A poet and a one-man band

I’d say there are less than a dozen true geniuses of song craftsmanship in popular music, and among that rarified club, Paul Simon is my personal hero. Essentially, he’s the reason I wanted to learn how to play acoustic guitar — so I could sing his songs around campfires and in back yards with friends and family.

From the delicate melodies and wistful lyrics of his early days with Art Garfunkel through his use of an ever-broadening palette of musical styles and rhythms and vocabulary-rich lyrics as a solo artist, Simon has astonished and impressed critics and the public alike for nearly six decades. This week, he turned 80, and although he has retired from touring, and might not record another album of new music, he can rest comfortably in the knowledge that he is broadly acknowledged as one of the two or three best songwriters in our lifetimes.

He has not been a prolific composer. While contemporaries like Bob Dylan and Van Morrison have each released upwards of 40 albums of new material since their debuts in the mid-‘60s, Simon has fewer than 20 (five with Garfunkel and 15 on his own). He has tended to labor a long time between records, struggling with his perfectionism and occasional writer’s block issues. Consequently, his work has, in my view, been more consistently excellent than his peers who, while capable of monumentally strong songs and albums, have numerous duds in their catalogs. I would venture to say Simon’s portfolio contains only two LPs that could be considered below average.

“Tom and Jerry” in 1957

Born and raised in Queens in the late ‘40s and ‘50s, Simon claims to be essentially a rock ‘n roll kid, cutting his teeth on ‘50s rhythm and blues, doo-wop and Buddy Holly. With his middle school pal Garfunkel, he worked on tight harmonies in The Everly Brothers mold and even won a modest recording contract while still in high school, and the duo, calling themselves Tom and Jerry, had a minor hit (#49) called “Hey Schoolgirl” in 1957. That was essentially a “one-hit wonder,” however, and the two eventually parted ways to pursue their own paths in college and elsewhere.

By the time he was 22, Simon was starting to emulate Dylan’s penchant for writing meaningful lyrics that expressed much more emotion and weight than the standard pop songs of the day. He and Garfunkel regrouped in 1964, now under the auspices of Columbia Records, and released their debut album, “Wednesday Morning, 3 AM,” a mix of traditional folk songs and promising Simon originals. The duo’s perfectly blended voices were their key attribute, and critics noted the depth and sophistication in songs like Simon’s “The Sound of Silence”… but the album stiffed. Garfunkel returned to academia and taught high school algebra, and Simon headed for England to hone his craft and try his hand at performing on street corners and in small cafés.  

Once “folk rock” became a thing in 1965, when lyrically relevant material was recorded by bands playing electric guitars to rock arrangements, a producer at Columbia took the quiet recording of “The Sound of Silence,” grafted on some electric guitar, bass and drums, and voila! Simon and Garfunkel went to #1.

The duo promptly regrouped to record and release their second album, “Sounds of Silence,” which included the hit single and an impressive array of originals Simon had been writing, including the follow-up hit “I Am a Rock” and introspective works like “April Come She Will,” “Kathy’s Song,” “Leaves That Are Green” and “A Most Peculiar Man.” A third Top Five hit, “Homeward Bound,” anchored the duo’s elegant third album, “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme,” a sumptuous buffet of delicate melodies and harmonies, with lyrics that alternated between melancholy and soothing: “The Dangling Conversation,” “For Emily, Whenever I Might Find Her,” “Cloudy,” “Flowers Never Bend With the Rainfall” and their fine interpretation of the olde English folk song, “Scarborough Fair.” In 1967, three sprightly S&G singles, all written by Simon, kept them high on the charts — “Hazy Shade of Winter,” “Fakin’ It” and “At the Zoo.” Clearly, this was a composer worth taking seriously.  

