Flashback Video: 'You Can Call Me Al' by Paul Simon
Ever since the dawn of MTV and Friday Night Videos, the music video has significantly impacted musical tastes and pop culture. It might not be as extreme as when the Buggles declared that "Video Killed the Radio Star", but there is no arguing that the music video certainly could make or break a song's popularity. So this regular Flashback Video feature will serve to remember some of the music videos from the great '80s decade that made an impact on me in one way or another.
This issue we will cover "You Can Call Me Al" by Paul Simon. This was the first single released from the 1986 album Graceland which seemingly introduced Simon to a whole new generation. This is one of my favorite songs of the late-80s, but surprisingly it only peaked at #23 on the Billboard Hot 100 in May of 1987 even after a surge created from the popularity of the album and its awesome music video.
The music video for "You Can Call Me Al" is memorable because it co-stars Chevy Chase alongside Paul Simon. Their friendship dated back to Chase's time on the very first season of Saturday Night Live back in 1975-1976. Paul Simon was close friends and neighbors with SNL creator Lorne Michaels and was a frequent musical guest in those early days of the show while even appearing in sketches as well (not to mention the after parties). Simon originally shot a video on the set of SNL but it did not have Chevy Chase in it and Simon wanted something different. Simon and Michaels convinced Chevy Chase to come participate and the three of them, along with director Gary Weis, came up with the concept that became the music video. The initial idea was simply having Chase lip-synch the lyrics of the song and steal all of the attention away from Simon in the process. After that, it was just allowing Chevy Chase to do what Chevy Chase could do... a little improvisation and a lot of being one of the funniest individuals around. The result was one of the most fun videos of the decade.
I had the pleasure of an interview with the video's director Gary Weis, who had previously worked on Saturday Night Live and created some other very popular music videos of the decade including "Walk Like an Egyptian" by The Bangles and "Got My Mind Set On You" by George Harrison. Here is what he had to say about he recalled about creating the "You Can Call Me Al" video:
I had directed several music clips for Saturday Night Live especially in the early years, so Lorne and Paul asked me come over to direct this video. We came up with the idea and then I built that little set. Just a plain white room with a door, a few pink flood lights and a couple of lawn chairs (also painted white). The whole thing was very inexpensive which the record label loved as the costs for making music videos were starting to get more and more out of hand at the time. I clearly remember how happy that Warner Bros. was with the low budget. We only shot it a few times using a single camera and then edited it together at Broadway Video (Lorne's studio). Chevy and Paul had great chemistry and really made the video what it was.
What it was turned out to be just perfect in my opinion. With all that said, here is the music video for "You Can Call Me Al" by Paul Simon...
The part where Paul Simon pretends to play the penny whistle solo followed by the "choreographed" shuffle while the two pretend to play the horns is iconic. "You Can Call Me Al" was nominated for Best Male Video at the 1987 MTV Video Music Awards, but lost to Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer". Oddly, Simon was also nominated for Video of the Year but for another song "The Boy in the Bubble". Not sure how that works, but he also lost that one to Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" (which took home nine awards that year).
Hope you enjoyed another trip back to the '80s thanks to Flashback Video!