Oct 132021
 

Go back to the beginning

30. Them – Richard Cory

Gotta admit, on hearing the 1965 Simon and Garfunkel original of “Richard Cory” after Them’s 1966 rendition, I was sorely disappointed. The Them single is rough, urgent, gritty, and angry, while the Sounds of Silence deep cut is tamer, softer. This is largely down to Van Morrison, the Irish band’s fiery young vocalist, being perfect in the role of the song’s downtrodden narrator who “don’t dig the life I’m living” and wishes he could be the (presumably satisfied) hotshot who owns the factory he works in. He expresses envy and discontent in no uncertain terms towards the eponymous Cory, backed by one of the greatest garage-rock bands in the business. Hard to comprehend, then, that Them were on the verge of breaking up at this point. – Adam Mason

29. Jens Lekman – You Can Call Me Al

When all you’ve got is your voice and a guitar, how do you cover a song like “You Can Call Me Al”? There are so many iconic parts: synths and whistles and multiple vocals and, of course, that bass. You could try to get real fancy with a loop machine, or you could just do like Jens Lekman and find the smallest nugget of each of those parts and fit it in. Like a sketch artist capturing the essence of a chaotic scene with the barest of well-placed lines, Lekman reminds us of those different building blocks with hints of each. He completely bails on the chorus until the end of the song, and even then he sings only half of it. Cutting the chorus allows him to use his guitar to bring to mind the original guitar, bass and synth parts between the verses. Lekman’s voice is beautiful throughout, and the echoing reverb suits it perfectly. When the crowd cheers at the end, it’s the first indication that this was a live take, making his performance all the more impressive. – Mike Misch

28. Spoon – Peace Like a River

Formed in the early ’90s in Austin, Spoon draws from a wide variety of influences across the musical spectrum to create its distinctive sound. Apparently, one of those influences is Paul Simon. In 2008, at a private concert in Annapolis, Maryland for radio station contest winners, they broke out a cover of “Peace Like a River” for the first time. It became part of their live shows, and was one of the songs they performed at a Daytrotter Session in June, 2008. Simon’s original, from his 1972 self-titled second album, appears to reference the peace and civil rights marches of the time, with a metaphor derived from the Book of Isaiah. Spoon adds some syncopation, feedback and dissonance, making it their own, without completely rejecting the source material. – Jordan Becker

27. Emmylou Harris – The Boxer

“Does she do the li-la-li?” you know you want to ask. “And does it have the crash at the end of each li?” I think it fair to say that Emmylou messes little with the original setting, always being the consummate interpreter rather than any peddler of revision or reconstruction. Stripped back to the backing of her then-husband Brian Ahern’s guitar and the banjo of Ricky Skaggs, Emmylou’s voice is embedded within the joint harmonies of the Whites, a gospel country family unit of dad Buck and his two daughters, Sharon and Cheryl, who came almost as a job lot with any Skaggs appearance. It makes for a smooth and warm sound, not that dissimilar to when Emmylou paired up with Linda Ronstadt and Dolly Parton. And, yes, they do the li-la-lis, but don’t need the added kitchen sink of percussion. – Seuras Og

26. Susan Werner – A Hazy Shade of Winter

“A Hazy Shade of Winter,” goes back to 1965. Simon had fled to England to perform as a solo act when the first Simon & Garfunkel album flopped. But when a remix of “Sounds of Silence” became a hit, Simon returned to New York and Garfunkel for their amazing run. “Hazy” was left off Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, but was released later as a successful single, and was included on 1968’s Bookends album. By the standards of that period’s Simon & Garfunkel songs, it rocks, but the song’s lyrics reflect Simon’s feelings of exile and failure in chilly London. Susan Warner, a prodigiously talented singer, songwriter and musician, who should probably be better known, included a cover of the song on her 2009 album Classics, which reimagined ’60s and ’70s rock songs with classical arrangements and instrumentation. Her cover slows down the song, and features cello and other strings, including classical guitar, along with a little taste of Verdi’s “Winter.” – Jordan Becker

25. Blue Aeroplanes – The Boy in the Bubble

The Blue Aeroplanes’ 1991 version of “The Boy in the Bubble” is not so much ebullient South African township jive as snarling UK indie rock. It’s a version that takes obvious pleasure in the fact that the lyrics are darker than you might think, with Bristolian band leader Gerard Langley really teasing out the cynicism within the sparkling melody. Like Simon, he’s every bit the poet who specialises in half-spoken vocals and elaborate wordplay, yet he’s way more angsty and aggressive in tackling the song’s theme of global technological advance/destruction. He spits out those alliterative lines (“Think of the boy in the bubble / And the baby with the baboon heart”) and really let’s rip on the “don’t cry baby, don’t cry” finale, while the bluesy slide-guitar riffs and female backing lend the song a doomy “Gimme Shelter” vibe. Could have been and should have been the band’s breakthrough single. – Adam Mason

24. Horace Andy – Mother and Child Reunion

As it starts with the chorus, you could be thinking it the original, but the voice gradually shows itself to be very different than Simon’s, and the skank to be slightly less polished and, yes, a little more authentic. But it is in the verses that Andy’s voice really shows off its paces. A near falsetto, strong on the quavering vibrato. If you wonder quite where and when you have heard this characteristic autograph before, it will have been with Massive Attack, Horace Andy’s vocals a permanent fixture (one of the few) across their long history, appearing on each or their records and touring with them. (Most of the songs he has played with them have been reworkings of his earlier solo hits.) Having had a successful reggae career starting in 1967, he was nearly forty when the Bristol trip-hop collective first came a-calling, a tiny little grey dreadlocked presence at the front of their stage a delight to see. – Seuras Og

23. Buffalo Tom – Only Living Boy In New York

Buffalo Tom helped provide the soundtrack to the ‘90s with their music featured prominently on the now-cult classic T.V. show My So-Called Life. Decades later, the band recorded this brilliant cover of “The Only Living Boy in New York” for the 2018 album Quiet and Peace. With the track, which is about a guy called Tom, they blur the lines between the alt-rock and alt-country space. The group effortlessly blends acoustic guitar, steel guitar and an extended electric guitar solo on the finale. The vocals capture the sadness and longing of the original, but in a time and space all its own. – Curtis Zimmermann

22. Streetlight Manifesto – Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard

Is ska-Simon sacrilege? Maybe. But veteran New Jersey ska-punk band Streetlight Manifesto blasted through “Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard” on their 2010 album 99 Songs of Revolution. Singer Tomas Kalnoky’s rough vocals make this sound almost like Rancid, but, as is often the case with ska, it’s the horns that steal the show. Pick it up, pick it up! – Ray Padgett

21. First Aid Kit – America

What is it about “America” that inspires Northern European musicians in particular? Maybe you have to be from colder, wetter climates to feel any romance about a place like Saginaw. (Just kidding, Michiganders.) The Scottish band Clouds covered the song before it was released. Bowie, Sting, U2, and Yes have all taken a run at it. A more recent cover is from the singing sisters from Stockholm, Sweden, aka First Aid Kit. In a live tribute to Simon in 2012, the duo’s performance of “America” drew a standing ovation from Simon himself. (Edie Brickell remained seated—she may well prefer the sprawling 15-minute versions of “America” that Yes used to perform.) The song is tailor-made for the majestic harmonies of Simon and Garfunkel; just to come close to that level of vocal magic you need exceeding rare talent. Singers and arrangers Johanna and Klara Söderberg have that magic. – Tom McDonald

The list continues on Page 5.

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

Comments (13)
  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. Suprised 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.

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