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30 years ago, Paul Simon turned to Elvis Presley for inspiration

Elvis Presley at Graceland, ca. 1957 (Photo: Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images)

Singer-songwriter Paul Simon found himself in a personal and professional slump in the mid-1980s. A highly publicized reunion with ex-partner Art Garfunkel had been more contentious than desired. His second marriage, to actress Carrie Fisher, had ended in divorce. And his 1983 solo album Hearts And Bones, originally envisioned as a Simon & Garfunkel reunion LP, had bombed. However, Simon’s fortunes began to change in a big way on August 25, 1986, with the release of his seventh album, Graceland, which drew heavily on South African township music as well as zydeco. The album would revive Simon’s career, selling 16 million copies, nabbing a Grammy for Album Of The Year, and inspiring other Western musicians to start digging through the “world music” section of the record store for inspiration.

Simon has repeatedly named the album’s title track as a favorite among his own compositions, but the career-defining song had a very convoluted creation process. The repeated line “I’m going to Graceland” had originally been a mere placeholder, a dummy phrase Simon planned to swap for something else eventually. It was not his intention to evoke the late Elvis Presley. But the idea of Graceland stayed with him until Simon eventually took an unscheduled visit to Presley’s Memphis estate himself. He talked about that trip in a 2014 interview with the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. Although underwhelmed by the house itself, Simon was emotionally swayed by the sincerity of those who had traveled to the musical landmark to pay their respects to a fallen legend. The song then became the story of a heartbroken divorced man and his young son making a pilgrimage to Graceland in search of redemption.

Song Facts has compiled other interesting trivia about the song. Simon thought of “Graceland” as “the perfect Everly Brothers song” and, in fact, recruited his childhood heroes Don and Phil Everly to provide harmony vocals on the record. Some fans, meanwhile, may be disappointed to learn that the fabled “girl in New York City who calls herself The Human Trampoline” doesn’t actually exist. Simon just made her up for the lyrics. “It’s not related to anybody or anything,” he says. “It just struck me as funny.” Though released as a single by Warner Bros., “Graceland” missed the Top 40 by about 42 notches on the Billboard chart. Nevertheless, the album itself stayed on the chart for nearly two years and was being milked for further singles as late as August 1987, a year after its release.


In 1991, Los Angeles novelty group Big Daddy brought Simon’s song back to its musical roots, so to speak. Their album Cutting Their Own Groove contains a remake of “Graceland” performed in the rockabilly style of Presley at his 1950s peak. The King would have been right at home with lyrics like “The Mississippi Delta was shining like a National guitar.”

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