♫ You Can Call Me Al ♫

If you asked me yesterday about a song titled “You Can Call Me Al”, I would have looked at you as if you had two heads, would have scratched my own head, and said, “Huh?”  I’ve heard the song many a time, but if I ever knew its title, I’ve long since forgotten!  Tonight, it’s late (2:30 a.m.) and I’m tired after a nearly sleepless night last night, so when Paul Simon popped into my head (I swear I need to remember to close that door!) I went in search of his best songs.  Of course, ‘best’ is relative and a matter of personal preference.  Anyway … a bit of background from the folks over at SongFacts …

  • 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.
  • The lyrics contain some intricate wordplay that Simon wrote very carefully around the track, and the character in the song symbolic of his South Africa experience. At the time, South Africa was divided by Apartheid, a policy that separated blacks and whites, and a cultural boycott was in place. Simon defied this boycott and went anyway, taking a lot of heat for his actions – even though his intentions were good, many black leaders in South Africa felt that any violation of the boycott hindered their cause. Simon explained: “‘You Can Call Me Al’ is really the story of somebody like me, who goes to Africa with no idea and ends up having an extraordinary spiritual experience.”
  • The best we can tell, this is by far the biggest hit containing a penny whistle solo. It was played by Jy Morr (Morris) Goldberg, a white South African who was living in New York.
  • Simon arranged for some of the musicians who played on this song, including guitarist Ray Phiri, bass player Bakithi Kumalo and drummer Isaac Mtshali, to came to America, where they worked on some other tracks for the album and backed Simon when he appeared on Saturday Night Live, where he performed this song on May 10, 1986, a few months before the album was released. These musicians later accompanied Simon on his worldwide tour for Graceland.
  • 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. The clip was also notable for its simplicity – it was shot in a small, unadorned room using a single camera.
  • Al Gore used this while he was running for Vice President in 1992. Simon has played at various Democratic fund raisers.
  • 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.

I might not consider this one of Simon’s best, but it did chart at #4 in the UK and #23 in the U.S., plus it reached the top five in seven different countries, so it must have had a following.  Don’t get me wrong … I like the song!  It has a beat that … just can’t be beat!  It just isn’t in my top ten favourites list.

You Can Call Me Al
Paul Simon
.
A man walks down the street
He says, “Why am I soft in the middle, now?
Why am I soft in the middle?
The rest of my life is so hard
I need a photo-opportunity
I want a shot at redemption
Don’t want to end up a cartoon
In a cartoon graveyard”
Bonedigger, Bonedigger
Dogs in the moonlight
Far away in my well-lit door
Mr. Beerbelly, Beerbelly
Get these mutts away from me
You know, I don’t find this stuff amusing anymore
.
If you’ll be my bodyguard
I can be your long lost pal
I can call you Betty
And Betty, when you call me, you can call me Al
.
A man walks down the street
He says, “Why am I short of attention?
Got a short little span of attention
And, whoa, my nights are so long
Where’s my wife and family?
What if I die here?
Who’ll be my role model
Now that my role model is gone, gone?”
He ducked back down the alley
With some roly-poly little bat-faced girl
All along, along
There were incidents and accidents
There were hints and allegations
.
If you’ll be my bodyguard
I can be your long lost pal
I can call you Betty
And Betty, when you call me, you can call me Al
Call me Al
.
A man walks down the street
It’s a street in a strange world
Maybe it’s the third world
Maybe it’s his first time around
Doesn’t speak the language
He holds no currency
He is a foreign man
He is surrounded by the sound, the sound
Cattle in the marketplace
Scatterings and orphanages
He looks around, around
He sees angels in the architecture
Spinning in infinity
He says, “Amen and Hallelujah!”
.
If you’ll be my bodyguard
I can be your long lost pal
I can call you Betty
And Betty, when you call me, you can call me Al
Call me
.
Na na na na, na na na na
Na na na na, na na na-na na-na
Na na na na, na-na na-na na na
Na na na na, na na na na
.
If you’ll be my bodyguard
I can call you Betty
If you’ll be my bodyguard
I can call you Betty
If you’ll be my bodyguard
.
Source: LyricFind
Songwriters: Paul Simon
You Can Call Me Al lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

32 thoughts on “♫ You Can Call Me Al ♫

  1. Pingback: YOU CAN CALL ME AL. |jilldennison.com | Ramblings of an Occupy Liberal

  2. Never knew all the words, never saw them in print before. They’re good. And the beat is something else. I am a fan of South Africa, in particular the fight for freedom from apartheid. It is a fight that resonates with me. Stephen Biko, say his name! Just don’t call him Al.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Love this song, love this video. My wife and I are always quoting the line, “Why am I soft in the middle? The rest of my life is so hard.” True, it’s not one of his best, just because he’s an amazing songwriter, but it’s a lot of fun.

    Liked by 1 person

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