Song of the Day #1,155: ‘Hearts and Bones’ – Paul Simon

Best Songwriters – #1 – Paul Simon

I flirted with putting Bob Dylan, Ben Folds and Elvis Costello in my #1 spot, but I kept coming back to Paul Simon, the most unassuming of them all. I’ll get to my reasons in a minute.

First, I’d like to reference some of the artists I left off this list, artists who made the initial cut but didn’t quite survive.

Lucinda Williams and Lyle Lovett, two southern stalwarts, are basically tied for 11th place, and either could have cracked the top ten but for my soft spot for Billy Joel. Bruce Springsteen is a legend who, like Bob Dylan, has gotten better with age. Tom Petty is considered the poor man’s Springsteen, but he’s plenty rich for me.

Josh Rouse, Stew and Tift Merritt are three little-known artists who are sensational songwriters and may well end up on a future version of this list. Elliott Smith wrote a slew of wonderful, heartbreaking songs before ending his own life.

John Mayer is a first-class jackass who also happens to be one of the most under-rated songwriters I listen to. And Miranda Lambert, over three albums, has completely captivated me with her sass and sensitivity. She’ll be the next Loretta Lynn.

All of those songwriters duked it out for a spot on the bottom half of this list, while Paul Simon stubbornly clung to the top spot.

One thing that occurred to me is that you could discount a certain 1986 release — pretend it never happened — and based on the rest of Paul Simon’s output, he’d still be worthy of the #1 spot on this list. Five delicate, ambitious albums with Simon & Garfunkel; nine powerful and personal solo records; songs that seem to define a generation while remaining intimate as a lover’s whisper.

He detailed ’50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,’ made us feel OK for being ‘Still Crazy After All These Years,’ shared our sorrow over everything ‘Slip Slidin’ Away.’ He captured ‘Mrs. Robinson’ in song as effectively as Anne Bancroft and Mike Nichols did on film, made us feel like ‘The Boxer’ who, despite everything, still remains, and pointed the way to a ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water.’

He echoed in the ‘Sounds of Silence,’ showed us we had ‘Further to Fly,’ marveled over ‘Something So Right,’ loved the sound of a ‘Train in the Distance,’ bemoaned that ‘Some Folks Lives Roll Easy’ and sang an ‘American Tune.’

And yes, Dana, he told that fucking Puerto Rican dope-dealing punk to get his shit-brown ass out of here!

He did all that, and I set aside the fact that he created probably the greatest freaking album ever recorded by anybody. Graceland alone could earn Paul Simon his perch at the top of my songwriters list. Put it all together and this was a no-brainer.

Ultimately, the reason I gave Simon the nod over Dylan, Costello and the rest is that his music, right from the beginning 50 years ago, comes from and speaks to the human heart. He writes about what it means to love, to lose, to cling for dear life to the people closest to you. His music — at its best and worst — is deeply emotional, deeply human.

We feel his music in our hearts and our bones. Great phrase… who came up with that?

One and one-half wandering Jews
Free to wander wherever they choose
Are traveling together
In the Sangre de Christo
The Blood of Christ Mountains
Of New Mexico
On the last leg of a journey
They started a long time ago
The arc of a love affair
Rainbows in the high desert air
Mountain passes slipping into stone
Hearts and bones
Hearts and bones
Hearts and bones

Thinking back to the season before
Looking back through the cracks in the door
Two people were married
The act was outrageous
The bride was contagious
She burned like a bride
These events may have had some effect
On the man with the girl by his side
The arc of a love affair
His hands rolling down her hair
Love like lightning, shaking till it moans
Hearts and bones
Hearts and bones
Hearts and bones

And whoa whoa, whoa
She said, “Why?
Why don’t we drive through the night?
We’ll wake up down in
Oh, I
I don’t know nothin’ about, nothin’ no
“And tell me why
Why won’t you love me
For who I am
Where I am?”

