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.

Sep 162016
 

In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.

Marc-Bolan

Marc Bolan died in a car crash 39 years ago today, just short of his thirtieth birthday. Tragic as this was, it was a perfect cap to the legend of the former Marc Feld, a man determined to be a near-myth of a rock star; live-fast-die-young had to be the closing number. But as other would-be legends (hi, Jobriath!) might tell you, an image won’t last without talent to keep it up, and Bolan’s talent for writing simple, catchy glamthems has kept him in the front of public consciousness, even for the ever-growing segment of the public that was born after he moved on.
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Sep 092016
 

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.

Sting was drunk, staggering around his hotel room in Munich, singing “Walking ’round the room.” The following morning, a more sober Sting remembered what he’d done and developed that alcohol-induced ditty into a full song. “But ‘Walking Round the Room’ was a stupid title,” he said later, “so I thought of something even more stupid.” That’s how “Walking on the Moon” got its start, and over a third of a century later it’s still going strong.

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Sep 022016
 

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.

Dan Reeder

The first Dan Reeder song I heard was his meditation on death, “Maybe,” featured on an Oh Boy Records CD sampler. Oh Boy is an indie label founded by John Prine, who signed Reeder after hearing his demo cassette. His first album, Dan Reeder, was as one-man-show and homemade as you can get – he wrote it, played it, recorded and engineered it, did the artwork, did all the harmonies, and even made his own instruments. The songs are brief, thoughtful, humorous, and direct – profanity is sprinkled throughout in a way that somehow manages to be organic and not crude. It was the (NSFW) “Work Song” that made me a fan for life; it’s a song with one line repeated over and over, to perfection and beyond. As NPR said, “you’ll want to play it because it’ll ring true inside you, not because it’s gratuitously vulgar.”

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Aug 192016
 

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

sketch10

With Out of Time, R.E.M. completed their transition from college band to global stardom, and they wanted their next album to move away from Time‘s gentle lushness and move into harder-rocking territory, more suited to the grunge-y times. But when the band members reconvened, they found they were no longer of a mind to write loud ‘n’ angry. Result: Automatic for the People, a meditation on loss that’s downbeat without being depressing, from a band turning away from a world begging to be conquered so it could consider its disquiet. The record wasn’t what they originally promised, but it didn’t disappoint either – it went top-five worldwide, and today it’s considered the band’s masterpiece, the kind of album you put on and then you just lie down and you let it engulf you (or so it is said).

“Every one of its 12 songs is worthy of attention,” MOJO said, and in 2007 the website Stereogum proved it with their tribute album Drive XV: A Tribute to Automatic for the People. A celebration of Automatic‘s 15th anniversary, the tribute featured artists who grew up with R.E.M. as a constant in their lives, and hearing that familiar band speaking with a new voice clearly made an impression on these musicians who were still discovering their own voices and the ways they could be raised.
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Aug 052016
 

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

beatles-revolver

Fifty years ago today, the Beatles’ best album was released. It can be argued that Sgt. Pepper is their greatest album, and Abbey Road could be considered their most accomplished, but all things considered, nothing is better than Revolver.

Revolver saw three of the Beatles on hot songwriting streaks: John exploring his LSD-infused mind; Paul excelling at each genre he tried; George growing by leaps and bounds. Ringo’s contributions were nothing to sneeze at, either, with his work on “She Said She Said” frequently singled out as some of his best drumming. Let’s not forget producer George Martin and teenaged engineer Geoff Emerick, turning the studio into a laboratory to experiment in.

Combine all these talents at their most creative, innovative, and adventurous, and it’s no wonder Revolver left the rock and roll world frantic with wonder at how they could catch up to this landmark. Half a century later, they’re still wondering.
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Jul 292016
 

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!

GeddyLee

Geddy Lee turns 63 today. As the bassist, keyboardist, and lead vocalist for Canadian power trio Rush, he makes up one-third of one of guydom’s most beloved bands. That “Rush fans are the Trekkies of rock” factor has become a running joke of sorts, in real life and in movie life. It may have kept them out of the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame for WAY too long, but when that wrong was righted in 2013, and Jann Wenner announced, “And from Toronto…”, the explosion of cheering that followed was one of the great moments in RRHOF history. The fact remains that the band’s instrumental prowess and willingness to explore new territory has won them intense loyalty for a reason, and Geddy Lee’s wailing, both vocally and instrumentally, was a major part of that perfect puzzle.
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