Celebrating 25 years of Paul Simon’s Graceland

It’s the 25th anniversary of Graceland, Paul Simon’s seminal album that has influenced thousands of songwriters since its release. Record label Sony is celebrating with some good old fashioned commerce – an admittedly covetable special edition boxset – but we thought it might be better to ask some of our favourite musicians and music lovers what Graceland means to them…

6Music DJ Sean Keaveny
I’m going to Graceland. Memphis Tennessee. What a line. And that album delivered some heavy exotica to the schoolchildren of Leigh Lancashire in 1986 mostly via the well-exercised medium of dad’s car cassette player.

I guess our nascent music minds had heard earlier incarnations of what would soon become known as “world music” a few years earlier when we helped Malcolm McLaren’s epoch-making ‘Double Dutch’ to the top of the charts but we had no clue it was a new sound. it just sounded like a good tune to us. As did the songs on Graceland.

A 14 year old mind couldn’t quite articulate why but that neat afro-beat, bright bhundu-boy bounce shot shafts of light into the murky post-new romanticism of the charts and made us all smile. Especially ‘You Can Call Me Al’ of course… the fretless bass/Chevy Chase combination proved a total winner.

Did Paul Simon rip off African musicians and exploit them? Or did he merely do for that music what the Stones and the Beatles did for the blues a generation before and introduce their music to a mass audience? I’m not sure, but he certainly minted some massive tunes. And became directly responsible for the slew of Vampire Weekend wannabes that choke our charts to this day. But what a great album!

Emmy the Great
Graceland is a break in case of emergency kind of record. The title song is an actual break up cure. I once lived with someone who played ‘You Can Call me Al’ so many times on my laptop, it was my number one song on Last.fm for three years. I had to quit Last.fm to get rid of it!

Graceland has the most beautiful attention to detail within the lyrics. I love the way he weaves grand statements with incredibly incisive descriptions of real things. It brings you into yourself, and then back to the world.

I also love songs about posh girls – ‘The Cinematographer’s Party’ is the best of these, along with Pulp’s ‘Common People’.

Above all, I love this album for the lyric ‘Losing love is like a window in your heart/ everybody knows you’re blown apart/ everybody sees the wind blow’

There have been a lot of times after relationships where I have told people I’m fine, and thought I was getting away with it. Straight after this stage comes the stage where I can’t stop thinking about that lyric, and how true it is. And how there is no other way to say it.

6Music DJ Tom Robinson
It was an inspired return to form by a major artist whose career had – around the time of the disappointing Hearts & Bones – gone off the boil by his mid forties.

He’d already reinvented himself artistically a number of times, culminating in Still Crazy – an album of such career-capping note-perfect excellence that it had seemed like the last word on age & adulthood for those of us who had grown up with Paul’s music since the early 1960s…

When subsequent albums like One Trick Pony and Hearts & Bones fell short of his own immaculate standards (songs about allergies, for God’s sake) we found ourselves almost wishing he’d quit the field and retire gracefully on his winnings. And then Graceland came zinging out of nowhere and smacked the music world around the back of the head – with an unexpected collbaoration that was fresh, authentic, bang UP TO DATE – and featured classic PS songwriting as good as anything he’d ever written in his life.

It gave hope to all songwriters everywhere of a certain age – and especially those of us fearful that our best work was already behind us. It reminded the world never to say “never”… that it really isn’t over ’til its over.

You never know. Paul Simon may yet come back – even now in his seventies – with breathtaking new work that will show all today’s young whippersnappers like Adele, Lana and Coldplay how it should REALLY be done. And Graceland is the proof.

Photographer, artist and blogger Anika Mottershaw
I love Graceland. It’s an amazing, rich, unique pop album; a complete masterpiece. It brings together so many musical styles so naturally. I love that the title track features vocal contributions from The Everly Brothers… it’s so fitting that they should sing on a Paul Simon record. Ronstadt‘s vocals on ‘Under African Skies’ are beautiful. It’s a very 80s record, but the songwriting is classic and it’s a timeless album. This was Paul Simon at his peak as an artist.

Natalie Roberts, MSF doctor
I love Graceland because the lyrics rule. Because Youssou N’Dour’s on it (I only found that out last year). Because Graceland = family car trips and because the lyrics of the 3rd verse of ‘You Can Call Me Al’ strike a chord. And because there are saxophones all over the shop.

The Leisure Society’s Nick Hemming
I once heard Paul Simon say that Graceland was his favourite song/album, and that he though it was the best he ever did. Listening to that song it’s hard to disagree. The whole album has a wonderful feel, it’s melancholy and uplifting at the same time. The perfect soundtrack to childhood summer holidays.

Nona from Dark Dark Dark
I remember listening to this Paul Simon’s Graceland on my Walkman at the school playground.

There was a giant painted map of the US on the ground, and I would sing along with those wild women on ‘I Know What I Know’ and jump from state to state.

Chris from Ellen & the Escapades
I first discovered Graceland in my dads vinyl collection. It opened a whole new world of music to me, that I’m still exploring today.

Michele Stodart
From the bass lines of ‘You Can Call Me Al’ to the beautifully played South African guitars over a million different rhythms, the ever-grooving ‘Graceland’ is a particular favourite of mine. Happy birthday to a classic album!

Tom McRae
I was 18. He was already my hero. Then Graceland arrived & I knew what I wanted to do with my life.

Georgia Ruth
She looked me over and I guess she thought I was alright / alright in a sort of a limited way for an off-night” #graceluv



A big thanks to all our contributors. Check out their music/radio shows/art/incredible overseas aid work. They’re all excellent humans.

And please let us know your Graceland thoughts and memories below.