50 Years Ago: Paul Simon Goes Gospel With ‘Love Me Like a Rock’
Paul Simon wanted to release a gospel song for years.
"I was interested in gospel music when I wrote [1970's] 'Keep the Customer Satisfied,' that started off as a shuffle quartet and evolved into a big band thing," he explained to Disc in 1973. "'Bridge Over Troubled Water' was very gospel, and then I got sidetracked into reggae."
As Simon saw it, a gospel song wasn't an easy fit into the career he had developed so far. "I try and get into all these things," he said. "I want to work with a full orchestra, to work with an avant-garde composer and all the time my poor little pop brain says, 'Perhaps it might not be such a good thing, you know.' Pop is very hard to budge."
In 1973, with two solo albums already under his belt, Simon felt more confident to pursue this. He attempted to track down a source, calling up Stax Records' Al Bell to ask him who played on the Staple Singers' "I'll Take You There." It was Muscle Shoals' famous session musicians, Bell told him.
So Simon headed to Alabama, where he met bassist David Hood, drummer Roger Hawkins and others. "I went down there, and they're sensational musicians," he told Melody Maker that year. "Very friendly, very comfortable studio, it's easy to work and I can work very rapidly down there, so I ended up doing five cuts instead of the one I intended to do."
Listen to Paul Simon's 'Love Me Like a Rock'
Also on hand were the Dixie Hummingbirds, a Black gospel quartet that formed in 1928. Simon knew he had found the spiritual sound he was after.
"Do you know what I find interesting?" Simon queried Sounds in 1973. "The music that was the precursor of group rock 'n' roll, which is gospel [quartets], reached its popularity before I was born, late '30s, early '40s, and then through the '40s. I love that music. I mean [quartets] like the Swan Silvertones and the Dixie Hummingbirds, and that’s why I use those groups on the records."
The result was "Love Me Like a Rock," the closest Simon had gotten at that point to a gospel song. It was released as the second single from 1973's There Goes Rhymin' Simon. Following its release in July 1973, "Love Me Like a Rock" reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. Later that year, the Dixie Hummingbirds recorded a version for their album, We Love You Like a Rock/Every Day and Every Hour.)
For Simon, the song itself was less important than the people who were involved in recording it. "Musicians, always for musicians," he said to Sounds. "Wherever the musicians are, that's where I go."