And yet, he had only barely scratched the surface of his songwriting abilities. In 1968 and 1969, masterpieces like “America,” “Old Friends,” “Mrs. Robinson” and “The Boxer” demonstrated an entirely new level of musical maturity and lyrical storytelling. The song cycle on the first side of the “Bookends” album (including “America” and “Old Friends”) is an incredible achievement, with songs that depict the human condition from childhood to old age, and “The Boxer” includes a verse (deleted on the original recording, but restored in concert ever since) that is unusually prophetic for a man still in his 20s: “Now the years are rolling by me, they are rockin’ evenly, I am older than I once was and younger than I’ll be, that’s not unusual, no it isn’t strange, after changes upon changes, we are more or less the same…”

He and Garfunkel truly became household names when Simon’s music was used as an integral element of the seminal coming-of-age film “The Graduate.” But it was the game-changing, Grammy-winning 1970 masterpiece “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” acclaimed worldwide as a picture-perfect example of gospel songwriting, that elevated Simon to membership among the elite composers of his time. The album offered a broader variety of musical styles, from quasi-bossa nova (“So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright”) and shimmering acoustic (“The Only Living Boy in New York”) to driving folk rock (“Baby Driver”) and sweet balladry (“Song For the Asking”). It sold upwards of 25 million copies.

I was among the many diehard S&G fans who protested loudly when the duo chose to part company following the “Bridge” concert tour in 1970. Just as The Beatles dissolved amid the tension of being together 24/7, Simon and Garfunkel had also grown apart, eager to pursue separate passions. Simon the songwriter felt constrained by what he viewed as S&G’s limited format. “I was fascinated with the idea of exploring other musical genres,” he said. “I was eager to write music that wouldn’t have worked in the S&G context.” Savvy listeners saw this coming in the duo’s final singles — the use of Peruvian instruments and rhythms on “El Condor Pasa” and the bold, raw percussion that dominated “Cecilia.”

Simon’s first two solo albums — 1972’s “Paul Simon” and 1973’s “There Goes Rhymin’ Simon” — offered a veritable cornucopia of rhythms and textures far removed from the typical S&G songs: the reggae influences in “Mother and Child Reunion,” the Hispanic street beat of “Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard,” the doo-wop/gospel hybrid of “Loves Me Like a Rock,” the blues of “One Man’s Ceiling is Another Man’s Floor,” the jazz of “Tenderness.” And the lyrics continued to provide uncommon insight. Consider how beautifully he captured the angst and malaise of the mid-’70s in “American Tune”: “Well, we come on a ship they call the Mayflower, we come on a ship that sailed the moon, /We come in the age’s most uncertain hour and sing an American tune, /Oh but it’s all right, it’s all right, we can’t be forever blessed, /Still, tomorrow’s gonna be another working day, and I’m trying to get some rest…”

Simon’s Grammy awards continued with 1975’s Album of the Year, “Still Crazy After All These Years,” which chronicled the dissolution of his first marriage with extraordinary melodies and lyrics that were simultaneously heartbreaking and whimsical: “I Do It For Your Love,” “Gone at Last,” “My Little Town,” “Have a Good Time.” On the deep track “You’re Kind,” he offered this summation:  “So goodbye, goodbye, I’m gonna leave you now and here’s the reason why, I like to sleep with the window open, and you keep the window closed, so goodbye, goodbye, goodbye…”

This is a crucial point about Simon’s work — the balance between poignancy and playfulness.  Some observers pigeonholed him (at least at first) as a man obsessed with loneliness and depression, but his catalog also includes dozens of songs full of lighthearted, effervescent words and rhythms:  “Feelin’ Groovy,” “Baby Driver,” “Duncan,” “Kodachrome,” “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” “Punky’s Dilemma,” “Late in the Evening,” “You Can Call Me Al,” “Proof,” “So Beautiful or So What.”  Far from a buzzkill, Simon has composed many tunes that overflow with joy and delight: “I got no deeds to do, no promises to keep, I’m dappled and drowsy and ready for sleep, /Let the morningtime drop all its petals on me, /Life, I love you, all is groovy…”

He fell out of favor for a period in the early ’80s with two projects (the 1980 film and soundtrack “One-Trick Pony” and the somewhat uninspired “Hearts and Bones” in 1984) that didn’t quite grab the public’s attention as his earlier works had. Still, there are marvelous tunes to be found on those albums by those who take the time, even now, 40 years later: “God Bless the Absentee,” “Jonah,” “One-Trick Pony,” “Train in the Distance,” “Hearts and Bones.” I’m especially fond of “The Late Great Johnny Ace,” Simon’s ode to a ’50s R&B singer that deftly works in a verse mourning the loss of another “Johnny Ace”: “On a cold December evening, I was walking through the Christmastide, when a stranger came up and asked me if I’d heard John Lennon had died, /And the two of us went to this bar and we stayed to close the place, and every song we played was for the late great Johnny Ace, yeah yeah yeah…”

In between those two LPs came a satisfying reunion with Garfunkel before 500,000 people in Central Park, which spawned an HBO special and a successful live album. The duo even went on a brief US tour in 1983 and made noises about a new S&G studio album, but as it turned out, the two weren’t getting along well, and Simon chose to return to his solo pursuits, which angered Garfunkel, the record company and many fans.

