A Simple Desultory Philippic (or How I Was Robert McNamara'd into Submission)

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"A Simple Desultory Philippic (Or How I Was Robert McNamara'd into Submission)"
Song by Paul Simon
from the album The Paul Simon Songbook
Released August 1965 (1965-08)
Recorded June–July 1965
Studio Levy's Recording, London
Length 2:25
Label CBS
Songwriter(s) Paul Simon
Producer(s) Reginald Warburghton, Stanley West

"A Simple Desultory Philippic (Or How I Was Robert McNamara'd Into Submission)" is a song written by American singer-songwriter Paul Simon. Originally recorded for Simon's 1965 UK-only debut, The Paul Simon Songbook, it was recorded soon after by Simon and his partner, Art Garfunkel, for the duo's third album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.

It is generally considered a parody of American musician Bob Dylan's writing style, especially that of "Subterranean Homesick Blues", released on Dylan's 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home. The original version was subtitled "Or how I was Lyndon Johnson'd into Submission" in a spoken introduction at the beginning, after Simon announced the song's title. The subtitle does not appear on the sleeve or the disc label. "Desultory" means lacking in consistency, disconnected, random[1] and a philippic is a fiery, damning speech, or tirade, delivered to condemn a particular political actor.

Recording history

Simon's original, solo performance found on The Paul Simon Songbook is less well known than Simon & Garfunkel's; the album remained out of print until 2004, when it was re-released by Columbia/Legacy.

In early 1965, Simon was in the midst of a period in which he went back and forth between the United States and Great Britain. Eventually spending most of 1965 in Britain, he recorded The Paul Simon Songbook in London, while making a living singing at folk clubs in Britain. During this period he was also writing with Bruce Woodley of the Seekers. The album's liner notes by Judith Piepe, state of the song: "This is, of course, a take-off, a take-on, a private joke, but no joke is all that private or any less serious for being a joke."

In 1966, together with Art Garfunkel, Simon re-recorded the song for the duo's album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, with several changes to the lyrics. The list of names dropped is revised. When Simon complains about a man who is, "...so unhip, when you say Dylan he thinks you're talking about Dylan Thomas," the next line in the London solo version is "It's all right Ma. It's just something I learned over in England," referencing the Dylan songs "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" and "I Shall Be Free No. 10." However, the Simon and Garfunkel songs says, "It's all right Ma. Everybody must get stoned."[2] the second part referencing the Dylan song "Rainy Day Women No. 12 & 35". There is another potential Dylan reference in the line "I just discovered somebody's tapped my phone," possibly alluding to "Subterranean Homesick Blues" where Dylan sings that "the phone's tapped anyway."

At the end of the 1966 recording Simon says, "Folk rock," and, after an audible noise, "I've lost my harmonica, Albert."[2] This presumably refers to Dylan's manager, Albert Grossman. In the 1965 version, however, Simon sings, "When in London, do as I do: find yourself a friendly haiku... Go to sleep for ten or fifteen years." This could be a reference to his girlfriend at that time, Kathy Chitty, whom people referred to as 'The Haiku'.

People mentioned in lyrics

In 1965:

In 1966:

In both:


  1. ^ http://www.dictionary.com/browse/desultory?s=t
  2. ^ a b Simon & Garfunkel interviewed on the Pop Chronicles (1969)
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