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That Fatal Mailing List #37: Inspired - Paul Simon
We come on the ship they call The Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the age's most uncertain hours
And sing an American tune
It was the Imposter who released a surprise single in early July 2017, a cover of Paul Simon’s “American Tune.” Fans in the know recognized the monicker as an alias for Elvis Costello, one that was born in 1983 when he rush-released his “Pills and Soap” as a one-off single in advance of a general election in England.
Not all of his Imposter releases have been as political in nature, but “American Tune” certainly seemed to be. The song was originally recorded by Simon for his There Goes Rhymin’ Simon album in 1973. Written just after the election of Richard Nixon, its lyrics are eerily relevant to the state of our country in the first year of Trump’s presidency. Crushing, aching, sad—it’s remarkable how well Simon captured the mood of a nation where the rights of the marginalized and minority were being threatened and collapsed on a near-daily basis.
Costello’s take on the song is aided by the presence of members of the Roots, with whom he collaborated on the 2013 album Wise Up Ghost. ?uestlove’s drums add an inevitable momentum to the recording, and Ray Angry’s keyboards form the melodic backbone of the song. Producer Steven Mandel weaves these parts together in a way that feels tight, but tattered; the music isn’t frayed at the edges, but the emotions are. The words express a resigned sorrow; the sound is muscular and taut. The song has the wobbling treble of a warning klaxon, more gentle than a siren but no less impactful.
BONUS: EC’s made his admiration for Paul Simon known at a few other points throughout his career. He wrote liner notes for Simon’s 2011 album So Beautiful or So What, and attempted a few other Simon covers, including “Peace Like A River” for a 2006 tribute concert and “Congratulations,” which was in consideration for his covers album Kojak Variety and made its first appearance on that album’s two-disc re-release on Rhino.