Paul Simon is the son of Jewish immigrants from Hungary. The promise of America as a welcoming melting pot shows up a lot in his songwriting, and especially on "American Tune." The song tells the story of a man questioning this promise, as he dreams that the Statue of Liberty has sailed off to sea.
This song is notable for being based on a melody line from Johann Sebastian Bach's chorale from "St. Matthew Passion," itself a reworking of an earlier secular song, "Mein Gmüth ist mir verwirret," composed by Hans Hassler.
Suggestion credit: Alex - Alpharetta, GA
The instrumentation on this song is just Simon's acoustic guitar along with a string quartet.
The Starland Vocal Band released an a capella version on their 1976 debut album, the one with "Afternoon Delight." They were signed to John Denver's label and served as his opening act, ending their sets with their rendition of "American Tune" sung with the four band members each facing a different direction.
Cj from SeattleThink of Paul Simon as a poet taking the poet's liberty of writing from another person's point of view. What if the point of view of this song is an early immigrant to America. Someone from another country, another culture and another language--"often misunderstood, confused, abused". All Americans are hard working, "weary to the bone." Immigrant or not, we can relate to these experiences. Perhaps we wonder if we came to the right place or "took the wrong road". Would a lonely immigrant think about "wanting to go home"? My grandmother immigrated at age 12, all alone, working as an indentured servant. This song is comforting even as it reminds me of my grandmother's hard life. Our immigrant ancestors led the way for us. Those who "sailed on the Mayflower", came for freedom from persecution. What a brave journey! As our relatives died, did their souls "smile reassuringly?" Later, those who sailed here saw the Statue of Liberty--the first image of America--a concrete promise of freedom. People sang an "American Tune", learned a new language and a new song of freedom, a great way to rejoice at coming to a promise land. Paul Simon gently reminds us that our American living and dying; "it's alright; it's alright, alright. . ." Don't take it too seriously but American Tune is an invitation to think about how America got here and how we might be changing.
Rob from United StatesI love this song and the touching melancholy mood of the lyrics and the melody. In its own quiet way this song has a prophetic tone if we look at the socio/political context which was during the Vietnam War and the Nixon Presidency. I particularly resonate with the lines about wondering what's gone wrong when he thinks about the road we're traveling on. I love the powerful image of the Statue of Liberty sailing out to sea and think of it applies still when we look at the immigration issue. In the midst of these challenging images there is a kind of rebirth that allows the singer to get rest for the next working day.
Sandy from Enterprise, FlIf this song doesn't give you goose bumps, you need to step into your coffin! I think of my immigrant Grandpa when I hear it, and how much he loved his adopted country. As well, I think of the horrendous things going on here in Florida as our anti-environmental governor and his Merry Band of Mischief Makers do their best every day to dismantle, disregard and destroy our growth regulation and natural resource protection policies. Rick Scott: I hope you someday get what you deserve.
Mike from Evansville, InI recently learned that executive TV producer Ronald D. Moore wanted to make use of American Tune for the Battlestar Galactica reboot series on SyfY Channel. As some of you likely know the BSG reboot that ran from 2003 to 2009 used Bob Dylan's Along The Watchtower. According to Moore that Dylan song was not his first pick. No he wanted to use American Tune!
John from Allen Park, MiI'm sure the lyrics touch many in different ways, makes me remember and think about what might have been going through my wife's mind during the many chemo sessions. Can't ask her, heard it after she was gone.
Joe from Sutton , Mathis song first touched me when I heard the line "still tomorows gonna be another working day,I'll try and get some rest." A long time p simon fan this song holds so much signifegance now with whats gone on with my life and whats happaning to the younger generation at present.ie;unsatisfied in carrer,rent, houe prices living under the powers that be, ect. I think it it would be a smash hit if put on the radio now! Kudos Paul s.!
