"A Simple Desultory Philippic (Or How I Was Robert McNamara'd Into Submission)" is a song written by Paul Simon.
The song has two versions. The original version was performed and recorded by him with one microphone and an acoustic guitar on his solo album The Paul Simon Song Book in 1965. The original version was subtitled "(or how I was Lyndon Johnsoned into Submission)" by a spoken introduction at the beginning of this recording, when Simon announces the song's title. The subtitle does not appear on the sleeve or the album label.
In 1966, together with Art Garfunkel (as Simon and Garfunkel) Simon re-recorded the song for the duo's chart-topping Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme album, with several lyric changes. The song is considered to be a mocking parody of Bob Dylan's work, especially of "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" released in 1965.
When Simon originally wrote the song in early 1965, he was in the midst of a period in which he was going back and forth between the United States and Great Britain. Eventually he came to spend most of the year 1965 in Britain (he recorded The Paul Simon Song Book in London, as well as writing with Bruce Woodley of The Seekers) and continental Europe, also visiting Paris and Copenhagen. Most of this time, however, he spent singing in folk clubs in Britain to make a living. 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."
Names dropped in the 1966 version include:
Norman Mailer - an American writer
Maxwell Taylor - an American soldier and diplomat
John O'Hara - an American writer
Robert McNamara - an American military leader (U.S. Secretary of Defense at that time)
The Rolling Stones - a British rock group
The Beatles - a British pop and rock group
Ayn Rand - a novelist and philosopher
Phil Spector - a record producer
Lou Adler - a record producer
Barry Sadler - an American soldier and musician
Lenny Bruce - a stand-up comedian
Dylan Thomas - a Welsh poet and writer
Mick Jagger - a British singer
Andy Warhol - an American painter
Roy Halee - Simon and Garfunkel's record producer
Art Garfunkel - an American singer for Simon and Garfunkel
Names and phrases used in the 1965 version include:
Lyndon Johnson - 36th President of the United States (1963-1969)
Union Jack - the flag of the United Kingdom
Jack Kerouac - an American novelist
John Birch - an American intelligence officer
The Rolling Stones
Larry Adler a noted harmonica player
Walt Disney - an American film producer
Dis Disley - a British jazz guitarist
John Lennon - member of the Beatles
Krishna Menon - an Indian politician
Walter Brennan - an American actor
Cassius Clay - an American boxer, later known as Muhammad Ali
James Joyce - a writer and poet, of whom Simon is very fond
Rolls-Royce - a brand of luxury automobiles
"Silver Dagger" was nineteenth century folk song, most famously covered by Joan Baez on her 1960 debut album.
Tom Wilson - a black record producer; produced several of Bob Dylan's '60s LPs as well as Simon & Garfunkel's début album and the electric version of "The Sounds of Silence"
Barry Kornfeld - played second guitar on Simon and Garfunkel's Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. album
At the end of the 1966 recording Simon says, "Folk rock," and, after an audible noise, "I've lost my harmonica, Albert"—presumably referring to Dylan's manager Albert Grossman. The version recorded in 1965, however, has Simon singing, "When in London, do as I do: find yourself a friendly haiku... Go to sleep for ten or fifteen years." Which could be a reference to his girlfriend at that time, Kathy Chitty (who also appears on the cover of The Paul Simon Song Book), who people used to attribute to 'The Haiku'.
The "I've lost my harmonica, Albert" may also be a reference to Dylan's 1964 performance at New York's Philharmonic hall, the performance found on The Bootleg Series Vol. 6: Bob Dylan Live 1964, Concert at Philharmonic Hall. During that concert, Dylan played the then new "It's alright, Ma (I'm only bleeding)", and "Mr Tambourine man". During his presumably severely intoxicated performance, Dylan forgot the words to the first verse of "I don't believe you (she acts like we never have met)," a song released only three months prior, and during "It's alright, Ma (I'm only bleeding)," dropped his harmonica.
Dylan and Joan Baez performed the traditional "Silver Dagger" during that performance, a song also mentioned in Paul Simon's lyrics.