Paul Simon “The Obvious Child” (Pop/Rock) [Music/Track]

Year: 1990
Genre: Pop/Rock
From: The album “The Rhythm Of The Saints

Well I’m accustomed to a smooth ride
Or maybe I’m a dog that’s lost his bite

This song is a feel good song for me, it never fails to make me happy. The drumming in this is simply amazing, and I remember the first time I heard this I immediately had to check out the drumming band Olodum first album “Egito Madagáscar“, and that’s a recommend if you like this kind of drum music.

“The Obvious Child” is a song recorded by the American singer-songwriter Paul Simon. It was the lead single from his eighth studio album, The Rhythm of the Saints (1990), released by Warner Bros. Records. Written by Simon, its lyrics explore mortality and aging. The song is accompanied by a performance from Brazilian drumming collective Olodum in a live recording.

The single, released in September 1990, was commercially successful, performing well on charts worldwide. In the United States, it was mainly successful on the Album Rock Tracks chart, where it peaked at number 21. Outside the US, “The Obvious Child” was a top 15 hit in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. The song received highly positive reviews upon its release. Simon promoted the song alongside Olodum in a performance on Saturday Night Live. The song also influenced popular culture; it is the namesake of the 2014 film Obvious Child.

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Background

Paul Simon could have been forgiven for making Graceland II. After all, that multi-platinum world-beat classic had remained on the charts for almost two years after its 1986 release. The project earned him a third Grammy for Album of the Year, a rare feat he shared with the likes of Stevie Wonder and Frank Sinatra.

Instead, Simon turned his creative process upside down. Whereas Graceland found Simon among some of Africa’s top players, jamming inside a South African studio until something special emerged, The Rhythm of the Saints was born out of a series of Brazilian drum tracks that Simon brought home to complete. West African guitar was the other central musical voice on the album, which arrived on Oct. 22, 1990 after he’d spent time creating narratives to match.

“I waited for the sounds of the drums and the melody to suggest the sound of words, and the words became sentences,” Simon told Knight-Ridder News Service in 1990, “and some of those sentences were interesting enough so that they stuck. And from there, by extension forward and back, I wrote the songs.”

Simon ended up traveling to Brazil four times between 1988-89, discovering street sounds that would shape The Rhythm of the Saints as much as the vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo had Graceland. For instance, Grupo Cultural Olodum – a 10-member drum unit from Salvador – powered the album’s opening song, “The Obvious Child.” Simon captured the group by putting microphones on telephone poles around their regular performance space.

The rhythm tracks are performed by Grupo Cultural Olodum, a drumming collective (“bloco afro”) directed by “Neguinho do Samba” (Alves de Souza) and also signed to Warner Bros. It, like many songs on The Rhythm of the Saints, was recorded live in the streets of Pelourinho Square of Salvador, Brazil in February 1988. Microphones were hung from windows or on telephone poles to capture the performances. According to Simon, “Hundreds of people gathered. It was an amazing day — an amazing recording experience.” The vocal track was recorded at the Hit Factory in New York City.

Composition

The song’s drum introduction is indebted to “Madagascar”, a song by Olodum from their 1987 LP Egito Madagáscar. Writer Steve Sullivan writes that the figure is a “standard device” for the group, who also employ abbreviated versions of it elsewhere on the album: “Salvador Nao Inerte” and “Vinheta Cuba-Brasil”. Following this, the song breaks into an instrumental fragment that, according to Stephen Holden of The New York Times, echoes the Silhouettes’ 1957 doo-wop hit, “Get a Job”. Holden also compared the song’s conclusion to another doo-wop song, The Charts’ “Desirie” (1957).

The song’s lyrics thematically relate to a fear of aging and leaving behind the “boldness of youth,” according to Sullivan. Holden considered it a story of an everyman pondering the uncertainty of life whilst navigating his high school yearbook. Rolling Stone‘s John Mcalley too found it an everyman battling the fact that his “days have become defined by their limitations and dogged ordinariness.” For The Rhythm of the Saints, Simon was inspired by poet Derek Walcott, and would base first-draft lyrics on his poems. Simon attempted to match the rhythmic quality of the composition with his lyrics, whether that meant a lyric was meaningless or not. A lyric relating to “the cross is in the ballpark,” for example, has no meaning; Simon said, “I found [it] to be a satisfying rhythmic phrase against the drums.”

