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Kodachrome by Paul Simon

Album: There Goes Rhymin' SimonReleased: 1973Charted:
2
  • 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 in life that color our world.
  • 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. (thanks - Shell, Riverdale, GA)
  • 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." (Here's more on the history of the Muscle Shoals sound.)
  • 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.
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Comments: 43

On May 13th 1973, "Kodachrome" by Paul Simon entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #82; and on July 1st it peaked at #2 (for 2 weeks) and spent 14 weeks on the Top 100 (and for 7 of those 14 weeks it was on the Top 10)...
It also reached #2 on Billboard's Adult Contemporary Tracks chart...
The two weeks it was at #2, the #1 record for both those weeks was "Will It Go Round In Circles" by Billy Preston...
His next charted record, "Loves Me Like A Rock", would also peaked at #2; and the one week it was at #2 the #1 record was "Half-Breed" by Cher...
Mr. Simon will celebrate his 73rd birthday this coming October 13th, 2014.
Barry - Sauquoit, Ny
Like many rock/pop stars, Paul was an avid amateur photographer. So he was very familiar with Kodak products. Note also the reference to Nikon cameras.Ken - Louisville, Ky
This is the first Paul Simon single with Phil Ramone listed as a producer. Phil had been the recording engineer for the last few S&G albums and Paul's debut solo album, with Roy Halee producing. Phil had already produced an Art Garfunkle solo album and Paul asked Phil to take over the producer's chair for his albums as well.Ken - Louisville, Ky
I heard that in around 1970-72, Kodak approached either the S+G duo or the Paul Simon solo act, about doing a one-time TV Music Special.

It was common back then for corporations to sponsor musical (or musical+variety) "Specials" featuring some popular group/artist, with _only_ that company's ads appearing. (Hallmark did this a ton).

Kodak thought S+G (or just S?) would be a good match for their corporate image - popular act, soft rock, mostly acoustic, uncontroversial, no hard edges, etc.

But during the preparations, Kodak learned that Simon planned to use this as a platform to be "socially conscious" and speak out about this/that/those injustices/grievances/causes, through music and multi-media. (Remember Barry McGuire?)

But Kodak insisted it be non-controversial. The parties couldn't agree, and the project fell apart.

So this '72 or '73 song, as I remember hearing it, was a reference to this breakup, using mild sarcasm/irony:

-"Mama don't take my Kodachrome away" (ie, don't cancel my big show)

-"Kodachrome gives us the nice bright colors" (mildly sarcastic, as the world's colors do NOT come from Kodak)

-"Makes you think all the world is a sunny day" (ie, Kodak doesn't want the audience to hear about war/poverty/racism/etc, but rather to see a feel-good show that fits with their desired image of photos of families, babies, puppies, graduations, family vacations, etc etc. Instead of reality, Kodak wants to pretend that "all the world is a sunny day".)

........ Or maybe I just dreamed this? :-)
Bmn - Hisuan, Argentina
I always thought this song was about smoking marijuana. Correct me if I'm wrong. It's definitely a metaphor. I truly don't think he's singing about cameras and film.Erin - North Jersey, Nj
A photography ace once told me that Simon showed ignorance of the film itself with the phrase 'greens of summers,' becuase Kodachrome excelled at recording reds and yellows (hence the red panel on the box), while Ektachrome was better at greens and blues (hence the blue panel on the box).Esskayess - Dallas, Tx
Mary, similar to what? Do you means a film called "Windowpane" or the song "A Summer Song" by Chad and Jeremy? Are you thinking the lyrics "When the rain beats against my windowpane, I think of summer days again and think of you"? I think the end of Kodechrome, by the way, is quite catchy in how it virtually doubles the tempo suddenly out of the (excuse the pun) clear blue sky!Drew - Birmingham, Al
I found some old Kodachrome 8 mm films and digitized one of them and yep, even after 50 -odd years the colours are bright and clear....Marlene - Montreal, Qc
Of course it's acid, Kodachrome was a well-known type of acid in THE day..... just like Clear Light, Orange Sunshine, Purple Haze, etc. etc.

