SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: You Can Call Me Al

Each Saturday, Jason spotlights one person, product, service, or work of art he finds particularly amazing; the kinds of things that make you wonder, “Why doesn’t everyone have this?” (Read more atwww. jasonrpeters.com.)

Today’s spotlight falls on one of my favorite songs of all time; it was featured at my wedding, and is guaranteed to force my wife and I to dance in whatever confined space is available to us at the moment; most recently, the front seats of our sedan.

More amazingly, I can’t honestly say that I’ve ever met anyone who doesn’t like “You Can Call Me Al” by Paul Simon.

The song proves Simon’s pure artistry just in the layering of the opening lines:

The brass hook leaping forward promptly at 0:00 prepares you for music that moves. The bass line introduced at ~0:03 immediately delivers on that promise, quickly followed with snazzy percussion. Each layer is catchy on its own; together they synergize deliciously.

Like most memorable songs, you will inevitably find yourself singing along with the instruments as much as the lyrics. The chorus, beginning at 0:44, delivers my favorite musical technique of all: True polyphony, that is, two melodies skillfully woven into each other: The brass and the chorus.

Paul Simon’s vocals deliver poetic and imaginative storytelling, part introspection, part humor. His tenor soars among and over the listener like a bird in effortless flight while his words force you to ponder your own mid-life crisis. His background singers offer enveloping harmonies of bass warmth, and serve as musical punctuation.

The verses and chorus would be enough to make this tune one for frequent and happy jamming, but Simon didn’t stop there. This three minute show is nearly stolen by the various instrumental solos peppered throughout the piece like the seasoning of a master chef. The penny whistle at 1:45, the vocal “na na’s” at 3:15, the congo drum riff at 3:29, and the unforgettable base line at 3:44.

A second music video was produced after Paul Simon expressed displeasure with the original; with a concept by Lorne Michaels of Saturday Night Live fame and (more my brand of humor) the Kids in the Hall, Chevy Chase and Paul Simon perform a musical sketch chock full of subtle visual humor.

If this song does not move you sing, dance, hum, or at least tap your foot along, I contend you have a heart of stone.

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