9 Can’t Miss Moments from ‘Homeward Bound: Grammy Salute to the Songs of Paul Simon’
Garth Brooks & Trisha Yearwood, Stevie Wonder, Sting and many more performed Simon’s songs.
It’s not surprising that the CBS broadcast of Homeward Bound: Grammy Salute to the Songs of Paul Simon on Wednesday, December 21, was so enjoyable.
One of our best songwriters, Paul Simon, has long been recognized. He was nominated in that category for “Mrs. Robinson” and “Graceland,” and he ultimately won the Grammy for song of the year in 1970 for “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1982, and in 1998, he was presented with the Johnny Mercer Award, the highest award bestowed by the organization. And he was chosen as the first winner of the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song in 2007.
The two-hour special’s participants generally had positive things to say about Simon’s music.
Elton John thought back to the early days when he and Bernie Taupin would sit on the floor and marvel at the music and sounds of Simon & Garfunkel’s Bookends while wearing headphones.
“When your stuff was playing, our house was a beautiful place to be in,” said Garth Brooks.
Without Simon’s songs, according to Dustin Hoffman, “The Graduate would not be The Graduate.”
In addition to paying respect to the great musician, Sting, Herbie Hancock, Oprah Winfrey, and actor Woody Harrelson all did so.
Executive producing this special was Ken Ehrlich, who over a forty-year period from 1980 to 2020 served as producer or executive producer of the annual Grammy telecast (and co-wrote it with David Wild). The show was extremely engaging in large part due to Ehrlich’s talent, taste, and connections.
Here are nine of the special’s most memorable performances, which you can watch on demand at Paramount+.
9) Dave Matthews With Angélique Kidjo and Take 6, “You Can Call Me Al”
History of the song: This was the biggest success off of Paul Simon’s Graceland album, which went on to reach No. 3 on the Billboard 200 and win a Grammy for album of the year. In May 1987, the song peaked at No. 23 on the Hot 100.
Notes: Angélique Kidjo and Take 6 provided the musical accompaniment for Matthews, who sang the song on the program and, as the announcer pointed out, was born in South Africa. The performers also sang “Homeless” and “Under African Skies,” two other Graceland tracks.
8) Eric Church, “Homeward Bound”
History of the song: This was Simon & Garfunkel’s second Hot 100 top five single. In March 1966, it peaked at No. 5. It has been covered by several musicians, notably Glen Campbell, who included a version of it on his 1968 Grammy-winning album By the Time I Get to Phoenix (beating Bookends in the process). In 1976, George Harrison and Simon appeared on Saturday Night Live to perform “Homeward Bound.”
Notes: Church provided a great rendition of this ballad. Paul Simon is a Mt. Rushmore songwriter in my career and in my life, so this is daunting, he said before he began. Church made a self-effacing remark, and the camera panned to Simon chuckling at it.
7) Paul Simon, “The Sound of Silence”
History of the song: This heartfelt ballad was Simon & Garfunkel’s first Hot 100 No. 1 success. In January 1966, it stayed at No. 1 for two weeks. In 2016, Disturbed’s hard-rocking rendition of the song peaked at No. 42.
Notes: Along with “Graceland” and “American Tune,” Simon sang three songs to wrap up the night. The only way that could have been improved is if Art Garfunkel had joined him on stage.
6) Stevie Wonder With Ledisi, “Bridge Over Troubled Water”
History of the song: Starting in February 1970, this power ballad held the top spot on the Hot 100 for six weeks. It was the biggest hit for S&G and the entire year. The next year, the traditional soul version by Aretha Franklin peaked at No. 6. Linda Clifford, a disco icon, and Mary J. Blige and Andrea Bocelli, who released the song in 2010, are two more musicians who have charted with it.
Notes: For this duet, Wonder and Ledisi enhanced Franklin’s vintage soul cover rendition. During the song’s introduction, Wonder referred to it as “one of the most beautiful tunes ever composed.” The Jonas Brothers, Sheila E, and Wonder all joined together to sing S&G’s 1968 classic “Mrs. Robinson” with Wonder and Ledisi. Simon and Wonder have a history of respecting one another. When voting for album of the year at the 1974 Grammy Awards, Wonder defeated Simon. “Most of all, I’d like to thank Stevie Wonder, who didn’t release an album this year,” Simon famously said after winning two years later for Still Crazy After All These Years.
5) Sting, “America”
History of the song: Although this ballad first featured on Simon & Garfunkel’s 1968 album Bookends, it wasn’t until 1972 that it was made available as a single by the duo, thanks to the popularity of their greatest hits album, which peaked at number five on the Billboard 200 in July of that year. The song’s biggest hit rendition was performed by prog rock legends Yes (No. 46 on the Hot 100 in September 1972).
Notes: It’s fascinating that this song about America’s soul-searching, which was first released in one of the most volatile years in American history, was performed by an Englishman. However, Sting has a close connection to the song. I adore it, he declared.
4) Garth Brooks With Trisha Yearwood, “The Boxer”
History of the song: Simon & Garfunkel first released this as a single. In May 1969, it peaked at No. 7 on the Hot 100, and the following year, it was included on Bridge Over Troubled Water.
Notes: Yearwood contributed outstanding harmony vocals to Brooks’ accurate rendition of the song, which he led.
3) Rhiannon Giddens With Paul Simon, “American Tune”
Song history: This was the third single from Simon’s second solo album, There Goes Rhymin’ Simon. It failed to match the commercial success of the album’s first two singles, both of which reached No. 2 on the Hot 100. “American Tune” peaked No. 35 in January 1974.
Notes: Simon mentioned in the program that Giddens wasn’t even alive when he composed this song. However, she delivered lines like “And I don’t know a soul who hasn’t been battered/ I don’t have a buddy who feels at ease” with great poise. After years of COVID and political unrest, the song resonates much more today than it did in the early 1970s during the Vietnam/Watergate agonies.
Song history: This was also from There Goes Rhymin’ Simon. But the Barbra Streisand recorded it on The Way We Were, which topped the Billboard 200 for two weeks in March 1974. However the other artists who have recorded the song include Phoebe Snow, Annie Lennox and Yearwood.
Notes: Raitt delivered a beautiful rendition of this song as Paisley played bluesy guitar in the background. The song wasn’t a major hit, and it wasn’t even issued as a single, according to Raitt, but it was “beautiful, deep, and honest.” One of the most moving lines in a song in recent memory can be found in this song: “Some people never say those words ‘I love you’/ It’s not their style to be so bold/ Some people never say the words ‘I love you’/ But like a child, they’re aching to be told.”
1) Billy Porter, “Loves Me Like a Rock”
Song history: This was the second single from There Goes Rhymin’ Simon. The song, On which Simon was backed by The Dixie Hummingbirds, reached No. 2 on the Hot 100 in October 1973.
Notes: Porter performed the hymn with zeal typical of an evangelical. Although he noted that the song’s dual themes of “a consecrated youngster” and “a consummated man” resonated deeply with him as a gay young man who was nurtured in the Pentecostal faith. Porter explained to him that the song’s main theme is a mother’s love. Indeed, “Mother and Child Reunion” (played on the show by Jimmy Cliff and Shaggy) and “Slip Slidin’ Away,” two of Simon’s songs that explore the issue of the parent-child bond (performed by Little Big Town).