One Trick Pony – Paul Simon

One Trick Pony
Paul Simon
Warner Brothers 1980

Produced by Paul Simon & Phil Ramone

Released 12 August 1980

TRACKS
All songs written by Paul Simon

side oneside two
Late In The EveningAce In The Hole
(Duet with Richard Tee)
That’s Why God Made The MoviesNobody
One Trick Pony (live)Jonah
How The Heart Approaches What It YearnsGod Bless The Absentee
Oh, MarionLong, Long Day
(with Patti Austin)
1980 Release

2004 CD Re-release, additional tracks

Soft Parachutes
All Because of You
Spiral Highway
Stranded In A Limousine
2004 extra tracks

MUSICIANS
Paul Simon – vocal, nylon string guitar, electric guitar, percussion, acoustic guitar
Eric Gale- electric guitar (nylon string on How The Heart Approaches What It Yearns)
Richard Tee – Fender Rhodes piano, tambourine, backing vocal
Tony Levin – bass guitar
Steve Gadd – drums
with
High McCracken – acoustic guitar
Ralph MacDonald – percussion
Patti Austin, Lani Grove – vocals
Bob Friedman, Dave Grusin – horn and string arrangements
plus additional as noted

In the film, the band consists of Eric Gale, Richard Tee, Tony Levin and Steve Gadd, and that’s the band Paul Simon toured with in late 1980.

CHART
US Billboard: #12
UK albums #17

I found I had to do the film and the album, though separately.

This is not the worst critical ride Paul Simon ever got … keep that for Songs From The Capeman. His contemporaries Bob Dylan and John Lennon could turn in a dud album and did more than one each, but in Paul Simon’s case a truly dud album is impossible. Paul is too perfectionist to do that. So maybe ‘less revered album’ is better than ‘reviled.’ I could have done Songs From The Capeman, but then I have to listen to it a great deal to do this, and I always loved One Trick Pony.

I played the album non-stop on release. August 1980. I became a full-time author in April 1980. My co-author, Bernie Hartley, was away all summer on an extended Teacher Training trip, followed by promotions, in Argentina. When we went freelance, we’d worked at Bernie’s flat for a few months. There was work for our third textbook to be done, and I started working at home, with One Trick Pony playing all day long. I wanted to credit that book to Paul Simon. Playing it again, every song is so familiar. (I had the same “can’t stop playing” with Hearts and Bones, Graceland and Rhythm Of The Saints.) It’s going to be hard to be even vaguely critical.

I was thrilled when I read the dedication in Douglas Adams’ The Restaurant At The End of The Universe:

The movie

It was a bold move. The movie was Paul Simon’s idea, he wrote the script, he wrote the soundtrack.He starred in it as Jonah Levin. Jonah is an ageing rock star whose marriage is failing. He has to make a new album and the label has lost interest and the producer is useless.

The studio suggested Gary Busey and then Richard Dreyfus for the lead acting role as Jonah, but Simon said they’d look daft miming to his voice, and the soundtrack had already been recorded. Gary Busey co-starred in Carny the same year, a film where Robbie Robertson wrote the story (though not the screenplay) and starred in the main acting role. It was said that Robbie Robertson, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon andJames Taylor hung out together in LA. Dylan had done Renaldo and Clara in 1978 based on the Rolling Thunder tour, but crediting Dylan as writer and director. James Taylor had done Two Lane Blacktop with Dennis Wilson back in 1971. So they all wanted to be movie stars.

A comparison with Carny is apposite. Robbie Robertson performed only half the soundtrack, and had the sense to leave the heavy-lifting to classic film composer Alex North. He also played a carnival trickster, NOT a rock star. A crucial difference.

Paul Simon was creatively invested in One Trick Pony at every level. Scriptwriter, composer, actor, singer and guitarist. Part of the appeal of switching from CBS / Columbia to Warner Bros was that they had a movie arm. Paul Simon had been working on the script for some time and followed folk guitarist Dave van Ronk around to get the feel of a 60s folk hero in a 1980 setting.

The script was strong enough for Warner Bros and Paramount to have a bidding contest for it. Warner Bros had the far stronger record label to go alongside the film division.

Add that Paul Simon did not get on with CBS’s boss, Walter Yetnikoff. They had been in dispute over a new contract for two years. It was mutual.

Walter Yentikoff

Walter Yentikoff: I never liked the way Paul left Art. I thought he lacked loyalty. I also considered him disloyal to his former lawyer. As a person, Paul struck me as pretentious and self-important. In his backstage dressing room, his entourage treated him like little Lord Byron, hanging on his every word. When I walked in, he was stretched out on a couch, smoking a joint, pontificating about the nature of poetics. He didn’t offer me a puff. I didn’t like the guy. And, believe me, he didn’t like me. War clouds were rolling in.
Walter Yentikoff, Howling At The Moon, 2004

Don’t bogart that joint, my friend … What Yentikoff really disliked about “the way Paul left Art” was likely to have been the refusal to follow up Bridge Over Troubled Water, CBS’s best-selling pop / rock album ever at that time.

The war clouds were indeed rolling. Paul Simon owed Columbia one more album, and told Yentikoff he would record an album of Elizabethan sonnets. In May 1980 he appeared in The Muppet Show as a troubadour with lute, but I doubt that he meant it. (Broadcast 1981)

He knew Yentikoff would bury such a project and was taking the piss. Then Paul Simon suggested to James Taylor and Billy Joel that they record an album of duets, knowing Yentikoff could not bury three major CBS artists. There was a major legal battle and Simon went to Warner. It was part of Yentikoff’s head-to-head battle with Warner, known in the industry as “Walter’s War.”

