Discog Fever - Rating and Reviewing Every Paul Simon Album (Part 1)

by Jeff Fiedler

Discog Fever is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com, rating and reviewing a band's entire catalogue of studio albums.

Paul Simon (1971, Columbia)

A -

An album that tends to be fairly overrated by most music critics, Simon’s solo debut is certainly still a good disc – and a very adventurous and experimental one musically, certainly when compared to any of the Simon & Garfunkel albums – but it’s also something of an acquired taste, this easily being the least commercial of his solo albums from the Seventies. It’s certainly an intriguing disc, but most of the cuts don’t sink in half as easily as Simon’s best compositions typically do, and it’s hard not to wish the songs were just a little catchier or more commercial. This isn’t to say the album is completely lacking for sing-along-worthy cuts, the album yielding two deserving hits in the reggae-influenced Top Ten single “Mother and Child Reunion” and the incredibly playful “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard,” which even memorably boasts a whistling solo (not something you find in a lot of pop singles!) Of the non-singles, “Armistice Day,” “Peace Like a River,” the bottleneck-slide-heavy “Paranoia Blues,” and “Run That Body Down” are the ones that fare the best, but none of them exactly sound like hit material, either.  

There Goes Rhymin’ Simon (1973, Columbia)

A +

Perhaps the best solo album he ever made, and certainly one of his most fun solo outings, this album boasts three Top 40 hits: the brilliant and effervescent “Kodachrome” (recorded with and co-produced by the famed Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section), the gospel-flavored “Loves Me Like a Rock” (featuring the Dixie Hummingbirds), and the ever-stirring “American Tune.” While nothing else here is quite as insanely catchy as “Kodachrome” and “Loves Me Like a Rock” are, the strength of the surrounding cuts is still impressive, be it the easygoing “Learn How to Fall,” “Was a Sunny Day,” and “St. Judy’s Comet” (all quite underrated songs), the festive “Take Me to the Mardi Gras,” and the mellow “Something So Right,” and the quality of the songwriting is a lot more consistent than it was on the debut.

Still Crazy After All These Years (1975, Columbia)

A

It won a Grammy for Album of the Year (resulting in a hilarious and legendary acceptance speech where Simon thanked Stevie Wonder “for not releasing an album this year”), but, as deserving of the trophy though it was, this album’s been just a tad overrated over the years and isn’t quite as easily enjoyable as Rhymin’ Simon was, if only for the fact that it’s a somewhat depressing – and noticeably rather cynical – album, lacking the vibrancy and sunniness of its predecessor. This isn’t to say the album completely lacks fun – or even humorous – moments, Simon showing his playful side with cuts like the wonderful and jazzy, if acerbic Number One hit “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” but the album is so overly somber that when the mood does perk up – as it does on the Top 40-charting high-energy gospel cut “Gone at Last,” done as a duet with the criminally-underrated Phoebe Snow – it ends up sounding out of place. The one-off reunion cut with Art Garfunkel, the Top Ten hit “My Little Town,” is quite entertaining, but bear in mind that it doesn’t exactly sound like the Simon & Garfunkel material of old, either. The mellow electric-piano-driven Top 40 title cut is charming, and the mildly Randy Newman-esque “You’re Kind” is appealing as well. The only cut that truly doesn’t work is the especially downbeat Side One closer “Night Game,” which, if you’re listening to this disc on CD or through a streaming service, also makes for a really jarring transition into the feverish “Gone at Last.”

Greatest Hits, Etc. (1977, Columbia)

A –

Considering that Simon only had three solo albums under his belt at the time of this compilation, it shouldn’t have been a difficult task to get this package perfect, but the track selection is somewhat questionable, bypassing two of his eight Top 40 hits to date (the Top Ten hit “My Little Town” is absent, as is the Phoebe Snow duet “Gone at Last”) while including a little too much in the way of non-singles, some of them good (“Take Me to the Mardi Gras,” “Something So Right”), others more forgettable (“Duncan,” “I Do It for Your Love,” “Have a Good Time”). The real draw of this package is the two new studio cuts, which are both first-rate: the insightful and intelligent pop of the Top Ten hit “Slip Slidin’ Away” (featuring, interestingly enough, future country stars The Oak Ridge Boys on background vocals) and the playful story-song “Stranded in a Limousine,” one of the great hidden gems in all of Simon’s solo catalog.

One Trick Pony (1980, Warner Bros.)

B –

Paul’s first outing with Warner Bros. after spending the last decade-and-a-half with Columbia was this soundtrack of sorts to the film of the same name, which Simon both starred in and wrote. Like the movie itself, this is a somewhat forgettable album – not bad, mind you, but easy to overlook, if only because it’s become lost to time and gets very little in the way of radio airplay these days. There are a couple minor gems to be found here, namely the live-in-concert title cut (a Top 40 hit that has strangely never showed up on any of Paul’s many hits compilations over the years), the ballad “How the Heart Approaches What It Yearns,” and “That’s Why God Made the Movies,” but the best cut by far is the fun and playful Top Ten hit “Late in the Evening,” which is even danceable enough to provide the soundtrack for a conga line.

Hearts and Bones (1983, Warner Bros.)

A

It was a commercial flop, but Simon’s second album for Warner Bros. – which originally began life as a Simon & Garfunkel reunion disc before Simon had a change of heart – is perhaps his most underrated album. Don’t let the poor sales of the album fool you – the album’s actually more commercial than you might think (though not exactly as naturally radio-friendly as Rhymin’ Simon, either), and it’s likely that the album’s weak chart performance was simply the result of poor single selection. (“Allergies” might be one of the more uptempo songs here, but hit material it definitely is not, and it understandably missed the Top 40, the first lead-off single from a Paul Simon solo album to suffer that fate.)  The title for the most fun song here arguably belongs to the funky second-side opener “Think Too Much” (actually one of two completely different songs by that title included here, which is a little confusing), though the best song overall would either have to go to the lovely “Train in the Distance” or the moving tribute “The Late Great Johnny Ace.” More casual fans aren’t likely to recognize any of the songs on here on first listen, but the disc is quite appealing and it continues to grow on you with every listen.