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This Month In Music History: Paul Simon goes it alone

Released on May 1, 1972, Simon's debut album’s chart success confirmed the fact that Simon was fully capable of succeeding on his own.

By Lee Zimmerman

Paul Simon had a high bar to overcome and he only had himself to blame. Bridge Over Troubled Water, his final studio album with childhood friend and longtime collaborator Art Garfunkel, was considered the duo’s masterpiece, yielding three singles (in the title track, “The Boxer” and ‘Cecilia”), not to mention several songs that would go on to become S&G standards. But it had been three years since that last album, and in the interim the pair had gone through an acrimonious break-up, which found both men retreating from the public spotlight. Simon had spent his time teaching songwriting at New York University, and so, when it was announced that he was in San Francisco working on a new album, the public awaited the results with baited breath.


They needn’t had worried. Several of the songs on that self-titled comeback gleaned from the same melodic muse that had inspired his compositions for Simon and Garfunkel, particularly those that had found their way onto Bridge Over Troubled Water. “Run That Body Down” offers a similar sense of wistful melancholia that Simon had embraced on earlier songs such as “The Boxer” and “Homeward Bound,” but in referring to both “Paul” and “Peg” (his wife, who he’d later divorce in 1975), the subject had clearly become more personal. The beautiful ballad “Duncan” followed suit, an affecting first person narrative about a lonely journeyman which represented the uncertainty and misgivings that accompanied the end of sixties innocence and the transition into the stark realities of the seventies. Likewise, the casual sway that accompanied “Armistice Day” and the contemplative “Papa Hobo” found Simon still maintaining his same style.

Yet, even in the midst of that melodrama, Simon was making a joyful noise. His formative fascination with Third World rhythms was manifest in the tracks “Mother and Child Reunion” (a reggae infused number that was, appropriately, recorded in Jamaica) and “Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard,” which foresaw the segueway into world rhythms that would later be realized on Graceland. “Everything Put Together Falls Apart” and “Peace Like a River” provide fine allegorical bookends for Simon’s own sense of self-awareness, the former suggesting the bitter disappointment experienced over his break-up with Garfunkel (“And you can lie, you can cry/For all the good it’ll do you”), the latter representing a feeling of resolve and acceptance (“We sat starry-eyed, we were satisfied/And I remember misinformation followed us like a plague”).

Still, for all the references to past achievements that swirled throughout the record, Paul Simon also found its namesake branching out musically. Although he reunited with producer Roy Halee, who had worked with Simon on Bridge…, and retained several musicians he had worked with in the recent past (Joe Osborn, Hal Blaine and Los Incas, who had been enlisted for “El Condor Pasa”), he also attracted a new crop of notable players as well, among them, Airto Moreira, David Spinozza, Mike Manieri and Stephane Grappelli. At the same time, in listening to such selections as “Run That Body Down,” “Armistice Day” and Paranoid Blues,” it’s easy to imagine Artie in there filling out the harmonies. Likewise, despite his claims of confidence, one has to wonder if the cover shot of Simon shadowed beneath a furry parka didn’t represent at least some sense of tentative uncertainty. Not that it was Simon’s first step out on his own – The Paul Simon Songbook, recorded during an early, temporary hiatus from Simon & Garfunkel while Simon was performing in England takes that honor -- but it was the first to indicate his future course away from his partner.

Released on May 1, 1972, the album’s chart success confirmed the fact that Simon was fully capable of succeeding on his own. It reached Number One in Britain, Japan and Norway, but ironically, only managed to peak at Number Four in the U.S. In fact, it would be another four years until it was certified platinum. In 2004, it was reissued in an expanded version that included a pair of demos recorded in those initial San Francisco sessions (“Me and Julio Down By the School Yard” and “Duncan”) along with an alternate version of “Paranoia Blues.” In retrospect, it pales besides Simon’s later achievements, the poppier There Goes Rhymin’ Simon and the more studied Graceland in particular, but forced to follow in his own hallowed footsteps, it stands up remarkably well. Critics are claiming Simon’s new effort, So Beautiful Or So What is one of his best efforts in ages, but clearly it was Paul Simon that set the standard.

