Song of the Day #1,406: ‘I Know What I Know’ – Paul Simon

Best Albums of the 80s – #1
Graceland – Paul Simon (1986)

All of the drama and anticipation of the last four weeks leads to this… the least surprising “Best 80s Album” pick of the batch. Sorry to be boring and predictable, but what choice did I have?

I considered ranking Graceland second just to up the excitement factor, but I couldn’t do it in good conscience. It’s too perfect, too ground-breaking, too emotionally and viscerally satisfying to deny. The only thing going against it is that it’s been the best! album! ever! for more than 25 years. At some point, shouldn’t Graceland fatigue set in?

But that’s just it… it doesn’t. I never get sick of this record’s exquisite sounds, or of Simon’s simple, gorgeous poetry. I never get sick of the girl in New York City who calls herself the human trampoline, or Fat Charlie the Archangel who filed for divorce.

Graceland is more than an album, it’s a family member. It’s been a constant soundtrack to my life since I was 14 years old. And as Paul Simon wrote in another song on a less successful album, “That’s the way it’s always been, that’s the way I like it, and that’s how I want it to be.”

She looked me over
And I guess she thought
I was all right
All right in a sort of a limited way
For an off-night
She said, “Don’t I know you
From the cinematographer’s party?”
I said, “Who am I
To blow against the wind?”

I know what I know
I’ll sing what I said
We come and we go
That’s a thing that I keep
In the back of my head

I know what I know
I’ll sing what I said
We come and we go
That’s a thing that I keep
In the back of my head

She said, “There’s something about you
That really reminds me of money,”
She is the kind of girl
Who could say things that
Weren’t that funny
I said, “What does that mean
I really remind you of money?”
She said, “Who am I
To blow against the wind?”

I know what I know
I’ll sing what I said
We come and we go
That’s a thing that I keep
In the back of my head

She moved so easily
All I could think of was sunlight
I said, “Aren’t you the woman
Who was recently given a Fulbright?”
She said, “Don’t I know you
From the cinematographer’s party?”
I said, “Who am I
To blow against the wind?”

I know what I know
I’ll sing what I said
We come and we go
That’s a thing that I keep
In the back of my head

I know what I know
I’ll sing what I said
We come and we go
That’s a thing that I keep
In the back of my head

I know what I know
I know what I know

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10 thoughts on “Song of the Day #1,406: ‘I Know What I Know’ – Paul Simon

  1. Dana says:

    Well, no surprise here, and no criticism of the choice either. The album is as close to musical perfection as it gets. This is one of America’s greatest songwriters at the peak of his creative genius.

    With Graceland, Simon pulls off the masterful feat of recording songs that are simultaneously wholly foreign, different and unique from anything we had heard before and yet completely warm and accessible. And I think it is that very duality that keeps this album at the top of our list 25 years later. You can’t get tired of something that remains so fresh and novel while being so warm and personal.

  2. andrea katz says:

    I second those emotions.

  3. pegclifton says:

    YES!!!!!! and I agree with everything already said.

  4. Amy says:

    So well said. Great choice for number one, even if wasn’t a choice so much as an inevitability. :)

  5. Amy says:

    Now I will “publish” the list I should have waited to publish… but i have to admit I was curious to see if we’d have any more titles in common. Not many but a handful and an important handful ;)

    In no particular order here are my top 20 albums (I have more than 20 because I’ve chosen two albums for several artists. I would opt for one over the other for all but REM, so you can guess which album I’d sacrifice to allow both of those to remain) and my top 3 singles that are “the 80′s” for me. I listened to – and loved – each of these albums during the decade in which they were released. (* I even got to see many of these musicians in concert.)

    Prince, Purple Rain
    Michael Jackson, Thriller*
    George Michael, Faith
    John Mellencamp, Scarecrow/Uh Huh
    Paul Simon, Graceland*
    Peter Gabriel, So
    REM, Life’s Rich Pageant/ Fables of the Reconstruction*
    Tracy Chapman, Tracy Chapman*
    10,000 Maniacs, In My Tribe
    Bruce Springsteen, Born in the USA/Tunnel of Love
    Traveling Wilburys, Traveling Wilburys, Volume I
    Tom Petty, Full Moon Fever/ Southern Accents*
    Elvis Costello, Imperial Bedroom/King of America*
    Sting, Dream of the Blue Turtles/Nothing Like the Sun*
    Lyle Lovett, Lyle Lovett and his Large Band/Pontiac*
    Bonnie Raitt, Nick of Time*
    Robert Cray, Strong Persuader*
    Indigo Girls, Indigo Girls*
    Steve Winwood, Back in the High Life*
    Don Henley, Building the Perfect Beast/The End of the Innocence*