Take it from me (b. 1950) kiddies :) that's the way it was in the olden days!
A friend of mine remembers that it was actually on little pieces of film, similar to Windowpane.

Ah! the good old days.....
Purple haze all in my brain
Lately things just don't seem the same
Actin' funny, but I don't know why
'Scuse me while I kiss the sky
Mary - Shoreline, Wa
To me, "Kodachrome" is a lament about aging and then dying. So much meaning in so few words.David - Ft. Madison, Ia
"I know they'd never match my sweet imagination, and everything looks worse in black and white", most people dream in black and white, but the women he imagines are still better than any he knew from his youth.Mark - Fort Wayne, In
Kodak announced on June 22, 2009 that it will stop making Kodachrome, the color film introduced in 1935. Sales of the film, still used by some professionals, have fallen and now represent a fraction of one percent of Kodak's film sales, the company said. Supplies of Kodachrome are expected to last until early fall. The last 10 rolls manufactured are to be donated to the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film. There is only one remaining photofinishing lab in the world - Dwayne's Photo in Parsons, Kansas - that processes KODACHROME Film, precisely because of the difficulty of processing. It will continue to do so until 2010. (submitted 24 June 2009)Louie - San Antonio, Tx
WOW! such a KILLER tune, but am I really the only person who thinks this song is about acid?? it seems so obvious to me... maybe I'm projecting. ahaha... but I mean, the words 'kodachrome' and 'LSD' could be interchangeable & the lyrics would still make perfect sense. plus, when you consider the time the song was released, it also makes sense. and kodachrome was the first product of its kind, and changed the world of photography forever (hello, acid in the late 60's / early 70's!). not to mention the oft-repeated line, "mama don't take my kodachrome away," which to me is a plead with 'the man' to not criminalize LSD, or it could even have meant that he hoped adulthood wouldn't put a rest to the curiousity and personal spiritual exploration that is associated with the use of psychedelics. as far as the "Nikon camera / want to take a photograph" line, I think he's just saying he wants to remember it forever as he saw it then. and when you think about it, LSD really does give you a good 'snapshot' of that era. and the classic first 2 lines? seems pretty obvious he's saying you have to learn the real life lessons through personal exploration, not through the antiquated system of scholastic education.

so, maybe that's just my own interpretation, but I figured it was worth sharing anyhow :) anyone else think that when they hear it?
Prudence - New York, Ny
WOW! such a KILLER tune, but am I really the only person who thinks this song is about acid?? it seems so obvious to me... maybe I'm projecting. ahaha... but I mean, the words 'kodachrome' and 'LSD' could be interchangeable & the lyrics would still make perfect sense. plus, when you consider the time the song was released, it also makes sense. and kodachrome was the first product of its kind, and changed the world of photography forever (hello, acid in the late 60's / early 70's!). not to mention the oft-repeated line, "mama don't take my kodachrome away," which to me is a plead with 'the man' to not criminalize LSD, or it could even have meant that he hoped adulthood wouldn't put a rest to the curiousity and personal spiritual exploration that is associated with the use of psychedelics. as far as the "Nikon camera / want to take a photograph" line, I think he's just saying he wants to remember it forever as he saw it then. and when you think about it, LSD really does give you a good 'snapshot' of that era. and the classic first 2 lines? seems pretty obvious he's saying you have to learn the real life lessons through personal exploration, not through the antiquated system of scholastic education.