Warner was probably the best company in terms of career development,’ a CBS man recently confessed, ‘They were sympathetic to groups (and artists) that take a long time to break.’
Frederic Dannen, Hit Men, 1990

What Yentikoff has to say might be germane to the failure of the movie:

Simon’s first move was to write and star in a Warner movie, One Trick Pony, in which a sadly misunderstood artist of unwavering integrity battles a heartless and exploitative music label. The film was boring and self-indulgent. Its only saving grace was an evil character modelled after me. Paul called him Walter Fox. Walter is a corporate cad with a sexy wife. In the film, Paul gets to screw Walter’s wife. That was Paul’s revenge. My revenge was the box office: both the movie and soundtrack were resounding failures.
Walter Yentikoff, Howling At The Moon, 2004

Fox is the English version of Yentikoff’s Yiddish nickname. Yentikoff was bearded in those pre-hipster days. So is Walter Fox. Screw you. I’ve screwed your wife.

Despite his personal distaste for Simon, losing an artist of his calibre to Warner Bros. Records was more than Walter Yetnikoff could bear. He was furious and according to a suit filed by Simon in November 1978, vowed that CBS Records would “destroy Simon’s professional career,” out of “anger and retaliation” for his plans to desert the label for Warner Bros. Simon still owed CBS one more studio album under his previous contract. His lawsuit alleged that Walter had vowed to reject it, regardless of merit, in order to entangle him in litigation and prevent him from recording.
Frederic Dannen, Hit Men, 1990

Entangling someone in litigation for several years is a standard record label / film / book publisher threat to recalcitrant artists.

As Simon knew with his ploy of the sonnets album proposal, Yentikoff certainly had the power to bury an album on any CBS label. An HMV shop manager once told me EMI had instructed sales reps to make sure a Paul McCartney album was a flop, after McCartney had negotiated an unprecedented royalty rate. Labels (and publishers) can do it to their own artists, and they do. Even stars as big as Paul … and Paul.

The film grossed $850,000 on a production cost of $8,000,000. The album stalled in its wake. Even if it made US #12, that was his first failure to get an album Top Ten hit since Sounds of Silence.

Did Yentikoff have power and influence over reviewers, magazines, stores, the charts? Did he try to ensure the album and film from a rival company were indeed “Reviled”? I would say he could have done, and that in his autobiography he was making that clear. He returns repeatedly to his ‘vicious run in with Paul Simon.’ Yentikoff adds:

I’m trying to establish a mutual balance of terror between us and the artist.
Walter Yentikoff, Howling At The Moon, 2004

In the USA,, the film was premiered alongside Art Garfunkel in Bad Timing in two adjacent cinemas, on 3 October 1980.

(It) brought widely diverse comments from the critics. In fact so diverse that it’s hard to realize they’re talking about the same film.
Victoria Kingston: Simon & Garfunkel: The Definitive Biography, 1996

So …

Perceptively and ruthlessly honest. An intimate film of much wit, style and impact. It ranks as one of the year’s best.
Los Angeles Times

This movie was one of a lousy film year’s few good films, a work that knows exactly what it’s like to be a musician on tour. Jonah, the character Paul Simon wrote and plays, is a person drawn from life
Roger Ebert 1980

But then, after some initial good reviews, the critics went for it and still do.

Unfortunately, Simon was an occasionally amusing, but not attention grabbing actor. There wasn’t enough meat in the plot, and too many shots of being on the road – literally the road, motorways, back roads, city streets … a noble but failed experiment.
Paul Gambaccini, quoted in Victoria Kingston: Simon & Garfunkel: The Definitive Biography, 1996

I found the amount of time they spent just travelling on roads real. That is what it’s like most of the time.

Stephen Holden in Rolling Stone described the movie as ‘a morose little art film‘. Newsweek dismissed it as ‘a vanity project’ and described Paul Simon’s acting as ‘Poutingess, archness and arrogance.’

 By telling a fictional story about a struggling musician, Simon invited accusations of condescension. After all, what does a guy collecting royalties for “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover” know about privation? The damned-if-you-do/damned-if-you-don’t scenario is exacerbated by the sense of privilege innate to the film’s existence. Must be nice to write your own star vehicle and get a big-studio budget. … The problem, beyond the piffle of a storyline, is that Simon is merely adequate as an actor—everyone else is more compelling, except when Simon sings. So on nearly every level, Simon is fakin’ it: He’s not a real actor, he’s not a real screenwriter, and he’s not telling a real story. The irony is that One-Trick Pony doesn’t come across as a vanity project, but rather a sincere attempt by an important artist to explore the possibilities of a medium with which he is not familiar.
Peter Hanson, Every 70s Movie, 2016

If you like Paul Simon, you’re really going to enjoy this movie, if you don’t like Simon, you’ll find One Trick Pony excruciating. However, since I neither like nor dislike Simon, I’m sort of middle of the road on this one. Everyone’s acting was okay, even Paul Simon’s. The story, what there was of it, was okay; and Simon’s music was okay. And that pretty much sums up the whole movie for me, it was just okay.
B. Goode, Gonna Put Me In The Movies, 2013

The movie poster, 1980

To me, the soundtrack album suffered in public perception unfairly from bounce-back criticism from the movie, to which it is the soundtrack. Paul Simon has been shy of releasing the film, on video, laser disc, DVD or BluRay. It appeared on various formats, but never for long. It is now available on Amazon Prime. I never saw it at the time, but I had two kids under two and didn’t get to the cinema. I was curious about it for years, and according to one of the biographies, it didn’t get a UK release until 1987 (and IMDB does not have the UK release date). The classic Helliwell’s Film Guide omits it, as does Elliot’s Films on Video Guide.

