Paul Simon - Graceland

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Paul Simon - Graceland
Graceland cover - Paul Simon.jpg
Studio album by Paul Simon
Released August 25, 1986
Recorded October 1985 – June 1986
Studio South Africa, New York City, Los Angeles, London, and Louisiana
Genre Worldbeat, pop, rock, folk
Length 43:18
Label Warner Bros.
Producer Paul Simon
Paul Simon chronology
Hearts and Bones
Negotiations and Love Songs
Singles from Graceland
  1. "You Can Call Me Al"
    Released: September 5, 1986
  2. "Graceland"
    Released: November 1986
  3. "The Boy in the Bubble"
    Released: March 1987
  4. "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes"
    Released: April 1987
  5. "Under African Skies"
    Released: August 1987


  "Graceland" is the seventh solo studio album by American singer-songwriter. Produced by Simon and Roy Halee, the album was released on August 25, 1986, by Warner Bros. Records. In the early 1980s, Simon's career hit a low point. Following a very successful but contentious reunion with former partner Art Garfunkel, Simon's marriage fell apart and his previous record, "Hearts and Bones" (1983), was a significant commercial disappointment. In 1984, after a period of depression, Simon became fascinated with a bootleg cassette of South African township music. He planned a trip to Johannesburg in the new year with Halee, where he spent two weeks recording with South African musicians.

Recorded in 1985 and 1986, Graceland features an eclectic mixture of musical styles, including pop, rock, a cappella, zydeco, isicathamiya, and mbaqanga. Simon created new compositions inspired by the recordings made in Johannesburg, collaborating with both African and American artists. Simon faced controversy for seemingly breaking the cultural boycott imposed by the rest of the world against South Africa because of its policy of apartheid. In addition, some critics viewed Graceland as an exploitive appropriation of their culture. Following its completion, Simon toured alongside South African musicians, combining the music of Graceland and their own music.

Despite the controversy, Graceland was a major commercial hit, becoming Simon's most successful studio album. His highest-charting effort in over a decade, Simon's return to the forefront of popular music was considered a remarkable comeback in a fickle music industry. It attracted excellent reviews from music critics, won the 1987 Grammy Award for Album of the Year, and sold over 16 million copies worldwide. Graceland has frequently been called one of the best albums of the 1980s, and is present on lists of greatest albums created by numerous publications. It was added to the National Recording Registry in 2007, having been judged to meet the Registry's admission criterion of being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically important."


Paul Simon, seen here in 1982, underwent a personal and commercial downturn in the early 1980s.


By the time he released his sixth solo studio album, "Hearts and Bones" (1983), Simon had begun to experience difficult times. Two years previously, he had reformed with former partner Art Garfunkel to perform at the hugely successful Concert in Central Park, in which the duo sang before half a million people, the largest concert audience ever at the time aside from the Summer Jam at Watkins Glen. In response, the previously contentious duo set out on a string of concerts, but they once again clashed while on tour. Warner Bros. Records encouraged Simon to work with Garfunkel on his newest effort, and several vocal tracks were recorded for the album. Despite this, Simon chose not to include them upon the release of Hearts and Bones, which became a sore point between them for many years. The album was unsuccessful commercially, receiving virtually no airplay on FM stations and representing the lowest sales of his career. Meanwhile, his marriage with actress Carrie Fisher collapsed. "I had a personal blow, a career setback, and the combination of the two put me into a tailspin," he would recall.

In 1984, Simon began to emerge from his fallow period, and he became fascinated with a bootleg cassette tape loaned to him by Heidi Berg, a singer-songwriter who he was working with as a producer. It reminded him of 1950s rhythm and blues, and he made a habit of scat-singing melodies over it as the summer closed. He instructed contacts at Warner to track down the artist responsible for the tape, titled Gumboots: Accordion Jive Hits, Volume II. Through South African record producer Hilton Rosenthal, Warner confirmed that the music was composed by either the South African vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo or the Boyoyo Boys. "I first thought, 'Too bad it's not from Zimbabwe, Zaire, or Nigeria.' Life would have been more simple," he said at the time. Simon conferred with Rosenthal, who grew up in Johannesburg and booked the album's recording sessions, to see if he could plan a trip to the city. Rosenthal sent him dozens of records from South African artists, which piqued his curiosity and played into his decision. Producer Roy Halee remembered that Rosenthal "knew everyone," and was able to assemble the variety of musicians that inspired Graceland.

