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Music

Looking back at Paul Simon’s strange 1962 song ‘The Lone Teen Ranger’

@TomTaylorFO

It is a little-known fact that Paul Simon entered the boom of pop culture at the same time as Elvis Presley around 1956. In fact, Simon & Garfunkel even has a hit when they were only 12 or 13 years old, or at least a “neighbourhood hit” as Art Garfunkel puts it. They then had a few bigger hits in the coming years with ‘Hey Schoolgirl’ which charted at 49 in the pop charts. 

Thereafter, however, things dried up for the junior hit machine, making Paul Simon just about the only teenager in history to land in a premature creative wilderness. Between 1957 and 1964, Simon wrote a whopping 30 songs and just about all of them bombed. As Simon once told Terry Gross of NPR: “It was just when I was coming out of college. My job was to take the songs that this huge publishing company owned and go around to record companies and see if any of their artists wanted to record the songs.”

Adding: “I worked for them for about six months and never got a song placed, but I did give them a couple of my songs because I felt so guilty about taking their money. Then I got into an argument with them and said, ‘Look, I quit, and I’m not giving you my new song.’ Thus, he finally disavowed the Tin Pan Alley style route and pursue his hearts desire into folk and didn’t look back. “The song that I had just written was ‘The Sound of Silence.’ I thought, ‘I’ll just publish it myself,’ and from that point on I owned my own songs, so that was a lucky argument.”

Albeit, even though he crafted a slew of masterpieces during his early era, Simon himself claimed that his songwriting was not at its peak until well after that. “In Hearts and Bones the language starts to get more interesting. The imagery started to get a little interesting,” Simon once recalled. “And that’s what I was trying to learn to do, was to be able to write vernacular speech, and then intersperse it with enriched language, and then go back to vernacular. So the thing would go along smoothly, then some image would come out that was interesting, then it would go back to this very smooth, conversational thing. So that was a technique that I was learning… I don’t know where it came from.”

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There is no arguing that Hearts and Bones contains a slew of classics, not least the titular ode to Carrie Fisher, but any song in history will find itself in a scrap when pitted against ‘The Sound of Silence’. Thus, perhaps the reason Simon doesn’t look back as fondly on his 1960s period as others is because of the lingering memory of the oddity that is ‘The Lone Ranger’.

Simon, evidently after a bit of college cash was trying his hand at various musical monikers including Jerry Landis, presumably to capture that sleezy car salesman vibe, tried his hand at a novelty track. The song he went with documents the strange tale of a fiction girlfriend falling in love with The Lone Ranger. 

The track is filled with wild child-like imagery including his girlfriend snogging the static buzz of the TV set, pistol shots ring out throughout in Batman-like pow-pow fashion and in the middle is little Jerry Landis, the least cool cool-guy there ever has been, propagating his tragic tale about a movie character who graced screens five years earlier.

Was it all worth it? Well, it did break the top 100 charts… it got to 97. But it was certainly worth it for the chuckle it gives fans in retrospect. Even the greatest songwriters of all time take a while to hit their mark—there is a lesson in that for all of us!