Paul Simon Albums: Ranked from Worst to Best

Paul Simon has enjoyed a long, worthwhile solo career since Simon and Garfunkel‘s breakup in 1970. A musical chameleon, he launched his post-duo career with an acoustic record that fitted into the singer-songwriter movement of 1972, then moved into jazz-inflected soft rock with 1975’s Grammy-winning Still Crazy After All These Years. By the early 1980s his career appeared to be petering out; 1983’s Hearts and Bones failed to make the US Top 40.

Simon successfully reinvented himself with the South African sounds of 1986’s Graceland, however, and explored world music further with The Rhythm of the Saints. His 21st-century output is enjoyable; his most recent three albums, Surprise, So Beautiful or So What, and Stranger to Stranger have all been substantial efforts from a restless musical explorer.

Simon hasn’t been especially prolific, only releasing 13 solo albums between 1965’s The Paul Simon Songbook and 2016’s Stranger to Stranger. This just means that his solo releases have been meticulously crafted and are almost all worth hearing. Simon also has a handful of excellent songs that never featured on a studio album – ‘Slip Slidin’ Away’ and ‘Stranded in a Limousine’ first appeared on 1977’s Greatest Hits Etc., while ‘Thelma’ was an outtake from The Rhythm of the Saints that first appeared on 1993’s Paul Simon Anthology.

Here are Paul Simon’s studio albums ranked from worst to best:

paul-simon-songs-from-the-capeman

#14 Songs From The Capeman

1997
Simon spent much of the 1990s working on a Broadway musical, The Capeman. It was written about Salvador Agron, a Puerto Rican immigrant who murdered two teenagers in Manhattan in 1959. The Broadway musical was a flop, while the album, with Simon’s version’s on songs from the musical, was his lowest-charting album. Simon doesn’t convince as a Broadway songwriter – the best songs, like ‘Trailways Bus’ and ‘Can I Forgive Him?’, stick closest to his singer-songwriter roots. It’s entertaining to hear Simon swear profusely on ‘The Vampires’, but the odd mix of Latin and doo-wop often doesn’t work.


Paul Simon Songbook

#13 The Paul Simon Songbook

1965
While Simon & Garfunkel were on hiatus after the failure of their debut album, Simon attempted to launch a folk career in London. He cut an album of songs that would mostly later appear on Simon and Garfunkel’s two 1966 albums. Recorded quickly with just Simon’s voice and guitar, it’s a worthy showcase for the young Simon. The Simon and Garfunkel versions are more polished and iconic, however, leaving Songbook as a historical curiosity.


#12 Seven Psalms

2023
Seven Psalms
feels like a bonus release from Simon. In his 80s, he’s already released a fabulous body of music. The appeal of Seven Psalms is 90% lyrics – it’s all one long song, divided into seven sections. It’s nice to have Simon still around, delivering patently Simon lines like “In my professional opinion/I’m no more satisfied than you are”.


paul-simon-youre-the-one

#11 You’re The One

2000
You’re The One
serves as a retrenchment of Paul Simon’s signature style after the misguided Capeman project. It’s full of introspective lyrics and acoustic guitar and cracked the Billboard top 20, but it’s one of Simon’s least impressive sets of songs. But even on a lesser Paul Simon album, there’s worthwhile material like ‘Señorita With a Necklace of Tears’ and ‘Darling Lorraine’.


Paul Simon Still Crazy After All These Years

#10 Still Crazy After All These Years

1975
Simon dived into a jazzy, soft-rock sound on his third solo album, featuring musicians like Michael Brecker and Phil Woods. This ranking is low for a Grammy-winning album that contains iconic Simon songs like ’50 Ways To Leave Your Lover’, ‘Gone At Last’, ‘My Little Town’, and the title track. Take away the singles, however, and you’re left with a bunch of unremarkable, self-justifying songs that deal with Simon’s recent divorce.

I’m gonna leave you now
And here’s the reason why
I like to sleep with the window open
And you keep the window closed
So goodbye, goodbye, goodbye


Paul Simon One Trick Pony

#9 One-Trick Pony

1980
Simon spent the second half of the 1970s dabbling in cinema – he appeared in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, and then wrote and starred in One-Trick Pony. The movie, about a struggling musician, was ultimately unsuccessful – it’s most fondly remembered for the hit song ‘Late in the Evening’. The accompanying soundtrack is similar to the jazzy soft-rock of Still Crazy but it’s a more consistent set with strong album tracks like ‘Jonah’ and ‘Ace in the Hole’.


paul-simon-so-beautiful-or-so-what

#8 So Beautiful or So What

2011
Simon reunited with longtime producer Phil Ramone for his 12th studio album, recorded mostly in a cottage at his home in Connecticut. So Beautiful or So What is based around Indian rhythms and Western African blues guitar. Highlights include ‘Dazzling Blue’, dedicated to Simon’s wife Edie Brickell, and ‘The Afterlife’, where the protagonist finds heaven a bureaucratic nightmare until he meets his creator and he’s lost for words.


