This week we’re going to take a trip back in time. The year is 1986: the Russians have launched Mir, Ronald Reagan is president, the Miami Vice-look still has a stronghold on fashion, and a post-Garfunkel Paul Simon just released a new record titled Graceland. It’s quite unlike anything we’ve heard at the time: a mix of pop, African-influence, zydeco, and a healthy dose of Simon’s knack for stellar songwriting.
From the opening track “The Boy in the Bubble,” it becomes apparent that this is not your average 1980’s pop record. Using the correct proportions of accordion, clean electric guitar, and African roots the songs manage to ebb and flow while remaining cohesive as a whole record. My personal favorite tracks come in the middle of the album- “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” and “You Can Call Me Al.” “Diamonds begins with a soulful delivery from Ladysmith Black Mambazo and continues into a bright story of optimistic love.
“You Can Call Me Al,” on the other hand, is one of those songs that you can’t help but dance along with. It has a great 4-on-the-floor dance beat and plenty of 80’s synth and horns. Oftentimes I find myself humming “If you’ll be my bodyguard I can be your long-lost pal…”
In 1986 Graceland won the Grammy for record of the year (back when that award might have actually meant something). Recently, in 2007, it was added to the US National Recording Registry and has come back into vogue as African-infused beats and clean electric guitars have again become popular in mainstream music. While they may not readily admit to it, bands such as Vampire Weekend owe a lot to Graceland for helping to define a sound that has a certain timeless quality. Take a trip back in time and hear the record that has been inspiring musicians for the last 25 years- borrow your parent’s copy, dust off the turntable, and enjoy.