This week’s selection is “You Can Call Me Al” by Paul Simon:
I used to love this video. This is when Chevy Chase was in his prime. “You Can Call Me Al” was the lead single off of Paul Simon’s classic Graceland album.
Here is some more information about the song from Songfacts.com:
– Simon recorded this 3 months after returning from South Africa, where he worked with local musicians and experimented with their sounds. At the time, South Africa was divided by Apartheid, a policy that separated blacks and whites, and many musicians were boycotting the country as a result. Simon’s visit went over very well, and including South African musicians on the album gave it a distinctive sound that helped make it a huge hit.
– In a 1990 interview with SongTalk magazine, Simon explained: “‘You Can Call Me Al’ starts off very easily with sort of a joke: ‘Why am I soft in the middle when the rest of my life is so hard?’ Very easy words. Then it has a chorus that you can’t understand. What is he talking about, you can call me Betty, and Betty, you can call me Al? You don’t know what I’m talking about. But I don’t think it’s bothersome. You don’t know what I’m talking about but neither do I. At that point.
The second verse is really a recapitulation: A man walks down the street, he says… another thing.
And by the time you get to the third verse, and people have been into the song long enough, now you can start to throw abstract images. Because there’s been a structure, and those abstract images, they will come down and fall into one of the slots that the mind has already made up about the structure of the song.
So now you have this guy who’s no longer thinking about the mundane thoughts, about whether he’s getting too fat, whether he needs a photo opportunity, or whether he’s afraid of the dogs in the moonlight and the graveyard.”
– This was the first single off Graceland, which won a Grammy for Album Of The Year in 1988. It was Simon’s first hit since 1980, when “Late In The Evening” went to #6 in the US.
– The African Rhythms were supplied by the South African group Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Simon would later produce 2 albums for the group.
– This contains a pennywhistle solo. It was played by Jy Morr Goldberg, a white South African who was living in New York.
– The video featured Chevy Chase lip-synching the vocals while Simon pretended to play various instruments. Most videos at the time were “Performance Videos,” meaning the bands would pretend to be playing the song. This video did a great job mocking them.
– This originally charted at US #44 in October, 1986. It was reissued with greater promotion in March, 1987 and hit #23.
– The University of Florida band plays the tune to “You Can Call Me Al” at every basketball game and has done so for a number of years. It serves at an unofficial theme for the basketball team. The student section at the O’Connell Center (where the basketball team plays) is called the Rowdy Reptiles and while the song plays students sing along with “Da da da da, da da da da…” waving their hands with the music. (thanks to Gator fan and alumnus Sarah Burchfield)