    “Blister in the Sun” – Violent Femmes
    “Addicted to Love” – Robert Palmer
    “Kiss” – Prince

  6. Dana says:

    1. Elvis Costello – Imperial Bedroom– By the end of the 80′s, Elvis had become my favorite artist, displacing many others on this list, and this album along with…
    2. Elvis Costello – King of America — was the reason why
    3. Paul Simon — Graceland — I will still never forget blasting this album in my Nissan 200SX, which I maintain still had the best car stereo I ever owned.
    4. Peter Gabriel, So –perhaps unusually high placement for an artist I have not otherwise religiously followed unlike others on this list, but few albums made a more powerful impact on me as this one.
    5.Talking Heads, Little Creatures — I have liked other albums from Byrne and the Talking Heads, but none more than this
    6. Joe Jackson, Big World — There was a brief time that Jackson competed with a fading Billy Joel and a rising Elvis Costello for my favorite artist. This album was a huge reason why.
    7. Prince, Sign of the Times — Sure, Purple Rain had some great stuff on it, as did other earlier and later albums from Mr. Name is a Symbol, but this is the one I feel is strongest cover to cover.
    8. Tom Petty, Full Moon Fever — I may have said at some point that I liked Southern Accents more than this album, but that may just be based on how much I love the title track of Accents. Fever gets the nod here to represent Petty for the 80′s
    9, Sting, Nothing Like the Sun — save for the redundancy of the single “We’ll Be Together,” this is a great album that was in heavy rotation in my CD player in the late 80′s
    10. Jackson Browne, Lives in the Balance — some critics (and maybe our blog host) may have been turned off by the political nature of Browne’s songs, but I was and remain a fan of this record.
    11. John Mellencamp, The Lonesome Jubilee — While Amy gravitated toward Scarecrow, this was the album that worked best for me from Mellancamp.
    12. XTC– Skylarking– another example of a group I followed for exactly one album, but, man, what an album it is.
    13. Randy Newman, Trouble in Paradise — Perhaps this album should rank higher on my list as I would list Newman amongst my favorites generally.
    14. Don Henley Building the Perfect Beast — this was the soundtrack to my transition from high school to college. There are great songs throughout this album, but none better than the “Month of Sundays” fading into the amazing “Sunset Grill”
    15. Elvis Costello Spike — That’s right—three Elvis albums in my top 20! That’s how much I loved listening to him then and now.
    16. Lyle Lovett Lyle Lovett and his Large Band — but for the country side 2, this album would be a top 10′er.
    17. Robert Cray, Strong Persuader – not sure why I stopped following Cray after this album, because this one is solid from start to finish.
    18. Tracy Chapman, Tracy Chapman — simply a great solo debut–every track is a winner.
    19. Billy Joel, The Nylon Curtain — How could I not put my favorite Joel album on this list?
    20. Bonnie Raitt, Nick of Time — another one that was in heavy rotation in my CD collection and remains strong today.

    Honorable Mentions:
    REM, Fables of the Reconstruction — There were a number of REM albums of the 80′s that I really enjoyed, this one perhaps the most, but it was Automatic for The People in 92 that really resonated with me.
    Bruce Springsteen, Tunnel of Love — Easy to pick Born in the USA, but this album was better to me.
    Traveling Wilburys, Traveling Wilburys, Volume I — certainly could vie for top 20 consideration if the deck were shuffled a bit
    Tom Petty Southern Accents — another one that could make the top 20 if I had to rotate out the last 5 on my list.
    Indigo Girls, Indigo Girls — yet another one that could rank up there, but there are only 20 slots!

  7. Amy says:

    Love your list, Dana, though I’m astonished that neither REM album made the final cut.

  8. Clay says:

    I have seven in common with Dana, nine in common with Amy (though that could be misleading, as she listed about 30 albums!).

    The albums that show up on all three lists are: Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever, Elvis Costello’s Imperial Bedroom and King of America, Lyle’s Lovett’s …and his Large Band, Tracy Chapman’s debut, Peter Gabriel’s So and Paul Simon’s Graceland. Nice group.

  9. Amy says:

    All of the albums we have in common would wind up in my top 20, with the possible exception of King of America if I were to limit myself to only one album to that artist. The 8 albums I would likely cut to make the even 20: Purple Rain, Uh Huh, Nothing Like the Sun, Tunnel of Love, The End of the Innocence, Pontiac, Southern Accents, and either Building the Perfect Beast or King of America. And, yes, nice group for sure.

  10. Dana says:

    the ones that made it into my top 20 were those that were in heaviest rotation at the time and therefore were the soundtrack of those years. REM was a close call, but no one of their albums at the time was played by me as much as the ones that made the cut.

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