He said, “Cause that’s not the way the world is, baby
This is how I love you, baby
This is how I love you, baby

One and one-half wandering Jews
Returned to their natural coasts
To resume old acquaintances
And step out occasionally
And speculate who had been damaged the most
Easy time will determine if these consolations
Will be their reward
The arc of a love affair
Waiting to be restored

You take two bodies and you twirl them into one
Their hearts and their bones
And they won’t come undone
Hearts and bones
Hearts and bones
Hearts and bones

10 thoughts on “Song of the Day #1,155: ‘Hearts and Bones’ – Paul Simon

  1. Dana says:

    Okay, this is the one I suspected you would place over someone like Costello and the one I was (and am) ready to quibble about.

    Do I love much of Paul Simon’s music, including the amazing Graceland (and in my opinion the not much less amazing Rhythm of the Saints)? Absolutely! Would he be in my top ten songwriter’s list? Yes. But number 1? Ahead of the likes of Costello and perhaps a few others like Newman? No, and here’s why….

    Sure the S&G albums were very good, with some particular standout songs we all know and love, but, with some notable exceptions (those that you mentioned), his 70’s and, more particularly his 80’s output preceding Graceland was lacking, so much so that I think Simon would even admit that he needed to shake things up by bringing in the African influence that ignited the creative explosion that became Graceland. And that creative burst spilled over, with South American influences, into Saints.

    But his output after those two great albums…eh! Some good, some bad, but nothing I have found so great or memorable. Even his last album, which is good (and some of it very good), is no Graceland (as it was marketed to be the best album since…). Not even close. Now, Graceland is an album that no artist could probably ever come close to eclipsing, including Simon himself. But, honestly, I just haven’t been all that enthralled with anything Simon has done in the 20 years since Saints was released. Okay, yes, I had a brief dalliance with Capeman and the lyric you referenced has certainly become legen….dary, but even that album has some lesser songs and I really haven’t had a desire to even play it for years. I gave “You’re the One” a chance, but kinda found it a bit dull. Now, there may be some albums in between that I haven’t heard, or haven’t heard much of, but I suspect I haven’t missed out on all that much, not in the way I feel i would be missing out if I didn’t hear the latest Costello, Newman or Folds records.

    So, there’s my quibble….and now I suppose you want my list? Well, here it goes….

    10.Tom Petty
    9 Billy Joel
    8 Carol King
    7 John Lennon
    6 Bruce Springsteen
    5 Bob Dylan
    4 Paul Simon
    3 Ben Folds
    2 Randy Newman
    1 Elvis Costello

  2. Clay says:

    Good list. I see that we have the same top five, just in a different order, so once again for all of our vehement disagreements we actually agree quite a lot!

    Carole King is an interesting pick. I know you gave me grief for putting Fiona Apple in my list based on just two albums, but isn’t Carole King on your list based on just one? (I know she co-wrote a lot of great songs for other people, but I opted not to take that into account).

    And you’re giving Lennon credit for his Beatles work, I assume? Or is that ranking based only on solo records? I disqualified his Beatles output, which is why I didn’t consider him for the list (although most of his Beatles songs weren’t truly collaborations with McCartney, so maybe that’s unfair).

    Apart from those two, all of your songwriters were either on my list or just missed it. What good taste you have! 🙂

    I disagree that Simon’s 70s and 80s output is lacking. All four of his pre-Graceland albums are great. Sure, ‘Cars are Cars’ alone should probably knock him down a spot, but I’ll look away from that one.

    And his post-Rhythm work has been underrated. I think he’s in the unfortunate position of everything he does being compared to Graceland and Rhythm of the Saints, and as you said nobody could live up to that standard. But You’re the One, Surprise and especially So Beautiful or So What are all elegant, diverse and emotional works.

    So that’s my defense of your quibble, but since you put the guy at #4, as usual it looks like we’re arguing over the smallest of points. Now let’s see Amy’s list!

  3. Amy says:

    I’m not ready to post my list just yet, but I do want to clarify.

    I, too, assumed that Paul Simon would be on your list, and high on your list, for his “solo” output, but I (mistakenly it seems) thought your own rules precluded you from considering his Simon and Garfunkel recordings, just as they kept you from considering John Lennon or Paul McCartney (or Carole King?)…. so, just to be clear… if we “know” that the songwriter wrote the songs despite the fact that the record label (how quaint 😉 says “Lennon and McCartney” or “Simon and Garfunkel” or “The Counting Crows,” we can give the artist credit for writing those songs? It matters to me, because it will definitely change my list.

