REVISED: Behind the song: “Something So Right”, by Paul Simon
Since the publication we found out that we have the story of this song straight from Simon himself, which we are now bringing to you.
Read this new addendum to the story behind the song and listen to the song’s original demo in its first incarnation,
like “Let me live in your city”.
This is a review of our original story behind “Something So Right” by Paul Simon. Even though I knew that Simon, in one of our many interviews, was talking about the birth of this song, I couldn’t find it anywhere. Until today, which is when I realized that he was not included in any of the published interviews that we did, but from interviews that I conducted and then adapted for the pocket notes of Paul Simon 1964/1993, his first box set.
This set has divided his career into three sections: the early years, the solo years and “Graceland” and beyond. The BBC’s Kevin Howlett directed the first chapter, and Paul’s friend, composer Philip Glass, wrote the third chapter.
I wrote the middle chapter, The Solo Years. This covered her albums of “There Goes Rhymin ‘Simon”, her second solo album (with “Something So Right”) and ended with “Hearts and Bones”, her last album before “Graceland”.
As mentioned in the first post of this story, the lyrics to “Something So Right” are so focused and so poignant and human, built around the title, that it’s surprising to find out that Simon wrote it with another chorus and a whole different track, before reinventing it as the song we know now.
Simon confirms, in this recently retrieved interview section that we share below, that a review was needed to unify the song’s love theme.
Here is that additional material straight from the source, Paul Simon. It’s taken from a series of interviews I conducted in 1992 in her Manhattan apartment, shortly after her marriage to Edie Brickell.
The demo of this first version of the song is below, along with the original lyrics.
PAUL SIMON: I thought [“Something So Right”] was a beautiful, straightforward love song. I wrote the melody first. I had a whole set of other lyrics: a different title, a different subject.
The original lyrics weren’t a love song, it was kind of gospel lyrics. I don’t know when I came to the conclusion that it should be a love song.
But I felt it wasn’t a third person experience; It was gonna be a personal song.
Quincy Jones did all of the orchestration. It’s a really tasty piece of writing.
I worked with Phil Ramone, and he introduced me to musicians he had worked with, like Quincy and the other guys on that – Bobby Scott on piano and Grady Tate on drums.
It was a big session. There is an acoustic bass and an electric bass on it, plus vibrations and three guitars.
VIDEO ABOVE: Paul Simon’s demo from
“Let me live in your city”
the first incarnation of “Something So Right”.
VIDEO BELOW: Paul Simon, “Something So Right”
1973, from There goes Rhymin ‘Simon
The title of this ultimate love song reflects an area of human love that is not often expressed in the song: the inability to accept the finer things in life. It is an idea indicative of the human condition, and has been an enduring part of human existence through many centuries.
Proof of this came in 1580, when author Thomas Lupton introduced the axiom “too good to be true” to the English language in his book Thomas Lupton’s Sivquila, too good to be true. It’s an idea that reflects this human dynamic, often commonly paraphrased as: if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is because it is.
Compared to her most famous songs, such as “Bridge Over Troubled Water” which is a modern standard, she is mostly unknown to the general public. However, “Something So Right” remains a cherished secret hero among his songs, in particular by Simon Cognoscenti, for whom his status of unjustified outsider gives him a singular shimmer of his own.
It is also precious to be an open window on Simon’s real self, expressed in a chorus of self-effacing confessions. The singer possesses his innate negativity, the tendency to always focus on any potential darkness while being unable to perceive even the slightest sunny side of a street.
Yet the song is one of Simon’s most essential, both musically – with its sultry, fiery verse melody and intricate, elegant guitar part – and unique lyrics.
In this first incarnation of the song, the title comes in the first line, “Let me live in your city.” The end of this refrain, on a “traveling time traveler”, is vague. Yet all the melody and momentum of the song leads to that melodic climax on the last line of the chorus, where he placed the title. And it works. It’s just three words, but it’s beautiful in its simplicity, creating a softly whimsical and familiar way of describing the feeling.
1. Chorus of “Let me live in your city”, the first draft,
by Paul Simon, from “Something So Right ..
Let me live in your cityYes
The river is so pretty, the air is so beautiful
Rent me a room where I can lie downr
I’m just a traveler who eats the time to travel
I’m just a traveler who eats up my travel time
2. New revised chorus of “Something So Right”, recorded by Paul Simon.
When something’s wrong I’m the first to admit it
The first to admit it, but the last to know
When something goes right it’s likely to lose me
It’s likely to confuse me
Because it’s such an unusual sight
I can’t get used to something so good
Something so good
From “Something So Good”
By Paul Simon
Simon played and wrote the song on a classical gut-string acoustic guitar, as opposed to the steel-string acoustic guitars he usually played and used for songwriting. To expand her musical vocabulary, Simone studied many types of music played on the guitar, including classical, which is played on a gut-string or nylon-string guitar. The sound and melodic feel of the song was shaped by the instrument.
The song was recorded in 1972 at Columbia Records Studio in New York. It was designed by Phil Ramone and Roy Halee, who co-produced the album with Simon. Quincy Jones composed the arrangement of the strings. The instrumental credits follow:
|“Something so good”
of There goes Rhymin ‘Simon
Paul Simon – vocals, guitar
David Spinoza – guitar
Al Gafa – guitar
Richard davis – acoustic bass
Bob cranshaw – electric bass
Grady tate – drums
Bob james – Fender Rhodes
Bobby scott – piano
Don Elliott – vibraphone
Quincy Jones – layout
Simon’s original demo is in E, although the studio version of There goes Rhymin ‘Simon is at F, half a step higher. On the guitar it is easier to play in E, and since the demo is in E, it seems likely that it was written in E and then transposed.
Rhythmically, the song, as written and recorded, switches between a 2/4, 4/4 time signature and in bridge and elsewhere, 3/4 beats.
It’s a song that also stands out for being covered not by one but by three of the great musical divas of our time: Barbra Streisand, Phoebe Snow and Annie Lennox.
Barbra Streisand was the first. She recorded it in 1975 for her album The way we were.
Next was Phoebe Snow, who called it “the ultimate love song”. She had made a famous duet with Simon on her song “Gone At Last”, by Still crazy after all these years, and also performed live with him.
Her great rendition of the soul-inspired song is included in her 1977 album Never give up.
Annie Lennox recorded the song solo in 1995 for her album Astonished. That same year, she re-recorded the song, using the same track, and made it into a duet with Paul Simon, adding new vocals provided by Simon, as well as new guitar playing tracks from Simon.
Released as a single (unlike Simon’s recording, which was only a B-side), it was popular on UK radio and climbed to 44 on the UK pop charts.
On Phoebe’s version, the chords are slightly modified at the end of the chorus. She sings it in E. Annie Lennox’s version is in A. The chords are radically changed, as is the structure. Barbra Streisand’s interpretation is the closest to Simon’s in every way except the key.