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Paul Simon Tried to Stop Frank Sinatra From Covering His Iconic Song

Scott Kowalchyk
Scott Kowalchyk

While discussing his favorite covers of his songs that other musicians have recorded, legendary singer-songwriter Paul Simon revealed on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert that there was one he definitely was not a fan of.

“In the sixties, [Sinatra] did a cover version of ‘Mrs. Robinson,’” he said, which “he didn’t set the charts on fire with at that point.”

Simon sat down for an extended interview with host Stephen Colbert to discuss his life, career, and music. When Colbert asked him about his favorite covers, Simon took the opportunity to praise Aretha Franklin’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” before telling the story of how he initially tried to kill Sinatra’s song.

“I should start this off by saying I was never a Frank Sinatra fan,” Simon said. “It’s before my time. I wasn’t interested in The Great American Songbook,” he said, referring to the classic show tunes and pop songs of the first half of the 20th century,and now I revere it and Frank Sinatra. But anyway, I wasn’t a fan.”

Simon said that when he first heard the song, he was incensed. He particularly didn't like that Sinatra had swapped out “Jesus” for “Jilly” in the verse: “And here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson, Jilly loves you more than you will know.”

“So I say, ‘He can’t do that,’” Simon continued, telling the story. “Nobody asked my permission. I'm stopping the record.”

“They say, ‘Really? You wanna stop a Frank Sinatra record? I say, ‘I don’t care. Yeah. And you can’t do that.’”

Simon ended up taking it back, however, after one particular phone call. “A couple of days later, I get a phone call from some guy at Warner Brothers saying, ‘Look, please don’t do this. I said it was OK to do this. Don’t make me go to Frank,’” and tell him it’s a no-go, Simon recalled. So he let it go.

“I said, ‘Oh, OK.’ The song became—I love it now,” he said, adding that he loves to play it after concerts because “it’s perfect Rat Pack lyrics.”

“I love it. I mean, not in the way I love Aretha Franklin’s thing, which is glorious.”

Simon also discussed why he doesn’t like to perform his fan-favorite song “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy).”

“I loathe that song,” he said. “Sometimes in shows, if I made an error in some other song, I would sing that song as punishment. I just don’t want to sing, ‘Life, I love you, all is groovy,’ you know? I’m fine with life. I just don’t wanna sing it.”

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