Released: February 1972
Chart Peak: #4
Weeks Charted: 36
Certified Platinum: 11/21/86
It's been reported that Paul Simon is wondering about his place in musical history, presumably because he fears his work may not be judged by future generations as on a par with such giants as Lennon & McCartney and Dylan. Why even think about it, Paul? If the experts of the 21st century and beyond can't appreciate your contribution, it's their loss.
In just about anyone else's hands all of this would make for a pretty depressing album. But perhaps because Simon retains just a glimmer of hope -- expressing it mainly in his vocal approach -- the record is strangely exhilarating. Simon is taking a long hard look at himself here and giving us his findings with an almost clinical air. Like all of us he has lived through some turbulent times and like most of us he has been scarred. But like only the most honest of us, he can point to those scars and even admit to a fascination with their shape and texture. This is a highly personal record -- in some ways even a confession -- but it has a moving universality to it. Paul co-produced the set and selected only the finest musicians (David Spinoza, Airto Moreira and Charlie McCoy to name just three) as his accompanists. Tracks were recorded in Paris, Kingston, Jamaica, San Francisco and New York. That made for a lot of traveling, but in the sum total of the album's tracks Paul Simon has very definitely and quite marvelously come home.
- Ed Kelleher, Circus, 4-72.
In his first solo album, Paul Simon superbly combines the sound of the Simon and Garfunkel team with arrangements going from the Jamaican style "Mother and Child Reunion" to the quiet protest "Armistice Day." An assortment of sidemen play and sing along helping make this a marvelous entry.
- Billboard, 1972.
Everything about Paul Simon's solo album suggests ease and sincerity. Unlike some past Simon and Garfunkel performances, Paul Simon generally avoids the cryptic, the cute and the catchy for songs of genuine musical power. Paul is at his best in a tune such as "Run That Body Down," taking a seriocomic detached tone about things, dipping periodically into a relaxed falsetto, clearly getting it off with some of the best musicians in the business, including Jerry Hahn (electric guitar) and Ron Carter (bass). The supporting personnel throughout are superb, even to including Hot Club of France veteran Stephane Grappelli, but it is Simon's production that brings off the special effects of instruments such as bass harmonicas and bottleneck guitars and makes them work. He is becoming a master of such effects, viz., the unison, self-accompanied vocal of "My and Julio Down by the Schoolyard" and the old-timy sound of "Papa Hobo." The disc is a joy from beginning to end, because it's both casual and self-assured.
- Playboy, 6-72.
"Congratulations, oh, seems like you've done it again." The two year wait was worthwhile. Paul Simon has come up with 11 great new songs. Art Garfunkel's voice is missed but Paul sings with such feeling, you forget he wasn't always the soloist.
The new album has all kinds of music: jazz ("Hobo's Blues"), soul ("Mother and Child Reunion"), reggae ("Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard") and latin ("Duncan"). The lyrics mention everything from drugs to congressmen, to peace, to pollution. But despite these "heavy" subjects, Simon's album is fun. Just about every song has a line or two that brings a smile to your face -- meanwhile he is saying something important and easy to identify with.
This album belongs within the ranks of "Bridge Over Troubled Water." It will strengthen Paul's reputation as a songwriter, producer, and guitarist. But perhaps most important, this LP heralds the coming of Paul Simon, a great performer.
- Patricia Fernandez, Hit Parader, 9/72.
I've been saying nasty things about Simon since 1967, but this is the only thing in the universe to make me positively happy in the first two weeks of February 1972. I hope Art Garfunkel is gone for good -- he always seemed so vestigial, but it's obvious now that two-part harmony crippled Simon's naturally agile singing and composing. And the words! This is a professional tour of Manhattan for youth culture grads, complete with Bella Abzug, hard rain, and people who steal your chow fong. The self-production is economical and lively, with the guitars of Jerry Hahn and Stefan Grossman and Airto Moreira's percussion especially inspired. William Carlos Williams after the repression: "Peace Like a River." A+
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
Probably his least guarded recording. Simon's sense of joy and exhilaration at being unleashed from the personal and musical constraints of the sixties folk/rock duo, Simon & Garfunkel, is palpable in the eleven selections that make up Paul Simon. From its better-known cuts, "Mother and Child Reunion," "Duncan," and "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard," to lesser-known classics like "Peace Like a River," the CD's enhanced dynamics and openness give this release an appealing intimacy its vinyl predecessor lacked. As the first chapter of a solo career notable for its high quality and duration, this remains one of the highlights of a body of recordings that now spans three decades. It also presaged Simon's involvement with World Beat, as it was one of the first U.S. mainstream recordings to use Jamaican reggae. The CD's sound does betray its analog roots, evidencing slight hiss and some compression, but it is a marked improvement over the LP. A+
- Bill Shapiro, Rock & Roll Review: A Guide to Good Rock on CD, 1991.
