Monday, April 16, 2012

Song #160 of 9999 - Mother and Child Reunion by Paul Simon

Song #160 of 9999

Title: Mother and Child Reunion
Artist: Paul Simon
Year: 1972
Album: Paul Simon

How interesting that Paul Simon's first single following the dissolution of his partnership with Art Garfunkel exclaims the promise of a reunion! It's just a coincidence of course as "Mother and Child Reunion" has nothing to do with Garfunkel. In fact, it's rather difficult to determine just what the song is about specifically. Simon has a way with implying ideas and evoking feelings without ever revealing too much detail for the listener. (He does something similar with "Me and Julio Down By the School Yard," where he lets you know a crime has been committed but never relinquishes the details.) It takes only a handful of simple phrases (mother and child reunion, course of a lifetime runs/over and over again) to tap into some primal territory for most listeners: the bond between a mother and child, the mystery and heartache of life and death, the promise of an afterlife.

Musically, the song seems more celebratory than funereal. Simon is already showing his penchant for world music by setting the song against a reggae backbeat played with uplifting verve by Jimmy Cliff's backing band in a Kingston recording studio. The forward placement of the backing vocals in the mix gives the song a gospel tinge and the tremolo guitar helps propel the song forward. I like that the arrangement sounds loose even though every instrument is so neatly in its place.

As a songwriter who sometimes find inspiration in the strangest places, I can't help but share this final note even though it may make be a detractor for some: apparently the title "has its origin in a chicken-and-egg dish called 'Mother and Child Reunion' that Simon saw on a Chinese restaurant's menu" (Wikipedia). Precious.

Good to be back—see you tomorrow!


  1. I've read a couple biographies that also mentioned the chinese restaurant inspiration - always been one of my favorite fun facts about Paul Simon.

    I highly recommend the live recoding performed with the Jessy Dixon Group on the album Paul Simon in Concert: Live Rhymin'. Absolutely incredible (and even better on vinyl :p )

  2. Link:

  3. To be honest, I don't care for this version after immersing myself in the original a few days ago. This is a good example of how the setting can really change the overall effect of the song. I am by no means a reggae fan, but that original feel takes the song to a much higher emotional level for me than this straight-forward rock and roll version.