The simple answer to the question, "What made Graceland the most successful album of Paul Simon's solo career and one of the best albums of the 1980s?" is that Simon hit on the idea of combining his always perceptive songwriting with the little-heard mbaqanga music of South Africa, creating a fascinating hybrid that re-enchanted his old audience ...
The simple answer to the question, "What made Graceland the most successful album of Paul Simon's solo career and one of the best albums of the 1980s?" is that Simon hit on the idea of combining his always perceptive songwriting with the little-heard mbaqanga music of South Africa, creating a fascinating hybrid that re-enchanted his old audience and earned him a new one. It is true that the South African angle (including its controversial aspect during the apartheid days) was a powerful marketing tool and that the catchy music succeeded in presenting listeners with that magical combination: something they'd never heard before that nevertheless sounded familiar. But there was more to it than that. For one thing, the album, as eclectic as any Simon had made, also delved into zydeco on "That Was Your Mother" (on which Simon was accompanied by Good Rockin' Dopsie & the Twisters) and into conjunto-flavored rock & roll on "All Around the World or the Myth of Fingerprints" (on which he was accompanied by Los Lobos). For another, beyond its aural delights, Graceland marked a surprising new lyrical approach (though it was presaged by some songs on Hearts and Bones, if anyone was listening). For the most part, Simon abandoned a linear, narrative approach to his words, instead drawing highly poetic ("Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes"), abstract ("The Boy in the Bubble"), and satiric ("I Know What I Know") portraits of modern life, often charged by striking images and turns of phrase torn from the headlines or overheard in contemporary speech. When combined, the unusual musical contexts and surprising lyrics (along with Simon's own ease and confidence as a singer) made for a creative rebirth for an artist already known for a string of artistic accomplishments. As a result, Graceland went multi-platinum, won Grammys for Album of the Year and Record of the Year (for the title song), and became the standard against which subsequent musical experiments by major artists were measured. (Besides, it has a good beat and you can dance to it.)[The 25th Anniversary edition of Graceland arrives in several different formats: a single-disc expanded by four cuts -- a demo of "Homeless," an alternate version of "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes," an early version of "All Around the World or the Myth of Fingerprints," and "The Story of 'Graceland' as Told by Paul Simon"; a double-disc that contains all those four tracks and adds demos of "You Can Call Me Al" and "Crazy Love" to the CD, then devotes a DVD to the acclaimed feature-length documentary Under African Skies; and a deluxe box, exclusively sold at Amazon, that separates the bonus tracks onto a second CD, adds a third CD of five live tracks recorded on a 1989 tour of Spain, then has the DVD of the documentary, in addition to various tchotchkes, books, and replicas. Among all these musical extras lie only two new archival cuts: the spare demos of "You Can Call Me Al" and "Crazy Love," items that are surely worth the time of the devoted, but what makes this worthwhile for those who have purchased either of the previous reissues of Graceland -- the latest arriving in 2011, just months before the release of this deluxe set -- is the presence of Under African Skies, the feature directed by Joe Berlinger (who helmed the Metallica doc Some Kind of Monster), who doesn't shy away from some of the uncomfortable questions surrounding the creation of Graceland.] ~ William Ruhlmann, Rovi