Date of Award
Dr. Jeff Gillespie
Over the last quarter of a century, scholars from many disciplines have explored the realm of popular trends, music being no exception, including the music of Paul Simon. Simon has distinguished himself as an accomplished songwriter, performer, and he has chosen a path of perpetual self-improvement in these areas. Since his arrival on the music scene in the late 1950's, much has been written about Simon. Most of the literature is purely biographical, recounting his life's details and career accomplishments. The more analytical literature has been largely devoted to the study of his lyrics, which are rich in symbolism and colorfully descriptive. However, a number of scholars have begun to show interest in analyzing the music of pop artists. What has been written, though, tends to focus on one particular compositional technique or musical facet, as opposed to dissecting particular songs in any great detail. For example, Oussama Haddad's thesis, entitled "Three Theoretical Essays on Various Music Topics" only discusses issues of what he refers to as "cyclic tonality" in Simon's music. Walter Everett, in his article "Swallowed by a Song: Paul Simon's Crisis of Chromaticism." features a strong focus on Simon's use of chromatic harmony and its impact on his commercial success.
Paul Simon has endeavored throughout his career to continually improve and, in some cases, reinvent his compositional style. At one point, well after achieving national renown as a songwriter, Simon actually took it upon himself to formally study music theory with bassist Chuck Israels in the 1970' s. The result of his efforts has been a body of work that seems to show a trend of increasing compositional complexity and creative exploration, which is worthy of study in greater detail. In this study, through the use of one or more analytical models, I plan to demonstrate with greater specificity some of the compositional nuance in selected examples of Paul Simon's music.
Many researchers are taking a deeper look into the analysis of rock and popular music, including that of Paul Simon. However, of the songs that have been analyzed in published writings, they are few in number, and those analyses tended to highlight a singular facet of the music. For example, in a 2001 master's thesis, Oussama Haddad focuses exclusively on tonal procedures in three selected Paul Simon pieces.' Additionally, in his article in John Covach's Understanding Rock, Walter Everett focuses on Simon's increasing use of chromaticism in his music. Anna Stephan-Robinson wrote her doctoral dissertation on Simon's treatment of musical form. Paul Simon has an extensive discography, fertile ground for in-depth analyses of individual pieces on a number of different musical facets. This type of analysis should attempt to uncover the intricacies of multiple aspects of each piece, including (but not limited to) scale/mode vocabulary, harmonic choices, text, formal structure, and texture.
I will begin with a brief biographical introduction to Paul Simon and his music. Following that, I will provide a review of selected literature pertaining to the music of Paul Simon and musical analysis of both his music and of rock/pop music in general. I will then provide a chapter detailing a proposal of new nomenclature regarding the formal sections of a rock/pop song. After that, I provide analysis of selected songs of Paul Simon. I conclude the study with suggestions for further study.
Haag, Dan, "Towards an Understanding of Pop Music: New Rhetorical Tools Employed in the Analysis of Four Paul Simon Songs" (2012). Undergraduate Honors Thesis Collection. 160.