Relive Johnny Cash and Fiona Apple’s soul-crushing duet cover of ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’
Country legend Johnny Cash, the undoubted king of being able to own a cover version, once laid down a special version of Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ alongside Fiona Apple.
In an era when cover songs were an appreciation of another’s work, Cash chose this now-classic love song. Cash’s deep burrowing voice is the instrument that gets into every crevice of your soul and gives the classic pop song a little more gravelly depth. Cash, also known for his heart-wrenching version of Nine Inch Nails song ‘Hurt’, managers to make the track his own and leaves little of the original version in his stripped-back acoustic version.
The original song, written by Paul Simon and recorded by the music duo Simon & Garfunkel, was heavily influenced by gospel music and, famously, played with elements of Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” technique using L.A. session musicians from the Wrecking Crew. The song would go on to claim five awards at the 1971 Grammy Awards in 1971—a taste of victory which would again be repeated with Cash at helm years later.
Recorded for Cash’s American IV: The Man Comes Around album, which was nominated for a Grammy in 2003, arrived 30 years after their original recordings. The song itself is there to comfort a friend, offering itself as the proverbial bridge over the issue at the time. It’s a beautiful song, laid heavy with sentiment, a sentiment which Cash cuts through with his powerful performance.
When discussing how the duet materialised, Fiona Apple told Rolling Stone: “I’d listened to the first American Recording, and I was backstage at a concert — U2, I think — and Rick Rubin was there. I told him I really liked it. He said, ‘We’re doing another one; you should sing on it”’. I got really excited, but about six months went by and I felt like an idiot—I thought Rick had said that just to get rid of me. But one day he called, and I went over to his house. Johnny Cash was there, and he was really nice. He’d already put down his vocals, and there was a camera crew there, and I didn’t even know that I was gonna sing. I felt so nervous.”
Addressing her vocal contributions, Apple added: “That’s really not where my confidence lies,” in reference to her harmonies. “But I heard Johnny say to someone that he thought our voices went well together, so that’s what I take from the experience.”