Paul Simon: ‘I thought about putting political songs on ‘Graceland’, but I’m no good at them’

Paul Simon has spoken out about the making of his seminal 1986 album 'Graceland', in a new documentary film, Under African Skies.

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Paul Simon has spoken out about the making of his seminal 1986 album ‘Graceland’, in a new documentary film, Under African Skies.

Directed by Joe Berlinger, the film documents the recording of the album, the political fall-out which ensued after Simon broke the United Nations’ cultural boycott of South Africa and the 1987 Graceland world tour as well as last year’s 25th anniversary concert.


In the film, Paul Simon explains that he thought about putting songs on the album which referenced apartheid and the racial tensions in South Africa at the time of recording, but that he decided against it. He said: “I thought about writing political songs about the situation, but I’m not actually very good at it.” He added of the South African musicians he worked with on the album: “They didn’t say ‘come and tell our story'”.

Paul Simon went on to explain that he was “unprepared” for the atmosphere in South Africa when he went there to record and later added that he “wasn’t comfortable there”.

Lambasted for breaking the UN boycott by the Artists Against Apartheid organisation and by a number of commentators who accused him of being a cultural tourist after the album’s release, he said in the film that the “intensity of the criticism really did surprise me.”


Paul McCartney also features in the film to comment on the album’s negative reaction, saying: “Its always an interesting debate – its happened through history, particularly black history… With The Beatles, we recycled American black music to Americans. We were doing a lot of Motown and a lot of American white kids hadn’t heard Motown.”

Paul Simon also explained that he made the album in the wake of the “relative failure” of his 1983 album Hearts and Bones, which allowed him a certain amount of creative freedom. He said there was no-one “looking over my shoulder… I can do whatever I want and I’m not going to be getting calls from the record company every week.”

‘Graceland’ will be reissused this Spring in a commemorative edition deluxe collector’s box set as well as a two-disc set. Both feature the original album, bonus tracks and the director’s cut of Under African Skies.

Paul Simon is set to take ‘Graceland’ on the road later this year, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the 1987 tour of the album. Dates are yet to be announced.


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