On a new edition of the All Songs Considered podcast, Paul Simon walks host Bob Boilen through the construction of the opening track on his forthcoming album. It’s a fascinating 40-minute lesson on narrative mechanics, offering a rare and candid glimpse into the process of one of America’s great songwriters.
“What instruments I use and where they sit in the track,” Simon explains, “there must be hundreds of those decisions, or maybe thousands, for all I know, of tiny decisions, about whether there should be some piece of musical information or whether you don’t need it at all.” According to a New York Times preview, four of the album’s first six songs don’t use any guitar.
In so many ways, the conversation is a revelation. Simon discusses line-by-line how the lyrics came together—the song’s first words were changed, for example, because they reminded him too much of “You Can Call Me Al.” (Also on the subject of his back catalog: at 22:20 of the podcast, he calls attention to backing vocals lifted directly “Late in the Evening.”)
The full album, Stranger to Stranger, will be released on June 3rd, with a “first listen” available via NPR beginning on Thursday, May 26th.