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Welcome to Music Friday when we bring you fabulous songs with jewelry, gemstones or precious metals in the title or lyrics. Today, rock legend Paul Simon tells the story of an unlikely romance between a poor boy and a rich girl in New York City. Simon says the boy is as “empty as a pocket” and she’s got “diamonds on the soles of her shoes.”
The meaning behind the gem-embellished footwear has been hotly debated since Simon first performed “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” on Saturday Night Live in 1986. Do the diamonds simply symbolize conspicuous consumption or is there something much deeper that the singer-songwriter wanted to convey?
Simon sings, “People say she’s crazy / She’s got diamonds on the soles of her shoes / Well, that’s one way to lose these / Walking blues / Diamonds on the soles of her shoes.”
Some critics see the girl in Simon’s story as an unlikeable character who is so rich she can afford to set diamonds into the bottoms of her shoes. Others believe she is metaphorically hiding her wealth.
But, perhaps Simon has created an enchanting character who sees the best in everything. One contributor to songmeanings.com compared wearing diamonds on the soles of one’s shoes to looking at the world through rose-colored glasses.
“Everywhere you go, your interaction is done through the diamonds on your shoes,” he wrote, “and diamonds as a symbol of wealth, happiness and love mean you are interacting with your world through a constant ‘happy’ filter, you have a skip to your step, you are happy.”
The same writer believes the poor boy may have not been poor in the literal sense of the word. He wears ordinary shoes, which may mean he’s just poor in spirit.
After a night of dancing, the couple falls asleep in a doorway on Upper Broadway in Manhattan. At that point, the lyrics change. They’re now wearing diamonds on the soles of “their” shoes. The poor boy has finally discovered love and true happiness.
“Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes,” which features guest vocals by a South African group called Ladysmith Black Mambazo, was released as the fifth track on Simon’s wildly successful Graceland album. Frequently cited as one of the best albums of all time, Graceland sold more than 14 million copies and won the 1987 Grammy for Album of the Year.
Born in Newark, NJ, and raised in Queens, NY, the 80-year-old Simon is one of the world’s most accomplished singer/songwriters. He’s won 12 Grammy Awards and has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice (once as a solo artist and the other time as half of Simon & Garfunkel). He also was named by Time Magazine as one of the “100 People Who Shaped the World.”
Trivia: The brainy Simon attended Brooklyn Law School for one semester in 1963.
Please check out the video of Simon’s live performance of “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” at The African Concert in 1987. The lyrics are below if you’d like to sing along…
“Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes”Written by Paul Simon and Joseph Shabalala. Performed by Paul Simon with Ladysmith Black Mambazo singing group.
(a-wa) O kod wa u zo-nge li-sa namhlange(a-wa a-wa) Si-bona kwenze ka kanjani(a-wa a-wa) Amanto mbazane ayeza
She’s a rich girlShe don’t try to hide itDiamonds on the soles of her shoes
He’s a poor boyEmpty as a pocketEmpty as a pocket with nothing to loseSing, Ta na naTa na na naShe got diamonds on the soles of her shoesTa na naTa na na naShe got diamonds on the soles of her shoesDiamonds on the soles of her shoesDiamonds on the soles of her shoesDiamonds on the soles of her shoesDiamonds on the soles of her shoesPeople say she’s crazyShe’s got diamonds on the soles of her shoesWell, that’s one way to lose theseWalking bluesDiamonds on the soles of her shoes
She was physically forgottenThen she slipped into my pocketWith my car keysShe said, “You’ve taken me for grantedBecause I please youWearing these diamonds”
And I could say, Oo oo ooAs if everybody knowsWhat I’m talking aboutAs if everybody here would knowWhat I was talking aboutTalking about diamonds on the soles of her shoes
She makes the sign of a teaspoonHe makes the sign of a waveThe poor boy changes clothesAnd puts on aftershaveTo compensate for his ordinary shoes
And she said, “Honey take me dancing”But they ended up by sleepingIn a doorwayBy the bodegas and the lights onUpper BroadwayWearing diamonds on the soles of their shoes
And I could say Oo oo ooAnd everybody here would knowWhat I was talking aboutI mean, everybody here would know exactlyWhat I was talking aboutTalking about diamonds
People say I’m crazyI got diamonds on the soles of my shoesWell, that’s one way to loseThese walking bluesDiamonds on the soles of your shoes
Credit: Photo by Matthew Straubmuller (imatty35), CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.