You Can Call Me Al – Paul Simon

THIS DAY IN MUSIC………………………………..on January 31st of 1987 Paul Simon‘s “Graceland” went to number 1 on the UK album chart. The LP would stay on the list for 101 weeks. From that best selling LP comes the song “You Can Call Me Al”. Simon started recorded this song in South Africa, where he worked with local musicians and experimented with their sounds. He recorded with many different musicians while he was there, and he loved the work of the guys from a local group called Stimela, whose guitarist Ray Phiri came up with the riff for this song during one of their jam sessions. These recordings were edited together in New York by Simon’s producer Roy Halee – a monumental task in the age of analog recording, since in South Africa, they rolled a lot of tape that Halee had to sort out with a series of splices. So where did “Al” and “Betty” in this song come from? That stems from a 1970 party that Simon hosted with his wife, Peggy Harper. Simon’s friend, the composer Stanley Silverman, brought along another composer named Pierre Boulez, and when he made his exit, Boulez called Simon “Al” and his wife “Betty.” Boulez was French, and he wasn’t being rude – it was just his interpretation of what he heard: Paul=Al, Peggy=Betty. When they recorded the tracks for this song in South Africa, Simon and his producers were sure they had a hit with this song. Even though the Graceland album did very well, this song was a slow starter. The single did well in the UK, where it made #4 in September 1986, but in America, it stalled at #44 in October. After the album and video gained momentum, the song was reissued with more promotion in March 1987, and this time it went to #23 in the US. It was Simon’s last Top 40 hit in America.