The more I look at reviews, the more it seems that those in the UK who had NOT seen the movie, liked the album much more than US reviewers who had seen the movie.

Throughout, it’s as though a radio is playing songs in Jonah’s head, music that he can’t play, or maybe doesn’t want to, because it’s too private or doesn’t fit the joints he’s stuck in. Partly, this explains the muted languid music that makes up the bulk of One Trick Pony’s score, which is divided between songs Levin performs (Ace in The Hole, One Trick Pony) and those that describes his thoughts and feelings (Late in The Evening, That’s Why God Made The Movies). The Twain Don’t Meet.
Dave Marsh, What Do You Do When You’re Not A Kid Anymore and You Still Want to Rock ‘n’ Roll. 1980

We who had never seen it didn’t have that split to confuse our appreciation. I believe one issue was that the film has fragments of the introspective background songs, so that seeing it before hearing the album, the melodies probably didn’t have enough screen time to stick. We who got to know and love the album first do not have that problem.

Rewatching the movie

I was dubious as to whether I should re-watch at all, as the UK, being blissfully ignorant of the movie was more positive about the album than the USA. I last saw it after videotaping a TV transmission (late night Channel 4), and it was so long ago that in my memory my copy was Betamax. I hadn’t liked the film at that time.

It was a very pleasant surprise. I “bought” it on Amazon Prime. I have a very good 5.1 system (designed for music too) and the soundtrack was spectacularly good, with my bass speaker reproducing Tony Levin’s bass superbly. The picture is not quite as good as the sound … lettering is slightly fuzzy, so more work was done on the music than on the pictures, which given a 35 mm original, should be sharper. However, old YouTube extracts are vastly duller in colour (probably off VHS video), so the one you get on Amazon now is much better.

Jonah – flashback to 1968

The storyline recreates an alternative branching future for Paul Simon in the guise of Jonah Levin. We imagine a world where a solo acoustic song back in the late sixties was his only real hit. We see a cut away to a bearded Jonah on a TV screen, with a McCarthy for President sign, so 1968. Here the golden oldie is Soft Parachutes but it might have been Sounds of Silence. He is condemned to play Soft Parachutes on an oldies show, even though it was long eradicated from his act … for years Paul Simon declined to play I Am A Rock, feeling it too sophomoric. So Jonah’s Vietnam protest song was rejected by its composer,

Jonah: We don’t even do that song anymore. The war’s been over a long time.

Then the question arises: Was Jonah right to refuse to do it? Compare Levon Helm who refused to perform The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down after The Last Waltz. The wise performer knows that people want to hear your most famous song, and sings it. They also, unlike Van Morrison’s recent live jazzed up live Brown Eyed Girl, or nearly any Dylan song in current performance, stick to the original tune. I liked one famous musician (I can’t remember which one) who was asked how he felt when audiences asked him to play the same old hit every time he went on stage. His answer was, ‘Grateful.’

The band play themselves, with humorous renaming. They all do OK, but Steve Gadd stands out as a relaxed, natural actor. He could have had a career on film, if wasn’t too busy being one of the very best drummers in the world.

Eric Gale, Richard Tee, Steve Gadd
Steve is reading out a review of their gig … the reviewer didn’t know the drummer’s name.

Simon has fun with the names … Richard Tee is “Clarence” in deference to Clarence Clemons from the E-Street Band. The script is full of humour that might offend a current generation, as when Clarence drops in to ask about the time of the gig, and Jonah is in the bath.

Clarence (looking down): Is that it?
Jonah: I AM Caucasian.

The band play One Trick Pony on a show to be followed by the B-52s with Rock Lobster and Jonah looks bemused at the change of impact. There’s an artful split screen effect where we see the band in the dressing room and it seems we’re also looking at the B52s on stage from a doorway. I’d be bemused too switching from Steve Gadd’s incredible muscular drumming to a youth behind the B52s kit.

Jonah Levine and band left, The B52s on stage right

Sex is joyless with a server from the ballroom who lives with an absent roadie. He is only enthused by his ex-wife (Blair Brown) who is divorcing him.

Jonah has to demo songs for Walter Fox and Carl van Damp, the plugger. People come in and out, phones ring and he has to keep stopping and starting Ace In The Hole. One of the interruptions is Walter’s wife, Lonnie (Joan Hackett), who sits and watches him.

Paul demos. Lonnie listens with interest.

We get a speech from Carl on how music with a band relies on spectacle and only The Rolling Stones … and perhaps Springsteen … can combine the two. Jonah adds ‘And Albert Schweitzer,’ so Carl asks, What label is he on?’ Lonnie laughs.

The reaction: Carl Van Damp (Allen Goorwitz) and Walter Fox (Rip Torn)

Jonah moves on to Long Long Day and Carl complains that ballads don’t touch Top 40 and it has no hook. He explains what a hook is …

Jonah: I know what a hook is.

The label boss, Walter Fox (Rip Torn), has his doubts.

The group is on the verge of breaking up. They play the club which we saw in the Ace in the Hole sequence, and do a languid electric Long Long Day. Minor applause. The musicians go back to the motel with girls. Steve Gadd and Jonah are with one, but then we cut to Jonah against the wall with a joint looking depressed.

