Paul Simon – Kodachrome

As a kid, I learned what Kodachrome meant by this song. 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.

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. The song peaked at #2 in the Billboard 100 and Canada.

From Songfacts.

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.

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 theĀ 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.

Kodachrome

When I think back
On all the crap I learned in high school
It’s a wonder
I can think at all
And though my lack of education
Hasn’t hurt me none
I can read the writing on the wall

Kodachrome
They give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So mama don’t take my Kodachrome away

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
Everything looks worse in black and white

Kodachrome
They give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So mama don’t take my Kodachrome away

Mama don’t take my Kodachrome away
Mama don’t take my Kodachrome away
Mama don’t take my Kodachrome away

Mama don’t take my Kodachrome
Mama don’t take my Kodachrome
Mama don’t take my Kodachrome away
Mama don’t take my Kodachrome
Leave your boy so far from home
Mama don’t take my Kodachrome away
Mama don’t take my Kodachrome
Mama don’t take my Kodachrome away