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Paul Simon on why Paul McCartney is the greatest songwriter of all time

Paul Simon is an undisputed legend. A brilliant songwriter and lyricist, together with former partner in crime Art Garfunkel, he helped to soundtrack the momentous decade that was the 1960s. Producing no end of classics over the years, both in Simon & Garfunkel and as a solo artist, his merit as a musician has rarely been matched outside of his generation. 

Away from the stage, Simon is the quiet, introspective sort, and his life has been one of many ups and downs. He’s dated Shelley Duvall, been married to Carrie Fisher, and even mentored the band Dream Academy to help them to write their 1985 hit, ‘Life in a Northern Town’. He’s done it all. He’s hung out with the greats, been a lifelong philanthropist and even played one of the biggest concerts ever recorded.

On the other hand, however, he’s a man comprised of some strange and often contrary opinions. This ranges from the somewhat jealous parody of Bob Dylan via the medium of the song with ‘A Simple Desultory Philippic’, to remarks about his old pal Garfunkel, and anything in between. Regardless, he’s a man who has lived a life like no other. His ilk of a songwriter is certainly a dying breed, given the advent of technology and the dominance of the internet. This makes his artistry even more impressive because he and the likes of Bob Dylan are walking representations of a time gone by – even his biggest hit, ‘You Can Call Me Al’, came out way back in 1986. 

The song Paul Simon wrote to parody Bob Dylan

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A fascinating man with a unique outlook, his interviews are always very informative. He offers up takes that are slightly off the beaten track but no less enlightening. Back in 2011, he was asked the big question concerning who he thinks are the best songwriters of all time. He told Mojo: “I’d put Gershwin, Berlin and Hank Williams. I’d probably put Paul McCartney in there too. Then I’d have Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. Then, in the second tier, Lennon is there, Dylan is there, Bob Marley and Stephen Sondheim are there, and maybe I’m there, too. It’s about whose songs last.”

Well, there’s no real surprise that he placed Dylan in the second category as it seems that Simon has always had some sort of a love/hate relationship with ‘The Bard’. There’s also no surprise that Lennon sits in that same category due to his disparaging remarks in 1979 where he labelled Simon the “singing dwarf”. There is also no surprise that he included George Gershwin in the top cohort, as he has mentioned him many times over the years, and was even awarded the Gershwin Prize in 2007 for his own contribution to popular music.

Reflecting the fact that his opinions are often not of the norm, and showing himself to be somewhat of a traditionalist, his inclusions of composers Richard Rodgers, Irving Berlin, and Lorenz Hart are genius but no less surprising takes. That’s why it’s strange that Paul McCartney is included in the top group. I can understand why Hank Williams was featured due to the era that was his heyday and just how long ago that was. It’s as if all the inclusions save for McCartney are the music that Simon grew up listening to. Furthermore, one would argue that Simon knew that for his list to have any credence, he had to include one of The Beatles, given just how impactful they were on the world of music and the medium of popular song.

Watch Paul McCartney surprise Paul Simon below.