Tuesday, July 9, 2019

"You Can Call Me Al" by Paul Simon

Song#:  2824
Date:  08/09/1986
Debut:  83
Peak:  44
Weeks:  14
Genre:  Pop, Adult Contemporary, World

Pop Bits:  After the commercial failure of his 1983 LP Hearts and Bones and the breakup of his relationship with actress Carrie Fisher, Simon went through a depression phase. He thought his viability as a popular artist was over and nothing inspired or motivated him enough to write new music. That is until sometime in '84 he was given a bootleg tape of some South African music. Intrigued by the sounds, Simon began improvising melodies over the music he heard. With ideas flowing, Simon and engineer Roy Halee flew to Johannesburg, got set up in a studio, and worked with local musicians on songs that would make up Simon's seventh solo album, Graceland. The worldbeat sounds combined with Simon's pop was something different and it didn't necessarily excite the folks at his label, Warner Bros., who saw Simon's career as a losing proposition at the time. Still, they went ahead and released the album and this first single was pushed out. The song did pretty well at AC getting to #15 and it didn't do too bad at Pop initially peaking just outside the Top 40. Meanwhile, accolades for the album poured in. Many critics stated it was a career milestone and listed it among the best albums of the year. Sales of the album were good, but then along came the Grammy awards. Simon would be nominated in three categories: Album, Male Pop Vocal, and Producer of the Year. Graceland would win for Album of the Year and it wasn't long before interest in the album would soar. It would reach #3 on the Album chart and would eventually become Simon's biggest selling solo album with sales of over five million in the US alone. This song would get a re-release due to all the hubbub around the album and would do better on its second run (#23 Pop). It was a huge return for an artist whose career was considered over by many folks - including himself.

ReduxReview:  If I remember right, I bought this album not long after it came out. The reviews were excellent and I had heard this song and thought it was a fun little jam. The horns, the tin whistle solo, and the slammin' bass, along with Al and Betty of course, added up to make this one of the most inspired things Simon had done in ages. The production was beefy and added some nice weight to the song. Even Simon sounded invigorated in his delivery. This tune still sounds great today and it's hard not to enjoy the track when it comes on.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) This song mentions Al and Betty. Those names stemmed from something that happened to Simon. Back in 1970, Simon and his first wife Peggy Harper were throwing a party. A friend of theirs happened to bring along French composer/conductor Pierre Boulez. When it came time for Boulez to leave, he called Simon "Al" and Peggy "Betty." It wasn't that he forgot their names, it was just how he interpreted their names as he heard them with his French-leaning ears. The couple may have been introduced to Boulez as Paul and Petty, but he heard/interpreted their names to be Al and Betty. (Oddly, I lived across the street from a couple named Al and Betty for about 10 years...)  2) The first video made for this song was a performance-style one that was created from an appearance on Saturday Night Live. Simon didn't care for the video and wanted something else. A new concept was drawn up with the help of SNL's Loren Michaels and a new video was shot. In it, comedian Chevy Chase lip syncs the song while sitting in a plain white room. Simon joins him and the pair then play various instruments along with the track and even do a little dancing. The new video became popular and helped the song up the chart on its second run.


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