All of Paul Simon's solo albums ranked

Every Paul Simon solo record reviewed.

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No. 1 - GRACELAND (1986)

I briefly considered whether Still Crazy… or Rhythm of the Saints could be ranked ahead of Simon’s most famous album. They can’t. Every Paul Simon album – even the very best ones – has a track or two that is merely average. Except for Graceland. Each of its eleven tracks is glorious.

A lot has been written about the creation and the controversy surrounding Graceland. I won’t rehash all that. I’ll just offer that in that creation, Simon found the inspiration to write the strongest collection of songs he ever produced, and he surrounded himself with a wealth of musicians – old friends like the Everly Brothers, Linda Ronstadt, and Steve Gadd, and new friends like Ray Phiri, Bakithi Kumalo and the vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo – who helped him deliver on his ambitious vision.

Other writers long ago identified that Simon didn’t so much dive into the world of mbaqanga and zydeco as pull out pieces of those international traditions in support of his own pop sensibilities. These are classic pop songs that offer up colors and passions never really heard before in Western pop. Simon was the ideal artist to accomplish this. Perhaps it dates back the gift of Queens that Malcolm Gladwell identified in his discussions with Simon about his creative process.

If you search internet music sites for Simon’s albums, you will find most include some bonus tracks, or outtakes, or rough tracks. Not Graceland. It is just those eleven songs in full bloom. And that’s good because that way, it ends with “All Around the World or the Myth of Fingerprints,” a boppin’ accordion-fueled zydeco tune that suggests that all creation, regardless of national origin, is drawn from the same well.

Paul Simon’s fingerprints are all over modern pop music. But those fingerprints are smudged, or perhaps embellished, by his constant search for other artists and art forms to help him create good pop music. He has traveled a long way from “I am a Rock” to Seven Psalms, and we’ve been fortunate that he has chosen to document that journey in his songs.

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