Early life and career, and as member of Simon and Garfunkel
Paul Simon was born in Newark, New Jersey in 1941. A few years later his family moved to Queens, New York, where he spent his formative years.
He met his friend and future musical partner Art Garfunkel while they were grade school mates. Later on they began to write their own songs, and formed a vocal harmony act together in the vein of their idols The Everly Brothers. They initially called themselves as Tom & Jerry (no kidding), with Simon as Jerry Landis and Garfunkel as Tom Graph. They even scored their first and only charting hit together under that name, through their self-penned single “Hey Schoolgirl” (#54 Billboard Hot 100 in 1957).
Early in their career, both Simon and Garfunkel were separately seeking solo careers as well as collaborations with other artists. In 1958 Simon cut his first single “True or False.” Tom & Jerry went into a hiatus as both Simon and Garfunkel began to attend art college at the end of the decade, although Simon continued to work in the music business.
Encouraged by the folk revival that began to sweep in the 1960s, Simon reunited with Garfunkel, this time using their real names. After playing at New York’s Greenwich Village for a time, they landed a deal with Columbia Records. Simon and Garfunkel’s debut album Wednesday Morning, 3 AM didn’t sell well, and the duo separated for a while. Simon stayed in England and performed there, releasing his first true solo album (in the UK only, initially) The Paul Simon Songbook in 1965.
One of Wednesday Morning, 3 AM’s tracks “The Sounds of Silence,” had a hit potential. It was later remixed and released as “The Sound of Silence”
“The Sound of Silence” became a #1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1965 (or 1966). The big success of the single prompted a quick reunion of Simon and Garfunkel as a musical act, and they became major stars.
Simon and Garfunkel scored other hits such as “Homeward Bound,” “I Am A Rock,” “The Boxer,” “Cecilia,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “Scarborough Fair,” and “Mrs. Robinson.” The last two being featured in the soundtrack of the high-grossing film The Graduate, making the folk duo more visible.
Upon the release of the duo’s last album, Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970) — Simon and Garfunkel’s most commercially successful album — it was there where their own musical differences clashed. They split in 1970; two years later Simon released his self-titled solo LP. Paul Simon yielded two hits, “Mother and Child Reunion” (at #4 pop) and “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” (at #22).
Continuing his solo recordings…
In 1973, Simon released his third LP There Goes Rhymin Simon, where he explored gospel and Dixieland jazz. It featured the #2 pop hit “Kodachrome.”
In 1975 Simon issued his fourth album Still Crazy After All These Years which was released in the wake of his divorce from his wife, given the album’s darker mood. It became his first #1 hit album, thanks to the #1 pop hit single “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover.” Another one of the album’s tracks “My Little Town” marked his reunion with Garfunkel for the first time again since Bridge Over Troubled Water.
After his initial success, Simon’s commercial slump eventually followed when he released One-Trick Pony, the soundtrack album for the film of the same name which he also starred in. The album was also his first with Warner Bros. Records after his long partnership with Columbia. One-Trick Pony flopped, despite the album’s title track which became a Top 10 hit. The rise of disco was mainly to blame for the album’s commercial failure.
In 1981, Simon and Garfunkel reunited through their concert in New York’s Central Park. The event was recorded later released the following year as a live album The Concert In Central Park which became a commercial success. Meanwhile, Simon’s 1983 solo album Hearts And Bones became otherwise a flop once again.
Massive success with “Graceland”
Reacting to his recent commercial failures, Simon would later admit that he had run out of inspiration and ideas. One day in 1984, he heard the music of the South African group the Boyoyo Boys. Simon was inspired by the unusual and eclectic sound of South African pop and traditional music. He began to write music based on his newfound musical inspiration, and the project would be his seventh studio album Graceland, which was released in 1986.
Graceland proved to be a mish-mash of different musical styles and, including pop, rock, a cappella, and African music genres such as isicathamiya and mbaqanga. It was a surprise hit for Simon, reaching #3 on the Billboard pop album chart. The title track reached only #81 on the Hot 100, but eventually won the Grammy Award’s Record of the Year in 1988. Despite controversy surrounding the album’s production, Graceland sold over five million copies in the US alone; in Australia the album was eight times platinum.
Graceland’s follow-up The Rhythm of the Saints was released in 1990, following the same musical vein of its predecessor. Although it wasn’t a big seller likeGraceland, The Rhythm of the Saints nevertheless earned welcoming critical reception and went double platinum in the US.
In 1998, Simon encountered another career misfire when he wrote the Broadway musical The Capeman, which bombed and had a short, loss-making run. Returning to recording music, Simon released You’re the One in 2000, which still followed the world beat genre. Another Simon and Garfunkel reunion concert followed in 2003, and was released the following year in the live album Old Friends: Live on Stage. In 2006, Simon released another album Surprise, whose unlikely producer was Brian Eno. In 2011, Simon’s latest album So Beautiful or So What showed one of his strongest critical and commercial finishes; it peaked at #4 on the Billboard 200.
Paul Simon is an inductee to the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He still continues to actively tour up to this day.