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If I Call You Betty, What Would You Call Me?

Probably a jerk who can’t get your name right, but that’s besides the point.

Oh hai!

One of the things that has shaped and built the rhythm of my life is music. With it, I feel whole. Without it, no rhythm, no wholeness. In other words…music = happy, no music = sad. Sad = no new articles. Happy…you get the point.

As a 33-year-old who grew up immersed in the experience that is 1980s music, I have an eclectic taste that varies greatly. My iPod is a random hodgepodge of one-hit wonders, movie songs, orchestral movie songs, television themes, love songs, sad songs (say so much), happy songs, songs to get me going in the morning, dark songs, The Bee Gees…

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Don’t judge me, I like their falsetto goodness!

Anyway, before I get entirely too off track, I like music. I love music. Music is my lifeblood. And it started when I was a little kid, listening to the radio in my parents’ cars. I’m totally tone-deaf, but by the age of five, I knew all the words to “I’ve Got My Mind Set on You,” a song that I still know the lyrics for to this very day. If I could sing…I wouldn’t be doing it professionally, but let’s just say that would add a whole other portfolio to my You Tube channel.

Anyway, music…

One of my earliest favorite songs is the 1986 Paul Simon song “You Can Call Me Al,” from his album Graceland. If not for the strange lyrics, the music video was always the real draw for me, back when music on television mattered.

So you have two guys…

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You can call them Paul and Chevy.

You have one who’s full of life, and the other…looking sad.

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Why is that?

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Is it because the Chevy is lip-synching, effectively hijacking Paul’s song and making it is his own? We’re not sure, but then again, the music video doesn’t exactly have to make sense, does it?

And every once in a while, Paul leaves the room, returning with instruments.

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He also plays a penny whistle. Like a boss.

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(Actually, the actual sound of the penny whistle was played by jazz musician Morris Goldberg. Paul just rocks it for the camera.)

And then they dance. It’s funny. There’s no reason behind it, but they dance.

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And then there’s the lyrics.

Paul Simon’s lyrics follow an individual seemingly experiencing a midlife crisis, but were actually partially inspired by Simon’s visit to South Africa (the inspiration for the styling of the music on the “Graceland” album).

And who are Betty and Al?

Simon was at a party with his then-wife, Peggy Harper, where French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez referred to them (mistakenly) as Al and Betty. This laid the groundwork for the song.

Incredible how we get so inspired over the smallest things.

I mean, have you seen some of the stuff on thisblog? Wouldn’t you love to know the craziness that goes on in such a mind…?

Oh, wait…that’s my blog.

What was I talking about again?

Simon recorded the song in New York’s The Hit Factory in the spring of 1986, and was difficult to mix due to the quick pace of the lyrics. However, Simon’s long-time engineer Roy Halee remedied this using tape delays into the two audio channels.

And then there’s the music video…

Video uploaded by Paul Simon VEVO

This wasn’t even the original music video. The original video (according to Pop-Up Video) was Simon playing this song on the home base stage on “Saturday Night Live” in 1986…as recorded from a video monitor. That’s right, the camera was basically filming what what was happening on a video monitor. Simon didn’t like this, so leave it Lorne Michaels to come up with the idea we ultimately came to know, and (presumably) love.

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I know I love it.

While “You Can Call Me Al” was Simon’s biggest solo hit, it initially fared poorly, reaching #44 on the Billboard Hot 100 upon it’s release in September 1986. “Graceland” winning Album of the Year at the 29th Annual Grammy Awards in February 1987 gave the song some necessary (and deserved) exposure, allowing it to re-chart in March 1987, peaking at #23.

Not bad for a song that sounds like total nonsense, set against a video that is total nonsense.

But we love it anyway, whether your name is Betty, Al, Paul, or Chevy. But you’re not Chevy, and you’ll never be him.

Oh, and this was done at a high school in my area in 1998. No it was not at my high school, but it was the one my sister-in-law went to.

Video uploaded by Brian Dunn

Call him Betty, Al, or whatever you want – this song (and video) will forever hold an important place in my heart…among all the other irrelevant stuff I love.

How could it not?

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You can call Allison “Al” if you want…and you can visit her over at Allison’s Written Words, follow her blog on Facebook, or on Twitter @AllisonGeeksOut.

Just don’t call her Betty.

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