Other early May highlights in music history:

  • Elvis Presley marries Priscilla Beaulieu – May 1, 1967
  • Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash tape a TV special at the Grand Ol' Opry -- May 1, 1969
  • 1969 - Jimi Hendrix is arrested at Toronto International Airport and charged with possession of narcotics. He’s alter released on $10,000 bail. – May 1, 1969
  • Elton John and lyricist Bernie Taupin collaborate for the first time for Elton’s first American release, simply titled Elton John. – May 1, 1970
  • The Rolling Stones' "Brown Sugar" release “Brown Sugar” – May 1, 1971
  • Nixon gets hip… or maybe not. The Carpenters performed at U.S. President Nixon's request at a White House dinner for West German Chancellor Willy Brandt. – May 1, 1974
  • Left brain, right brain… never the twain shall meet. Mick Fleetwood filed for bankruptcy in the U.S. – May 1, 1984
  • Who is that freak? Police are called to a jewelry store after employees reported a suspicious person loitering about. It turned out to be Michael Jackson shopping in disguise. Of course it was! – May 1, 1989
  • Ella Fitzgerald records "A-Tisket, A-Tasket" with Chick Webb’s band. – May 2, 1938
  • For the first time in the history of the Billboard charts, five singles were in both the pop and the R&B Top 10 -- Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel," Carl Perkins' "Blue Suede Shoes," Little Richard's "Long Tall Sally," the Platters' "Magic Touch," and Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers' "Why Do Fools Fall in Love." – May 2, 1956
  • Production begins on Elvis Presley's "G.I. Blues." It was his first post-Army movie. – May 2, 1960
  • Drift away. Ben E. King leaves the Drifters and signs a solo deal with ATCO Records. – May 2, 1960
  • Shocking! Guitarist Les Harvey of Stone the Crows is electrocuted on stage. He died several hours later at the age of 25. – May 2, 1972
  • The Who perform for the first time following the death of Keith Moon. Kenney Jones, formerly of the Faces, was the new drummer. – May 2, 1979
  • Who too. The Who's movie "Quadrophenia" premiered in London. – May 2, 1979
  • Who knew? The South African government bans the Pink Floyd song "Another Brick in the Wall” May 2, 1980
  • "The Fantasticks" opens on Broadway. The show became the longest-running musical in theater history on May 13, 1984 with performance number 10,000. – May 3, 1960
  • Gerry and the Pacemakers made their U.S. TV debut on the "Ed Sullivan Show” performing "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying." – May 3, 1964
  • Help him, Rhonda! Carl Wilson of the Beach Boys goes to court on draft evasion charges. – May 3, 1967
  • Get back. Paul McCartney makes his first American stage appearance in ten years when the "Wings Over America" tour begins in Ft. Worth, Texas. – May 3, 1976
  • Dolly Parton's theme park “Dollywood” opens in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. (Insert cheap joke here) – May 3, 1986
  • Gene Vincent and his group, The Blue Caps, record "Be-Bop-A Lula." – May 4, 1956
  • The "Alan Freed Show" premiered on ABC-TV. It was the first primetime network rock show. – May 4, 1957
  • The winners of the first annual Grammy Awards were announced. – May 4, 1959
  • Go now. The Moody Blues formed in Birmingham, England. – May 4, 1964
  • But did they rock ‘n’ roll all night? KISS performed their first concert in their hometown of New York City. – May 4, 1976
  • Paul Butterfield dies of complications due to a drug overdose at the age of 44. – May 4, 1987
  • The Billboard (later called simply Billboard) began weekly publication instead of publishing monthly after six years. – May 5, 1900
  • Last time around. Buffalo Springfield perform their final concert in Long Beach, CA. – May 5, 1968
