Music Article

Rating the Sounds of Simon

Rating Paul Simon's albums -- See what we thought of ''Hearts and Bones,'' ''Graceland,'' and more

Rating Paul Simon's albums

Paul Simon has been making records since the mid-'50s, but you'd never know it from the size of his discography. Between his work with Art Garfunkel and his solo records, he's made only 13 studio albums (including The Rhythm of the Saints) in 26 years, not counting repackages and compilations. Within those sporadic grooves, though, are some of the most sublime and articulate moments in pop.

Simon & Garfunkel

They were rock & roll's first intellectuals, but that doesn't mean all of Simon & Garfunkel's work has aged gracefully. Sounds of Silence (1966) is marred by Simon's English Lit pretensions, though it does include ''I Am a Rock'' and the electric version of the title track. Their overly earnest debut, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. (1964), is the sound of the Kingston Trio had they attended Harvard, and The Concert in Central Park (1982) documents their vibrant 1981 reunion concert but adds little to the recorded versions of the songs. For completists, Columbia's Collected Works tosses all five original albums into one box — terrific music, if shabbily packaged. The essential albums remain:

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme (1966)
Their most delicately produced work, with strong, affecting songs (''Homeward Bound'' and ''Scarborough Fair/Canticle'') that mostly steer clear of treacle. B+

Bookends (1968)
The duo's best album, divided between a poignant minisuite about growing up and old in America and a slew of sharp singles and B-sides (''Mrs. Robinson,'' ''Fakin' It,'' ''Hazy Shade of Winter''). A

Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970)
Smoother than Bookends but featuring slighter songs, except for the near-perfect title track and ''The Boxer.'' A-

Greatest Hits (1972)
The essential S&G plus a few previously unreleased live recordings. A

Solo Simon

On his own, Simon loosened up and stripped down his music, resulting in fewer top-10 hits but more adventurous records. All but diehards should avoid the superfluous Live Rhymin'/Paul Simon in Concert (1974); One Trick Pony (1980), the stillborn soundtrack to his flop movie about a washed-up '60s folk-rocker (though, to its credit, it does contain the salsa-driven ''Late in the Evening''); and Negotiations and Love Songs 1971-1986 (1988), a serviceable 16-track compilation that tiptoes around every phase of his post-S&G solo career. You're better off with any of the following:

Paul Simon (1972)
Simon's official solo statement of purpose: An album of eloquent introspection, caustic pop-culture references, and sparely produced music like ''Mother and Child Reunion.'' A

There Goes Rhymin' Simon (1973).
A more freewheeling record, incorporating gospel, Dixieland, R&B influences — and ''Something So Right,'' one of the most disarmingly honest love songs ever written. A-

Still Crazy After All These Years (1975)
A brooding meditation on marital troubles and life cycles that, while hardly upbeat, remains one of Simon's most commercially successful solo albums. Both writing and singing reached a conversational, graceful peak on ''50 Ways to Leave Your Lover'' and the droll title song. B+

Hearts and Bones (1983)
Simon in a subtle, pensive mood, exploring his failed marriage to Carrie Fisher in beautiful songs like the title track and the doo-wop-imbued ''Rene and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After the War.'' B

Graceland (1986)
The much-vaunted fusion of Upper East Side archness, South African rhythms, and Ray Phiri's guitar. Still a delight four years after the initial shock of hearing it. A

Originally posted Jan 18, 1991 Published in issue #49 Jan 18, 1991 Order article reprints
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