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.

Aug 102018
 

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

sour times

Had hipsters been prevalent in 1994-5, Portishead’s “Sour Times” would have made a perfect hipster wedding song. It had something old (the band was steeped in spy soundtracks of the ’50s and ’60s), something new (they didn’t invent trip-hop, but they did introduce it to millions of Americans), something borrowed (they sampled Lalo Schifrin’s “Danube Incident”), and something blue in Beth Gibbons’ sad vocals. “Nobody loves me, it’s true” she sings, then neatly dodges self-pity by adding “Not like you do.” Neo-noir as ’90s radio got, “Sour Times” was one of those songs that hooked listeners across the musical spectrum from the first seconds of the first listen. Continue reading »

Aug 032018
 

In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!

A band that’s been in business for more than two decades can be expected to change their sound a few times. With Of Montreal, though, it’s about more than sounding different. It’s about seeing the world a whole new way. Kevin Barnes founded the band, and over the years has led a score of other musicians. Together, they’ve explored worlds of folk and psychedelia, theatrical and celestial, amusement and misery. They’ve done so with such purpose that it’s become a part of what draws their fans. Continue reading »

Jul 202018
 

Some covers are more equal than others. Good, Better, Best looks at three covers and decides who takes home the gold, the silver, and the bronze.

There was nothing that preceded it. I didn’t have those words. I didn’t have that melody. And I was playing chords and all of a sudden, I sang that. And I couldn’t believe it. I was dumbstruck…. I have no idea where that came from. It was far about the level I was writing at the time…. I was sort of conscious that it was a gift. And I was very emotionally moved by it.

Paul Simon knew he had something special when he wrote the first two verses of “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Since Simon wrote the song in a higher key than he was used to singing, he also knew the song was meant for one man and one man only to sing. Art Garfunkel demurred at first (“You have a nice falsetto, Paul, why don’t you sing it?”), out of a giving spirit more than anything else; it didn’t take long for Simon to talk him into it. The song needed a third verse in order to properly build up (Simon whipped one up in the studio), and it took seventy-two takes to record, but “Bridge” came together beautifully. Simon may have felt that Garfunkel’s gospel touch was “more Methodist than Baptist,” but Clive Davis, head of Columbia, knew what they had immediately. Even at a longish (for a single) five minutes, he announced that it would be the first single, first track, and title song of their next record.

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Jun 082018
 

That’s A Cover? explores cover songs that you may have thought were originals.

Fred Neil just wanted to go home. The cantankerous folkie hated being in the studio, and pulling his third album together was like pulling teeth. It was almost finished, but it had to have one more tune to fill it out.

“We needed another song, and he said he might have one more,” said his manager, Herb Cohen. “Matter of fact, I think he completed it in the toilet of the Capitol Records studio. As you can tell by the lyric, all he wanted to do was finish the album and go to Florida.”

Singing in a gruff, weary voice, Neil finished his yearning to breathe free in one take and got out of the studio as fast as he could. The album, Fred Neil, didn’t sell well, which probably suited Neil just fine – the less publicity he had to do, the better. Little did he know that he had just come up with the key that would unlock the door to his freedom.
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Apr 062018
 

Ethan Gold Bedroom ClosetWhen Ethan Gold began recording cover songs in his bedroom closet, they were more than his tributes to artists that mattered to him – they were therapy. Gold had sustained a head injury in a warehouse accident that left him unable to speak, let alone do the complex sound engineering his work required. He had also just been forced to leave the condemned residence that inspired his previous album, Songs from a Toxic Apartment. So these covers, one-take performances filmed for YouTube, were Gold’s road to recovery. Now they’ve been compiled and released as a digital-only album, Live Undead Bedroom Closet Covers, and it’s a pleasure to see that his recovery is complete.
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Apr 012018
 

That’s A Cover? explores cover songs that you may have thought were originals.

Bob Dylan Friday

In 2011, Rebecca Black released “Friday” and put up the video on YouTube. A month later the Tosh.0 blog, then at the height of its influential powers, discovered it and posted it under the headline “Songwriting Isn’t For Everyone.” Result: the internet lost its hive mind. The video racked up millions of downturned thumbs. People attacked Black for her heavily auto-tuned voice, her poor dancing skills, and lyrics so inane even Justin Bieber couldn’t believe them.

But Black had supporters. Lady Gaga called her a genius. Simon Cowell of American Idol declared himself a fan, nothing that “the fact that it’s making people so angry is brilliant.” He went on to add, “Anyone who can create this much controversy within a week, I want to meet. I love people like that.”

Cowell certainly would love the author of “Friday,” and the Tosh.0 people certainly need to rethink their snarky headline. For, even as the Friday Fenomenon steamrolled America, word began trickling out that the man who wrote the song was far more than just another pretty voice. That’s right: Rebecca Black didn’t write “Friday.” Bob Dylan, the man behind the best song of all time according to Rolling Stone, crafted the lines about which seat on the school bus to select.
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