There Goes Rhymin' Simon
Released: May 1973
Chart Peak: #2
Weeks Charted: 48
Certified Platinum: 11/21/86
There Goes Rhymin' Simon is the logical step in Paul Simon's solo recording career, and it is a dazzlingly surefooted one. Despite its many light, humorous moments, the core theme of his first album, Paul Simon, was depressing: fear of death, its focal point a sung poem, "Everything Put Together Falls Apart," that while worthy of comparison with the best work of John Berryman, could hardly be called "easy listening." Since the album dealt with anxiety, it communicated anxiety and was difficult to accept as entertainment. This isn't true of Rhymin' Simon. Like its predecessor, it is a fully realized work of art, of genius in fact, but one that is also endlessly listenable on every level. Simon has never sounded so assured vocally. He demonstrates in several places pyrotechnical skills that approach Harry Nilsson's (in embellishment of ballad phrases) and John Lennon's (in letting it all hang out), though for the most part, Simon's deliveries are straight -- restrained and supple, bowing as they should to the material, which is of the very highest order.
Rhymin' Simon shows, once and for all, that Simon is now the consummate master of the contemporary narrative song -- one of a very few practicing singer/songwriters able to impart wisdom as much by implication as by direct statement. Here, even more than in the first album, Simon successfully communicates the deepest kinds of love without ever becoming rhetorical or overly sentimental. The chief factor in his remarkable growth since Simon and Garfunkel days has been the development of a gentle wry humor that is objective, even fatalistic, though never bitter.
The chief new musical element Simon has chosen to work with -- one he has hitherto eschewed -- is black music: R&B and gospel motifs are incorporated brilliantly both in Simon's melodic writing and in the sparkling textures of the album's ten cuts, more than half recorded in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. The opener is "Kodachrome," a streamlined pop-rock production that uses the image of color photography as a metaphor for imaginative vitality. The song opens with a couple of Simon's most pungent lines: "When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school/ It's a wonder I can think at all." Next is "Tenderness," a late-Fifties-styled doo-wop ballad in which Simon tells a friend: "You don't have to lie to me/ Just give me some tenderness beneath your honesty." In addition to boasting one of Simon's loveliest vocals, "Tenderness" has a nicely subdued horn arrangement by Allen Toussaint and a soulful R&B backups by a gospel group, the Dixie Hummingbirds.
"Take Me to the Mardi Gras" is sheer delight -- a Latin-flavored evocation of abandon in New Orleans that fades out in joyous Dixieland music by the Onward Brass Band. This sensuous flight of fancy is followed by "Something So Right," Simon's love song to his wife in which he tells her he can hardly believe his present happiness, since he is by nature a pessimist. A ballad that begins in an offhand, almost conversational tone, it builds slowly into a declaration of great eloquence. Side one closes with a witty, R&B piece of homespun city philosophy, "One Man's Ceiling Is Another Man's Floor."
"American Tune," which opens side two is the album's pivotal moment. A flowing ballad with the chordal structure of an American hymm-tune, its magnificent lyrics give us Simon's definitive reflection on the American Dream. Writing from a state of exhaustion in England (Paul Samwell-Smith co-produced the cut in London, and Del Newman provided the stately string arrangement), Simon sees the country as a nation of "battered" souls, but still "home," and the American Dream either "shattered" or "driven to its knees." In an apocalyptic reverie, he equates his own death with the death of America and sees "the Statue of Liberty sailin' away to sea." The song, which has instrumental touches that deliberately recall Simon and Garfunkel's "America," is the single greatest thing Simon has written, a classic by any standard.
"Was a Sunny Day" reshuffles images from "Kodachrome," treating them playfully in a semi-reggae setting. A "high-school queen with nothing really left to lose" makes love with a sailor whom she calls "Speedo but his Christian name was Mr. Earl." "Learn How to Fall" has an opening melodic phrase similar to that of Bette Midler's now-famous intro, "Friends," but a different message: "You've got to learn how to fall/ before you learn to fly."
The album's last two cuts, "St. Judy's Comet" and "Loves Me Like a Rock," complete the thematic cycle of songs avowing familial devotion. In the exquisitely tender acoustic lullaby, "St. Judy's Comet," Simon enters into the imaginative life of his son, who wants to stay up late to watch for the mythical comet of the title. Simon concludes: "'Cause if I can't sing my boy to sleep/ Well it makes your famous daddy/ Look so dumb." In "Loves Me Like a Rock," a hand-clapping, call-and-response gospel anthem with the Dixie Hummingbirds providing the response, Simon resurrects his own childhood relationship with his mother. Since the anxiety-laded "Mother and Child Reunion" was the opening cut on the first Simon album, it is fitting that this incredibly powerful song of love and gratitude, reminiscent in spirit of "When The Saints," should close the second.
Rhymin' Simon' is a rich and moving song cycle, one in which each cut reflects on every other to create an ever-widening series of refractions. Viewed in the light of the first album, Simon seems ultimately to be saying that acceptance of death is only possible through our ability to honor our human ties, especially those formed within the family structure. Only through the mutual affirmation of love can we redeem our imaginative powers from despair and be able to live with the breakdown of the wider "family" structure that is the American homeland without ourselves breaking down.
