I have come to the realization that growing up in the 80s generation of corny music video saturation ruined me on appreciating legendary albums made by legendary artists, like Paul Simon’s Graceland. The “You Can Call Me Al” video is a farce. Chevy Chase bouncing around like a fool and Paul being very stoic and still. I guess it was funny but I just didn’t take it seriously; I didn’t know anything about Paul Simon yet so corny a video caused me to simply dismiss it. I thought it was just a couple of old codgers being doofuses. Now that I am a doofusy old codger, I see the error of my ways. As an impressionable kid who also wanted to lay claim to teenage coolness, this imagery didn’t fly and that’s a shame, because, on Graceland, genius is packed tight like sardines in a can. I wish I appreciated it sooner.
Videos were way cooler in the 90s. They were more complex, visually stunning and often dealt with abstract themes and imagery. One in particular comes from Graceland‘s competitor. The video for Hill’s “Everything is Everything” is cooler than four Fonzies with amazing visual effects to boot. The island of Manhattan is a spinning record. A tone arm is sliding across the city streets. A hand reaches down to scratch the record and everyone on the streets gets completely thrown off their feet. Whoa! Mind blowing. That video worked.
One could make a case that Graceland should be #1 on Rolling Stone’s 80s List. One should make that case, so I will. The music is stunning. In true Paul Simon form, it flows like a rolling river across the ears. The crystal clear vocals fall from verse to verse in a perfectly tumbling sort of way. The African-Folk hybrid music rocks and sways like a tree in the wind. The production is interesting and satisfying too. Like in “You Can Call Me Al”, where the base line break riff is actually played backwards on the track creating this perfectly warped moment that snaps you out of perfection and then thrusts you back in 3 seconds later. That may not make too much sense but, listen to that song and you will know exactly what I mean. What stands out the most are the lyrics. Really the poetry. I am not sure there is any better lyrics in all of music than what is on Graceland. Tall statement, I know. For example, from “Boy in the Bubble”
It was a dry wind and it swept across the desert
And it curled into the circle of birth
And the dead sand falling on the children
The mothers and the fathers and the automatic earth
I read that verse over and over and it conjures different images in my mind every time. It’s big and complex in both in time and in space. I could quote endless lines in Graceland that stand out as the best ever. Better to just listen to it.
On TMLH, we are witness to boundless natural talent personified. I am sure that this kind of talent takes a lot of work, but with Lauryn Hill it just seems to ooze, without effort, from her every pore. It’s Lauryn (the high priestess of Neo-Soul) that stands out on the album, though some of the songs are truly tight jams with some of the best grooves going. Like the first track (after the skit) called “Lost Ones”. That song should be on every All-Time Best Ever Hip Hop Songs list.
It’s funny how money change a situation (BAM!! BAM!!)
Miscommunication leads to complication (BAM!!)
My emancipation don’t fit your equation (BAM!! BAM!!)
I was on the humble, you on every station (BAM!!)
However, if I were to nit pick a pretty perfect album, there are a few songs that lay a bit flat musically. Back in the day, 90s R&B was a lot about a loud bass carrying the chord changes over even louder drums. I want more funky guitar or keyboard or, even better, a horn section. Something! Those R&B songs are great and they fit the times, but they need to taste a little bit sweeter if they want to remain timeless. I need more colour than just the voice. Even though Hill’s singing is the star on this album, her rapping is why I come back.
You know what? That last paragraph is utter bullshit. All the songs are stellar. My negativity is toward another song that isn’t even on the album. It’s that snoozer of a dirge “Killing Me Softly” cover by the Fugees. Although Hill’s voice is gorgeous, that song is so excruciatingly boring I have these mini irksome moments when on TMLH there is a hint of a simple bass line with simple drums. I loved the first Fugees album so much and when one of the singles released for The Score was “Killing Me Softly” I was very disappointed. To me, it was anti-hardcore Rap. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is a perfect album and I have unfair and biased expectations based on something that this album is really not supposed to be. The Fugees were too brief and Lauryn Hill was too brief. I just want more of both so I can get that version of “Killing Me Softly” out of my head.
So……..Both of these albums, to me, are examples of someone unfairly judging them based on expectations that they shouldn’t have. Even though I would love for TMLH to get a win in this battle, it’s up against the unbeatable. Sorry Ms. Hill. You are among the best. I don’t like your version of “Killing Me Softly” so you just lost one.
WINNER: Paul Simon, Graceland (5 points)
Next week’s post – #4: Talking Heads, ‘Remain in Light’ (1980) vs. U2, ‘Achtung Baby’ (1991)