Paul Simon

Greatest Hits: Shining Like a National Guitar

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The various compilations of Paul Simon's work that have been released with his input over the years have been an unsatisfying bunch, leaving out key tracks in favor of the artist's own favorites, so that none of them could be recommended unreservedly. The international release Greatest Hits: Shining Like a National Guitar is by far the best such collection ever released, selecting 19 songs from Simon's studio recordings originally released over a 25-year period between 1972 and 1997. All ten of Simon's British chart singles are included, though American fans picking up import copies will note the omission of a number of U.S. singles, notably the Top 40 hits "American Tune" (which, confusingly, is discussed in Peter Doggett's liner notes as if it were present), "Gone at Last," and "One-Trick Pony." That leaves room for plenty of album tracks, and Simon shows consistency in his choices, again picking, for example, "Rene and Georgette Magritte with Their Dog After the War" and "Hearts and Bones" from Hearts and Bones, just as he did for 1993's The Paul Simon Anthology, rather than, say, "Train in the Distance" (which Doggett talks up) or the exquisite "Song About the Moon." But that's just a way of saying that Simon has too many great songs to fit onto a single disc, and, of course, it is the fate of underrated albums like Hearts and Bones and Songs from "The Capeman" to be underrepresented on greatest hits albums. The real strength of this one lies in its sequencing. Simon has experimented with many different styles of writing and music, which would seem to make it difficult to fit the light jazz of "Still Crazy After All These Years" with the South African and Brazilian music he employed later on. But this compilation reveals the similarities between, for example, "You Can Call Me Al" from 1986's Graceland and "Mother and Child Reunion" from 1972's Paul Simon, which follows it, just as the distinctive march-drum pattern of "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" segues well into the massive drums of "The Obvious Child." It's impossible to listen to this album and not marvel at Simon's accomplishment as a musician over a quarter century, and that's as strong a recommendation for a compilation as anybody should need. Unfortunately, though it was a chart success across Europe, Greatest Hits: Shining Like a National Guitar was not issued in the U.S., remaining a pricey import, and with the release only a few months later of a new Simon album, You're the One, it seemed unlikely it would get stateside release. (Note that, as is typical on Simon compilations, several tracks have been trimmed slightly to fit so many songs on one CD.)

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