Before leaving the States for Johannesburg with producer Halee, Simon was persuaded to contribute to the recording of "We Are the World", a charity single benefiting African famine relief organized by Quincy Jones and Harry Belafonte. Released in March 1985, the single became one of the top-selling singles ever released. Simon spoke with Jones and Belafonte on the decision to fly to South Africa to record, considering the region's charged political atmosphere, and they both encouraged him to make the trip. In addition, the black musician's union in the country voted to let Simon come, as it could potentially benefit their culture's music, placing it on an international stage.


Recording and production

Initial recordings were made in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Later recordings, including mixing, were produced at The Hit Factory in New York City.


In February 1985, Simon and Halee flew to Johannesburg, intending their visit to be a secret affair. Recording sessions took place at Ovation Studios. Halee was initially reluctant, fearing that the studio would be a "horror show," but he was pleasantly surprised to find the studio "very comfortable." The studio was reminiscent of a garage, which Halee feared would be a problem on his end within the production of the recordings, and none of the musicians wore headphones. Simon recorded with artists such as Tao Ea Matsekha, General M. D. Shirinda and the Gaza Sisters, and the Boyoyo Boys Band. Jam sessions ranged from ten to thirty minutes, with Simon and Halee intending to salvage a completed song from it upon their return home. Simon found the music challenging to play well; although it was technically simple, mimicking the style was viewed as demanding. Outside the studio, the mood toward Simon from the general public was hostile, but the Musician's Union received him warmly. At the end of their two-week trip, Simon found himself relieved of his former personal turmoil and with a revitalized passion for music.

Graceland was recorded throughout much of 1985–86, in several cities and locations, including New York, Los Angeles, London, and Louisiana. Simon began by writing lyrics at his home in Montauk while listening to the six recordings. The process was slow, but he determined he had sufficient material to begin re-recording the tracks. He played the tracks backward to "enhance their sound," interspersing gibberish to complete the rhythms. He brought together numerous guest musicians during the sessions that produced Graceland, including childhood heroes the Everley Brothers, as well as Linda Ronstadt. Simon's trip to Louisiana with Richard Landrey led to the recording of "That Was Your Mother" with local band Good Rockin' Dopsie and the Twisters. After seeing the group at a dance hall in Lafayette, he recorded the song with the group at a small studio behind a music store. He felt that the accordian, central to zydeco music, would make a pleasing transition back to his own culture. Afterwards, he contacted Mexican-American band Los Lobos, with whom he recorded "All Around the World or The Myth of Fingerprints" in Los Angeles.

He flew over several South African musicians to New York to complete the record three months after the original sessions in Johannesburg, paying them triple union rates in order to lure them to record, as many did not know who he was. He also offered writer's royalties to those who he felt had contributed particularly to the song's compositions. These sessions resulted in "You Can Call Me Al" and "Under African Skies". In engineering the album, Halee edited much of the recordings using digital technology: "The amount of editing that went into that album was unbelievable [...] without the facility to edit digital I don't think we could have done that project." They would transfer from analog tape recordings to the digital workspace, doing this an endless amount of times before it was completed. Halee used tape echo and delay on all songs, paying particular attention to the bass of each song ("The bass line is what the album is all about. It's the essence of everything that happened"). Each song on Graceland was mixed in about two days at the Hit Factory, where most of the vocal overdubs were created.

Executives at Warner Bros. were unconcerned with Simon's material, viewing him as a "bad investment" due to the failure of his previous two solo albums. The label was much more invested in the music of Prince and Madonna, and they viewed Simon as a "has-been" performer from another time. This indifference worked in Simon's favor, he would later argue, as they offered no input on his content. According to Halee, he believed executives at the label viewed the duo as "crazy".



My typical style of songwriting in the past has been to sit with a guitar and write a song, finish it, go into the studio, book the musicians, lay out the song and the chords, and then try to make a track. With these musicians, I was doing it the other way around. The tracks preceded the songs. We worked improvisationally. While a group was playing in the studio I would sing melodies and words — anything that fit the scale they were playing in.

