If you’ll be my bodyguard, I can be your long-lost friend.
But, can I call you Betty? Because on Monday, my brain is a little fuzzy.
Most would say a song that gets stuck in one’s head at varying times throughout there life would be their own personal Hell. I say…it’s not always bad. I’ve had songs work their way into my brain, plant themselves in my subconscious, and throw themselves forward whenever it is appropriate. Such an example is today’s Music Monday. It’s a song that found me as an impressionable three-year-old (almost four by the time it was released) in 1986, planted itself in my mind, and every now and then, it comes out to play. It features one half of a 1960s music duo, striking it out on his own by the mid-1980s (it had been since before that, though), and in the music video, a comedian, instruments, lip-syncing, and dancing.
Over on Retroist in March 2016, I talked about the song “You Can Call Me Al,” which was my attempt to create GIPHY magic, but also to cure an obvious earworm. Ironically, this song hasn’t been stuck in my head since then, but since I like to brighten up Monday any way I can, I figured this would be a fun song to include here.
If it gets stuck in your head, that’s on you.
“You Can Call Me Al” was the debut single from Paul Simon’s 1986 album, Graceland. This album was inspired by his journey to South Africa, but this song is a bit of a departure from other songs on the album (though there are lyrics inspired by that journey). Simon recorded “You Can Call Me Al” in April 1986 at the Hit Factory (New York City). Due to Simon’s vocals having a quick pace, tape delays feeding into two audio channels were utilized to make the vocals clear.
The song starts off about the protagonist wondering why his life is difficult, with a little mix of midlife crisis, and a autobiographical lyrics (describing Simon’s trip to South Africa). The title itself stems from an incident at a party involving Simon, his then-wife Peggy Harper, and French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez all in attendance. Boulez mistakenly referred to Paul Simon as Al, and his wife as “Betty.”
That part always make me laugh, mostly because it reminds me of that one exchange in Caddyshack early on between Ty Webb and Danny Noonan:
Webb: I kinda like you, Betty.
Noonan: It’s Danny, sir.
The original video was recorded during Simon’s monologue on Saturday Night Live in the spring of 1986, but he was reportedly unhappy with the result. It had to do with the video being shot through the perspective of a video monitor. Sounds incredibly boring, right? So what happens when you don’t like the result? You call on Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels for some help, you hire Chevy Chase to lip sync your words, and you sit there and look sad.
Folks, that may not sound any better, but trust me, it all worked.
Don’t believe me? Click play and watch for yourself!
Upon the song’s release, it fared poorly, charting at #44 on the Billboard Hot 100. However, as sales of the album increased (and won Album of the Year at the 29th Annual Grammy Awards in 1987), the single re-entered the charts in March 1987, eventually peaking at #23 in May 1987. “You Can Call Me Al” was Simon’s biggest solo hit single.
Call me crazy (or Al), but I’m pretty sure this music video helped.
There’s also this parody featuring Jonah Ray (thanks Nerdist!), which is hilariously accurate! I also found a parody from 1998 that was filmed at a high school in my area on YouTube, and my brother’s friends loved this song in the mid-1990s. Years before that, I loved it, and still do. I even tried to find the Pop-Up Video version for this article, but, well…it was impossible.
Well, as we walk off into the sunset of a music video that probably contributed in some small way to the success of a song (not to mention the album it came from winning a pretty Major Award), we know the earworms of childhood will always find their way into our consciousness, whether we want them to or not.
You have no control over this, folks. Listen and deal with it.
Anyway, have a great day, try not to find to find yourself on a street in a strange world, and enjoy the music!
This song sounds fantastic!
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It’s one of those songs people forget about, but once they’ve heard it again, it comes back to them.
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