They drive to the next club, only to find it has closed and no one has told them They argue over money … Clarence (Richard Tee) says $20 a week doesn’t cover his alimony and dope. Jonah mutters they should leave. We see them at the airport in rain, then Jonah is in bed with Marion, in spite of the separation papers.

Jonah is inveigled into playing an industry oldies show in Chicago. ‘They’re trying to get Dylan,’ he’s told. Jonah scoffs and asks, ‘And the John Lennon Band?’ which is ironic given the death of Lennon so soon after the movie, and Paul’s tribute The Late Great Johnny Ace. He wants to bring his band, but is told ‘no band’

Jonah has to follow Sam & Dave – seen here

When later Jonah plays the oldies show on his own, he’s following Sam & Dave with Soul Man and The Lovin’ Spoonful with Do You Believe in Magic. Tiny Tim is drifting around the dressing room with a ukulele. What is clear is that a solo Jonah is classed with Tiny Tim, and they have to share a dressing room.

Jonah and Tiny Tim

A thought is that an expanded soundtrack album could have included these as well as the bonus tracks (NOT Tiny Tim). The Parachute Song is deliberately low-key in comparison.

Jonah later takes the piss out of the AM plugging expert, Cal van Damp (Alan Goorwitz) at the after show party and is asked to leave:

Jonah: Steatopygias. It means “rump,” so whenever a fat-ass walks in the room… well, someone like you… you’d say, “Well, Cal, you’re certainly steatopygias.” It’s better than fat-ass because you and anyone else wouldn’t know what the fuck I’m talkin’ about. 

Go back to that Yentikoff quote earlier. Radio pluggers, who tended to resemble Tony Soprano, were extremely powerful in that era, each commanding a large area of the USA, and paid large sums to co-ordinate (allow?) radio play. Pink Floyd tried to release an album in the USA without paying for radio plugging, and it flopped. These guys were real, which is why I take Yentikoff’s revenge quote seriously.

Cal: I hope you don’t have any plans to get any records played on any radio station. Well, you shouldn’t. Because you won’t get any.

Walter Fox sends his wife, Lonnie, to tell Jonah to go as he has offended Cal, and she leaves with him. She takes him to bed. This is where Simon is taking his revenge on Yentikoff in the script .

Walter: Jonah, you wouldn’t by any chance be fucking my wife, would you? Because that wouldn’t be conducive to a good artist-record company relationship.

Then are more poignant links. Jonah is obsessed with Elvis, even singing a snatch of Are You Lonesome Tonight to help seduce his ex-wife. He wears an ELVIS T-shirt in one scene. When the band play a game of naming dead rock stars, Jonah comes up with Eddie Cochran … he died in England, he adds. Paul Simon knew from his English folkie days that Eddie Cochran was vastly more popular in the UK than USA.

Steve (Lou Reed), Jonah, Walter

Most fascinating though is his experience with the record producer, Steve Kunelian, played by Lou Reed. They meet in Walter’s office and the photorealistic painting on the wall also appears as the sleeve of a 1978 Jorge Santana album, Jorge Santana. The credits on that album are Cover painting by John Kacere. That was on Tomato, not CBS (though Santana were famed CBS artists). There must be a subtle connection there. Or possibly simply equating Walter with the vulgar term for female genitalia.

Jorge Santana 1978, Tomato Records

Lou Reed for me is real in this… I’ve known editors just like that. They make a suggestion. You disagree. They don’t debate it or argue back. But later they just go ahead and do it anyway, in this case adding strings, a female group and a sax solo to the recording of Ace In The Hole. Lou Reed exudes the silent stubbornness which draws from the well of shared experience with Paul Simon, BUT I would have cast an actor and played the part “bigger” and more obviously obnoxious for a general audience.

Strings are added to ‘Ace in The Hole’
Roll on, Roll on … Steve (Lou Reed) adds backing vocalists to Ace In The Hole

Walter likes the record, he is looking for something ‘With integrity and Top 40.’ The band watch the playback session, depressed. The musicians know the score. Jonah will argue the toss, especialy over replacing the guitar coda with saxophone.

Walter (Rip Torn), Eric Gale, Steve (Lou Reed) listen to the playback
Walter grooves. Steve is quietly triumphant

That heavily embellished recording is the last straw for Jonah … leading to the end of the movie when he destroys the tape. The resonance is clear. Paul Simon was in England when Columbia / CBS took the acoustic Sounds of Silence and added a rock group backing without asking. They wanted to leap on the folk-rock bandwagon and it launched Simon and Garfunkel’s career. So Jonah is rejecting what happened to Paul Simon.

In a review of the TV transmission in the UK, I recall someone saying Simon was too short to be a credible rock star. All I can say is I’ve seen him on stage, and he ranks with Leonard Cohen as the most consistently first rate live performers. He may be small, but his personality fills a room … a hall … and Hyde Park with 100,000 people. He claims to be 5 foot two, and Garfunkel towers over him, looking at least 6 foot 3. But I’ve seen Garfunkel on his own close by. He gives his height as 5 foot 9 inches, so average. Paul Simon is way more than seven inches shorter. My wife is five foot. I’m sure he’s shorter than her. However, sizeism aside, I think he was well aware of it. In the scene at the record company party when he gets into the altercation with Cal, he stands next to Cal’s unusually tall companion. Then he goes to the bar and it’s not far below his chin. I think he was pointing it. Paul Simon does a good, slightly inebriated drunk.

On electric guitar … (the end of Long Long Day)

Going back to the movie critique he was accused of ‘posing with an electric guitar’ possibly because of the line I learned to play some lead guitar, but he plays rhythm, and the film cuts to Eric Gale for every lead guitar fill.

