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Watch Paul Simon Demonstrate How to Write a Number One Hit Record

Paul Simon and Dick Cavett on 'The Dick Cavett Show' April 9, 1969.
(Image credit: ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images)

Happy 80th birthday to Paul Simon!

One of the greatest songwriters and finest acoustic guitar players of the modern era, Simon rose to prominence during the folk boom of the ‘60s while penning hits such as “The Sound of Silence,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” and “Mrs Robinson.” Generations down the line these timeless classics remain staples for anyone with an acoustic guitar and a voice.

After the iconic folk duo Simon & Garfunkel split at the beginning of the ‘70s Simon went on to record a string of top-ten solo albums including 1972’s Paul Simon and 1975’s chart-topping, Grammy-winning Still Crazy After All These Years.

Paul Simon 'Graceland' album artwork

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

In 1986, Simon appeared recharged with his landmark Graceland album. While crossing genres and styles dozens of musicians were involved in the recording of this colorful album, both at home in the US and overseas in South Africa. Graceland not only reinvigorated Simon’s career but also injected new life into the charts by bringing world music to the fore.

In recent years, Simon has remained prolific, releasing the highly acclaimed Stranger to Stranger album in 2016, followed by In the Blue Light – his latest long-player – in 2018. As a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and with an incredible 16 Grammy Awards to his name (including a Lifetime Achievement Award) Simon remains a musical legend.

Paul Simon performs at the 2010 Children's Health Fund Benefit Gala at The Hilton New York on June 2, 2010 in New York City

Paul Simon performs at the 2010 Children's Health Fund Benefit Gala at The Hilton New York on June 2, 2010 in New York City (Image credit: Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images)

“There may not be any other American composer who’s had quite the continued success that my next guest has,” says Dick Cavett as he introduces Simon onto his show in 1970. Picking up his Martin acoustic guitar “the world’s most successful composer and songwriter” demonstrates how “Bridge Over Troubled Water” was inspired by a Bach chorale.

Paul Simon and Dick Cavett on 'The Dick Cavett Show' April 9, 1969.

(Image credit: ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images)

Simon then goes on to explain how he overcame a creative block. “I was listening to some music by a gospel group called the Swan Silvertones… It was the music that was in my mind most of the time and every time I came home, I’d put that record on and I’d listen to it. And I think that must have subconsciously influenced me because I started to go to gospel [chord] changes.”

Browse Paul Simon records here.

Rod Brakes

Rod Brakes is a music writer with an expertise in all things guitar-related. Having spent many years at the coalface as a guitar dealer and tech, Rod's more recent work as a journalist covering artists, industry pros, and gear includes writing hundreds of articles and features for the likes of Guitarist magazine, MusicRadar, and Guitar World, as well as contributions for specialist books and blogs. He is also a lifelong musician.