Paul Simon, 1986

Graceland features an eclectic mixture of musical styles including pop, a cappella, zydeco, isicathamiya, rock, and mbaqanga. Mbaqanga, or "township jive", originated as the street music of Soweto, South Africa. The album was strongly influenced by the earlier work of South African musicians Johnny Clegg and Sipho Mchunu, and the Zulu-Western pop cross-over music realized in their band Juluka. Juluka was South Africa's first integrated pop band. Simon includes thanks to Johnny Clegg, Juluka and Juluka's producer Hilton Rosenthal in the "Special Thanks" citation included in Graceland's liner notes. Simon included American 'roots' influences with tracks featuring Zydeco musicians such as Rockin' Dopsie and Tex-Mex musicians.

The album alternates between more serious numbers and playful, upbeat songs. Simon thought of the album as similar to composing a play: "As in a play, the mood should keep changing. A serious song may lead into an abstract song, which may be followed by a humorous song." On many songs, Simon and Halee employ a Synclavier to "enhance" the acoustic instruments, creating an electronic "shadow."

"The Boy in the Bubble" is a collaboration with Lesotho-based Tao Ea Matsekha. "Graceland" features the playing of bassist Bakithi Kumalo and guitarist Ray Phiri. Simon remarks on the album’s original liner notes that it reminded him of American country music, while also sharing a recording anecdote: "After the recording session, Ray told me that he'd used a relative minor chord — something not often heard in South African music — because he said he thought it was more like the chord changes he'd heard in my music." Steel guitarist Demola Adepoju contributed to the track some months after its completion. "I Know What I Know" is based on music from an album by General M.D. Shirring and the Gaza Sisters. Simon was attracted to their work due to the unusual style of guitar playing as well as the "distinctive sound" of the women's voices. "Gumboots" is a re-recording (with additional saxophone solos) of the song Simon first found himself enamored with from the cassette tape that spawned Graceland.

Joseph Shabalala also contributed to "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes", with Ladysmith Black Mambazo and the Senegalese singer-percussionist Youssou N'Dour. It was recorded a week following their appearance on Saturday Night Live. The penny whistle solo featured on "You Can Call Me Al" was performed by Morris Goldberg, a white South African living in New York. "Homeless" was written jointly by Paul Simon and Joseph Shabalala, the lead singer of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, to a melody from a traditional Zulu wedding song. In the song, "the figure of Joseph becomes the dual image of a dispossessed African black man and the New Testament Joseph." For the song, Simon sent a cassette demo to Shabalala, and the two later met at Abbey Road Studios in London, where the rest of the song was completed. "Crazy Love" features music from Stimela, Phiri's group that was very successful locally in South Africa.




"I don't like the idea that people who aren't adolescents make records. Adolescents make the best records. Except for Paul Simon. Except for Graceland. He's hit a new plateau there, but he's writing to his own age group. Graceland is something new. That song to his son is just as good as 'Blue Suede Shoes': 'Before you were born dude when life was great.' That's just as good as 'Blue Suede Shoes,' and that is a new dimension."

—Joe Strummer, in an interview with Richard Cromelin for the Los Angeles Times on January 31, 1988Graceland was released by Warner Bros. with little fanfare in September 1986. "It could be that I've reached the point in my career where I can't be a viable commercial force in popular music," Simon remarked preceding its release, referencing the failure of his previous efforts on the charts.

Rolling Stone's David Fricke summarized the album’s impact: "The robust bounce and soulful melodicism of township jive, which gave Simon’s brainy lyricism a rhythmic kick in his recent work, has become a daily soundtrack in urban yuppie condos and suburban living rooms and on radio airwaves from Australia to Zimbabwe."


Critical response

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 5/5 stars
Robert Christgau A
Pitchfork Media (9.2/10)
Rolling Stone (5/5 stars)
Rolling Stone Album Guide 5/5 stars
American Songwriter 5/5 stars
Drowned in Sound (10/10)
Pop Matters (10/10)
The Independent 5/5 stars

Initial reviews of "Graceland" were very positive. Rolling Stone's Rob Tannenbaum characterized the record as "lovely, daring and accomplished." Stephen Holden of The New York Times commented, "With his characteristic refinement, Mr. Simon has fashioned that event into the rock album equivalent of a work of literature." Robert Christgau of The Village Voice deemed it his best album and "a tremendously engaging and inspired piece of work." It was so acclaimed by other critics that he later anticipated that it would top The Village Voice Pazz and Jop critics poll for that year (1986).

