|Single by Paul Simon|
|from the album There Goes Rhymin' Simon|
|B-side||"One Man's Ceiling Is Another Man's Floor"|
|Released||November 9, 1973|
|Paul Simon singles chronology|
"American Tune" is a song by the American singer-songwriter Paul Simon. It was the third single from his third studio album, There Goes Rhymin' Simon (1973), released on Columbia Records. The song, a meditation on the American experience, is based on the melody of the hymn "O Sacred Head, Now Wounded". The song reached number 35 on the Billboard Hot 100.
In an interview with Tom Moon in 2011, Paul Simon was asked about political references in his songs, and he said: "I don’t write overtly political songs, although American Tune comes pretty close, as it was written just after Nixon was elected."
The lyrics offer a perspective on the American experience; there are references to struggle, weariness, hard work, confusion, and homesickness. The bridge conveys a dream of death and of the Statue of Liberty "sailing away to sea". The song ends with an assertion that "you can't be forever blessed" before the lyrics return to the idea of work, tiredness, and resignation.
The tune is based on the melody of the hymn "O Sacred Head, Now Wounded" (German: "O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden," text by Paul Gerhardt). The common name for this hymn tune is PASSION CHORALE. The well-known hymn is itself a reworking of an earlier secular song, "Mein G'müt ist mir verwirret," composed by Hans Leo Hassler. However, the melody of "American Tune" (with slight rhythmic and melodic alterations) is best known by modern listeners as part of Johann Sebastian Bach's St Matthew Passion, part 1, numbers 21 and 23, and part 2, number 54. The Bach harmonization is the one used in modern settings of the hymn, and Simon's version uses essentially the same harmonization. Additionally, the melody is plainly heard in the opening of Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings in C major, Op. 48, which was composed in 1880.
- Paul Simon – vocals, acoustic guitar
- Bob James – keyboards
- Bob Cranshaw – bass guitar
- Grady Tate – drums
- Del Newman – string arrangement
Eventually it became a concert favorite, both for Simon and in reunion concerts with Simon's former singing partner, Art Garfunkel. The song appears on several of Simon's solo live albums and on Simon and Garfunkel's post-breakup live albums, most famously The Concert in Central Park. Simon performed the song live on November 18, 2008, during the airing of The Colbert Report, and on September 11, 2015, to close out the last show of the first week of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
The song has been covered by many artists, notably Willie Nelson, Dave Matthews, Trey Anastasio, Eva Cassidy, Ann Wilson, Gretchen Peters, the Indigo Girls, the Starland Vocal Band, Keane, Glen Phillips, Darrell Scott, Storyhill, Jerry Douglas, Kurt Elling, Shawn Colvin, Allen Toussaint, Curtis Stigers, Stacey Kent. Mandy Patinkin also recorded the song in Yiddish on his 1998 album Mamaloshen.
Paul Simon's own unfinished demo recording, with incomplete lyrics, was released as a bonus track on his There Goes Rhymin' Simon CD.
Use and references in popular culture
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It is alluded to in the lyrics of "Independence Day" by Ferron on her album, Driver: "There's a Paul Simon song that just tears me apart... about the Statue of Liberty and hole in a heart." Lyrics from the song are also used at the beginning of Book 2 of Stephen King's The Stand.
Simon performed the song at the pre-inaugural concert for Jimmy Carter, held at the Kennedy Center in Washington on January 19, 1977, the evening before Carter's swearing-in as president.
In late October 2008, the progressive advocacy group Progressive Future produced a 60-second television ad featuring "American Tune" in support of Senator Barack Obama's presidential campaign. The "what's gone wrong" line underscored a photo of President George W. Bush and Obama's opponent John McCain standing close together.
|Canada Pop Music Playlist (RPM)||5|
|US Easy Listening (Billboard)||8|
|US Billboard Hot 100||35|
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- "YouTube". www.youtube.com.
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- "Paul Simon Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard. Retrieved November 12, 2015.