Paul Simon Stranger to Stranger

#7 Stranger to Stranger

2016
Even at the age of 74, Simon’s still innovating on Stranger to Stranger. He teams up with young Italian producer Clap!Clap! for three tracks, as well as using Harry Partch’s instruments that were built for the micro-tonal scale (Partch used 43 tones in an octave instead of the usual 12 of Western music). ‘Wristband’ tells the story of a musician locked out of his own gig, who launches into a diatribe about inequality.


paul-simon-surprise

#6 Surprise

2006
Simon teamed up with veteran British producer Brian Eno for Surprise. Eno adds atmospheric washes behind Simon’s thoughtful songs, while Steve Gadd provides drums. Jazz legend Herbie Hancock provides piano on the hymn-like ‘Wartime Prayers’, the strongest Simon song since The Rhythm of the Saints. The lovely ‘Father and Daughter’, with Vincent Nguini on guitar, was originally featured on The Wild Thornberrys.


paul_simon-hearts_and_bones_a_1

#5 Hearts and Bones

1983
Hearts and Bones
was planned as a Simon and Garfunkel album, in the wake of the pair’s successful live reunion in 1981. Garfunkel failed to complete his vocals on time, so Simon released it as a solo record. Hearts and Bones is inconsistent, with trivialities like ‘Cars Are Cars’ and ‘Think Too Much (b)’. The best work, however, includes some of Simon’s most stunning songs. ‘Train in the Distance’ is about his first marriage, while the title track details his relationship with Carrie Fisher. There’s also the lovely ‘Rene and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After The War’, as well as ‘Song About The Moon’.


Paul Simon 1972 Debut

#4 Paul Simon

1972
Following the grandeur of Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water, Paul Simon’s debut album is a stripped-back affair, low key and personal. Simon’s experimenting with world music, like the early adoption of reggae on ‘Mother and Child Reunion’ and the Andean interludes of ‘Duncan’. There’s also the low key, acoustic ‘Peace Like A River’, an overlooked gem in a deep catalogue. Simon’s yet to disclose what the mama saw in ‘Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard’.


Paul Simon Rhythm of the Saints

#3 The Rhythm of the Saints

1990
Simon took the African guitars of Graceland, played by Vincent Nguini, and cross-pollinated them with Latin American rhythms. The Rhythm of the Saints is a little subdued and insular, apart from the rhythmic opener ‘The Obvious Child’. It’s one of Simon’s most substantial albums, nonetheless, with highlights like the gorgeous ‘Spirit Voices’ and the stunning climax of ‘The Cool, Cool River’.


#2 There Goes Rhymin’ Simon

1973
There Goes Rhymin’ Simon has a bunch of fun material that would have made for a terrific Simon & Garfunkel album. It’s eclectic and jam-packed with highlights. The elegant anti-Nixon protest of ‘American Tune’, the gospel of ‘Loves Me Like A Rock’, the New Orleans ‘Take Me To The Mardi-Gras’, and the lush Quincy Jones arrangement of ‘Something So Right’ are all among Simon’s best solo songs. There’s a great piano riff on ‘One Man’s Ceiling Is Another Man’s Floor’, as well as overlooked treasures like ‘St. Judy’s Comet’.


Paul Simon Graceland

#1 Graceland

1986
Paul Simon rekindled a flagging career and introduced South African musicians, then isolated by apartheid, to the world with 1986’s Graceland. Even without the novelty of the sound, it’s filled with great songs like ‘The Boy In The Bubble’, ‘Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes’, and ‘Under African Skies’. Simon’s musical heroes, The Everly Brothers, provide backing vocals for the title track.


With Simon turning 77 this year and recently announcing his last tour, it’s unclear if he’ll have the opportunity to add much further to his excellent catalogue, but along with his five albums with Art Garfunkel, he’s left an excellent legacy. Agree? Disagree? Do you have a favourite Paul Simon solo album?