Simon’s restlessness sent him searching for new inspiration, and he found it in the compelling rhythms coming out of South Africa.  He found himself embroiled in controversy at the time by dancing around the boycott of the country’s repressive apartheid government, but he firmly resolved to expose the world to the insistent beats of the African artists he was working with.  The result, 1986’s phenomenal “Graceland,” won widespread praise, chart success, and still more Grammys.  “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes,” “The Boy in the Bubble,” “Under African Skies” and the indelible title track, among others, firmly reestablished Simon as one of the crown jewels among American songwriting musicians.

For “The Rhythm of the Saints” (1990), Simon used West African and Brazilian instruments and rhythms to build on “Graceland’s” momentum, producing a thoughtful, nuanced record that, while less commercially successful, maintained Simon’s stature with irresistible tracks like “Born at the Right Time,” “Proof,” “The Obvious Child,” “She Moves On” and “The Coast.”  

From there, he made the rather curious move to immerse himself for nearly five years in the dark story of a Puerto Rican teenager known as The Capeman who was convicted of two 1959 murders, and he wrote an entire song cycle (interesting but repetitive) and spearheaded an ambitious Broadway play about it all.  Sadly for him, it debuted to disastrous reviews in 1997 and closed within weeks, leaving him bruised and unsure of himself.

Stung by this experience, he retreated from view for a while, but re-emerged in 2000 with “You’re the One,” a triumphant return to form with classic Simon songs (“Darling Lorraine,” “Old,” “That’s Where I Belong”) that offered a vibrant mix of pathos, intricate melodies, understated elegance and wry observations:   “Love, we crave it so badly, makes you want to laugh out loud when you receive it, and gobble it like candy…”  The industry and the buying (downloading) public had moved on to other things, for the most part, but the LP still managed to break into the Top 20.

In light of the stormy split with Garfunkel he initiated in the ’80s, I was surprised but pleased when Simon gave in to those who clamored for a comprehensive Simon and Garfunkel reunion tour in 2003, captured on a beautifully produced double CD with DVD in 2004. It was a dream come true for S&G fans like me, especially because they unearthed favorite deep tracks like “The Only Living Boy in New York” and added spirited instrumental codas to classics like “Homeward Bound” and “America.” They even invited their early idols, The Everly Brothers, to join them for a few numbers each night.

S&G may have put on fine shows that were rapturously received, but it was apparently just that — a show. Behind the scenes, it was another story, with many tensions rising between them. They’d clearly outgrown each other, and whatever friendship had existed seemed to have dissolved by tour’s end. They don’t have much nice to say to or about each other anymore…

Since then, Simon has given us four new solo releases. In 2006, he partnered with atmospheric producer Brian Eno, of all people, and the result was “Surprise,” a challenging record that marries Simon’s observational oeuvre with Eno’s ambient musical structures. I found it jarring in places; “How Can You Live in the Northeast?” has typically wry Simonesque lyrics, but the music sounds like…well, someone else. I preferred the album closer, “Father and Daughter,” a love song to Simon’s daughter, Lulu, which had actually been written in 2002 for the animated film “The Wild Thornberrys Movie.”

I regard his 2012 release, “So Beautiful or So What,” as his most consistent work of the past 20 years. He showcased the mesmerizing title track on a “Saturday Night Live” appearance that year (his 14th, by the way), and also gifted us such fine tunes as “Dazzling Blue,” “Rewrite” and the tongue-in-cheek “The Afterlife,” on which Simon mused about what we might all expect when we die:  “I thought it was odd there was no sign of God just to usher me in, then a voice up above sugar-coated with love, said ‘Let us begin:  You got to fill out a form first, and then you wait in the line…‘”

The hit-or-miss nature of his “Stranger to Stranger” LP in 2016 was a bit frustrating at first, but these songs grow on you. As has been the case throughout his solo career, Simon has shown a tenacious desire to discover and create new sounds, typically beginning with unusual rhythms, achieved by trying different percussive instruments. He brought in remarkably creative collaborators like Italian electronic artist Clap! Clap!, who participated on cool tracks like “The Werewolf” and “Wristband,” a hilarious look at how even the star of the show can’t get past security without a damn wristband.

