Having enjoyed reviewing the playing styles of some of my guitar playing heroes in recent blog posts, I’ve decided to do a series of reviews of my very favourite albums. Those that have truly influenced me in my career as a composer, lyricist and producer. I’ve chosen 12 which I’ll post over the coming months, in no particular order. And I’ll start with one of the most inspiring collection of songs I’ve ever heard. Graceland by Paul Simon, released in 1986.
In my humble opinion, no one melds lyrics and melody in quite the same way as Paul Simon. And as much as I admire his rich catalogue of work with Simon & Garfunkel, I don’t think he’s ever done it as beautifully as he does on Graceland. A ground breaking mix of South African ‘township jive’ and American pop, recorded alongside a number of skilled and prominent African musicians. I discovered this album as a teenager and it resonates with me just as strongly now as it did all those years ago. This is particularly impressive because when I was 15 years old I often dismissed any song which didn’t feature a mind-meltingly fast guitar solo as sub-standard!
Homeless, Graceland, Under African Skies
I’ll start by saying that I think that every song on this album is wonderful. I couldn’t pick an outright favourite track on Graceland though these three stand out in particular. Title-track GRACELAND is simply beautiful and regularly gives me chills, with a dreamy production worthy of the magnificently abstract lyrics.
HOMELESS (listen below) is an African choral piece performed by Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Quite solemn at times but incredibly uplifting at others. The song has been hugely inspirational for me as a composer and I still dream of being able to return to Africa one day and study this special African style of harmony.
UNDER AFRICAN SKIES is also very peaceful with a lovely hypnotic guitar riff which runs for the duration of the song. I’ve taught this many of times over the years when working with guitar students.
So as you’ve probably already guessed, there aren’t any guitar solos! But for me, Graceland was different; a game-changer. The songs are positive, cover a range of styles and the story behind the album’s conception, recording and production is fascinating. Definitely worth a read online. Culturally the disc is hugely significant and although Simon was rewarded with a ‘Best Album’ Grammy award in 1987, he also received no small amount of criticism from the anti-apartheid movement. As well as a number of well known artists for breaking a cultural boycott imposed against the South African regime of the time. It would be wrong for me to comment on that here, though without this album it’s a fact that I and millions of people worldwide may not have gained exposure to these wonderful sounds, styles and culture.
Influence On Me
As you’ll see in the Soundcloud playlist below, Graceland has had a profound effect on me as a composer, and I’m still able to take inspiration from it over 20 years after first listening to it!
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Take it easy…