Okay, maybe this is not the most obvious Paul Simon song to sing as a lullaby. Especially considering that he wrote several actual lullabies, for example, “St Judy’s Comet”. But “St Judy’s Comet” is twee and lame, and “You Can Call Me Al” is brilliant. Just sing it slow and mellow, I can assure you that it works. Be sure to sing all the synth and horn and conga parts, and if you can whistle, do the pennywhistle solo too.

Like everyone else in my age cohort and socioeconomic bracket, my parents had Graceland on in heavy rotation when I was growing up. I was dimly aware that the songs were about Paul Simon’s divorce, but somehow I missed the crucial bit of information that they were about his divorce from Carrie Fisher. If you had told me when I was thirteen that Simon was married to Princess Leia for about twenty minutes, and that this incredible album was inspired in part by their breakup, I would have sublimated with joy. 

The song has a great video. The whole thing is just Paul Simon and Chevy Chase in a blank white room. While Chevy Chase enthusiastically lip-syncs the vocals, a deadpan Simon lugs various instruments into and out of the frame and plays them. If you don’t feel like clicking through, the visual punchline is that Chevy Chase is very tall, and Simon is very short. The video ran approximately three times on MTV back in the eighties, which was maddening. You kids should bear in mind that back in the olden days, we couldn’t just see any music video whenever we felt like it. We had to be at someone’s house who had MTV, the TV had to be on and tuned to that station, and MTV had to happen to be playing that video. It sucked.

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About the Curator - Ethan Hein

Ethan Hein is a Doctoral Fellow in Music Education at New York University. He teaches music technology, production and education at NYU and Montclair State University. With the NYU Music Experience Design Lab (https://www.musedlab.org), Ethan has taken a leadership role in the creation of new technologies for learning and expression, most notably the Groove Pizza (https://musedlab.org/groovepizza). In collaboration with Soundfly, he has developed a series of online music theory courses (https://soundfly.com/courses/unlocking-the-emotional-power-of-chords). He maintains a widely-followed and influential blog (http://www.ethanhein.com), and has written for various publications, including Slate, Quartz, and NewMusicBox.

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