His most recent release, 2018’s “In the Blue Light,” is actually a radical reworking of some of Simon’s lesser known songs, using very laid-back arrangements.  They’re interesting in their own way, particularly “Can’t Run But” and “One Man’s Ceiling is Another Man’s Floor,” but they certainly don’t improve on the originals. When I saw him at the Hollywood Bowl that year, I was hoping for a liberal dose of these more obscure tracks, but he chose to stick with the tried-and-true that most people came to hear.

So now, at 80, Simon appears to have cashed in his chips. After serving as one of society’s keenest observers for six decades, he will evidently be watching from the sidelines from now on. As a staunch devotee of Simon’s music, I greedily wish he would continue, but he has most definitely earned the right to retire. His albums are there in my collection (some vinyl, some CD, some both!), and I will still strum his songs in my back yard to anyone who cares to listen. For those who know only his radio hits, I urge you to delve deeper into the Spotify playlist I assembled and familiarize yourself with the many dozens of recorded gems written by this superbly gifted man.

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How much, how much do you really know?

In recent months, I’ve been testing my readers’ skills at recalling the words to well-known classic rock songs by offering a series of Lyrics Quiz posts, and I’ll continue to do so periodically.

With this week’s post, I’ll begin branching out into the broader area of classic rock trivia. I came across an old “special edition” of a Rolling Stone Rock Trivia Quiz and decided it was high time I put together my own set of multiple-choice questions for you all to answer.

So here it is: My first Hack’s Back Pages Rock Trivia Quiz! Peruse the 15 questions and multiple-choice possible answers, then scroll down to find the answers and learn more about the topics raised. At the end, there’s also a Spotify playlist of the songs being discussed here.

I hope you get a kick out of this one!

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Van Morrison, 1971

1. “Brown-Eyed Girl” may get more airplay than any other Van Morrison song, but which of his singles charted higher on the US Top 40 listings?

“Moondance”; “Tupelo Honey”; “Domino”; “Wild Night”

(L-R) Ginger Baker, Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood. Who played bass with them?

2. Blind Faith was comprised of superstars Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood and Ginger Baker…and a fourth, much lesser known musician on bass. Who was it?

Trevor Bolder; Ric Grech; Clive Chaman; John Glascock

3. Which of these four songs does NOT feature mandolin?

“Losing My Religion,” R.E.M.; “The Battle of Evermore,” Led Zeppelin; “Wild Horses,” The Rolling Stones; “Friend of the Devil,” The Grateful Dead

David Bowie as Major Tom in “Space Oddity”

4. Major Tom is the main character in David Bowie’s 1969 debut single “Space Oddity.” In which Bowie song does Major Tom make a return appearance?

“Fame”; “Let’s Dance”; “Ashes to Ashes”; “Heroes”

Mark Knopfler

5. On which Steely Dan single does Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler make a guest appearance on guitar?

“Peg”; “Time Out of Mind”; “FM”; “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number”

Ringo Starr on vocals

6. Of these four songs Ringo Starr sang in The Beatles catalog, which one did he write?

“Yellow Submarine”; “Act Naturally”; “Good Night”; “Octopus’s Garden”

Rod Stewart in the 1970s

7. On which song does Rod Stewart encourage you to “spread your wings and let me come inside”?

“Maggie May”; “Hot Legs”; “Tonight’s the Night”; “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?”

8. Which Paul Simon album was originally intended to be a Simon and Garfunkel reunion album?

“Still Crazy After All These Years”
“Hearts and Bones”
“You’re the One”
“The Rhythm of the Saints”

9. Of these lengthy classic rock tracks that occupy an entire album side, which one clocks in as the longest?

“In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” Iron Butterfly
“Echoes” from “Meddle,” Pink Floyd
“Close to the Edge,” Yes
“Supper’s Ready” from “Foxtrot,” Genesis

10. Which of these four artists did not record a song with Paul McCartney?

Elvis Costello
Stevie Wonder
Billy Joel
Michael Jackson

11. Which one of these pairs of artists did NOT record a song together?

Joni Mitchell and Michael McDonald; Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash; Phil Collins and Philip Bailey; Elton John and Freddie Mercury

12. Which album cover from the 1970s was designed by pop artist Andy Warhol?

“Dark Side of the Moon,” Pink Floyd
“Aladdin Sane,” David Bowie
“Sticky Fingers,” The Rolling Stones
“Imagine,” John Lennon

13. Which one of these talented women sings harmony vocals with Neil Young on his hit singles “Heart of Gold” and “Old Man”?

