It’s not a surprise that Homeward Bound: A Grammy Salute to the Songs of Paul Simon, which aired on CBS on Wednesday Dec. 21, was so satisfying.
Paul Simon has long been regarded as one of our top songwriters. He won the 1970 Grammy for song of the year for “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and was nominated in that category for “Mrs. Robinson” and “Graceland.” He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1982 and received that organization’s highest honor, the Johnny Mercer Award, in 1998. In 2007, he became the inaugural recipient of the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.
Many of the participants on the two-hour special spoke warmly about Simon’s songs. Elton John Elton John called him “one of the greatest songwriters of all time” and recalled early days when he and Bernie Taupin would sit “on the floor with our headphones listening to [Simon & Garfunkel’s] Bookends just in complete awe of the songs – the way you wrote the songs and the sounds. As a songwriter, you are the bees’ knees.”
Remembering his childhood home, Garth Brooks said “When your stuff was playing, our house was a sweet place to be in.” Herbie Hancock said, “Paul Simon is a truly global citizen of this musical world – a daring and visionary artist who is open to our entire musical universe.” Dustin Hoffman said, “Quite simply, The Graduate would not be The Graduate” without Simon’s songs. Sting, Oprah Winfrey, Sofia Carson and actor Woody Harrelson also paid tribute to the master songwriter.
The special included performances of 10 of Simon’s 14 top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 (combining Simon & Garfunkel and solo releases). At the end of the evening, Simon said “It’s been a night of extraordinary and many unexpected pleasures. I’d really like to thank all of these artists. It’s really amazing if you’re a writer to hear another artist perform your song well. It really makes a songwriter feel good. It makes you feel like you wrote a good song.”
Simon’s first major hit, “The Sound of Silence,” includes a lyric, “People writing songs that voices never shared/And no one dared/Disturb the sound of silence.” As a songwriter, Simon has never known that feeling and never will.
Ken Ehrlich, who was the producer or executive producer of the annual Grammy telecast for four decades from 1980-2020, executive produced this special (and co-wrote it with David Wild). Ehrlich’s talent, taste and connections are a big reason the show was so compelling.
Here are nine of the most memorable performances from the special, which is available to stream on demand on Paramount+.