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Paul Simon's Graceland: 10 things you may not know
By
Brad Frenette

Published

June 4, 2012

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Tuesday marks the 25th anniversary of Paul Simon's album Graceland. Coupled with the re-release of the platinum-selling album is a new documentary by Joe Berlinger called Under African Skies, which looks at the legacy of the record and the climate in which it was recorded and released.

In the spirit of looking back, here are 10 things you may not have known about Graceland:

1. The song "Homeless" features Simon singing an a capella composition with the mighty Ladysmith Black Mambazo. The song, which is credited to Mambazo's bandleader Joseph Shabalala and Simon, features a closing refrain: "Esanqoba lonke ilizwe/Esanqoba phakathi e England." The reference roughly translates as "We have conquered the country/ we have conquered in England," which is likely a reference to where the song was recorded – in London's Abbey Road Studios. There is a good discussion about the lyrical translations on Graceland in the comment boards at isiZulu, a Zulu translation site.

2. The track "You Can Call Me Al" includes an unmissable tin whistle solo. The part was recorded by South African saxman Morris Goldberg. After moving to New York, Goldberg would go on to become part of Harry Belafonte's band through the '90s and would later front his own band, Ojoyo, a "Safrojazz" group that reunited several players from Graceland, including the fretless bass player Bakithi Kumalo and keyboardist Tony Cedras.

3. With Graceland, Simon broke a UN cultural boycott that forbade artists from performing in apartheid-era South Africa in the United Nations fight to segregate the segregators. The new film uses Simon's decision to violate the ban as the crux for its retrospective, and calls on politicians, musicians and celebrities to opine on the topic. In the film, Simon reinforces his convictions to go, and states he was invited by musicians "who wanted to get their music out."

4. The album involved five recording studios on three continents: Ovation Studios in Johannesburg, Amigo Studios in Los Angeles, Abbey Road in London, The Hit Factory in New York and Master-Trak Enterprises in Crowley, La.

5. Graceland is Simon's biggest hit as a solo artist. The 1986 release was the followup to Hearts and Bones, which is often considered Simon's biggest critical and commercial failure.

6. Steve Berlin of Los Lobos is not a Paul Simon fan. The saxophonist for the Los Angeles-based band claims that Simon stole a Los Lobos "sketch" and made it his own, the song "All Around the World (The Myth of Fingerprints)." Berlin claims that the band was jamming with Simon for the Graceland sessions, and described his version of the events in an interview with Jambase:

"That was one of our songs ... an existing Lobos sketch of an idea that we had already started doing. I don't think there were any recordings of it, but we had messed around with it. We knew we were gonna do it. It was gonna turn into a song. Paul goes, 'Hey, what's that?' We start playing what we have of it, and it is exactly what you hear on the record ... it was very clear to us, at the moment, we're thinking he's doing one of our songs.... A few months later, the record comes out and says 'Words and Music by Paul Simon.' ... We finally track him down and ask him about our song, and he goes, 'Sue me. See what happens.'"

However, Simon denies the allegations, and a lawsuit has not been filed.

7. The drummer for Simon's original Graceland tour was Anton Fig. These days, you can now watch him perform nightly as the beat-keeper for the CBS Orchestra, better known as David Letterman's house band.

8. Heidi Berg is thanked in the liner notes of Graceland, but who is she? Versions of the story range, but she is credited with giving Simon the tape that inspired Graceland – a recording called Gumboots by South African township act the Boyoyo Boys. The Boys appear on Graceland, but little is known of Berg. Some versions say she gave the tape to Simon, who was set to help produce her album, while others say it was a gift.

9. Senegalese musician Youssou N'Dour is renowned for his unique singing voice. And although he appears on Graceland, his voice does not. N'Dour plays percussion only on one song: "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes."

10. Fresh off his starring role in Fletch, actor and comedian Chevy Chase brought his star power to Simon's "You Can Call Me Al" video, which you can watch above. The video was conceptualized by Saturday Night Live's creator Lorne Michael, a longtime friend of Simon's.