CK Retro Review: Hearts And Bones by Paul Simon

It was the rare Paul Simon album that lacked a big hit single and it got a little lost in the bold and brash MTV era. Yet 1983’s Hearts And Bones got the last laugh in that it probably goes down and the most underrated Paul Simon album, full of songs that require your attention to be fully appreciated even though they don’t demand it from you. Here is a song-by-song review.


10. “Cars Are Cars”- Obnoxiously artificial-sounding and featuring a grating refrain, it could have only happened in the 80’s. Skip it.


9. “When Numbers Get Serious”- It’s just a little bit too busy and wordy for my taste, taking some of the sting out of Simon’s observation on the ubiquity of numbers in our lives. Those concerns presage the age we live in now, but being prescient does not alone make it memorable.


8. “Think Too Much (a)”- With Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards on board, Simon was clearly interested in staying modern. At times the song really hums, but some of the production touches get in the way and keeps this from gaining enough momentum to make it great.

7. “Song About The Moon”- This one is a typical Simon mid-tempo track in that it lopes along amiably without too much fanfare until you’re surprised to find that it’s worked itself up into quite a lather by the end. Paul opines that you can pretty much accomplish anything by writing a song about the moon. His lyrics are Ginsu-sharp throughout without seeming showy about it.

6. “Allergies”- Again, not all of the production touches work, but the tribal rhythms play well off of Paul’s frazzled lyrics. “From what I can see of the people like me,” Simon sings, “We get better but we never get well,” which pretty much sums up his malaise here. The fast-fingered guitar solos of Ad DiMeola prove once again that nobody gets more out of his session men than Paul.

5. “Think Too Much (b)”- It’s got pretty much the same lyrical slant as its namesake, in that it’s a song about the way that too much contemplation leads in circles instead of to a definitive answer. Yet it has surroundings that are a bit more suited to it than “Think Too Much (a).” The unassuming calypso sway soothes the depths of the soul while Simon tries to make sense of the life of the mind.


4. “Train In The Distance”- Simon is as expert a chronicler of the gray areas of romance as anyone, and he drafted a couple of beauties in that department on this album. Note that, in his narrative, when things are good there are still some nagging issues, and when things are bad there are still glimmers of hope. Instead of doing anything too fancy instrumentally, Simon uses his backing vocals to be the focal point in the arrangement, “whoo-whoo”-ing just like an approaching train.

3. “The Late Great Johnny Ace”- Because of the timing of its release, it’s always been painted as Simon’s tribute to John Lennon. But it’s more of a meditation on the ephemeral nature of both rock and roll and life contrasted with the sad fact that senseless deaths seem to shake every generation. It’s beautifully pitched musically, from the meditative main sections to the jaunty middle part to Philip Glass’ chilling classical coda.


2. “Hearts And Bones”- For all the au courant sounds that it incorporates with erratic results, the album does best when it sticks to the stuff that Simon always does well, stuff that never goes out of style. Take the title track, Paul’s affecting tale of “One and one-half wandering Jews” and their relationship which exhausts itself right before our very ears. It’s a chugging acoustic groove with hints of exotic percussion that mimic the trip the star-crossed lovers are on and sad chord changes which portend the downward spiral of their relationship. Rarely has the “arc of a love affair” been traced with such bittersweet beauty.

1. “Rene And George Magritte With Their Dog After The War”- What in the world does a surrealist painter have to do with doo-wop groups? Well, they both clearly inspired Paul Simon and this gloriously ingenious song, which is all that really matters. The imagery is simply gorgeous, the tune is dreamy, the backing vocals by the Harptones are timeless. Phrases like the “cabinet cold of their hearts” can stop you in their tracks. If you’re looking for a prime candidate for the greatest unheralded song in Simon’s catalog, this one would be hard to beat. It’s pure magic.

(E-mail me at or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For books and e-books based on material that originated on this site, check out the links below.)


3 Comments on “CK Retro Review: Hearts And Bones by Paul Simon”

  1. Baggy says:

    I completely agree with you on Cars are Cars CK, an absolute clunker..

    As you say , for many of us PS fans this is the lost album..a real connoisseur’s delight. At least three top flight, all time great, songs, I also have a soft spot for Song about the Moon. . But the lows are quite low, and in addition to Cars are Cars, i only see marginal merit in the two Think Too Much efforts.

    But which are the classics ?.Well i agree with Rene and Georgette Magritte- magical indeed. As you know from my posts on the Dylan list, I think Late Great Johnny Ace is a masterpiece, can’t see why this wouldn’t get 5 stars, it is flawless. I’ve queried Hearts and Bones on PS forums before – ..i just don’t think the middle part works, and in fact it sort of stops altogether, leaving the song dead in the water for a while. By contrast the bridge sections in Train in the Distance are beautfiully realised, both lyrically and musically, and i would therefore swap these songs around in terms of their rankings.

    • countdownkid says:

      Baggy, as always, good stuff. You always justify your opinions so well that I have a hard time finding fault. I do think the middle of the title track is essential though; I think it’s important that she shatters his illusions of ideal love, because it makes the eventual dissolution of the relationship almost expected.

      From what I understand, Simon wrote the song about his marriage to Carrie Fisher while they were still married; I guess he saw it coming.

  2. ralfsauter says:

    Georgette Magritte*

    Love the song, I always used to mishear some of the lyrics and thought it was “the Oreos and the fire signs”… thought Oreos was such a paulsimon-esque quirk, but it’s orioles!

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