If there’s a Simon & Garfunkel song that is appropriate for the year New York City had in 2020, it’s “The Only Living Boy in New York.” Written by Paul Simon when Art Garkunkel ran off to film Catch-22 during the making of Bridge Over Troubled Water, the song expresses Simon’s feelings of loneliness, solitude and freedom as he begins to realize that their partnership may be over and they will both be doing their own thing. Sure, it’s not a direct translation to the situation many New Yorkers found themselves in multiple times in 2020, but a number of the lyrics resonate with being stuck in a lockdown or walking empty streets.
Neil Young‘s ambivalent love song “I Believe in You” from After the Goldrush was a popular song to cover after he first released it, with high profile versions from the likes of Linda Ronstadt and Rita Coolidge. The song’s chorus is one of Young’s most overtly romantic but the verses reveal all sorts of doubt about the relationship, that are often lost in cover versions.
Taking Heads’ “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” is so subtitled because it was drastically simpler than the music they had been making for the past few years. For “This Must Be the Place,” the band simplified things considerably, in part because of a gimmick: a few of the members alternated instruments, forcing them to play simpler music. The result is one of the most direct Talking Heads songs of the era.
U2’s songs, especially in the ’80s, are distinguished by their wall of sound, with numerous Edge guitars creating an unmistakable signature. For 1987’s acclaimed The Joshua Tree, they added the sounds of American roots music to this stew. “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” captures this fusion about as well as any song they did around this time – with The Edge’s trademark ringing guitar plus Bono’s gospel-inspired vocals and the backing vocals mimicking a church choir. Some slide guitar at the end adds an unmistakably American sound to the Irish band.
“No One Knows” is perhaps the Queens of the Stone Age‘s signature song. Their biggest hit and Grammy-nominated, it’s famous for its staccato riff and lead-singer Josh Homme’s clashing smooth vocal delivery. The song captures both the band’s commitment to loud rock music and its facility for pop hooks.
UK indie rockers The Vaccines have gone a very different direction with their version. The famous guitar riff is replaced by a mellow electric piano that sounds like it could be in a video game. Dave Grohl’s frantic drumming is replaced by minimalist percussion that could be a click track. Lead singer Justin Young delivers the vocal almost in a hush, with one track where he is sort of singing and another track where he is just about whispering.
Indie rock legends Built to Spill are not the first band that come to mind when you think of the very distinctive sound of David Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes.” Known for Doug Martsch’s distinct high-pitched voice and his winding guitar solos, they’re not a band usually associated with songs that made the dance charts. But Martsch has covered the song with his side project Boise Cover Band. The song was recorded back in 2003, but just being released now.