Oct 132021

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50. Blossom Dearie – Feelin’ Groovy (The 59th St. Bridge Song)

Cool jazz vocalist/pianist Blossom Dearie brings electricity and sophistication to “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy).” While Simon’s original feels willfully juvenile, like sloughing off for the day to play hooky in Central Park, Dearie’s cover moves in more assertive strides — buzzing along industriously, like the sidewalks of 1968 Midtown Manhattan. Dearie’s vocal performance on “Groovy” isn’t prim or delicate; instead, it resembles a shaken glass bottle of Cherry Coke: snappy, effervescing, primed to burst. The cover relies on a lowdown hum-along horn solo too, arriving between each verse like a dutiful, rumbling IRT train into the station. It all amounts to a kind of Sweet Charity-meets-Rhapsody in Blue vibe. Which is to say it’s positively…groovy. – Ben Easton

49. Bob James – Take Me to the Mardi Gras

You may not realize it, but the odds are very good you’ve heard Bob James’ “Take Me to the Mardi Gras” – or at least, the first four or so bars of it. James is right up there with James Brown in terms of sampled artists, and his instrumental Paul Simon cover has become one of the bedrock breakbeats of hip-hop. It’s been used by Run-DMC, Missy Elliott, the Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, TLC, P.M. Dawn, and hundreds upon hundreds more. Lost in the commotion: James’ song is nearly six minutes of sweet groove all by itself. If you get the chance to listen to more than a few looped seconds of the song, take it. – Patrick Robbins

48. Anna Kendrick – The Sound of Silence

The DreamWorks team spared no expense on the music for the 2016 animated film Trolls, bringing in a cast of A-listers for an extensive soundtrack of originals and covers. Credit the film with introducing a whole new generation to Simon and Garfunkel. While on her quest to save her friends, Princess Poppy (voiced by Anna Kendrick) delivers this dreamy, acoustic take on “The Sound of Silence.” The visuals are impressive too. Poppy is joined by singing bugs and flowers and a massive spider who chimes in with a deep bass voice, singing “Hello.” It’s the kind of cover that’s worth listening to even after the kids have gone to bed. – Curtis Zimmermann

47. Soko – Duncan

When the folky, diaristic “Duncan” was released as a single in 1972, its primary competitors for radio airplay were as sugary sweet and gloriously tacky as it gets. Frothy wonders like “The Candy Man,” “Song Sung Blue,” and “Brandy” were what the masses craved. An acoustic, epiphanic story of a fisherman’s son trying to find himself was only gonna get so far in the pop chart (#52). But despite its perceived commercial “failure,” “Duncan” has become something of a cult classic, and it’s now arguably one of the most beloved songs in the entire Simon songbook. French actor-singer Soko’s 2011 cover is an intimate stunner, featuring some delicate picking and a magnetic vocal that exudes both warmth and worship. Simon is one of her musical idols, and you can tell. – Hope Silverman

46. The Tallest Man On Earth – Graceland

The Tallest Man on Earth, or Kristian Matsson, has an immediately recognizable voice and playing style. He uses it to great effect here on the title song of Simon’s massive 1986 album Graceland. Matsson makes this song his own. His scratchy voice reverberates off the rafters; his fingers fly on the banjo. He shortens the song by almost half, dropping entire verses plus some of the chorus, getting to the raw emotional heart of the song by stripping parts away until what’s left is just enough to remind you of the original. The combination of nostalgia for Simon’s version and Matsson’s expressive playing and singing results in three minutes of perfection. – Mike Misch

45. Manchester Orchestra – The Afterlife

“The Afterlife,” a beautifully absurdist reminder that bureaucratic red tape and romantic rejection don’t necessarily end when earthly life does, is a genuine, latter day Simon classic. When indie band Manchester Orchestra covered the track back in 2016 to celebrate Simon’s 75th birthday, singer-guitarist Andy Hull shared some effusive praise; “Right when I think I have heard every great Paul Simon song, I dive into the vastness of his catalogue and find some unknown (to me) gem that blows me away all over again. Recently, on one of my Paul Simon benders, I stumbled upon a song from 2011 called ‘The Afterlife.’ It’s brilliant. This cover is our modest tribute to one of, if not the greatest, songwriter to have ever lived.” And they do the song proud, transforming the already sticky-singalong tune into something even more infectious. – Hope Silverman

