Patrick Robbins

Patrick Robbins lives in Maine, where he moves through life with the secure knowledge that, as Penn Jillette said, "In all of art, it's the singer, not the song," On Wednesdays he goes shopping, and has buttered scones for tea. He is the author of the novel To Make Others Happy.

Jul 012016
 

Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!

imagine

John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, Lennon’s first solo album, got many rave reviews and deserved them all, but there are people who aren’t comfortable witnessing someone baring his soul, and Lennon wanted to reach them too. So he made sure his next album, Imagine, sweetened his message, even as he kept it intact. “Plastic Ono with chocolate coating,” he later called it. By lightening his touch and assuring the songs landed in his fans’ hearts rather than crashing into them, Lennon was rewarded with a commercial success, not to mention the title track that came to be his signature song.
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May 202016
 

Under the Radar shines a light on lesser-known cover artists. If you’re not listening to these folks, you should. Catch up on past installments here.

caught_a_ghost

“It’s an old expression,” Jesse Nolan explained in an interview with MTV. “Musicians used to say you caught a ghost if you gave a good performance. Like you were possessed.”

The spirit has certainly moved Caught a Ghost, the Los Angeles indie-electro-soul musical collective headed by Nolan. They give a 21st-century voice to the ghosts of Stax and Motown, welding them to ’90s hip-hop and electronica. Nolan, who plays most of the instruments in the studio and leads a whole stageful in Caught a Ghost’s highly-praised live shows (could be four, could be eight – “We just take whoever is available when we play”), describes himself as an “imperfectionist,” making sure the music is realer by not refining it to death.

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Apr 222016
 

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

mia

“Paper Planes” was the penultimate track on M.I.A.’s second album Kala; it took thirteen months from the album’s release for the song to peak at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100. Guaranteed no other paper planes have flown so high and so far for so long. Riding a sample from “Straight to Hell” by the Clash (who are rightfully credited) and a chorus borrowed from “Rump Shaker” by Wreckx-N-Effect (who aren’t), the song had as great an impact on 2008 as the gunfire in its chorus. Critics fell over themselves praising the record’s sound, somehow both chaotic and serene, and its message, a sort of “Money (That’s What I Want)” gone global for the 21st century.

Now that the dust “Paper Planes” stirred up has settled back down again, let’s take a look at some of the covers it inspired…
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Apr 012016
 

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

BillW

There’s talk that “Use Me,” from Bill Withers’ second album Still Bill, is about his relationship with his future wife (and, a year later, ex-wife), Hollywood actress Denise Nicholas. Withers denies this, saying he got the idea for the song before his first album, while he was still making toilets for $3 an hour. Most listeners didn’t care about its origin – they were too busy digging that funky clavinet, nodding along to lyrics that brush against masochistic tendencies while defiantly stating that one could be willing to take the bad with the good, because that good was so good. It sure felt good, especially the Live at Carnegie Hall version, so deep in the pocket that the clapping-along audience doesn’t want it to end, demanding (and getting) an immediate encore.
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Mar 242016
 

They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with other people singing his or her songs. Let others do the work for a while. Happy birthday!

nicklowe

Nick Lowe, who turns 67 today, has one of the most secure spots in the ’70s rock pantheon. He started the decade with pub-rock founders Brinsley Schwarz and ended it with “Cruel to be Kind,” a song that made it to number 12 on charts in the UK, the US, Canada, and New Zealand (a more impressive feat than reaching #1 in all four countries, to my mind). He also produced the first five Elvis Costello albums and the Pretenders’ debut single “Stop Your Sobbing,” among others, and his “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding” will never die as long as there’s a karaoke bar.
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Feb 192016
 

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

badfinger

Badfinger combined magic and tragic like no other band in rock history. They were one of the few bands signed to the Beatles’ Apple label who made an impact of their own, but the Fab Four’s blessing carried its own curse of people not taking them as more than clone wannabes. They scored multiple top 20 hits, but saw very little of the revenue they generated, due in no small part to their corrupt manager. Finally, two members of the band, Pete Ham and Tom Evans, were driven to suicide. Today, the sorrow of Badfinger’s fate remains – but so does the music. Some of the strongest power-pop songs came from the band, including “No Matter What” and “Day After Day,” and their song “Without You” became a worldwide smash when covered by Harry Nilsson and (more than twenty years later) Mariah Carey.
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