Song Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

Happy Hump Day and welcome to another installment of Song Musings where I take a closer look at tunes I’ve only mentioned in passing or not covered at all to date. My pick for this week is Kodachrome, a great song by Paul Simon I was reminded of the other day when putting together a post about notable albums turning 50 this year.

One of these records is There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, his third solo album released on May 5, 1973. Not only is Kodachrome the opener of the album, but it also became its first single on May 19 that year. I’ve always loved the tune’s upbeat melody. Additionally, When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school is among the best memorable opening lines of a pop song I can think of.

Kodachrome became Simon’s highest-charting solo single at the time, peaking at no. 2 on both the U.S. and Canadian pop charts. Elsewhere, it climbed to no. 8 in France, no. 15 in The Netherlands and no. 40 in Australia. It was one of three charting singles off the album that altogether spawned six singles.

The tune also helped fuel the success of the album, which topped the charts in Sweden and climbed to no. 2, no. 3, no. 4 and no. 5 in the U.S., Canada, the UK and France, respectively. It also charted in Norway (no. 6), Australia (no. 7) and Finland (no. 17) – yes, I had to count them all! Here’s a nice live version from Simon’s 2012 gig at the Hard Rock Calling Festival in London’s Hyde Park.

Simon, who last October turned 81, officially is retired from touring. He played his final regular concert in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens, New York, on September 22, 2018. But apparently, Simon is not done with music. Last August, Spin reported he is working on a new album provisionally titled The Seven Psalms. It would be Simon’s first with new material since June 2016 when he released Stranger to Stranger.

Following are some additional insights about Kodachrome from Songfacts:

Kodachrome is a registered trademark of the Kodak company. It is a method of color transparency, but more commonly known as a type of color film the company started marketing in 1935. Paul Simon was working on a song with the title “Coming Home” when the word “Kodachrome” came to him. He had no idea what it meant, but knew it would make for a much more interesting song than “Coming Home.” The song became an appreciation of the things that color our world, and a look at how our memories are framed to fit our worldviews.

This was not a hit in England, partly because UK radio stations rarely played it. The BBC had very strict rules about commercial endorsements, and they would not allow stations to play songs that seemed to push products. It’s the same reason The Kinks had to re-record part of “Lola.” The lyrics were, “We drink champagne and it tastes just like Coca-Cola,” But Ray Davies had to redo them as “…Just like cherry cola” so the song could get airplay in Great Britain.

Paul Simon recorded this at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Alabama with the famous Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. He sought out the musicians when he found out they played on “I’ll Take You There” by the Staple Singers, and was surprised to learn that they were not Jamaican musicians, but four white guys from the South. Simon went to Muscle Shoals to record just one song: “Take Me To The Mardi Gras,” but when they finished that one much sooner than he expected, he also recorded “Kodachrome” and “Loves Me Like A Rock.” Simon was the first big rock artist to record at the studios – Bob Seger and The Rolling Stones were some of the others who recorded there in the ’70s.

David Hood, the bass player in the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, told us this story: “When Paul Simon walked into our studio, he thought, God, what a funky place. Because it was. He was used to working at A&R and Columbia Studios in New York, and studios in England and different places. And when he came and saw our little place, he probably thought, man, this is a rat trap.

It just so happened that the roof leaked in our studio right over the recording console, and as a short term fix, we taped sanitary pads across the ceiling just to absorb the water so it wouldn’t drop down on the recording console. So we had Paul Simon, who’s got hit record after hit record walking in and seeing this place with Kotex on the ceiling. He must have thought, what in the world have I gotten myself into? But we cut this track for him in two takes, and I think he thought, wow, well these guys know what they’re doing. It doesn’t really matter.”

In the song, Kodak film gets the title, but Simon uses a Nikon camera. That’s because it scans well in the line “I got a Nikon camera” – try inserting Kodak or Canon in there and it won’t sound right.

Simon sometimes sings the line “Everything looks worse in black and white” as “Everything looks better in black and white.” He changes it a lot, and claims he can’t remember which way he wrote it.

On June 22, 2009, Kodak officially retired Kodachrome color film after 74 years. Photographers had turned to more recent Kodak products and digital technologies, which led to Kodachrome’s decline.

Sources: Wikipedia; Spin; Songfacts; YouTube


12 thoughts on “Song Musings”

  1. Good tune, good album. Love Simon solo or with Garfunkel. We saw Paul back in 2000 at the Orpheum Theater in Boston. One of the best shows I’ve seen. I recall the power went out and he went off, then it came on, then he came back. It was just fun. They kept telling us to stop dancing in the balcony so it wouldn’t collapse. I’ve been meaning to do a post about “Songs That Wouldn’t Mean Anything to Kids Today” and Kodachrome is a word they wouldn’t even know. Here’s that setlist

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great setlist and have loved to have been there. I saw Paul Simon during the supporting tour for the “Graceland” album in 1987 in Essen, Germany. I also would rate it as one of the best shows I’ve seen to date.

      While I found a record of the gig on, there’s no actual setlist for that particular show (Feb 5). However, they do have the setlist for Simon’s Feb 7 gig in Milan, Italy, which I think is safe to assume was pretty similar to “my” concert:


  2. What a strange subject to have as a centerpiece of your song… I love it. This takes me back to when I was around 7-8 years old. My sister had this single and Mother and Child Reunion…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Based on Songfacts, it sounds like the title was somewhat coincidental and Simon picked it because he felt it sounded similar to but more interesting the tune’s initial title “Goin’ Home.”

      Since the song seems to be a cynical take on memories, I think the association with images/photographs and a camera film to capture it works.

      The title “Goin’ Home” wouldn’t work with the lyrics, though Simon may have had different lyrics initially.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yea it’s one of the most perfect songs he did…there is one verse that I don’t understand Christian…it’s this one
        “If you took all the girls I knew when I was single
        And brought ’em all together for one night
        I know they’d never match my sweet imagination
        Everything looks worse in black and white”

        I don’t get it…I’m probably overthinking it. All of the girls I guess were in black and white photos…and then he says everything looks worse in black and white…then how come they didn’t match his imagination?

        Yea I’m overthinking it.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. A great song I loved then and still do. The odd product name really worked well , much better I think than if he had called it ‘Coming Home’.
    I worked in camera stores and photo labs for nearly 20 years, and boy I could tell you a lot about Kodachrome. It was for years the only film Nat. Geographic and some other publications would allow their photographers to use, because it was long-lasting, had good saturation and finer grain than many slide competitors . But, it also required totally unique processing only Kodak offered- even pro labs had to outlab it when it was brought in…and if you ran a roll through conventional processing equipment by mistake … uh oh! The film was destroyed and you would have to shut the machinery, drain it and clean it out entirely before refilling. When Fuji brought out a slide film with similar characteristics but using normal photo chemistry, Kodachrome’s decline began. Like you said, digital killed it entirely by 2009… actually about 2004 , though they manufactured little runs of it for a few years after that. More than you ever wanted to know about film, LOL.

    Liked by 1 person

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