Chart Performance

“The Obvious Child” performed well on singles charts in several territories worldwide. In the United States, the song reached a peak of number 92 on the Billboard Hot 100 on January 5, 1991; it spent five weeks on the chart as a whole. It performed better on the magazine’s Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, where it placed at number 21 on November 10, 1990, and on the Modern Rock Tracks chart, where it reached a peak of number 24 a week earlier on November 3. It had more longevity on the former chart, where it spent ten weeks total. In Canada, the song debuted on the RPM 100 on October 20, 1990 at position 98.It peaked at number 28 during the week of December 8, 1990, and remained at that peak for two weeks.

Internationally, the single performed better. In the United Kingdom, the song premiered on the UK Singles Chart on September 30, 1990 at number 61,[and rose over the following weeks to a peak of number fifteen on November 4, 1990.It c harted best in the Netherlands’ Nationale Top 100, where it reached a peak of number 12. On Belgium’s Ultratop 50, it hit number 29. In Australasian territories, it charted right outside the top 40: in Australia, the song reached number 42,[ and in New Zealand, it peaked at number 46.

Reception

Upon its release, “The Obvious Child” received positive reviews from music critics of the time. Stephen Holden of The New York Times was perhaps the most effusive:

“The song “The Obvious Child” […] sounds like nothing else in contemporary pop. With its juxtaposition of early rock-and-roll and South American percussion that echoes the martial drumbeats on Mr. Simon’s 1975 hit, “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover”, it telescopes pop fragments that span more than three decades and three continents into an allusive musical reverie that is beyond generic designation. Even more than on his 1986 masterpiece, the album Graceland, Mr. Simon has melded, reshaped and refined the roots music of divergent cultures into a studio art song of layered textures and wistful, mysterious poetry.

Greg Sandow of Entertainment Weekly praised the song’s “confident drums that resound with special exuberant zing.” A reviewer for People felt that “the more exotic musical elements are subsumed by Simon’s pretty pop structures […] You never get the impression that Paul has truly gone native or even considered it. He’s more like a kid camping under the stars in his own backyard.”

Reviews have continued to be very positive over time. Writer Steve Sullivan, in his book Encyclopedia of Great Popular Song Recordings, Volume 1 (2013), calls the song “an extraordinary work that surpasses any individual song Paul Simon had ever produced as a solo artist.” Cameron Scheetz, in a 2014 article for The A.V. Club, examined the song; he called it “the perfect confluence of the wild, frenetic drumming and Simon’s folksy melodies.”

“The Obvious Child”

Well I’m accustomed to a smooth ride
Or maybe I’m a dog who’s lost it’s bite
I don’t expect to be treated like a fool no more
I don’t expect to sleep through the night
Some people say a lie’s a lie’s a lie

But I say why
Why deny the obvious child?
Why deny the obvious child?

And in remembering a road sign
I am remembering a girl when I was young
And we said these songs are true
These days are ours
These tears are free
And hey
The cross is in the ballpark
The cross is in the ballpark

We had a lot of fun
We had a lot of money
We had a little son and we thought we’d call him Sonny
Sonny gets married and moves away
Sonny has a baby and bills to pay
Sonny gets sunnier
Day by day by day by day

Well I’ve been waking up at sunrise
I’ve been following the light across my room
I watch the night receive the room of my day
Some people say the sky is just the sky

But I say
Why deny the obvious child?
Why deny the obvious child?

Sonny sits by his window and thinks to himself
How it’s strange that some rooms are like cages
Sonny’s yearbook from high school
Is down from the shelf
And he idly thumbs through the pages
Some have died
Some have fled from themselves
Or struggled from here to get there
Sonny wanders beyond his interior walls
Runs his hand through his thinning brown hair

Well I’m accustomed to a smoother ride
Or maybe I’m a dog that’s lost his bite
I don’t expect to be treated like a fool no more
I don’t expect to sleep the night
Some people say a lie is just a lie
But I say the cross is in the ballpark
Why deny the obvious child?

Woooooh, woooh ho wooooh
Wooooh hoo wooooh
Wooooh hoo…

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