Story of the Song: Paul Simon, 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover (1975)

Robert Webb
Friday 24 June 2011 00:00
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It reads like a Woody Allen short and has one of the most instantly recognisable drum intros in pop.

"50 Ways to Leave Your Lover", released in 1975, provided Paul Simon with his first US No1 since his split with Art Garfunkel five years earlier. The lyrics came to Simon as he awoke one morning in his Central Park apartment. "The opening words just popped into my mind," he told author Timothy White. "'The problem is all inside your head, she said to me...'. That was the first thing I thought of." Throwing back the sheets, the songwriter set about composing, with the help of a Rhythm Ace drum machine, building his verses to tell a story of deception and divorce.

The breakdown of his marriage, which finally hit the buffers during the recording of a new album earlier in the year, had fuelled Simon's personal reflections on the baby-boomer generation. The upside to the separation was that he was granted access to their three-year-old son, Harper, and it was while playing a rhyming game with the infant that Simon hit on the jaunty chorus to his new composition, recited to the beat of the Rhythm Ace. Simon ad-libbed half-a-dozen out of the 50 possible exits suggested in the song's title, no doubt to the delight of the young Harper: "Slip out the back, Jack/ Make a new plan, Stan...". It was one of the last tracks written for the classic 'Still Crazy After All These Years', now reissued in a definitive edition.

Simon has been famously coy regarding the song's subject, except to say that it wasn't his wife.

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