“Songwriter” is the title of
A wave of promotion will come in December when PBS starts airing Simon’s Webster Hall concert. Smith says Hear Music and Concord will work the album for more than a year just as they have with the James Taylor/Carole King album “Live at the Troubadour,” which sold 557,000 copies in 2010 and 58,000 units so far this year.
A tour of venues in the 4,000- to 7,000-capacity range should also bump up sales. On Oct. 17, four days after Simon turned 70, he began a 31-date tour that wraps Dec. 6. It’s his second since the release of “So Beautiful or So What”: The first round of 13 shows-booked in theaters and clubs in April and May-grossed $2.6 million with a dozen sellouts, according to Billboard Boxscore. England’s Glastonbury Festival, Israel, Italy and Ireland were among his 21 international stops during the summer.
Simon’s show includes a half-dozen songs from his new album, a few “Graceland” classics and the gospel-influenced “Gone at Last,” plus other hits and covers. “My favorite part of the show,” he says, referring to Junior Parker’s “Mystery Train,” which he uses as a coda on “Hearts and Bones” and the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun,” which he performed with George Harrison on a 1976 episode of “Saturday Night Live.”
Two of the oldest songs in the show are included because of new life breathed into them: “The Only Living Boy in New York” (the only Simon & Garfunkel song in the set) and “Peace Like a River,” a ballad from his self-titled debut that has been covered by Spoon and Elvis Costello.
“The Only Living Boy in New York” was part of the successful “Garden State” soundtrack and appeared in Honda’s most recent TV campaign. Released on “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” which won the 1970 album of the year Grammy Award, it was the B-side to “Cecilia.”
“That song, at the time of the album, was almost a hit. If they would have released it, it would have been a hit,” Simon says. “At the time, before Michael Jackson, the record company would say after three or four singles, ‘That’s all we can put out. We don’t want to look like we’re greedy.’ So they didn’t put out a fifth single. Time goes by and then comes ‘Garden State.’ It’s the first time for a [new] generation [to hear it], so I put it back in the show.”
Another song restored to the set list is “The Obvious Child,” the lone single from “The Rhythm of the Saints,” an album Simon says “was most underestimated at the time it was released. Now it’s almost at the level of “Graceland.” At the time people were a little disappointed because it wasn’t as accessible. I understand that. “Graceland” felt very akin to ’50s rock’n’roll–three chords, major chords, 4/4 time–but the guitar parts were different and they divided the symmetry of the patterns. “Rhythm of the Saints” was all percussion–the polyrhythms were much more different and I started to write changes that were much more adventurous than the three-chord South African stuff.
“It took a while [to appreciate] and it came out of the musicians’ community, drummers first and then guitarists and then songwriters who would say, ‘Hey, that’s as good as Graceland.'”
Simon has spent the last 10 years picking up awards — among them Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction as a solo artist (2001), a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award and Kennedy Center Honors (2002) and joining the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in October. All of which suggest he knows a good song when he hears one. Despite his roots in the Brill Building style of writing potential hits, Simon says he no longer feels connected to the current pop world, sharing more of a connection with indie rock acts.
“It’s very hard for one generation to understand another generation, so take whatever I say with a grain of salt,” he says. “I find pop music doesn’t come from the heart. There’s sparser instrumentation, not a lot of top end and the drum sound is different because it’s mostly a machine sound. Same with the bass. It’s compressed to jump out on the radio.
“Records have a short life span and people are expected to have short careers, so they hit and then move on and do whatever it is they do,” he adds. “That makes record companies shape their business to do those kinds of records.”