Eric Gale in the “One Trick Pony” iive sequence

It’s NOT like Bob Dylan in 1965 who was said to mime lead guitar while Robbie Robertson did the solos back in the shadows. When Steve Gadd reads out the newspaper review of their show on the bus, the only one picked out for praise is Eric Gale for his mellifluous guitar fills.Unjustly maligned, then.

Some songs appear in acoustic demo versions by Jonah, but overall the album sequence is quite different to the movie. Declining to put Soft Parachutes on the LP was a major error. OK, it’s a pastiche, but an artful one and has a memorable melody. Then I’d have put the producer-enhanced version of Ace In The Hole on there as well as the original, just for fun.

So, on rewatching, I find the film a lost … and unjustly reviled … classic. It’s excellent. It was just years ahead of its time in using specially written songs in the background to show Jonah’s thoughts and feelings. Dialogue is very good. Paul Simon spent months having acting lessons. They worked.

In rock film terms, only the spoof documentary This Is Spinal Tap matched Simon’s pithy script.
Patrick Humphries, The Boy In The Bubble, 1988

Paul Simon: I feel that I tried to tell the truth in One Trick Pony. My point is that there are a lot of people with talent who don’t succeed. I wasn’t trying to draw a portrait of a guy who doesn’t have any talent. The major difference between Jonah and Paul Simon is that I’m just lucky, because people like what I do.
Quoted in Victoria Kingston: Simon & Garfunkel: The Definitive Biography, 1996

What The Critics Said

The soundtrack to a going-nowhere flick about an over-the-hill rocker that he scripted, starred in, and of course scored is also his first true album in five years, and while it’s literate, tasteful, etc., it’s also–self-evidently–the work of a man who thinks he’s too big for music (at five-foot-two, gosh). So if individual songs don’t stand out the way they have ever since “The Sound of Silence,” maybe he doesn’t work as hard at them anymore. Like so many ageing folkies he’s devolved into a vaguely jazzy pop, and except for the lead cut and the one with Ray Charles on it everything serves the excuse for a grooveB-
Robert Christgau, Christgau’s Guide To Albums of the 80s

The astonishing thing about this is that although it comes five years after Paul Simon’s last studio work, it sounds as if could have been recorded on the same day. And where the lack of cinematic context doesn’t leave the songs mysterious, it leaves them one dimensional.
Graham Lock, New Musical Express, 23 August 1980

Simon’s third film score marks the return of a major talent after too long away.
Patrick Humphries, Melody Maker, 23 August 1980

It has one superb song, Ace In The Hole, and much listenable music, but generally seems dated.
three stars ***
Dave Marsh, New Rolling Stone Record Guide, 1983

Simon floundered for a few years, releasing only the clock-watching soundtrack, One Trick Pony.
two stars **
Rob Sheffield, New Rolling Stone Album Guide, 2004

It is also his most uneven album, simply because the songwriting, with the exception of the title song and the ballads “How the Heart Approaches What It Yearns” and “Nobody,” is not up to his usual standard. Maybe he was too busy writing his screenplay to polish these songs to the usual gloss. (It can’t have been that Jonah wasn’t supposed to be as talented as Paul Simon. Could it?) ***
Willian Ruhlmann, All Music Com

Ultimately, One Trick Pony fails as both a soundtrack album and as a standalone release because of the overwhelmingly boring atmosphere of the album as a whole. Save for “Late in the Evening,” Pony lacks the high standard of quality that all of Paul Simon’s releases had maintained so vehemently up to that point. Perhaps it was the long amount of time that he took off after being successful for so long, or maybe it was the scene of popular music changing from being singer-songwriter oriented to more varying genres – it is outrageously clear that Paul Simon was completely lost in his own head with this release, creating songs that were neither poetic nor poppy, and something that, save for Douglas Adams, no one had any interest in hearing. 2.0
Sputnik Music Review, 2014

The quasi-soundtrack to Paul Simon’s largely forgotten movie of the same name, 1980’s One-Trick Pony was the singer-songwriter’s first album in five years. The absence didn’t result in a ton of inspiration, however, as the album, although expertly played and rarely less than solid, was lacking in truly killer songs, at least compared to Simon’s previous track record. 
Countdown Kid, Online 2013

AND (my favourite review) …

If we think of the album as a separate entity (to the movie), an adjunct to a celebrated body of work, the songs framed as extensions of a fictional character, an aural portrait of an artist approaching middle age, and plagued by doubt, and ground down by an increasingly brutal and uncaring commercial marketplace, it is, in its own way, a resounding success.
Terry Staunton, Uncut Ultimate Guide: Simon & Garfunkel

Paul Simon

I know how hard I worked on the music. And I know what’s there in terms of melodies and rhythms and time changes.
Quoted by Dave Marsh What Do You Do When You’re Not A Kid Anymore and You Still Want to Rock ‘n’ Roll. 1980

Side one

Late In The Evening

The single.
US Billboard Hot 100: #6
US AOR: #7
Canada: #19
Canada AOR: #2
UK singles: #58
Netherlands #9

Late In The Evening: Paul Simon, Warner Bros UK 45 – only early copies have a picture sleeve

Easily the most familiar song, as Paul Simon virtually always plays it in live shows. In the film it plays over the opening credits.