so, maybe that's just my own interpretation, but I figured it was worth sharing anyhow :) anyone else think that when they hear it?
Prudence - New York, Ny
Even the song mentions brand names like Kodachrome and Nikon, it's one of Paul Simon's best written songs, thanks to his colorful descriptions. I remember it was on the album "There Goes Rhymin' Simon."Howard - St. Louis Park, Mn
As a photography enthusiast, I enjoy both the literal and metaphorical interpretations of this song. Only problem is, I don't have a Nikon camera; I own two Minoltas and a Canon. :)Peter - Indianapolis, In
Kodachrome is actually a Kodak brand of film that is used to produce color slides (the kind of slides that were once used very commonly in old fashion slide show presentations) to the best of my knowledge it is the only kind of film that when developed the actual film produces a positive image as opposed to a negative image more commonly found in traditional film developmentMike - Medford, Ny
great song.my favorite solo song by paul simon.I remember it well in 1973.11/19/07James - Yucaipa, Ca
This song, especially "nice bright colors" and "greens of summers", sounds typical for Simon and Garfunkel. Was Art Garfunkel singing this with Paul Simon? Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think he was. If not, why not? Did Art Garfunkel detest the new style - the disco beat? Apparently not; if he detested the disco beat, he woulda detested "Cecilia" and "My Little Town". I wish Simon and Garfunkel were still recording things today.Andrew - Birmingham, United States
Kodachrome is his memory. Nikon camera is his mind taking snapshots of his life. Speaking to others about his life (maybe his mother), he finds that situations cannot be summed up with black and white (good/bad) filters. Things look worse in black and white because you are forced to take sides. Look at your past in full color and be objective. I think that's the message.Gary - San Antonio, Tx
Would I be irritating anyone too much to suggest that this song is sort of silly and superfluous, not really about anything, unlike many wonderful Paul Simon songs, and maybe...possibly... even though the lyrics make no real sense, Paul went ahead and put it out anyway just because it sounded good?... Maybe this is a nutty observation, but I always thought this was Simon's reaction to the Frank Zappa music of the day... just sort of goofy and funky and seeming to make fun of something, but no one is sure what.Dirk - Nashville, Tn
This song was a direct challenge to the music industry and the corporate world regarding an artist's right to use trademarked names under the premise of artistic expression.

Trademarked names Kodachrome and Nikon are used repeatedly in the song. Mama don't take my Kodachrome away....don't take away my right to artistic expression...don't ban this song from the radio. I believe it was banned in the UK and other countries and it caused a good bit of controversy in the US at the time.
Kevin - Atlanta, Ga
Just for the record, the lyric in the song is "everything looks worse in black and white."Mike - Germantown, Md
"Kodachrome" is one of my very favorite Paul Simon songs. It's on eI just can't stop myself from singing along to (at the top of my lungs, no less) when it comes on in the car. I actually was listening to this song constantly right before and after my first date with my now boyfriend. I found out later ... that he had actually seen me afterwards singing this song (at the top of my lungs ...) in my car as we were both leaving the bar and he thought it was super cute.Lindsey - Phoenix, Az
I also really love the piano at the ending, I wish it had gone longer. I have the Concert In Central Park verson of the piano part but I don't have the part in the only Paul Simon version. Does anyone know where to get it?Peter - Tacoma, Wa
I think the band is great on this, Paul's 2nd biggest hit. They especially rock at the end. Love that piano!Chet - Buffalo, Ny
Everything I learned in school that i need to know, i learned by grade 3.Rob - Vancouver, Canada
After hearing the song I wanted to find out exactly what kodachrome is. If anyone wants to know it is here
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kodachrome