Bonnie Raitt
Linda Ronstadt
Joni Mitchell
Carly Simon

14. Which lead guitarist was never a member of The Yardbirds?

Jeff Beck
Peter Green
Eric Clapton
Jimmy Page

Kris Kristofferson with Barbra Streisand

15. Who was Barbra Streisand’s first choice to be her co-star in the 1976 film “A Star is Born”?

Neil Diamond
Elvis Presley
Rick Nelson
Jerry Lee Lewis

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ANSWERS:

1. “Domino”

Morrison had an acrimonious relationship with his late ’60s label, Bang Records, for whom he recorded “Brown-Eyed Girl.” Although royalties from that tune have padded his bank account every day since its release, he claims to hate it and rarely will play it anymore in concert. It reached #10 in 1967, but his upbeat song “Domino” from the 1970 LP “His Band and the Street Choir” actually reached one rung higher on the charts at #9. “Moondance,” from the 1970 album of the same name, is well-known but wasn’t released as a single in 1970 and performed poorly upon release as a single in 1977, stalling at #92. “Tupelo Honey” and “Wild Night” from the 1971 “Tupelo Honey” album managed only #47 and #28, respectively.

2. Ric Grech

Grech was a multi-instrumentalist who had written songs and played bass and violin for Family, a relatively obscure British progressive rock group known for a diversity of styles and lineups. He was tapped to fill out the ranks of Blind Faith, which lasted for less than six months, one brief tour and one album before disbanding. Winwood later invited Grech to join the reconvened Traffic in time for their popular LP “The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys.” The other names mentioned above: Trevor Bolder became bassist in David Bowie’s backup band, The Spiders From Mars; Clive Chaman was the bass player for The Jeff Beck Group for a spell; and John Glascock was Jethro Tull’s bassist from 1976-1979.

3. “Wild Horses,” The Rolling Stones

While this is one of the handful of songs in the Stones catalog that has a strong country music influence, “Wild Horses” does not include mandolin in the instrumental arrangement. There’s plenty of pedal steel guitar, and slide guitar, and Jagger’s vocals have a bit of Southern drawl, all a result of country rock pioneer Gram Parsons hanging out with the band during the 1969-1972 years. On Zeppelin’s “The Battle of Evermore,” keyboardist/bassist John Paul Jones picks up a mandolin to complement Jimmy Page’s acoustic guitar; R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck uses mandolin as the primary instrument as Michael Stipe sings “Losing My Religion”; and guest mandolinist David Grisman’s flourishes on mandolin become increasingly prominent with each successive verse of The Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil.”

4. “Ashes to Ashes”

“Ashes to ashes, funk to funky, we know Major Tom’s a junkie, /Strung out in heaven’s high, hitting an all-time low…” These are lyrics from the chorus of the hit single from Bowie’s 1980 LP “Scary Monsters.” Bowie himself acknowledged in 1990 that the words reflect his own struggles with drug addiction throughout the 1970s. He said he wrote “Ashes to Ashes” as a confrontation with his past: “You have to accommodate your pasts within your persona. You have to understand why you went through them. You cannot just ignore them, put them out of your mind or pretend they didn’t happen, or just say, ‘Oh, I was different then.'”

5. “Time Out of Mind”

Although Steely Dan first recorded and performed as a six-man band when they debuted in 1972, they soon became sort of a studio laboratory run by Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, who brought in a wide array of session guitarists, drummers, bassists and background singers to play on the various album tracks. Particularly on their albums “The Royal Scam” (1976), “Aja” (1977) and “Gaucho” (1980), Fagen and Becker tried out as many as a dozen guitarists to play solos before finding the one they were looking for. On the “Gaucho” track “Time Out of Mind,” Mark Knopfler’s spare, fluid style was just what the songwriters were seeking. It was a modest hit, reaching #22 in early 1981. You can also hear Michael McDonald providing guest vocals behind Fagen on this one.