Then I learned to play some lead guitar
I was underage in this funky bar
And I stepped outside to smoke myself a “J”
And when I came back to the room
Everybody just seemed to move
And I turned my amp up loud and I began to play
And it was late in the evening
And I blew that room away

It always gets a Whoo! of applause on I stepped outside to smoke myself a J too. It has echoes of Duncan … listening to his mother through the wall rather than the couple in the next room. It also has the strong New York 50 / early 60s feel:

I am walking down the street
I’m feeling all right

I’m with my boys, I’m with my troops, yeah
And down along the avenue
Some guys were shootin’ pool
And I heard the sound of a cappella groups, yeah
Singing late in the evening
And all the girls out on the stoops, yeah

On ‘the sound of accapella groups’ they cut to the image above and you can just hear Why Do Fools Fall in Love?
The flashback group includes Harper Simon, looking like a young Paul … er, Jonah

It reminds me of the great film, The Wanderers.

Setlist.com makes it his fourth most played song with 413 noted live renditions. OK, you’ll want to know, first was Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes (436), second, The Boy In The Bubble (423), third Still Crazy After All These Years. (420). In later years it got encores off to a rocking start.

As with 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover, drummer Steve Gadd is credited with creating the drum groove which he has demonstrated in drum tuition videos … he used a pair of drumsticks in each hand so that he sounded like two drummers. The Latin rhythm is known as ‘Cuban Mozambique.’

Warner advertised the movie on the rear of the UK single sleeve, yet it never got released.

Lae In The Evening: Concert in Central Park, 1981 with Art Garfunkel

It appeared live on the video / DVD Concert in Central Park by Simon and Garfunkel, recorded in September 1981. Art Garfunkel joined him on vocals, and Steve Gadd was joined by Grady Tate, so they had the two drummer effect. Richard Tee remained on keyboards.

It’s on Paul Simon’s Concert In The Park from 1994.
It’s on the DVD Live in New York City from 2011.
It’s on the DVD Paul Simon: The Concert in Hyde Park from 2012 as an encore.
It’s on 2006’s 2 CD / DVD The Essential Paul Simon.

It’s on compilations such as Negotiations and Love Songs.

That’s Why God Made The Movies
+
Don Grolnick- sythesizer
Hiram Bullock- slide guitar

It comes much later in the film when Jonah takes his son Matty to see The Empire Strikes Back (chosen as Paul Simon was in a relationship with Princess Leia, sorry, Carrie Fisher.) Would you have placed it as track two? No? Neither would I. While it grows strongly, it lacks instant appeal. There’s a lot of Freudian stuff going on here. Sigmund Freud to Romulus & Remus. Then the track before had him as a baby, listening to his mother laugh the way some ladies do, when it’s late in the evening …

The lyrics made the ancient Jewish joke spring to mind:
Oedipus, Schmoedipus, what does it matter as long as a boy loves his mother?

First …

When I was born my mother died … / She said, Bye Bye, Baby, Bye Bye /
then it continues:
Say you’ll take me to your lovin’ breast
Say you’ll nourish me
With your tenderness
The way the ladies sometimes do

… virtually the same line in two adjoining songs. It must be deliberate, and the mind leaps to the previous mother reference.

then
And since that day
I’ve made my way
The notorious boy of the wild
Adopted by the wolves when he was a child.

So that’s why God made the movies, indeed. The imagery is drawn from the 1970 Truffaut film, L’Enfant Sauvage (UK The Wild Child) which was based on an 18th century case in France. In the film, the boy, Victor, is found aged twelve, living in the forest. He is naked, deaf and mute.

Songs appear more than once in the film… this one plays over the scene of taking his son, Matty, to the cinema, then shaving. Gradually instruments are turned down until it’s just bass and drums, then again reduced to a single drum track.

One Trick Pony

One Trick Pony: Paul Simon, Warner Bros UK 45

US BILLBOARD CHART: #40

This is the first time we see the band playing in the film. Extraordinary crunchy Tony Levin bass line. With Eric Gale playing guitar, Richard Tee on keyboard, and Steve Gadd on drums, this is one hell of a great band. It is a consistent band right through this album too, which may be why he eschewed the songs with solo guitar for the LP. Three of the band (Gale, Gadd, Tee) play on Eric Gale’s Part of You recorded around the same time … 1979.

One Trick Pony: Agora Ballroom sequence

Recorded live at Agora Theatre & Ballroom, Cleveland, Ohio September 1979.

In the film it stresses that Jonah has had to survive off just the one hit (so generally he is a “one trick pony”) though in the context of the album it works without the association. Victoria Kingston in Simon and Garfunkel: The Definitive Biography disagrees with Jonah as the pony. She thinks he is admiring someone else who can be a “one trick pony” with aplomb and pride and grace, something he can’t do. She has a point:

He makes me think about
All of these extra moves I make
And all of this herky-jerky motion
And the bag of tricks it takes
To get me through my working day


So he is comparing “he / his” to “me / my”

He performed this eighteen times on that 1980 tour, and just once since at a benefit in 2012.

How The Heart Approaches What It Yearns

B-side of Late in The Evening.

How The Heart Approaches What It Yearns: Paul Simon, B-side of Late In The Evening
I’ve seen more copies in company WEA sleeves than in the picture sleeve

A truly gorgeous Paul Simon song, so wistful. On the other hand, “yearns” is not a rock ‘n’ roll word. It has one of those opening couplets that sticks in my brain, as so many Paul Simon openings do:

In the blue light, of the Belevedere Motel
Wondering as the television burns
How the heart approaches what it yearns.