And no it is not the container.
Mike - Winnipeg, Canada
I once heard that the Kodachrome in the lyrics refers to the plastic containers in which the film comes. The empty containers were often filled with marijuana. A few hits from the dope from the Kodachrome film containers made the world look brighter and sunnier.Cb - St. Joseph, Mi
Bouncy, cynical, and pleading all at the same time, this song is an amazing amalgam of emotions. The word "crap" was edited out by many radio stations at the time.Clarke - Pittsburgh, Pa
I recall Paul Simon saying in an interview that this song evolved from a song in process called "Going Home." Simon said he decided that there were already enough songs about going home, so he changed the title to "Kodachrome."David - Chicago, Il
This is quite a mature lyric. Paul Simon looks back on his youth and refuses to see it improved by the passing of time. 'If you took all the girls I knew when I was single, and brought them all together for one night, I know they'd never match my sweet imagination, and everything looks worse in black and white'. The lyric also contains a plug for Nikon cameras!Mark - Hereford, England
"Kodachrome "makes you think all the world's a sunny day" because Kodachrome's color palette is brighter, warmer than other slide films. It was also the film all our parents took slides of us with when we were little kids in the 1950s and 1960s." Technical note: Kodachrome's archival quality is well-known among photographers. That is, Kodachrome colors don't alter much with the passing of time. 50's and 60's images still look very good. So perhaps Kodachrome can also be thought of as a metaphor for ever-enduring memories. (But I'm sure Simon didn't mean that.)Wes - Springfield, Va
During this era, Paul Simon was being accused by some people of having a mother fixation. His hit songs included "Mother and Child Reunion", Mama, don't take my "Kodachrome" away, my mama "Loves Me Like A Rock" and Mama Pajama in "Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard". Oh well, I loved my mama too!Frank - Westminster, Sc
The story I heard (and I will not vouch for it!) was that Kodak required Paul Simon to put notices on his album that Kodachrome was a registered trademark of Kodak. It miffed him to have them intrude on his song this way, so that is why he occasionally makes a jab at them by singing "everything looks better in black and white." It's a good story; I hope it is true!Ken - Elizabethtown, Ny
Kodachrome is the ending song for the movie with Chevy Chase 'Cops and Robbersons'. Have'nt heard it in years but still knew almost all the words. My 14 year old thought it was a cool new song.Harry - Onyx, Ca
Kodachrome ...Classic song...Pauls emphasis on the word 'crap' sums up exactly how one felt about some of the things one was taught in high school.
Great arrangement and fun to play. His vocals(double tracking?) make you feel those thoughts and memories.
Dish - Oakland, Ca
"...UK radio stations rarely played it because its title was a trademark of a US company." They didn't play it because the BBC wouldn't let them. The Beeb has (or had at the time) very strict rules about commercial endorsements. Same reason The Kinks had to re-record part of "Lola", where the lyrics were, "we drink champagne and it tastes just like Coca-Cola...", Davies had to redo them as "...just like cherry cola..." so the song could get airplay in Great Britain.Shell - Riverdale, Ga
Kodachrome came out my sophmore year in High School. It was the first year I had photograpy class as well. The relevance of this song to me was not photo classbut the first two lines which to this day I still find quite relevant...."When I think of all the crap I learned in High School, it's a wonder I can think at all!". 4 years of French and I can barely say "parlez vous Francais?". How much of your High School curriculum do you rely on today?Jimmy - Bronxville, Ny
I think the line "everything looks worse in black and white" is a sardonic twist on an old Kodak slogan "Everything Looks Better in Color". This song is real poetry.Don - Sebastopol, Ca
used in the movie "Coneheads" as scenes of the Coneheads' life is going past us, from When Connie is a toddler to when she becomes a teenager.Patrick - Conyers, Ga
Kodachrome "makes you think all the world's a sunny day" because Kodachrome's color palette is brighter, warmer than other slide films. It was also the film all our parents took slides of us with when we were little kids in the 1950s and 1960s. Paul's singing about wanting those days back - maybe because all the old family pictures say "Kodachrome Slide" on the paper mounts - even if his memories are brighter and warmer than real life was.

Well, either that or it's just a nice song.
Tom - Burlington, Vt
"Kodachrome" is a very fast, lively song and is also a fairly short song. In my opinion it is one of Paul Simon's best songs, but there are many brilliant Paul Simon songs.Sam - Ramsgate, England