Retrospective reviews have continued to be positive. "Graceland became the standard against which subsequent musical experiments by major artists were measured," said AllMusic's William Ruhlmann. Joe Tangari of Pitchfork Media praised the album as a personal favorite, writing, "its songs transcend the context as listening experiences. These songs are astute and exciting, spit-shined with the gloss of production that bears a lot of hallmarks of the era but somehow has refused to age. Taken as a whole, the album offers tremendous insight into how we live in our world and how that changes as we get older." Patrick Humphries of BBC Music wrote that "it may well stand as the pinnacle of his remarkable half-century career [...] Simon fashioned a record which was truly, blindingly original, and – listening to it a quarter of a century on – modern and timeless." "The character of the base music here is overwhelming: complex, ebullient and life-affirming, and in yoking this intricate dance music to his sophisticated New Yorker sensibility, Simon created a transatlantic bridge that neither pandered to nor patronised either culture," said Andy Gill of The Independent.


The success of the album earned Paul Simon the Best International Solo Artist award at The Brit Awards in 1987. It was also ranked #84 in a 2005 survey held by British television's Channel 4 to determine the 100 greatest albums of all time.

It was placed 81st (71st in the updated version from 2012) on the list of Rolling Stone magazine's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time as "an album about isolation and redemption that transcended 'world music' to become the whole world's soundtrack." The song "Graceland" was voted #485 in the list of Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Year Publication Country Rank List
Rolling Stone US * The Year In Records
The Village Voice 1 Albums of the Year
New Musical Express UK 6 Albums of the Year
Q * Albums of the Year
1987 Rolling Stone US 56 The Best Albums of the Last Twenty Years
1989 5 The 100 Best Albums of the Eighties
1993 Entertainment Weekly 4 The 100 Greatest CDs of All Time
1997 The Guardian UK 69 The 100 Best Albums Ever
1999 NPR US * The 300 Most Important American Records of the 20th Century
2002 Blender 60 The 100 Greatest American Albums of All-Time
Pitchfork media 85 Top 100 Favorite Records of the 1980s
2003 USA Today 26 Top 40 Albums of All Time
Rolling Stone 81 The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time
2006 Q UK 39 The 80 Best Records of the 80s.
Time US * All-Time 100 Albums
2012 Slant Magazine 19 Best Albums of the 1980s

Grammy Awards

Year Nominee/Work Award Result
1987 Graceland Album of the Year Won
Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male Nominated
"Graceland" Song of the Year Nominated
1988 Record of the Year Won



Alongside albums such as Peter Gabriel's So and Talking Heads' "Remain in the Light", writer Jon Pareles of The New York Times singled "Graceland" out as an album that popularized African rock in the western world. A 2012 documentary film, Under African Skies, directed by Joe Berlinger celebrates the 25th anniversary of the album's release, and includes archival footage, interviews, discussion of the controversy associated with the original release, and coverage of an anniversary reunion concert.

Graceland transcended racial and cultural barriers. "Graceland was never just a collection of songs, after all; it was a bridge between cultures, genres and continents, not to mention a global launching pad for the musicians whose popularity been suppressed under South Africa’s white-run apartheid rule," said Andrew Leahey of American Songwriter. Presenting the album in a modern context, Tris McCall of the Star-Ledger writes that "In a sense, Simon was ahead of his time: The curatorial approach he took to assembling full tracks from scraps of songs and pre-existing recordings is closer in execution to that of Kanye West than it is to any of his contemporaries."

On a personal level, Simon recalled his experiences with the record in 2013:

There was the almost mystical affection and strange familiarity I felt when I first heard South African music. Later, there was the visceral thrill of collaborating with South African musicians onstage. Add to this potent mix the new friendships I made with my band mates, and the experience becomes one of the most vital in my life.

Track listing

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. "The Boy in the Bubble"   Forere Motloheloa, Paul Simon 3:59
2. "Graceland"   Simon 4:48
3. "I Know What I Know"   General MD Shirinda, Simon 3:13
4. "Gumboots"   Lulu Masilela, Jonhjon Mkhalali, Simon 2:44
5. "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes"   Joseph Shabalala, Simon 5:45
Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Length
6. "You Can Call Me Al"   Simon 4:39
7. "Under African Skies"   Simon 3:37
8. "Homeless"   Shabalala, Simon 3:48
9. "Crazy Love, Vol. II"   Simon 4:18
10. "That Was Your Mother"   Simon 2:52
11. "All Around the World or the Myth of Fingerprints"   Simon 3:15


