Paul Simon's 5 Most Underrated Songs

On the singer-songwriter's 70th birthday, check out the tracks you don't already know by heart

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"How terribly strange to be 70," Paul Simon wrote on "Old Friends," a track from his 1968 album with Art Garkfunkel, Bookends. He was in his in his late 20s when he wrote that song, and now, more than four decades later, he is experiencing the strangeness himself: Today is Simon's 70th birthday.

Earlier this year, when his new album So Beautiful or So What came out, we published a list of Simon's best "deep cuts": songs that aren't as well known as his big hits like "Sounds of Silence" and "The Boxer" but are worth getting to know nonetheless. Here they are again (and note how appropriate the last one is today):

"Duncan" from Paul Simon

Some of Simon's most famous songs are travelogues, from "America" to "The Boxer" to "Graceland." "Duncan," from Simon's first album after the Simon & Garfunkel breakup, is in the same tradition: It tells the story of Lincoln Duncan, the son of a Canadian fisherman who moves to New England. And it features one of the most arresting opening lines in all of pop music.

"One Man's Ceiling is Another Man's Floor" from There Goes Rhymin' Simon

This song is all about atmosphere: Lyrically, it's an After-School-Special-worthy tune about the importance of being a good neighbor. But the sinister piano scales that appear throughout, coupled with Simon's anguish-infused vocals, make this song a moody reminder that no man is an island.

"Born at the Right Time" from The Rhythm of the Saints

Rhythm of the Saints, Simon's Brazilian-inspired follow-up to Graceland was neither as commercially successful nor as enduring in the public consciousness as its predecessor. But Saints is a beautiful—and beautifully paced—album, as exemplified by the mellow, rambling "Born at the Right Time."

"Adios Hermanos" from Songs From The Capeman

Before Bono was writing the score for the Spider-Man musical, another rock legend tried his hand at Broadway success: Paul Simon. The Capeman, a musical about murderer Salvador Agron that Simon co-wrote with Derek Walcott, opened in January 1998 and only lasted 68 performances. The play's subject matter was controversial—families of Agron's victims complained it glorified his crimes—but the music is glorious. This song describes Agron's agonizing day in court and his subsequent drive through his neighborhood on his way to prison.

"Old" from You're the One

Here we see Simon's playful, self-deprecating side. This song is an extended argument for why Simon is not old, and it includes lines like "God is old/I am not old" and rhymes we haven't heard since "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover." Added bonus: the irreverent final line.

Presented by

Eleanor Barkhorn is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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