“Kodachrome” by Paul Simon: a Flash of Nostalgia


By Randal C. Hill 

Paul Simon’s “Kodachrome” began as “Goin’ Home,” but the poetic perfectionist soon felt that that sounded too ordinary. Thus, he shifted creative gears, restructured the lyrics and came up with “Kodachrome,” which, to him, sounded close to “Goin’ Home” but stuck better in the listener’s ear. 

After Simon heard the gospel-drenched Staple Singers hit “I’ll Take You There,” he knew that he wanted to record “Kodachrome” at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, the same cramped northwest Alabama locale the Staples had used. The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section there consisted of four white guys who could lay down soul and rhythm-and-blues tracks as well as or better than anyone on the recording-session scene. 

While the group may have been top-notch, the studio itself was a dump. David Hood, the outfit’s bass player, explained to songfacts.com, “Paul Simon was used to working at Columbia Studios in New York. When he came and saw our little place, he probably thought, ‘Man, this is a rat trap.’ Because it was.”  

Paul obviously managed to cast aside any concerns he had, as he nailed the master of “Kodachrome” in just two takes. Soon afterwards, his single streaked to Number Two on the Billboard Hot 100. 

His tune could be seen as a coming-of-age treatise, perhaps how a young man could often choose to view the world through rose-colored glasses. (To Simon, this is what Kodachrome camera film offered.) But first, wanting to get something unrelated off his chest, he opened “Kodachrome” with a most quirky lyric line: 

When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school 

It’s a wonder I can think at all 

Then, without explanation, he altered the plotline of his mini-story: 


Give us those nice bright colors 

Give us the greens of summer 

Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day 

Certainly, it’s hard to let go of thoughts of a remembered carefree life of youthful pleasures and replace them with adulthood’s grittier realities. For Paul, this would include memories of past relationships which may not have been as sublime as he once recalled:   

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 

By the way, one should remind Simon that, when he and Art Garfunkel were in high school in New York, they had recorded a ditty called “Hey, Schoolgirl!” a bit of piffle (listed as being by Tom and Jerry) that reached the bottom of the national Top 40 chart. Royalties from the disc’s sales had bought the teenage Paul a new fire-engine-red Chevy convertible.  

Hey, maybe high school really wasn’t a complete waste of time after all.