What is your favourite Paul Simon studio album?
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16 Comments

  1. No arguments from me, even if certain albums might swap places on my own least-favorite-to-most-favorite list (I have an aversion to using “worst” in music discussions). The Paul Simon discography was one of the first I tackled when I started my blog 7 years ago. It reignited my love of “Graceland” and gave me an appreciation for certain albums I had previously overlooked. I’m especially happy to see Still Crazy… so low on your list. I like the big tracks on that one, as well as the overall vibe of the album, but song-for-song it’s much spottier than the majority of this albums.

    • The ones I found hardest to rank were the three new ones – I like them all about equally. I think they deserve those 6-8 slots, but my ranking of them felt a little arbitrary.

      Still Crazy was a weird choice as Grammy winner – it’s currently ranked as the #200 ranked album for 1975 on RateYourMusic, which sounds about right. There are a ton of classic rock staples that year; Born To Run, Physical Graffiti, Wish You Were Here, Blood on the Tracks, A Night at the Opera, or left field choices like Eno’s Another Green World, Patti Smith’s Horses, or Keith Jarrett’s The Koln Concert.

  2. I’ve always thought “Hearts and Bones” was an unappreciated album glad to see you have it ranked high also.

    • There are a couple of throwaways – the slow version of Think Too Much and Cars Are Cars, but there’s lots of great stuff. I like Rene and Georgette Magritte and Song About The Moon a lot as well.

      • Hearts & Bones is on the 1001 list, I have it but haven’t gotten around to listening yet, encouraging to hear there’s plenty to like on it.
        Graceland and the self-titled are also on the list – right where they belong!

  3. Don’t know enough of these albums (particularly the 21st C ones) to present an alternative list, Geoff, but I suspect mine might look quite different.

    I love the sardonic commentary on relationships (and the brilliant playing) on Still Crazy, and think there are at least two more strong songs on One Trick Pony, meaning that both would be in the higher echelons of (admittedly) a shorter list.

    Also I’d try to squeeze in Greatest Hits etc. based on the two songs you mention, both of which are terrific.

    • It’s interesting I’m not to keen on Still Crazy given that Court and Spark is my favourite Joni album, and the two have obvious similarities, with their slick, jazzy sound. Maybe it depends if you interpret the lyrics as sardonic or moaning.

  4. I have reviewed the self-titled solo debut Paul Simon myself and I also featured the song “Peace Like A River” as my favourite. If you like this kind of music check out some early Bruce Cockburn from the same era.

  5. Generally speaking, I’m pretty much in agreement. I probably in some ways have a greater fondness for ‘Rhymin’ Simon’ than I do for ‘Graceland.’ Some very personal stuff on there. I have literally never heard of ‘Surprise,’ completely missed that one. Couldn’t name one song. I bought ‘You’re the One’ on a whim, didn’t like it much at all. I have some of ‘Capeman’ on a compilation and enjoyed what I heard. I read about that fiasco. Simon let his ego get the best of him and wouldn’t let Broadway people tell him anything. A shame. Like Sting’s Broadway foray, went nowhere.

    • Thanks for commenting – I was hoping you’d chime in. There Goes Rhymin’ seems like the clear highlight of his early solo career to me, although I understand some people find it too mellow.

      You’re The One seems a bit rushed to me – like he put it out quickly to compensate for Capeman being a misstep. But his three albums since have all been pretty good. This is one of my favourites from Surprise, although it’s pretty sentimental:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=COQPSoRFdwg

  6. While I know a good number of Paul Simon songs, mostly from the 70s and 80s, I’m not well familiar with his entire solo albums. I also know very little about his more recent work.

    The “Graceland” album is an exception. I’ve listened to that record many times and really dig it. I also had a chance to see Simon in Germany during the tour that supported the album.

    He played with a big band of African musicians, presumably some of the same guys with whom he recorded the album. Watching the African musicians perform on stage was simply amazing. You could really see the joy they had while playing!

    The concert was divided in three parts. During the first part, only the African musicians performed traditional music without Simon being on stage – really cool! This was followed by a part during which they all played together, doing songs from the “Graceland” album. During the final part, Simon was solo, playing some classics from the Simon & Garfunkel era.

    To this day, the concert remains one of the best shows I’ve seen.

  7. Come on now Still crazy at 10 !! you must be crazy!!! so many great songs not just the obvious ones
    My Little Town what a an absolute masterpiece one of the anthems of my youth .

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