Paul Simon: This tune has a very simple chord structure, but an odd time signature. It’s 10/8 and I keep this part very simple in terms of what I’m saying. Then I change the time signature and I used imagery. My teacher pushed me into that. He said, ‘Why don’t you get into some new time signatures?’ I don’t expect other people will notice it. But at least I know it.
Quoted in Victoria Kingston: Simon & Garfunkel: The Definitive Biography, 1996

List me among those who hadn’t counted the beats. It’s a recurring theme ion the film, reappearing as the group argue, break up, sit around an airport.

Oh, Marion
+
Anthony Jackson – bass
Jeff Mironov – electric guitar

Marion is Jonah’s wife in the film. Or a woman’s name for those who hadn’t seen it.
The drums, rhythm guitar and bass hits the groove before he comes in. The secret of a floor filler, a DJ told me … a few bars that make you think, ‘I know this!’ then the vocal drops in to confirm it. The guitar figure looks forward to the Hearts and Bones album, on which it would also fit. Paul scat sings over the solo, or as a solo.

Side Two

Ace In The Hole
with Richard Tee co-lead vocal.

Richard Tee; co-lead vocal, from the film

In the film, Jonah demonstrates the song Ace In The Hole, to Walter Fox and Carl van Damp, and they get interrupted four times by people arriving and phones ringing. He answers their responses by saying it’s just voice and guitar, and that it sounds better with his band. Carl compares that to Peter Frampton.

After that excruciating demo session, they cut directly to the powerful version on the record. The credits only say One Trick Pony was recorded live (at the Agora). This is a club … more chicken in the basket and Western hats. It’s the storming version we hear on the album … just the band. It looks a live cut to me. The sweaty make up on Jonah adds a dimension.

It featured on the 1980 tour with twelve performances, but has not been performed live since. It is an important song in the movie as it’s supposed to be Jonah’s new single. It’s a strong song too. We see it performed solo, then as here, then finally with added strings and chorus in the film.

Why does Jonah object to three soul backing singers added by the producer?

Nobody

This must be one of the best “lesser-known” Paul Simon songs. I’d put it on any “Best of …” so it’s a shame he hasn’t performed it since the movie. Eric Gale is at his very best on this, melding into Richard Tee’s electric piano. Rarely does a guitar part echo the lyrics so well (compare Bob Dylan’s Visions of Johanna where the guitar is like a running commentary). Add a heavenly choir from Patti Austen and Lana Grove.

A truly exquisite song, opening with a prayer like tone coupled with startlingly vivid imagery. It reminds us of John Donne’s poetry … It reminds us of Kathy’s song in that it equates sexual love with the sacred.
Victoria Kingston: Simon & Garfunkel: The Definitive Biography, 1996

John Donne indeed … back to that joke Elizabethan sonnets album.

It appears in the film over a scene of Jonah signing divorce papers.

Jonah
+
John Tropea – acoustic guitar

That is Jonah is lost in his music on tour …

Half an hour will change your strings and tune up …
Sizing the room up, checking the bar
Local girls, unspoken conversation
Misinformation plays guitar

This has an ominous tone. The “whale” that swallows Jonah is a song:

They say Jonah, he was swallowed by a whale
But I say there’s no truth to that tale
I know Jonah
He was swallowed by a song

There are rich strings on this one (which also brings up the question of why Jonah in the movie is upset by the addition of strings.) Paul Simon’s diction as ever gives a pinpoint clarity to the lyric which few singers can emulate.

In the film, it covers the scene in a motel with girls and joints, Jonah again looking on depressed. Then it comes in at the end, when Jonah purloins his own tape, in a bass guitat heavy remix.

God Bless The Absentee
+
Richard Tee- piano (rather than electric piano)

The grand piano on this sets a different mood, almost Steely Dan in feel. As it starts, I think, ‘There’s not a weak song on this album. Not one.’ Strings and horns adorn this one too. Yet again, Eric Gale’s guitar sends me to his solo albums.

In the film, it plays over a long early sequence of the van travelling along highways, intercut with Steve Gadd reading out the review of their show. It is interrupted with spates of dialogue so doesn’t stand out as strongly as it does on record.

Long Long Day

B-side of One Trick Pony single.

Long Long Day: Paul Simon, Warner Bros UK 45 B-side

with Patti Austin, co-lead vocal
+
Joe Beck- electric guitar

The album’s most fully realised and affecting moment comes at the close.
Terry Staunton, Uncut Ultimate Music Guide: Simon & Garfunkel

Strings again, arranged by Bob Friedman. The guitar part is jazz guitar player Joe Beck, whose career encompassed Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Tom Scott, Frank Sinatra and Gloria Gaynor … and Still Crazy After All These Years.

This is a song that Jonah presents to the label with an acoustic demo, and it gets roundly rejected. It is there to symbolize what Jonah does now, in spite of the record company’s search for a hit. And Paul Simon put it as the B-side of One Trick Pony single. The vocal by Patti Austin echoes him … Goodnight … goodnight …

It is specific to the movie’s time scale … 1980, with Jonah’s first venture being 1966:

I sure been on this road
Done nearly fourteen years
Can’t say my name’s well-known
You don’t see my face in Rolling Stone

Long Long Day, in the movie

In the film it gets played in full with just the electric band, no Patti Austin echo vocal and with vocal additions by Richard Tee. This is the club with everyone sitting around with tables, possibly not the best closing song for a set in such a location.

This was played live by Paul Simon eight times, all on the 1980 tour.

Bonus tracks on the 2004 CD

On balance, if you only get one version, you’ll need the CD for the bonus tracks … all worth having, but in the context, Soft Parachutes is the essential one.

