Here Are All the Songs Paul Simon Reworked for New Album 'In the Blue Light'
Legendary songwriter Paul Simon released his new album In the Blue Light today (Sept. 7). In an unprecedented move, the album essentially finds Simon covering Simon; instead of new material, it’s a set of reworked tracks from his songbook.
But Simon, now 76, has never played it easy or predictable. While plenty of artists have re-recorded their old hits to varying commercial or critical response, In the Blue Light contains no hits whatsoever -- whether from his solo career or with his old musical partner, Art Garfunkel. Instead, Light mostly draws on cult favorites from You’re The One, The Rhythm of the Saints and So Beautiful or So What with guests like Bill Frisell, Wynton Marsalis and yMusic.
If fans of Simon might be a tad dismayed that there’s no “Kodachrome” or “Mother and Child Reunion” on this LP, they should hedge their bets on a safer artist; Simon’s deeper cuts have always been just as, if not more, rewarding than the well-known tracks. In the Blue Light is a portrait of a prickly artist ready to reexamine his old tunes with a fresh perspective.
In a press release, Simon likens his approach to interior redecoration: "I hope the listener will find these new versions of old songs refreshed, like a new coat of paint on the walls of an old family home." In honor of Simon revisiting his lesser-known tunes on In the Blue Light, here’s a guide to each track in its original form.
“One Man’s Ceiling is Another Man’s Floor” (from There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, 1973)
By all accounts, the breakup of Simon and Garfunkel was a messy, emotionally charged event, with Simon flying off the handle at Garfunkel’s decision to take several months off to appear in, fittingly, the film version of Catch-22. Garfunkel later even insinuated that he “created a monster” by befriending Simon as a child. Though Simon never pegged this light and breezy cut, released three years after the split, as necessarily being about Artie, it articulates how even the closest friends, neighbors and associates sometimes don’t see eye-to-eye -- “There’s been some hard feelings here / About some words that were said / There’s been a bloody purple nose / And some bloody purple clothes.”
“Love” (from You’re the One, 2000)
Simon’s decision to include no tracks from Graceland -- but a whopping four songs from the indifferently received You’re the One from 2000 -- might read as peevish until you revisit that second one. It’s a low-key, way-underrated gem that was swept under the rug after Simon’s ill-fated 1997 Broadway project, Songs from the Capeman, bombed and took $11 million with it. But time has been good to You’re the One, perhaps the coziest and homiest collection of songs Simon ever produced. “Love,” which was re-recorded for In the Blue Light, exemplifies that LP’s airy, relaxed feel.
“Can’t Run But” (from The Rhythm of the Saints, 1990)
Released four years after the commercially titanic Graceland, the Brazilian-accented The Rhythm of the Saints only fitfully charted to the extent of its predecessor, hitting No. 4 on the Billboard 200. No matter -- though subtler and more languid than Graceland, it’s every bit the achievement, showing how Simon’s delicate compositions lent themselves to heavily percussion-driven arrangements. The itchy, restless “Can’t Run But” can’t stop questioning itself as the melody curlicues into itself over and over -- “A winding river gets wound around a heart / Pull it tighter and tighter.”
“How the Heart Approaches What it Yearns” (from One-Trick Pony, 1980)
This Simon rarity, from which In the Blue Light gets its title, is a romantic ballad from Simon’s companion album to his 1980 film One-Trick Pony. Fitting for its cinematic context, “Yearns” offers the listener a series of moody, low-lit scenarios that lovelorn folks might inhabit -- a half-remembered vision, a late-night phone booth, a cheap motel. It’s Simon at his most Randy Newman-esque, seemingly dropping in on a scene at an unpredictable moment, offering scant details and piquing the listener’s curiosity before closing the door. We know that “headlights slide past the moon,” “the television burns,” and little else. Just a dream.
“Pigs, Sheep and Wolves” (from You’re the One, 2000)
On its surface, “Pigs, Sheep and Wolves” is a song of archetypes as old as Aesop -- the big, greedy pig, the oblivious sheep, the conniving wolf. But the more you stare into this half-rapped Simon gem, the more layers appear. All of a sudden, the sheep’s dead, the police are called, and the public defender brings the hammer down. But it’s the “big and fat” harmless pig who did dirt, and there’s even “candlelight vigils protesting animal behavior.” It’s a meditation on who we are versus how the masses perceive us, no matter our walk of life.
“Rene and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After the War” (from Hearts and Bones, 1983)
Whether detailing lovers, friends or just like-minded misfits, Simon’s work has always dug into the ins-and-outs of couples more frequently than solo character studies. And this ode to a Lothar Wolleh photograph from a book found in Joan Baez’s house is one of his great “couple songs,” with a sort of frozen-in-time, still-life vibe as the surrealist artist and his wife go clothes-shopping on Christopher Street and dance in the moonlight. Like in other Simon deep cuts such as “The Afterlife” and “Old,” which both salute Simon’s musical roots, the punchline comes courtesy of “The Penguins, The Moonglows, The Orioles and The Five Satins,” revealing a very Simon alternate universe in which The Palace of Memories’ painter was a secret doo-wop fan.
“The Teacher” (from You’re the One, 2000)
The closest spiritual partner to “Old,” which ponders the age of the universe and Adam and Eve discovering their nakedness, “The Teacher” walks that same philosophical path. Except here, it’s an ode to a Moses-like figure “whose words are like tablets made of stone.” It grows more outsized and supernatural from there, with the Teacher figure going on to “eat the forests and fields and suck all the moisture from the clouds,” but it’s all hung on one startling truth early on -- “It’s easier to learn than unlearn.” It’s like if that classic assertion that “A mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original proportions” was given a rhythm and a beat.
“Darling Lorraine” (from You’re the One, 2000)
Cleverly named after a 1950s doo-wop track by the Knockouts, “Darling Lorraine” flips that song’s puppy-dog lyric to be about romantic incompatibility, dissatisfaction and death. It all starts when Frank, a “wanderer” from New York City, summons “the part of him that talks” to ask Lorraine, who’s “hot,” “cool,” “light” and “free,” to go steady. After “all the usual marriage stuff,” deep resentments come to light until a grim diagnosis finds Frank tucking an ailing Lorraine in before she dies, with her “breath like the echo of our love.” The startling effect of “Darling Lorraine” suggests the reverse of a happy-ever-after love song.
“Some Folks’ Lives Roll Easy” (from Still Crazy After All These Years, 1975)
If you’ve ever felt resentment toward those who seem to breeze through life while dealing with seemingly no darkness, “Some Folks’ Lives Roll Easy” is the lost Simon jam for you. In its terse verses, Simon observes the dichotomy of thriving versus surviving, before approaching God himself to check on whether he’d get that crucial assist of salvation He described in his Word. An uneasy Rhodes organ burbles and comments throughout.
“Question For The Angels” (from So Beautiful or So What, 2011)
In Robert Hilburn’s 2018 biography, Paul Simon: The Life, Simon lays out his spiritual MO: “If there is a God, and He created this planet and everything on it, I’ve got to say an incredible ‘Thank you so much -- great job.’ If it turns out there’s no God, I still feel the same way. I’m really grateful to be here. What a beautiful planet.” Nonetheless, “Question for the Angels,” an ethereal track from 2011’s excellent So Beautiful or So What, is a look into that former scenario. It’s a song of riddles and reflections on materialism, following a modern-day pilgrim as he traverses New York “at the hour when the homeless move their cardboard blankets / And the new day begins.” Not much happens. The character walks across the Brooklyn bridge and looks at a billboard of JAY-Z. But as always, with Simon, the miniscule details are where the big subjects of life, death and God come out to play.