44. XIXA – El Condor Pasa (If I Could)

Tucson psych-rockers XIXA draw heavily from their Peruvian heritage, and composer Daniel Alomía Robles was inspired to cover Paul Simon’s version of Peru’s traditional folk song after hearing it on a trip crossing the Andes mountains. Trumpets, a la their fellow Arizonans Calexico, replace the original’s pan pipes, and the Once Upon a Time in the West visuals of the music video fit the sonics. XIXA donated all sales from the single to The Sphinx Organization, which is dedicated to the development of young black and Latinx classical musicians. – Ray Padgett

43. Shawn Colvin – Kathy’s Song

When Shawn Colvin was starting out, she would perform a Paul Simon song written when he was starting out, “Kathy’s Song.” It’s a song full of longing, and a song full of uncertainty about what becoming an artist means. Colvin could clearly relate. She gives it a more vulnerable reading than Simon himself was able to. Her guitar work shines, too: it’s more nuanced, less mechanical than Simon’s, and Simon was already a well-developed guitarist (consider his impressive take on Davy Graham’s “Anji”). Throughout her career, Colvin has emphasized covers to a greater extent than most other songwriters. Her version of “Kathy’s Song” is one of her best. – Tom McDonald

42. Miley Cyrus – 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover

Paul Simon has an impressive streak of appearances on Saturday Night Live. Since 1975, he has been on the late-night comedy/music show 19 times. On SNL’s 40th Anniversary Special, Miley Cyrus paid tribute to Simon’s legacy in a way only she could, by reinventing his classic “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” with a three-man drumline. For the first part of the song, she delivers a slow, hypnotic performance, happily playing the role of seductress in a dialogue with her lover (thankfully, she does not change the gender pronouns). For the second part, she turns it into a celebration, as if there’s nothing better to do than “make a new plan” or “hop the bus.” – Curtis Zimmermann

41. Laura Marling with 12 Ensemble – Still Crazy After All These Years

While purists might shudder at the thought of anyone daring to alter the lyrics of certified Simon classic, it is nigh on impossible to question Laura Marling’s choice of alterations. She takes the protagonist’s role, leaves the key pronoun intact and replaces the forever disruptive use of “crapped” with the infinitely more modern “whacked.” But to be clear, what lifts this above the myriad of existing covers is Marling’s staggeringly beautiful vocal performance. – Hope Silverman

The list continues on Page 3.

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  17 Responses to “The 50 Best Paul Simon Covers Ever”

Comments (17)
  1. I think you meant “50 Ways to Be Your Cover.”

  2. No Disturbed?!? Paul Simeon thaught their cover was good enough to post on his webpage. He didn’t do that for any other cover. Just destroyed the integrity of your whole list.

    • Agreed! I went right to page 6, assuming it would be top 3, at least. But not to be on the list at all is disturbing.

  3. One additional fact about the great Bowie version: he was pretty ill that night, with a high fever. Makes this rendition even more stunning

  4. The disrespect for Harpers Bizarre is unforgivable

  5. I enjoyed listening to this list. Thank you!

  6. Surprised by the lack of Willie Nelson and the Bangles, but it’s a good list.

  7. I saw Kurt Elling do American Tune at a concert in Vancouver BC that brought a tear or 2 to my eyes. It’s on an album he made.

  8. Yes- America!!!

  9. Can’t wait to read and listen to this – !! Saving it for this weekend when I can dig in.

  10. Great list. I can think of songs I’d add – Rumer’s “Long Long Day” would be top of my list of omissions, but like others have said I’d definitely put Yes’s “America” and Willie’s “Graceland” in (I like his version better than Paul’s), but I was introduced to a bunch of great covers here I didn’t know. Thanks so much!

  11. Barnstar – Boy in the Bubble (https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=q0_1721YBjs)

    Ben Sollee – The Obvious Child

    Barrett Smith and Shannon Whitworth – Duncan

    Marc Cohn – The Only Living Boy in NY

    Allira Wilson, Harry Mitchell, Ben Vanderwal & Karl Florisson – Kathy’s Song

  12. Jonatha Brooke, “Bleecker Street”; Allison Brown, “Homeward Bound”

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