  • Creedence Clearwater Revival's release "Bad Moon Rising.” – May 5, 1968
  • Who led him there? Stevie Wonder meets President Nixon at the White House. – May 5, 1969
  • Some people have better taste when it comes to politicos. Paul Simon, Chicago and Carol King performed at a benefit for U.S. Presidential candidate George McGovern. – May 5, 1972
  • Chrissi Hynde (Pretenders) and Jim Kerr (Simple Minds) were married. – May 5, 1984
  • Cleveland rocks. Cleveland, Ohio is chosen as the future home for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame would be built. – May 5, 1986
  • Keith Richards pens “Satisfaction" in a Florida hotel room. – May 6, 1965
  • The sounds of silence. Paul Simon begins his first tour without Art Garfunkel. – May 6, 1973
  • Dolly Parton made her New York singing debut. (Insert second joke here) – May 6, 197
  • Holy house of the holy. Led Zeppelin sets a new record for the largest audience ever -- 76,229 people at a show in Pontiac, Michigan. – May 6, 1977
  • Pearl Jam files a complaint with the U.S. Justice Department against Ticketmaster, charging that the company had a monopoly on the concert ticket business. – May 6, 1994
  • Beethoven's Ninth Symphony was performed for the first time. – May 7, 1824
  • Glenn Miller and His Orchestra record "Chattanooga Choo Choo." – May 7, 1941
  • Where it all began. Bill Haley and the Comets release "Rock Around The Clock.” May 7, 1955
  • Rockin’ Reg. Reginald Dwight changes his name to Elton John. – May 7, 1968
  • The Rolling Stones release "Brown Sugar,” the first record on their own label, Rolling Stones Records. – May 7, 1971
  • A judge in Macon, Georgia dismisses a wrongful death suit against Ozzy Osbourne after a local couple fail to prove their son was inspired to attempt suicide by Ozzy's music. – May 7, 1991
  • Apparently he simply stopped believin’. Steve Perry leaves Journey. May 7, 1998
  • The kids are alright. Pete Townshend is cleared of possessing pornographic images of children and placed on a national register of sex offenders for five years. Police determined that he did not possess images of child abuse but that he was guilty of accessing a child pornography Internet site in 1999. – May 7, 2003
  • And in the end… The Beatles album Let it Be is released. – May 8. 1970
  • Not so tasty. Tom Waits wins $2.5 million when a Los Angeles court rules that Frito-Lay unlawfully used a Waits sound alike in its Doritos ads. – May 8, 1990
  • Now that’s one groovy governor! Jimmie Davis becomes Governor of Louisiana. He wrote the song "You Are My Sunshine." – May 9, 1944
  • Brian Epstein meets EMI producer George Martin who subsequently signs the Beatles to their first recording contract. – May 9, 1962
  • Bet the Pope didn’t mind. Sinead O'Connor refuses to perform on "Saturday Night Live" when she learns Andrew Dice Clay will host. – May 9, 1990
  • His Holiness was probably pleased with this, however. Puff Daddy and Jimmy Page perform their collaboration "Come To Me” on guests on NBC's "Saturday Night Live." May 9, 1998
  • 1969 – Boy, Nixon got to meet all the great bands! The Turtles and the Temptations play the White House upon the request of Tricia Nixon, but Mark Volman doesn’t make too great an impression. He falls off the stage five times! – May 10, 1969
  • But he did not shoot no deputy. Eric Clapton records "I Shot the Sheriff." – May 10, 1974
  • Hello… Goodbye. Apple Records was dissolved. – May 10, 1975
  • Go, go, going, gone. The Go-Go's announce their breakup. – May 10, 1985
  • Buddy Holly and the Crickets audition for "Arthur Godfrey's Talend Scouts" and were rejected. – May 11, 1957
  • The Everly Brothers made their debut on "Grand Ole Opry" in Nashville, TN. – May 11, 1957
  • The Byrds make their TV debut singing "Mr. Tambourine Man" on NBC's "Hullabaloo." – May 11, 1965
