writing lyrics at his home in Montauk while listening to the six recordings. The process was slow, but he determined he had sufficient material to begin re-recording the tracks. He played the tracks backward to "enhance their sound," interspersing gibberish to complete the rhythms.[10] He brought together numerous guest musicians during the sessions that produced Graceland, including childhood heroes the Everly Brothers, as well as Linda Ronstadt. Simon's trip to Louisiana with Richard Landry led to the recording of "That Was Your Mother" with local band Good Rockin’ Dopsie and the Twisters. After seeing the group at a dance hall in Lafayette, he recorded the song with the group at a small studio behind a music store. He felt that the accordion, central to zydeco music, would make a nice transition back to his own culture.[3] Afterwards, he contacted Mexican-American band Los Lobos, with whom he recorded "All Around the World or The Myth of Fingerprints" in Los Angeles.

In February 1985, Simon and Halee flew to Johannesburg, intending their visit to be a secret affair. Recording sessions took place at Ovation Studios. Halee was initially reluctant, fearing the studio to be a "horror show," but he was pleasantly surprised to find the studio "very comfortable." The studio was reminiscent of a garage, which Halee feared would be a problem on his end within the production of the recordings, and none of the musicians wore headphones.[5] Simon recorded with artists such as Tao Ea Matsekha, General M. D. Shirinda and the Gaza Sisters, and the Boyoyo Boys Band.[6] Jam sessions ranged from ten to thirty minutes, with Simon and Halee intending to salvage a completed song from it upon their return home.[7] Simon found the music challenging to play well; although it was technically simple, mimicking the style was viewed as demanding.[8] Outside the studio, the mood toward Simon from the general public was hostile, but the Musician's Union was genial toward him.[9] At the end of their two-week trip, Simon found himself relieved of his former personal turmoil and with a revitalized passion for music.[7]

Initial recordings were made in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Later recordings, including mixing, were produced at The Hit Factory in New York.

Recording and production


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