Graceland

Music review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Graceland Music Poster Image
Probably Simon's best, certainly his most engaging.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this music.

Positive Messages

The songs often don't so much deliver messages as capture emotional and visual snapshots -- often with humor, urgency, or both -- but there's a hopeful, positive quality, even in dire or surreal circumstances. Which isn't to say that Simon completely loses his sense of irony or realism: "You are the burden of my generation," he tells his kid amid rosy reminiscence about the day he met his mom. "I sure do love you, but let's get that straight." "The Boy in the Bubble" suggests that however weird things get, the overall direction is good. We hope.

Positive Role Models & Representations

While there are no spectacular examples of good behavior, the narrators of two songs ("Graceland" and "That Was Your Mother") are both loving fathers of young kids; the former is taking his son on what he hopes is a spiritual quest and the other is telling how Mom and Dad met. From the characters of "Under African Skies," who walk the world in more or less the same celestial harmonies as those delivered by Simon and Linda Ronstadt, to New York's favorite rich girl/poor boy duo in "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes," to Ladysmith Black Mambazo's soaring voices in "Homeless," to the dad packing up his kid and heading to Graceland as his domestic relationship collapses, it's all about rising above.

Violence

"The Boy in the Bubble" -- the album's most weirdly apocalyptic but ultimately hopeful song, jaggedly uptempo and full of sensational images from the headlines of the time ("the boy in the bubble and the baby with the baboon heart" -- ill-fated medical wonders of the '80s) begins with the image of a baby-carriage bomb blowing up soldiers in one of the regional conflicts of the time. You may want to proceed with caution with younger kids on this track, as some of its images are harrowing for the unprepared.

Sex

"Graceland" refers to the absence of the narrator's significant other from his bed, and also to the fact that his traveling companion is the child of his first marriage. Beyond that, about the raciest it gets is when the narrator looks at a fetching young woman in "That Was Your Mother," decides she's "pretty as a prayer book," and concludes, "If that's my prayer book, Lord let us pray!"

Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

"That Was Your Mother" includes a reference to the adult narrator drinking a little red wine.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that while this album isn't specifically for kids, and some of the songs deal with adult themes, from relationships to world events of the time, there's not much problematic content to worry about. There is no sex, drinking, drugs, or swearing, only one violent image (of a baby-carriage bomb blowing up soldiers), much positive food for thought, and some of the best music the '80s had to offer. Especially if your kids don't know Paul Simon's work, this is a great place to start.

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What's the story?

Carrying off the Grammy Award for Album of the Year in 1986, this album by singer/songwriter Simon was huge when it came out, not just for its lyrics and their capturing of the sweetness, sorrow, irony, and weirdness of the era (\"These are the days of miracle and wonder/ Don't cry baby don't cry ...\"), but for his collaboration with South African, zydeco, and Latin musicians on the tunes. This gave the resulting tracks an infectious accessibility and danceability rarely seen in his previous work, and brought him a whole new audience. The album, and the stellar contributions of South African singers Ladysmith Black Mambazo in particular, helped draw attention to the continuing presence of apartheid in that country.

Is it any good?

There's a pretty good case to be made GRACELAND is Simon's best album ever. It not only won a Grammy for Album of the Year in 1986 and reached No. 3 on the Billboard Top 200 chart, but the song "Graceland" also got a Grammy for Record of the Year in 1987. If Simon elsewhere in his work gets a bit self-absorbed and angsty, here his collaborators keep him out of the pit, so that even a song called "Homeless" somehow comes across as inspired and uplifting. Lyrically and musically, Graceland really hits the sweet spot.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why Graceland, Elvis Presley's home, is such an icon in American culture, and why it serves as a symbol of miracle and redemption.

  • What do you know about apartheid, which was the system of government in South Africa at the time this record was made, and how Ladysmith Black Mambazo's work in particular helped bring attention to it?

  • How are the current events in "The Boy in the Bubble" like today's, or different?

Music details

  • Artist: Paul Simon
  • Release date: August 12, 1986
  • Type: Album
  • Label: Sony Legacy
  • Genre: Rock
  • Parental advisory: No
  • Edited version available: No

For kids who love music for preteens and teens

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