  • Paul Simon – lead vocals (all tracks), acoustic guitar (tracks 1 and 11), guitar (tracks 5 and 7), Synclavier (tracks 3 and 4), six-string electric bass (track 6), background vocals (tracks 1, 2, 4, 6, and 9)
  • Bob Mounsey – synthesizer (tracks 1 and 6), horn arrangement (track 6) (uncredited on album)
  • Ray Phiri – guitar (tracks 2, 5, 6, 7, and 9)
  • Adrian Belew – guitar synthesizer (tracks 1, 6, and 9), guitar (track 7)
  • Demola Adepoju – pedal steel guitar (track 2)
  • Daniel Xilakazi – lead and rhythm guitar (track 4)
  • Sherman Robertson – guitar (track 10)
  • César Rosas – guitar and backing vocals (track 11)
  • David Hidalgo – guitar, acordian, and backing vocals (track 11)
  • Conrad Lozano – bass (track 11)
  • Alonzo Johnson – bass (track 10)
  • Lloyd Lelose – bass (track 9)
  • Bakithi Kumalo – bass (tracks 1, 2, 5, 6, and 7)
  • Isaac Mtshali – drums (tracks 5, 6, 7, and 9)
  • Vusi Khumalo – drums (tracks 1 and 2)
  • Petrus Manile – drums (track 4)
  • Alton Rubin, Jr. – drums (track 10)
  • Louie Pérez – drums (track 11)
  • Steve Gadd – additional drums (track 11)
  • Makhaya Mahlangu – percussion (tracks 1 and 2)
  • Ralph MacDonald – percussion (tracks 4, 6, 7, and 11)
  • Youssou N'Dour – percussion (track 5)
  • Babacar Faye – percussion (track 5)
  • Assane Thiam – percussion (track 5)
  • James Guyatt – percussion (tracks 5, 6 and 7)
  • Lulu Masilela – tambourines (track 4)
  • David Rubin – washboard (track 10)
  • Alton Rubin Sr. – accordion (track 10)
  • Jonhjon Mkhalali – accordion (track 4)
  • Forere Motloheloa – accordion (track 1)
  • Barney Rachabane – saxophone (track 4)
  • Mike Makhalemele – saxophone (track 4)
  • Teaspoon Ndela – saxophone (track 4)
  • Lenny Pickett – tenor saxophone (track 5)
  • Earl Gardner – trumpet (track 5)
  • Alex Foster – alto saxophone (track 5)
  • Ronnie Cuber – bass and baritone saxophone (track 6)
  • Jon Faddis – trumpet (track 6)
  • Randy breker – trumpet (track 6)
  • Lew Soloff – trumpet (track 6)
  • Alan Rubin – trumpet (track 6)
  • Dave Bargeron – trombone (track 6)
  • Kim Allan Cissel – trombone (track 6)
  • Morris Goldberg – penny whistle (track 6), soprano saxophone (track 9)
  • Johnny Hoyt – saxophone (track 10)
  • Steve Berlin – saxophone (track 11)
  • The everly Brothers – additional vocals (track 2)
  • The Gaza Sisters – vocals (track 3)
  • Diane Garisto – backing vocals (track 4)
  • Michelle Cobbs – backing vocals (track 4)
  • Ladysmith Black Mambazo – vocals (tracks 5 and 8)
  • Joseph Shabalala – vocals (track 8)
  • Linda Ronstadt – additional vocals (track 7)
  • Roy Halee  – engineer


Weekly charts


Region Certification Certified units/Sales
Australia (ARIA) 8× Platinum 560,000^
France (SNEP) Platinum 300,000*
Germany (BVMI) 3× Gold 750,000^
Netherlands (NVPI) Platinum 100,000^
New Zealand (RMNZ) Platinum 15,000^
Portugal (AFP) Platinum 40,000^
Spain (PROMUSICAE) Platinum 100,000^
United Kingdom (BPI) 7× Platinum 2,480,000+^
United States (RIAA) 5× Platinum 5,000,000^

^shipments figures based on certification alone




Paul Simon - Graceland

UK Warner Bros. WX 52 stereo (1986).

Album produced by Paul Simon.

The vinyl record attains a strong excellent grading, suggesting few plays.

Audio quality is very clear and strong throughout.

Both record centre labels are clean and unmarked.

The album cover is in excellent condition, displaying only minimal signs of wear.

The album cover has a strong, unbroken spine with very clear legible script.

The original inner sleeve is perfectly presented.

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