Sound of the City’s search for the quintessential New York City musician enters Round Two this week. Today, all the remaining contenders in the Uptown division battle it out in the Round of 32. Keep up with all the action here.
In a stunning upset, No. 10 seed Laura Nyro has upended the brackets of musicologists throughout the New York metropolitan area by toppling perpetual online fan favorite Lady Gaga early. She now moves on to the second round, and is facing a formidable opponent: No. 2 seed Paul Simon, who beat out Slick Rick in the round of 64. Can Nyro continue her unlikely run? Or will Simon&30151;one of the most important musicians of the past half-century, and an avid chronicler of New York’s past—prove triumphant?
Paul Simon: “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard”
There are at least three different Paul Simons. The best of close-harmony Simon might be something like “The Boxer,” whereas the best of global-pop Simon could be “Graceland.” The line running throughout Simon’s career, though, is summed up best by “Me and Julio.” It’s a sort of resurrection of mid-century pop (early rock, R&B, folk, jazz) for the singer-songwriter era, the bright rhythms combined with bookish vocals to produce a bittersweet wake for the recent past. And the video above, produced for Simon’s 1988 greatest-hits album, is introduced by Big Daddy Kane and Biz Markie, a perfect reminder of how preternaturally talented Simon was at looking simultaneously to the future and the past.
Laura Nyro: “Save the Country”
A modest hit in 1970 for The 5th Dimension, comparing their version to Nyro’s shows how effortlessly her work straddles the worlds of pop and art. As a single, it’s a classic hippie-era rave-up about peace and freedom etc., the kind of clap-along combination of folk and gospel that practically requires a group sing. In her hands, however, the song runs through the single version of the song, then speeds up, lays on the reverb, and suddenly rockets into an all-consuming explosion of horns. It’s no accident that Kanye chipmunked up a bit of this for “Glory,” not just as an incidental use, but as the foundation for the track.
Longevity: Nyro was an enduring presence in the ’60s and ’70s, but her public appearances were scattered between 1978 and her death in 1997. Simon’s work has appeared continuously on the charts since 1962, with his excellent 2011 album So Beautiful or So What debuting at No. 4. True, The Capeman was a flop, but his career does include both The Graduate and Graceland.
Innovations: Simon’s were more recognized, with his decision to break an embargo on South Africa to use local musicians causing some stress, but he’s more of a magpie, artfully combining scattered bits of pop music into new wholes. Nyro’s who you look to for those goosebump-producing moments of out-of-nowhereness; her songs constantly shift from the well-executed familiar to the shockingly new.
Starpower: Nyro has (as we learned from the first round) a very passionate fanbase; Simon was on the final season of Oprah. But maybe that just means he doesn’t have anything left to prove.
Intangibles: For all his accomplishments, Simon’s been so big for so long that he’s started to feel a little stale; while Kanye grabbed Nyro, the most recent artists to have sampled Simon (Eminem, Will.i.am) don’t exactly scream cultural relevance.
Likely winner: Simon wins the tale of the tape, but Nyro’s surprised us before.