When Paul Simon decided he needed a change of scenery to get his creative juices flowing, he didn't just head to the beach for the weekend. He went all the way to Africa. And not just anywhere in Africa - he went to South Africa, during the darkest years of apartheid. Graceland
, the album that came out of his time there, is a collaboration with South African musicians such as Ladysmith Black Mambazo. In "You Can Call Me Al," Simon pokes fun at his own middle age, describes the feeling of walking around in an entirely foreign country, and melds his lyrics around South African beats. The trip definitely gave him a fresh perspective, and, fortunately for us, it gave his audiences around the world something fresh to listen to.
About the Song
||Musician(s)||Paul Simon, Ray Phiri (guitar), Bakithi Khumalo (bass), Ladysmith Black Mambazo (vocals)
|Label||Warner Bros. Records|
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Explore the ways this song connects with the world and with other topics on Shmoop
When Paul Simon headed to South Africa in the mid-1980s, apartheid was in full swing. The white minority was running the country, while the impoverished black majority was cruelly oppressed. The rest of the world had finally taken notice, and Simon was criticized heavily for spending time in a country that was supposed to be under a "cultural boycott" for as long as it continued to treat its people so unjustly. Simon felt differently: he saw Graceland
as giving a voice to South African cultures that needed to be heard. Although apartheid has since been relegated to the ash heap of history, its legacy remains important, and you can read more about how it shaped the people who lived with it or after it in literary works such as Mark Mathabane's Kaffir Boy
, and J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace
On the Charts
"You Can Call Me Al" originally reached #44 on the United States charts in 1986, but the single was re-released with greater promotion in 1987, when it reached #23.
The song performed much better on the charts in Europe, where it reached #4 in Britain, and #2 in Sweden and the Netherlands. Graceland
the album reached #1 on the charts in Great Britain and #3 in the United States.
Paul Simon received the Album of the Year Grammy for Graceland
. He has received a total of 12 Grammys in his career.
Simon was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.