Friday, May 24, 2024

Paul Simon, Paul McCartney Box Sets Are Beyond the Norm


I’ve spent the last week or so going back and forth between lavish box sets from Paul Simon and Paul McCartney. These are not the box sets of yore. Simon’s is organized around the 25th anniversary of his landmark album, “Graceland.” McCartney’s concentrates on his 1971 album, “Ram.” Each comes in a real box. There’s nothing flimsy about these constructions. After Sting’s 25th anniversary solo box last fall, I didn’t think you could do much better. But these two are every bit the equal of that one, and then some.

The Simon box has the not only the remastered album but also Joe Berlinger’s insightful documentary, “Under African Skies.” Berlinger went to to South Africa with Simon last year and filmed a reunion of all the musicians who played on “Graceland” in the first place. The documentary functions well on two planes: one, it shows the development of the songs and how Simon and co gave birth to them. Second, it takes an unvarnished look at the criticism Simon got at the time for plundering African music styles. The latter seems silly in retrospect. Simon simply brought these sounds to America. The “Graceland” set also comes with a really cool USB in the shape of a small hockey puck, containing all the “Graceland” tracks and info. There’s also a vinyl set– which I don’t have, but bought for a friend who has a turntable.

“Ram” got poor reviews in 1971, but went on to become a classic. Of course, there was tremendous backlash against McCartney after the Beatles broke up. But the box set is gorgeous. First of all, you get interview material that was either lost or never published. There’s mono version of the album and an orchestral version that are just super. There’s a bonus CD with the first solo McCartney hit, “Another Day,” one of his very best compositions. There’s also handwritten lyric sheets. A lot of time was put into this package. For McCartney fans, it’s Nirvana– not to mention internet codes for downloading all this stuff for “free.”

So it’s Christmas a little early this year. I wish someone at Motown Universal would do something like this for Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. But in the meantime, for a people of a certain age, these are great gifts.


Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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