Backing away from the heavy production of the last Simon & Garfunkel album, Paul Simon's first solo outing is a quiet affair based around acoustic guitar. "Mother and Child Reunion," a successful experiment with reggae, is included, as is "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard"; the great Stephane Grappelli guests on "Hobo's Blues." Many of Simon's finest songs are found here. * * * * *
- Stephen Thomas Erlewine, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
If any musical justification were needed for the breakup of Simon and Garfunkel, it could be found on this striking collection, Paul Simon's post-split debut. From the opening cut, "Mother And Child Reunion" (a Top Ten hit), Simon, who had snuck several subtle musical explorations into the generally conservative S&G sound, broke free, heralding the rise of reggae with an exuberant track recorded in Jamaica for a song about death. From there, it was off to Paris for a track in South American style and a rambling story of a fisherman's son, "Duncan" (which made the singles chart). But most of the album had a low-key feel, with Simon on acoustic guitar backed by only a few trusted associates (among them Joe Osborn, Larry Knechtel, David Spinoza, Mike Manieri, Ron Carter, and Hal Blaine, along with such guests as Stefan Grossman, Airto Moreira, and Stephane Grappelli), singing a group of informal, intimate, funny, and closely observed songs (among them the lively Top 40 hit "Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard"). It was miles removed from the big, stately ballad style of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and signalled that Simon was a versatile songwriter as well as an expressive singer with a much broader range of musical interests than he had previously demonstrated. You didn't miss Art Garfunkel on Paul Simon, not only because Simon didn't write Garfunkel-like showcases for himself, but because the songs he did write showed off his own, more varied musical strengths. (Originally released by Columbia Records in January 1972 as Columbia 30750, Paul Simon was reissued in 1988 by Warner Brothers Records as Warner Brothers 25588.)
- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock.
Paul Simon picks up the world music groove -- which Paul Simon lightly persued with Art Garfunkel -- on the hits "Mother and Child Reunion" and "Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard." * * * *
- Leland Rucker, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.
The Seventies' confessional singer-songwriters have been oft-maligned, probably because they oft sucked. But Paul Simon's 1972 solo debut holds up as that oddest of rock & roll oddities: a perfect album -- eleven great songs, some viciously funny, some mournfully sad, no sap or sentiment, every emotion brought to life over a mellow but physically gripping acoustic groove. And although Simon is one of the most acclaimed songwriters of his generation, Paul Simon remains a curiously overlooked gem, as unique in the context of his career as it is outside it. In the aftermath of Simon and Garfunkel's acrimonious breakup, Simon came ready to show and prove, stripping the songs down to give the music room to breathe. He cut back on the flowery poesy of his early work, using his nimble doo-wop voice and his startingly articulate guitar to flesh out the most adult songs he'd ever written: the late-night brooding of "Peace Like a River," the emotional devastation of "Mother and Child Reunion," the hard-ass New York wit of "Everything Put Together Falls Apart." Paul Simon has the eclectic instrumental touches that came to be a Simon trademark -- one track cut in Jamaica with reggae producer Leslie "King" Kong, another cut in Paris with jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli -- but it flows and even swings as a whole. The bodily grace of the music gives Simon a spiritual lift as he sings about the collapse of the Sixties dream, whether he's cracking wise about personal vices ("Run That Body Down") or facing up to political struggles ("Armistice Day"). "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard" is the funniest song about Catholic guilt ever written by a Jewish guy: Simon stumbles into a hilariously sordid sexual awakening, waves goodbye to a home he can never return to, boogies to Airto Moreira's percussion and knocks off one of the great whistling solos in rock history, all in less than three minutes. Beck would kill to have written this song. Simon would go on to score bigger hits, would even get splashier reviews, but he has never made another album that sounded quite like Paul Simon -- and neither has anybody else. * * * * *
- Rob Sheffield, Rolling Stone, 11-8-01.
If Paul Simon was not already sure the game was up, then the recording of "So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright" surely confirmed it. The closing track on side one of Bridge Over Troubled Water was sung with inimitable grace by Art Garfunkel, seemingly unaware that Simon had written the song about the dissolution of their friendship. Simon kept "The Only Living Boy In New York" for himself, but the water came from the same well: Simon's sadness at Garfunkel's desire to spend less time on the group and more on his movie career. The album emerged in early 1970, but the partnership did not much outlast the Grammys in March.
With Garfunkel filming Catch-22 for much of its recording, Bridge Over Troubled Water was virtually a Simon solo album in all but name. Paul Simon was a very different record, though. There are signs of Simon's magpie enthusiasm for exotic musics: the reggae lilt of "Mother And Child Reunion," featuring an assortment of Jamaican music notables (the title was inspired by a chicken-and-egg dish Simon ate at a Chinese restaurant), and "Hobo's Blues," with Simon playing Django to violinist Stephane Grappelli.
But Paul Simon is best approached as one of the best singer-songwriter albums of the Seventies. With the microphone to himself, Simon's in wonderful vocal form, yet his compositional voice is stronger on "Duncan" ("The Boxer" meets "El Condor Pasa"), on the waltzing melancholia of "Congratulations," and on "Everything Put Together Falls Apart," whose flowing yet labyrinthine chord structure is a supreme two-minute masterclass in sophisticated songwriting.
- Will Fulford-Jones, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, 2005.
In the wake of Bridge Over Troubled Water's massive success and deliberate grandeur, the first album of Simon's new solo career seemed musically spare and more modest in reach. But its expansive geniality -- the warming-reggae optimism of "Mother and Child Reunion," recorded in Jamaica; the adolescent bounce of "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard" -- was perfect pop in design and delivery.
- David Fricke, Rolling Stone, 12/1/16.
The first solo effort from Simon showcased his storytelling, deft singing, and virtuosic guitar-picking. It also forecast the global fusion he'd later pursue on Graceland -- from the reggae of "Mother and Child Reunion" to the samba-influenced "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard."
Paul Simon was chosen as the 425th greatest album of all time in a Rolling Stone magazine poll of artists, producers, critics and music industry figures in Oct. 2020.
- Rolling Stone, 10/20.
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