Ã˜ivind from Bergen, NorwayA fantastic song and one of my all time favourites. Eva Cassidy has a version of this son but to my disappointment she has replaced my favourite passage in the lyrics: "Still, when I think of the road we're traveling on / I wonder what's gone wrong / I can't help it, I wonder what's gone wrong", with the toothless and meaningless: "And when I think of the road we've travelled on / So far away from home"
Giacomo from Lugo, ItalyIt's quite strange, but I've heard a song by Peter, Paul & Mary called "Because All Men Are Brothers", released in 1965, which is the same as "American Tune". I know the first was Bach, but Simon ? Giacomo - Lugo di Romagna, Italy
Matt from Worcester, MaI Love this song, and have Tim Bakland to thank for turning me on to it. - Matt Bruce, MyBlueMars Music
Charlie 5 from Iowa City, IaI first heard this song in the '70's, while I was in college. My roommate had this song on one of his Paul Simon tapes. Once I heard it, I could not stop listening to it or humming it. I would listen to it before I went to bed, and, strangely enough, before I embarked on my Saturday afternoon adventures as an NCAA college football player. It has the ability to calm my nerves and worries, and subsequently, uplift me. College life was very busy for me: Academic, athletic and military commitments, all in four years. This song calmed me down when things were a bit out of control. Yet, it is one of the most uplifting and motivating pieces that I have ever heard. Defining moments and life experiences in life occur when time seems to slow down or stop. Well, this song makes time stop for me. What a wonderful tune.... I apologize for the length of this message, but this song is a powerful part of my past.
Monako from Johannesburg, South AfricaI am a young South African and have recently found this song, old as it is. For some reason I fell so much in love with its melody, but undermining its lyrics. Now that I've given its lyrics a thorough listening, I know why it's believed to be one of the best American songs ever.
Belinda from Mishawaka, InI recall as a young girl listening to this song every evening right before bed. I would play it because it gave me a great sense of comfort in some very dark times. Now when I hear it, I feel a bit weepy and yet comforted at the same time. Everyone should listen this song and have a good, cleansing cry. One of the very best!
Dennis from Buffalo, NyThis should be our country's national anthem. It's perfect in the in the lyrical evocation of American accomplishments and regrets and in the magisty of the music. Francis Scott Key's unsingable and ridiculously random assembly of rhetorical questions set to the tune of an old British drinking ballad pales in comparison. We need a song that really evokes our country's hopes and aspirations as well as our failures. This song is it.
Mikeymouse from New York, NyI listened to this song for about a year, just about every day, a few times a day, it just fascinated me so much... The poetry of "I dreamed I was dying" is so evocative, both as it stands alone and when developed through the middle of the song... it came to mean very different things throughout that year. This song is a great source of healing.
Kevin from Reading , PaThere is a story that the Democrats wanted Simon to write a new song for the Democratic Convention in 1980 but he refused. The powers-that-be backdown down and Simon sang "American Tune," which was already seven years old. This is true to form for Simon, who is not known for being a prolific writer. In fact, when faced with deadlines for two movie projects, he failed both times. He was supposed to do music for Warren Beatty's "Shampoo" in 1975, but all he came up with was some acoustic noodling that is innocuous. Even for "The Graduate," he hadn't really completed "Mrs. Robinson" -- the version heard in the move is incomplete and still in demo form -- and he didn't complete "At the Zoo" in time to make it for the zoo sequence that it would have been perfect for. I've always found it interesting how S&G is so famous for the Graduate soundtrack, but the songs that feature prominently in the movie, "Scarborough Fair," "April Come She Will," and "Sounds of Silence" were all recorded two or three years before.
Bubba from Anaheim, Cathe 1980 Central Park concert in the park version is particularly excellent and poiniant at that time given the economic situation at the time (which was relative given our state under Bush currently)...I saw a replayed video of Simon doing the song solo on Sat Night Live in the mid to late 70s (had to be cause he had a 'stache) which was a little creepy. Anyway, best line is "you can't be forever blessed" which so many yanks think is our birth right and was drawn upon both Simon and G's experiences in Europe. One of the most inspiring songs of all time, espcially for us corporate losers. Bubba Anaheim hills, ca
David Fowler from Rochester, NhI love this song, too. I heard him perform it at the Democratic National Convention.
Ron from Tyler, TxI have to agree with Nora. This is one of Simon's most outstanding - amongst many. I always loved this song, and then he sang it on the first post-9/11 Saturday Night Live. It sounded as if it were written for the occasion, not many years prior. "We come at the age's most uncertain hour, and sing an American Tune." Powerful!
Nora from N/a, FlI am soo upset nobody has said anything about this song !!!! I love this song, and think it is one of the reallllly good ones !!!!