    Thanks! 🙂

  4. Clay says:

    Well, Counting Crows do write all of their songs together… Duritz writes the lyrics, but the band composes the music. They’re similar to R.E.M. in that way, though the other band members aren’t as identifiable (to me, anyway) as Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Bill Berry.

    The Beatles are a little trickier, because they chose to share songwriting credit even though they often wrote solo. However, by their own admission, Lennon and McCartney added elements to each other’s songs so for the purposes of this list I considered them collaborators.

    Ben Folds and Paul Simon were the sole songwriters for their bands, and credited as such. Art Garfunkel doesn’t have a single songwriting credit on the S&G albums, and Darren Jesse and Robert Sledge have maybe one or two on the BFF records. So I considered their band work when compiling the list.

    Not sure if that helps!

  5. pegclifton says:

    All I can say is YES!!!!!!!! and what a wonderful tribute you wrote as well.

  6. Dana says:

    Okay, I admit King may be a bit of affirmative action placement:) However, when we saw her in concert, I was reminded as to just how great a songwriter she was. Not everything I heard at the concert was from Tapestry, though I couldn’t tell you from what albums they came. And yes, I probably gave her some credit for songs she wrote that were made hits by others, some of which found there way onto Tapestry and perhaps other recordings by her. I considered Joni Mitchell, who I think deserves consideration, but the truth is that, save for a few albums, I really don’t know the fill body of her work either. I also considered Aimee Mann as I think she really has evolved into a great songwriter.

    As for Lennon, I think he deserves top 10 consideration based upon his solo work, but yes, I did consider his Beatles work as well. While there may have been some songs where McCartney provided some influence, it seems pretty clear to me that many of Lennon’s songs were all him and that McCartney was listed as a co-writer simply because that’s the way they decided to do it.

    As for Simon, I forgot to mention the abysmal “Cars are Cars,” but that song exemplifies to me some of the weakness of his pre-Graceland output. That song may have single-handedly knocked Simon down a few spots:)

  7. Amy says:

    In no particular order…

    My top ten songwriters:

    Randy Newman
    Billy Joel
    Carole King
    James Taylor
    Lyle Lovett
    Bruce Springsteen
    Bob Dylan
    Paul Simon
    Joni Mitchell
    Van Morrison

    My test had to do with whether they had – and how many they had – a “perfect” song, crafted as well as I could imagine a song being crafted. I don’t begin to pretend to know every song written by each of these songwriters, so there may be many “Cars are cars” stinkers attributed to them as well. However, just one “If I Had a Boat,” “Tunnel of Love,” “Into the Mystic,” “You’ve Got a Friend,” “Fire and Rain,” “Feels Like Home,” “Vienna,” “Carey,” “Under African Skies,” or “Positively 4th Street” should be enough to get a songwriter consideration for a list like this one.

    While I hold to not putting them in order, I will say that Paul Simon, Lyle Lovett, and Randy Newman would definitely be in my top five.

  8. Amy says:

    Oh, and before you both start giving me grief for not putting Elvis Costello or Ben Folds on MY list, I will say that they tie for the 11th spot 🙂

    If I were just assessing talented songwriters, certainly they would be higher. However, I was making a list of songwriters who have crafted songs that move me. As Clay said in his original posts about each, they can come off a bit cold, so that may have been the difference.

  9. Clay says:

    Hey, I never said Ben Folds comes off cold! On the contrary, I said the opposite.

    Good list, though I do think the “perfect song” criteria would open things up to way too many songwriters to fit in a top ten.

    The four we all share in common are Billy Joel, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan and Randy Newman. Nice group of very different artists.

  10. Amy says:

    I agree about my criteria; it makes no sense whatsoever! 😉

    Meanwhile, I’m almost certain we had a discussion about “cold” vs. “warm” songs, with you suggesting that the piano might just be a colder instrument than the guitar…. maybe I imagined that whole thread?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.