On Dec. 6, 1986, the title track to Paul Simon’s Graceland album entered the Billboard Hot 100 at #92. The song would go to #81, then fall off the charts (a follow-up single, “You Can Call Me Al,” would reach #23).
Simon wrote in the Graceland LP’s liner notes, “In the summer of 1984, a friend gave me a cassette of an album called Gumboots: Accordion Jive Hits, Volume II. It sounded vaguely like ’50s rock ‘n’ roll out of the Atlantic Records school of simple three-chord pop hits.”
The cassette would lead Simon on a musical journey to explore mbanqanga, the street music and “township jive” of Soweto,South Africa, and its similarities to the American roots music of early rock ‘n’ roll, country music, zydeco, and Tex-Mex (an exploration recorded with the help of the band Los Lobos).
“Graceland,” with its lyrics of personal redemption centered around a road trip to Memphis to visit the home of Elvis Presley, is, as Simon writes, “less typical of South African music than most of the other tracks…”
The song was one of five on the album that were recorded at Ovation Studios in Johannesburg with South African groups Tao Ea Matsekha, General M. D. Shirinda and the Gaza Sisters, and the Boyoyo Boys Band. (Vocals from the Everly Brothers on “Graceland” were added at the mixing session in Los Angeles).
“The Boy in the Bubble, ” also recorded at Ovation Studios. The song opened the Graceland album. The song was originally performed by Tao Ea Matsekha. Accordionist Forere Motloheloa is credited as co-writer. Simon added his lyrics and re-worked the music’s structure.