  • The Woodstock soundtrack album is released. Acid not included. – May 11, 1970
  • They had his number. John Lennon appears on the "Dick Cavett" TV show and claims that the FBI had tapped his phone. – May 11, 1972
  • She didn’t. Steely Dan's "Rikki, Don't Lose That Number" was released. – May 11, 1974
  • Separated at birth? Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley appear on the same TV special and performed the other's hit. Elvis sang "Witchcraft" and Sinatra sang "Love Me Tender." – May 12, 1960
  • 1963 - Bob Dylan walked out of dress rehearsals for "The Ed Sullivan Show" when CBS censors told him he could not perform "Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues." – May 12, 1963
  • They were both probably better off. Jerry Lee Lewis is granted a divorce from his cousin Myra. – May 12, 1971
  • We’re still waiting for our invitation. Mick Jagger and Bianca Perez Morena de Macias are married. – May 12, 1971
  • And one year later… The Rolling Stones released the album "Exile on Main St. – May 12, 1972
  • Hotel California earns a gold record for the Eagles. – May 12, 1977
  • Dionne the druggie? Dionne Warwick is arrested at Miami International Airport when baggage screeners marijuana cigarettes inside her lipstick container. – May 12, 2002
  • The Beatles film "Let it Be" premiers in New York. – May 13, 1970
  • Bruce Springsteen and Julianne Phillips were married. They separated in 1989. – May 13, 1985
  • Do they really hang out together? The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bette Midler and Barry White were guest voices on the season finale of "The Simpsons." The episode was entitled "Krusty Gets Kancelled." – May 13, 1993
  • Four-eyes forever. Buddy Holly gets a prescription for contact lenses. But can’t get used to them. He continues to wear his trademark glasses. – May 14, 1956
  • Jan and Dean begin recording "Little Old Lady From Pasadena." – May 14, 1964
  • Wheeeeeeeeeeere’s Johnny? Paul McCartney and John Lennon guest on NBC's "Tonight Show" and get stuck with guest host Joe Gragiola. – May 14, 1968
  • The Rascals record "People Got to Be Free." – May 14, 1968
  • 1969 - Jeanne "Genie the Taylor" Franklin and drummer Martin Lamble of Fairport Convention are killed when the group’s van is involved in a tragic accident on the M1 – May 14, 1969
  • A shocking trend seems to be developing. Keith Relf of the Yardbirds is electrocuted by his son's electric guitar. He was 33 years old. – May 14, 1976
  • Odd couple number two. Michael Jackson receives a humanitarian award from President Ronald Reagan at the White House.
  • Atlantic Records celebrated its 40th anniversary with a televised cable show. – May 14, 1988
  • It was a very bad year. Frank Sinatra dies following a heart attack at the age of 82. – May 14, 1998
  • Wake us up whenever he go-gos (to the bathroom that is). George Michael pleads no contest to a charge of committing a lewd act in a park restroom. He was fined $810, given 80 hours of community service, and ordered to undergo counseling. – May 14, 1998
  • Smooth move. Elvis Presley inhales a cap on one of his teeth. He had to be taken to a Los Angeles hospital to have it removed from his lung. – May 15, 1957
  • Stones bassist Bill Wyman releases his album, Monkey Grip, the first solo effort by a member of the Rolling Stones. – May 15, 1974
  • Nils Lofgren replaces "Miami" Steve Van Zandt in Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band. – May 15, 1984
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  • Prince releases the single "Raspberry Beret." – May 15, 1985
  • Too stoned? Stone Temple Pilots singer Scott Weiland (Stone Temple Pilots) wis arrested for trying to buy drugs in a motel parking lot in Pasadena, California. – May 15, 1995