Paul Simon's So Beautiful or So What comes out today, a 10-song collection that Simon calls "the best work I've done in 20 years." (See Simon describe the process of writing the songs for So Beautiful or So What in the May issue of The Atlantic.) Simon is known for his pop-rock classics that range from the upbeat ("Cecilia," "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard") to the introspective ("The Boxer," "Sounds of Silence") and for his groundbreaking African-fusion album, Graceland.
But it's worth exploring the songs in Simon's library that don't appear on his Greatest Hits albums. Here, a sampling of five of his best lesser-known tracks:
"Duncan" from Paul Simon
Some of Simon's most famous songs are travelogues, from "America" to "The Boxer" to "Graceland." "Duncan," from Simon's first album after the Simon & Garfunkel breakup, is in the same tradition: It tells the story of Lincoln Duncan, the son of a Canadian fisherman who moves to New England. And it features one of the most arresting opening lines in all of pop music.
"One Man's Ceiling is Another Man's Floor" from There Goes Rhymin' Simon
This song is all about atmosphere: Lyrically, it's an After-School-Special-worthy tune about the importance of being a good neighbor. But the sinister piano scales that appear throughout, coupled with Simon's anguish-infused vocals, make this song a moody reminder that no man is an island.
"Born at the Right Time" from The Rhythm of the Saints
Rhythm of the Saints, Simon's Brazilian-inspired follow-up to Graceland was neither as commercially successful nor as enduring in the public consciousness as its predecessor. But Saints is a beautiful—and beautifully paced—album, as exemplified by the mellow, rambling "Born at the Right Time."
"Adios Hermanos" from Songs From The Capeman
Before Bono was writing the score for the Spider-Man musical, another rock legend tried his hand at Broadway success: Paul Simon. The Capeman, a musical about murderer Salvador Agron that Simon co-wrote with Derek Walcott, opened in January 1998 and only lasted 68 performances. The play's subject matter was controversial—families of Agron's victims complained it glorified his crimes—but the music is glorious. This song describes Agron's agonizing day in court and his subsequent drive through his neighborhood on his way to prison.
"Old" from You're the One
Here we see Simon's playful, self-deprecating side. This song is an extended argument for why Simon is not old, and it includes lines like "God is old/I am not old" and rhymes we haven't heard since "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover." Added bonus: the irreverent final line.
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