Graceland
25th Anniversary Edition

Paul Simon

The power of music to transform and bring recognition to a very real crisis lies at the crux of what made Paul Simon's Graceland the international hit it became. The 1980s were a critical time in South Africa, when apartheid had the country in its grip despite international derision. Simon inadvertently stepped in quicksand when he traveled to Johannesburg to collaborate with black South African musicians, planting the seeds for what would become Graceland. The singer suffered the wrath of apartheid proponents and opponents, alike; yet the final product transcended the great divide and became Paul Simon's career milestone.

Twenty-five years later, celebrations are underway with a number of multimedia sets from Legacy to commemorate one of their biggest selling (14 million and counting), most rewarded (Grammy for Album of the Year, added to United States National Recording Registry) albums in their canon. A box set includes the original 11-track album, a second CD with demos, alternates, and Simon telling the story of Graceland, plus two DVDs.

The first DVD features the critically-acclaimed, award-winning Under African Skies - Paul Simon's Graceland Journey, along with music videos for "You Can Call Me Al" and "The Boy In The Bubble," as well as a clip of Simon and Ladysmith Black Mambazo's appearance on Saturday Night Live, November 22, 1986, performing "Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes." The second DVD is Graceland: The African Concert, Simon's captivating 1987 concert in Zimbabwe.

Where do you start with an album like Graceland? Coming off the less-than-stellar, Heart And Bones, Simon was at a point in his career where he could take chances without too much scrutiny from the powers that be. Hearing a tape of South African music, he was inspired to seek out the musicians and travel to their homeland to capture the easy flow and joy expressed in a sound he grew to love.

After a little trial and error with some of the region's players (and all the political baggage that comes with it), and additional recording in London, New York and Los Angeles, Simon was ready to take the plunge and shape the whole thing into a cohesive piece. Essentially, the task at hand was for the singer to add melodies and words to the grooves, riffs, and runs generated by musicians of different cultures, creating an eclectic collection of songs with that familiar Paul Simon touch, embellished by an array of exotic tones and rhythms.

Who could have predicted the results? "Boy In The Bubble" came from a simple line on the accordion courtesy of one mild-mannered Forere Motloheloa. The main riff behind "You Can Call Me Al" was inspired by a lick played by guitarist Ray Phiri. "All Around The World or the Myth of Fingerprints" sprung from a jam between Simon and Los Lobos. The title track, Simon's personal favorite and another song shaped by Phiri's unique turnaround, would win a Grammy for Song of the Year a year after the album took top honors for Album of the Year.

Graceland is the kind of record you can listen to endlessly and discover something new each time. That discovery continues in the film, Under African Skies, which features interviews with key anti-apartheid activists of the time and musical legends like Quincy Jones, Harry Belafonte, Paul McCartney and Peter Gabriel, along with footage of Simon's reunion with many of the South African musicians on the original album. Learning about Graceland and its unique origins is to appreciate it all the more.

~ Shawn Perry

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