6. “Octopus’s Garden”

From their very first album onward, The Beatles made a point of featuring Ringo on vocals on at least one track. It was sometimes a cover of an earlier rock hit — The Shirrelles’ “Boys,” the Carl Perkins tunes “Matchbox” and “Honey Don’t,” or the Buck Owens hit “Act Naturally.” More often, it was a Lennon-McCartney original they wrote with Starr in mind: “I Wanna Be Your Man,” “What Goes On,” “Yellow Submarine,” “With a Little Help From My Friends.” Ringo tried in vain to write songs, but they ended up being little more than rewrites of someone else’s tune. He came up with the simple country ditty “Don’t Pass Me By” which appears on Side 2 of “The White Album,” and then, during the sessions for “Abbey Road,” he wrote “Octopus’s Garden,” which he regarded as “a sequel to ‘Yellow Submarine.'” George Harrison helped out with a marvelous guitar intro, and John, Paul and George all added harmonies.

7. “Tonight’s the Night”

Almost from the beginning, Stewart projected a playfully naughty image as a lovable rascal who’d love to take you to bed. He hung out with — and sometimes married — attractive, much younger women, and the lyrics of the songs he chose to record and release as singles were fairly obvious in their sexual overtures. “Maggie May” (1971) tells the tale of a young man’s first sexual experience with a much older woman; “Hot Legs” (1978) is about a young woman who drops by only for spirited, casual sex; and “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” (1978) is about a couple of strangers who lust for each other and are at first too shy to make a move but end up doing the deed. “Tonight’s the Night,” though, is the one that features the lyric in question, which was boldly blatant about what he wanted from the young lady.

8. “Hearts and Bones”

When Simon made the daring decision in 1970 to end his enormously successful partnership with Art Garfunkel, it was because he wanted to explore new musical territories that he felt weren’t a good match for the Simon-Garfunkel tight harmonies. In 1975, the duo reunited, but for only one song, “My Little Town,” which appeared on his “Still Crazy After All These Years” album AND Garfunkel’s “Breakaway” LP. In 1983, following a spectacularly successful reunion concert, video and album in Central Park, Simon and Garfunkel did a reunion tour, and started work on a full S&G album, but the pair had a falling out, and Simon actually erased Garfunkel’s vocal parts and made the album a solo work called “Hearts and Bones.” The other two albums listed, 1991’s “The Rhythm of the Saints” and 2000’s “You’re the One,” had no involvement from Garfunkel.

Pink Floyd’s “Meddle” LP, 1971

9. “Echoes,” Pink Floyd

From the late ’60s through the mid-’70s, progressive rock bands were eager to push the boundaries of rock music, not only in format and influences but in length as well. British artists like King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Jethro Tull and Yes wrote songs that lasted more than 15 or 20 minutes. American and Canadian acts from Frank Zappa and Bob Dylan to Rush and Styx got in the act as well. In 1968, California’s Iron Butterfly was one of the first bands to take up a whole album side, releasing the stoner classic “In-A-Gadda-da-Vida,” but it lasted just 17:05. Yes released “Close to the Edge” in 1972, and its title track was 18:43 in length. Genesis, with Peter Gabriel still firmly in charge, released the 23:06-long “Supper’s Ready” in 1972. The winner, though, is Pink Floyds “Echoes,” from their 1971 album “Meddle,” which edges out “Supper’s ready” by a half minute at 23:31.

10. Billy Joel

You can look at the accessible pop songcraft of Joel from his earliest work onward and assume he’d be a perfect match for McCartney’s similar vein of highly melodic material… but no, they never worked together. In 1982, McCartney teamed up with Stevie Wonder for the massive hit “Ebony and Ivory” and also “What’s That You’re Doing,” both from his “Tug of War” LP. In the 1982-83 period, McCartney collaborated successfully with Michael Jackson on three hits: “The Girl is Mine” from Jackson’s “Thriller” album, and “Say Say Say” and “The Man” from McCartney’s “Pipes of Peace” LP. In 1989, following poor sales of his previous album “Press to Play,” McCartney struck an alliance with Elvis Costello on four of the 12 songs on “Flowers in the Dirt,” as well as Costello’s hit “Veronica” the same year.