Soft Parachutes

Unreleased soundtrack recording

Soft Parachutes: the film sequence

It’s strange that this never featured on the album. It’s supposed to be Jonah’s major 60s hit – the one he has to do on package shows like Radio & Records 1980 in the film. Solo acoustic guitar.

Soft parachutes, Fourth of July
And villages burning
Returning the bodies, all laid in a line
Like soft parachutes

Last year, I was a senior
In Emmerson High School
I had me a girlfriend

We used to get high
And now I am flying
Down some Vietnam highway
Don’t ask me the reason

So it was Jonah’s Vietnam war song. It’s excellent too. Jonah is Paul Simon if he’d had a huge hit off his first solo UK-recorded album (maybe A Church Is Burning if we are thinking of protest songs … You can burn down our churches, but we shall be free), then never had a hit again.

All Because of You
Outtake. Previously unreleased,

The backing riff is the same as Oh, Marion.

Soft jazzy. Sounds like a track from one of Eric Gale’s solo albums plus vocal, and Richard Tee’s keyboard is his classic Paul Simon backing style. Everything about is familiar. Deep rolling bass from Tony Levin. Very prominent Steve Gadd drums. Paul ends up with scat singing.

Spiral Highway

Unreleased soundtrack recording
recorded 10 February 1978

An outtake dating back to the CBS years, with the same mood of the touring musician. Given the theme, I suspect this dates back to his earliest ideas for the film.

Every bar and grill
Every greasy spoon
Anywhere a quarter buys a tune
Ride the spiral highway one more round

It has a superb saxophone solo, presumably by David Sanborn. It’s basically a trial version of How the Heart Approaches What It Yearns. Both songs share this verse:

After the rain on the interstate
Headlights slide past the moon
A bone-weary traveler waits
By the side of the road
Where’s he going?

Stranded in A Limousine

Stranded In A Limousine: Paul Simon, UK single, CBS 1977

1977 CBS single,
c/w Having A Good Time
Steve Gadd- percussion
Michael Brecker – saxophone
Randy Brecker- trumpet
Gordon Edwards – bass guitar
Irwin Markowitz – trumpet
David Sanborn – saxophone
Martin Stamm – trumpet

From Greatest Hits etc. It was the new track tempting those who had everything to buy the album.

Stranded in A Limousine: German single, promoting the LP … and cassette

I bought the single on release rather than the LP. In terms of music, it fits the style of the album seamlessly. The sound effects remind of Save The Life of My Child from Bookends. Look at the names on that horn section. No wonder it bites.

So why is his last CBS single a bonus track here? Warner took the rights to Simon’s solo back catalogue. The track is apposite, because it was part of that 1978 battle with Yentikoff:

Simon claimed too that CBS had failed to promote and distribute his new single, ‘Stranded in A Limousine’ which sounded like a surefire hit, if ever such a thing existed.
Frederic Dannen, Hit Men, 1990

Look at the lyric:

He was a mean individual
He had a heart like a bone
He was a naturally crazy man
And better off left alone

Was that perhaps an earlier dig at Yetnikoff?

Simon had a point. The previous single, Slip Slidin’ Away was a US #5 hit. The subsequent single, Late In The Evening was a US #6 hit. So what happened to Stranded in A Limousine? It didn’t even make the Top 100. He believed Yetnikoff had buried it.

OVERALL

I always knew the album was unjustly reviled, but only rewatching the film made me think they were both unjustly reviled. Did Walter Yentikoff assist the erroneous perception of failure, especially in the USA but also in the UK? Cue Paranoia Blues by Paul Simon from his first solo album … OK, I always look at Paul Simon in the singles section in secondhand record shops … I have Late In The Evening in the company sleeve and the picture sleeve. I have seen it frequently. But it only got to #58 in the UK chart. Really? This is not a case of vast numbers of unsold mint copies being dumped (see Ennio Morricone’s Chi Mai). These are used copies … and it only got to #58? There are just too many copies about for that. It is well-known that the charts were “manipulated” in 1977 to prevent The Sex Pistols God Save The Queen being #1 in her Jubilee Week. It’s claimed that it outsold Rod Stewart (at #1 officially) two to one. In the UK, Top 40 entry was essential to get on the BBC Playlist. Stranded in A Limousine failed too. Did Yentikoff’s tentacles stretch that far? We’ll never know.

I always loved the album. I still do.

PAUL SIMON LIVE REVIEWS BY ME:

THE REVILED ALBUMS ARE (so far) …

Beatles For Sale – The Beatles
Their Satanic Majesties Request … The Rolling Stones
Speedway (and Elvis film music) – Elvis Presley
Electric Mud– Muddy Waters
Self Portrait – Bob Dylan
Byrdmaniax – The Byrds
Cahoots – The Band
Carl and The Passions- So Tough! – The Beach Boys
Wild Life – Wings
Sometime in New York City – John and Yoko / Elephant’s Memory
Recall The Beginning: A Journey From Eden … The Steve Miller Band
Hard Nose The Highway … Van Morrison
Chicago III … Chicago
Berlin– Lou Reed
Pinups – David Bowie
Death of A Ladies’ Man – Leonard Cohen
Born Again – Randy Newman
Mingus – Joni Mitchell
One Trick Pony – Paul Simon
Everybody’s Rockin’ – Neil Young
American Dream – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Jefferson Airplane – Jefferson Airplane (1989)
Human Touch – Bruce Springsteen

And here’s a rule-breaker. I’d decided one album each, but Van Morrison got so much vituperation from critics (unjustly) in 2021, that I had to add it:

Latest Record Project Volume1… Van Morrison

This list will grow steadily

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s