- Stephen Holden, Rolling Stone, 6/21/73.
Correcting that would have made a very good album a great album, probably. It is likely the songs are good enough "American Tune" (recorded in London) certainly is, and the production of it is no problem. It has a lovely, twisting melody, a particularly nice bass line by Bob Crenshaw, and thoughtful, indefinite-but-not-paralyzed lyrics. It doesn't happen in that tune, but generally the good sense of the album is at war with the fires within, and I guess I'm glad that good sense prevails (last time, you'll recall, passion won out), but I would be happier still if the contest had been a bit closer.
- Noel Coppage, Stereo Review, 10/73.
Quite consciously -- why do you think the new single is so equivocal about the phony hues Kodachrome lays on reality? -- Simon sacrifices the manic-depressive range of his solo debut in search of an equivalent for S&G's all-encompassing homiletic pleasantness. The vocals are softer, smoothed over with borrowed or double-tracked harmonies, and the pep shots from more specialized styles (by the Dixie Hummingbirds, the Onward Brass Band) less speedy. The lyrics celebrate domestic satisfactions and seem to find political ambiguities more curious than ominous. None of which is bad or dishonest -- it suggests a new grace and flexibility for the mass-pop mode, and invests small subjects and emotions with an almost luminous wit and awareness. But I have my doubts about Kodachrome too. B+
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
Simon listened to R&B when he was growing up, and he returns to those roots on Rhymin' Simon. At times, the results are true R&B and even gospel ("Loves Me like a Rock" was recorded with the Dixie Hummingbirds), but mostly there is a lot of beautiful, sophisticated pop shaded with blues ("St. Judy's Comet" and "Something So Right.") Not as fully realized as Paul Simon, but there is much rewarding listening to be found. * * * * *
- Stephen Thomas Erlewine, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
Retaining the buoyant musical feel of Paul Simon, but employing a more produced sound, There Goes Rhymin' Simon found Paul Simon writing and performing with assurance and venturing into soulful and R&B-oriented music. Simon returned to the kind of vocal pyrotechnics heard on the Simon and Garfunkel records by using gospel singers. On "Love Me Like A Rock" and "Tenderness" (which sounded as though it could have been written to Art Garfunkel), the Dixie Hummingbirds sang prominent backup vocals, and on "Take Me To The Mardi Gras," the Reverend Claude Jeter contributed a falsetto part that Garfunkel could have handled, though not as warmly. For several tracks, Simon traveled to the Muscle Shoals Sound Studios to play with its house band, getting a variety of styles, from the gospel of "Love Me Like A Rock" to the Dixieland of "Mardi Gras." Simon was so confident that he even included a major ballad statement of the kind he used to give Garfunkel to sing: "American Tune" was his musical State of the Union, circa 1973, but this time Simon was up to making his big statements in his own voice. Though that song spoke of "the age's most uncertain hour," otherwise Rhymin' Simon was a collection of largely positive, optimistic songs of faith, romance, and commitment, concluding, appropriately, with a lullaby ("St. Judy's Comet") and a declaration of maternal love ("Loves Me Like A Rock") -- in other words, another mother and child reunion that made Paul Simon and There Goes Rhymin' Simon bookend masterpieces Simon would not improve upon (despite some valiant attempts) until Graceland in 1986. (Originally released by Columbia Records in May 1973 as Columbia 32280, There Goes Rhymin' Simon was reissued in 1988 by Warner Brothers Records as Warner Brothers 25589.)
- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock.
Paul hits it on the sweet spot with this impressive combination of folk, gospel, rock and R&B that marked his real emergence as a solo artist, following his eponymous first effort. Though it's often overshadowed by the earlier albums with Art and later Graceland, its complex rhythms and great lyrics about color film and a mother's love make it a priceless American classic. * * * *
- Zagat Survey Music Guide - 1,000 Top Albums of All Time, 2003.
After his great 1972 solo debut, Simon could stop proving he could go it alone without Art Garfunkel. So he made the sunniest music of his career, lifted by the R&B and doo-wop rhythms he grew up loving. The hit: "Kodachrome," about "all the crap I learned in high school."
There Goes Rhymin' Simon was chosen as the 267th greatest album of all time by the editors of Rolling Stone magazine in Dec. 2003.
- Rolling Stone, 12/11/03.
In this earthy tour of America's diverse musical character, Simon found liberating inspiration and a literal army of singers and players to help him feel at home in every genre -- including New Orleans' Onward Brass Band, in the strut of "Take Me to the Mardi Gras," and the Dixie Hummingbirds, in the robust prayer "Loves Me Like a Rock." The slinky "Kodachrome" highlighted his knack for turning the familiar into probing metaphor. "American Tune" connected immigrants' dreams with exhaustion from Vietnam and Nixon. "Still," he sang, "tomorrow's going to be another working day."
- David Fricke, Rolling Stone, 12/1/16.
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