Making the Case for Paul Simon’s Underrated ’80s Album ‘Hearts and Bones’

Even casual music fans can name some of Paul Simon‘s most famous albums, both with Art Garfunkel and as a solo act. But what if we told you that there’s a 1983 album by the guy, one that’s lacking any hit singles and sort of came and went without much fanfare in the MTV era, that’s among his very best? It’s time to take a deep dive into Hearts and Bones, the album in question.

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Trivia hounds might know it as the record that very nearly reunited Paul and Artie. But we’re here to tell you that it’s a gem all on its own merits.

The Reunion that Wasn’t

At the beginning of the ’80s, there was a slight thawing in the oft-frosty relationship between Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. The pair that had been one of the dominant acts of the ’60s before they went their separate professional ways. The Concert in Central Park reunion show in 1981 had proven a success beyond the pair’s wildest expectations, and they took that as a sign that fans weren’t ready to close the door on their pairing.

To that end, they started playing shows together again, and Simon set about to write new material for an S&G reunion album. Around that same time, Simon began a romantic relationship with actress Carrie Fisher, and the songs that he was writing reflected this turn of events. He worried that Garfunkel wouldn’t be able to find his way into this personal material.

Meanwhile, Garfunkel wanted a process by which Simon would lay down the tracks and his vocals and then he (Garfunkel) would hit the studio and write out his parts. Simon didn’t feel comfortable surrendering control of his songs in that manner. After some work was completed and Garfunkel had indeed added some vocals, Simon pulled the plug. He wiped Garfunkel’s vocals and decided that the record, renamed from Think Too Much to Hearts and Bones, would be a 1983 solo release.

Lost in the ’80s

Perhaps fans lost enthusiasm for Hearts and Bones once the prospects of it being a reunion album dimmed. It was more likely a case of it getting lost in the shuffle of the MTV era. This record of folk-pop songs sounded decidedly out of time in an era heavy with synths and robotic rhythms.

It didn’t help that Simon chose the decidedly uncatchy “Allergies” as the first single. He also failed to wholeheartedly jump on the video bandwagon, a mistake he would correct in a big way once his next album Graceland arrived in 1986. Hearts and Bones barely cracked the Top 40 and produced nothing resembling a hit single. As a result, many consider it a flop, at least those who’ve never heard this gorgeous record.

Bones and All

Hearts and Bones represents Paul Simon at his most eloquent and honest about matters of the heart. Even though he wrote it in the throes of a new romance, there’s a lot of trepidation and hesitation in songs like the title track (where he famously referred to he and Fisher as One and one-half wandering Jews) and the two versions of “Think Too Much.” “Train in the Distance” follows a romance from happy beginning to bittersweet ending, and Simon suggests in the song that human nature preordains that path.

This is Simon’s songwriting at its most wistful and poignant. “Song About the Moon” manages to expound on songwriting itself, and it seems like the author was heeding the wisdom of its lessons. “The Late Great Johnny Ace” stood out as one of the most touching of all the tributes to John Lennon released in the wake of his death. The album’s most unapologetic ode to love, the achingly beautiful “Rene and Georgette Magritte with Their Dog after the War,” needs to indulge in magic and time travel to get to a happy relationship ending.

Maybe youthful pop audiences at the time weren’t ready to hear these hard lessons about love. When Simon came back in three years with Graceland, he enjoyed one of his greatest triumphs, further shunning Hearts and Bones off to the footnote category. If you haven’t listened to this album, or you’ve forgotten about it, take a quick spin. Don’t be surprised then if you start to wonder where this masterpiece was all your life.

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