ON AUG. 25, 1986, PAUL SIMON, THEN 44, released his seventh and, arguably, most celebrated solo album, Graceland. Its acclaim, however, was slow to build. Influenced by South African sounds (and recorded partly in Johannesburg), the set made a measured climb up the Billboard 200, cresting at No. 6 that November.
Graceland‘s lead single didn’t fare as well: “You Can Call Me Al” – which partly was inspired by an incident at a party where a guest mistakenly referred to Simon by that name – stalled at No. 44 on the Billboard Hot 100 that September and had fallen off the chart by the time that Graceland cracked the Billboard 200 top 10. But, thanks to a Grammy win, the album and single found second life.
At the Feb. 24, 1987 ceremony, Graceland was named album of the year and shot back into the Billboard 200 top 10, where it stayed for three months and hit a new high: No. 3. Meanwhile, “You Can Call Me Al” re-entered the Hot 100 on March 28, 1987 and reached No. 23 that May. Its popularity also benefitted from its comical video starring Simon and former Saturday Night Live cast member Chevy Chase goofily dancing, lip-syncing and playing instruments.
The “Al” clip’s concept was conceived by Simon’s friend, SNL creator Lorne Michaels, and directed by Gary Weis, who had made video shorts for the NBC show in the ’70s. While Weis enlisted a choreographer for Simon and Chase’s moves, much of the video’s content was spontaneous. “I would say we did it on our feet,” Weis, 71, recalls fondly. “We all knew each other, so it was collaborative.
“And, it took off.”
Simon’s collaborations with SNL continue. The artist, who is currently touring with Sting, sang his 1976 hit “Still Crazy After All These Years” on the show’s 40th-anniversary special last month.
A version of this article first appeared in the April 4 issue of Billboard magazine.