Covers of favorite songs can breathe new life into a familiar work. In some cases, they even become the standard – think Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” (originally recorded by Otis Redding) or “Wild Horses” by The Rolling Stones (originally written & recorded by Gram Parsons). However, the best cover songs, take on a whole new meaning, as did “Respect” when it became a feminist and civil rights anthem after being recorded by Aretha. While it certainly won’t be remembered as the song of a generation on a level with Respect, I’ve recently been captured by The Tallest Man On Earth’s version of master songwriter Paul Simon’s “Graceland”.
As with the rest of the Graceland album, the title cut is deeply entrenched in world music, specifically the sounds of South Africa, and while the connection between Apartheid, (which was still policy at the time of Simon’s initial release) and the American South is not lost on me, “Graceland’s” lyrics feel more down-home and in tune with the setting in which the song takes place when backed by the minimalist string-arrangement found on The Tallest Man Earth’s version.
What’s more, The Tallest Man on Earth completely omits the third verse of the song:
My traveling companion is nine years old
He is the child of my first marriage
But I’ve reason to believe
We both will be received In Graceland
Which transforms the song from being one of redemption into one of loss, pushed even further into mourning by The Tallest Man’s sparse and haunting vocals.
It’s not until this cover, that I’ve paid attention to the following verse, which when sung by The Tallest Man On Earth gives me a whole new respect for this bit of songwriting that, like the lyrics themselves, are both so subtle yet obvious and a great example of Simon’s genius ability to advance the storyline in his songs.
She comes back to tell me she’s gone
As if I didn’t know that
As if I didn’t know my own bed
If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy the following posts about song covers:
“These Days”, Covered by Nico
“Love Vigilantes”, Covered by Iron & Wine
“Closer to Fine”, Covered by Sicko
I’ve also created a Spotify playlist with my favorite Covers.