Two years was an eternity in those days, so their one-off performance at a George McGovern benefit was a Big Deal. Columbia issued the Greatest Hits album around the same time. Along with a handful (but not all) of their hit singles, some undated live versions provide wonderful substitutions. (“Kathy’s Song” and “For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her” showcase each of the boys in a solo.) Besides photographic evidence that Paul Simon looks just as awful with a hat as without one, it’s also the only place to get “America” with a clean intro.
Outside of the occasional joint gag appearance—Paul being best buds with Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels—the only other collaboration of the dynamic duo was 1975’s “My Little Town”, released as a joint single promoting each of their current, separate LPs. Meanwhile, both boys took stabs at movie stardom, sporadically releasing solo LPs throughout the decade. Art’s were as unadventurous as Paul’s were increasingly slick, and when the ‘80s arrived, not even Paul’s handful of hit singles kept him from seeming a has-been. (Even he was aware of this, as the thinly veiled autobiography One-Trick Pony, a film he wrote and starred in to uncomfortable reviews, makes plain.)
Still, it was with mostly joy rather than cynicism that greeted the news of another benefit concert, this one happening on the Great Lawn in Central Park, to be recorded for an album and broadcast on HBO. The Concert In Central Park presents the entire show as performed, with two exceptions: an encore repeat of “Late In The Evening”, and the ironically disrupted “The Late Great Johnny Ace”, a song about dead musicians performed nine months after John Lennon’s murder less than a mile away. In addition to their hits, backed by competent studio musicians, Art gamely harmonizes on some of Paul’s solo hits. The covers of the oldies “Wake Up Little Susie” and “Maybelline” add to the general feeling of nostalgia and fun.
The original 2-LP package, which even included a booklet with lyrics and photos, both vintage and of the event itself, wasn’t cheap, and fans were basically buying some of these songs for the third or fourth time. But it still captures a special moment in time, where the two old friends managed to harmonize, no matter what was going on between them backstage. Its specialness, if that’s a word, was underscored by the decision the following to do a reunion tour and record an album together, both of which were aborted due to infighting, and it would be some time before either man found his bearings again. In fact, once Paul had regained his commercial status, he returned to the park nearly ten years later to the day, with an even larger band, but no Art.