11. Elton John and Freddie Mercury

These two bombastic Brits were both prone to big, splashy theatrics in their performances, and they were good friends, so you’d think a duet would’ve been a natural for them, but it never happened. On the other hand, the other three pairs of artists found great results pooling their talents on various recordings. For her “Dog Eat Dog” album in 1985, Joni Mitchell invited ex-Doobie Brother Michael McDonald to perform a duet with her on “Good Friends,” which stiffed as a single at #85 but reached #28 on Mainstream Rock charts. In 1984, for his third solo LP, “Chinese Wall,” Philip Bailey of Earth Wind & Fire collaborated with Phil Collins, who produced the album, played drums throughout, and co-wrote and sang on the international #1 hit “Easy Lover.” Back in 1969, Johnny Cash sang a duet with Bob Dylan on his “Nashville Skyline” album on a re-recording of Dylan’s 1963 tune “Girl From the North Country.”

12. “Sticky Fingers,” The Rolling Stones

One of the earliest examples of a controversial album cover design that made it into production was the infamous tight jeans close-up on The Stones’ “Sticky Fingers” LP, courtesy of Andy Warhol. Although members of his design collaborative, The Factory, actually implemented the design and photography, Warhol conceived of the idea, which Mick Jagger enthusiastically endorsed. The actual working zipper on the original pressing was later removed because it tended to damage albums during shipping. Hipgnosis, a British graphic design group that created album covers for Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Alan Parsons Project and more, came up with the award-winning “Dark Side of the Moon” cover art. Famed fashion and portrait photographer Brian Duffy, who worked often with David Bowie, shot and created the cover for Bowie’s “Aladdin Sane” album. Warhol was rumored to have shot the polaroid photo of John Lennon for his “Imagine” cover, but it was instead taken by Yoko Ono.

13. Linda Ronstadt

Young went to Nashville in 1971 to appear on a taping of the ABC musical variety show “The Johnny Cash Show,” where Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor were also scheduled to appear. Immediately following the taping, Young invited Ronstadt and Taylor to a nearby studio, where he had assembled some country musicians to record some tracks for a new project that would become the chart-topping “Harvest” LP. It’s difficult to make out Taylor’s voice in the mix of either “Heart of Gold” or “Old Man,” but Ronstadt’s voice is easily identifiable. Young has shared the stage with Joni Mitchell, notably for The Band’s “The Last Waltz” album and concert film. Young performed with Bonnie Raitt at least once, at the Bay Area Music Awards ceremony in 1990. As far as I can tell from online research, Young and Carly Simon have never performed or recorded together.

14. Peter Green

Peter Green was a brilliant blues guitarist who played first with John Mayall and then formed Fleetwood Mac in 1967. He never served with The Yardbirds, a blues-based band later noted for their “rave-up” instrumental breaks. Tony “Top” Topham was the group’s original lead guitarist, but he lasted only a few months and was replaced by hot new blues guitar sensation Eric Clapton. He remained for a year and a half but, as a blues purist, he was turned off by their pop single “For Your Love” and left to join Mayall’s Bluesbreakers (and then Cream). Clapton recommended prominent session guitarist Jimmy Page, who said no and suggested Jeff Beck instead, who was instrumental in their most fertile period on such Yardbirds hits as “Shapes of Things” and “Heart Full of Soul.” Page ended up joining later on bass, then played guitar alongside Beck for several months before Beck grew disillusioned and split. Page stayed on until the group’s disbanding in 1968, turning it into first The New Yardbirds and then Led Zeppelin.

A mock-up album cover of what might’ve been

15. Elvis Presley

In the 1927 and 1945 versions of “A Star is Born,” the story centered on an aspiring actress and declining actor, but in 1975, Streisand was interested in reviving the film by making it about the music business instead. Consequently, when she went looking for a co-star to play the part of the singer on his way down, she wanted someone who could both sing and act. Neil Diamond made the short list as a possible candidate. Rick Nelson might’ve worked, and Jerry Lee Lewis as well, but neither were ever under consideration. (The studio mentioned Marlon Brando, who was ruled out because he wasn’t a singer.). Streisand was eager to get Elvis Presley, who met with them and was interested in taking the part, but imperious manager “Colonel” Tom Parker demanded top billing for Elvis and asked for too much money. He also objected to Elvis portraying someone whose career was in decline. Filmmakers instead settled on Kris Kristofferson, an acclaimed songwriter and actor.

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