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.

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

dreambabydream

When Bruce Springsteen was touring behind his 2005 album Devils and Dust, he closed his shows with a cover of the song “Dream Baby Dream” by the protopunk band Suicide. Most fans of the Boss were unfamiliar with it, and didn’t know how to take the moody mantra, sung over the drone of a pump organ and an offstage synth – “Glory Days” it ain’t. It turned out Bruce had been a fan of Suicide’s since meeting them in a studio in the ’70s, and had claimed in one interview that “You know, if Elvis came back from the dead I think he would sound like Alan Vega.” As for Vega, once he’d heard Springsteen’s interpretation, he said, “Now I can die…. He interpreted my song, he did it his way, and such a great way that I’m going to have to sing it that way, or not sing it at all anymore…. On my death bed, that’s the last thing I’m going to listen to. I’ll play it at my funeral.” So it’s safe to say he liked it.
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Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

logical

Written by Supertramp’s Roger Hodgson (with an assist on the second chorus’s vocal harmony by Rick Davies), “The Logical Song” not only has more words of three or more syllables (twenty-seven!) than some bands have in their entire discography; it also has a warning about using schooling as a brickbat that resonates even more post-No Child Left Behind. Plus which, that saxophone break would send any contemporaries whimpering their way back to Baker Street. It was the band’s biggest hit off their biggest album, Breakfast in America; that unforgettable cover model, Kate Murtagh, is 94 and still going, much like “The Logical Song” itself.
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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!

Björn Ulvaeus may not be a household name, but the same cannot be said of ABBA, the band he cofounded with his songwriting partner Benny Andersson. This is a band whose greatest-hits album Gold went to number one in England on five different occasions over a span of sixteen years. A band who numbered Bono, Kurt Cobain, and Vladimir Putin among their biggest fans. A band whose breaking-up songs rivaled Rumours for intraband romantic schadenfreude.

Ulvaes built on this legacy after ABBA dissolved. He cowrote the music for the stage show Chess, the origin of “One Night in Bangkok.” The ABBA-based stage show Mamma Mia! has grossed over two billion worldwide; the movie, over $600 million. Speaking of money money money, today he is a key figure in turning Sweden into a cash-free society. He had an umlaut in his name thirty years before Motörhead did. Not even his distressing resemblance to Kato Kaelin could put an end to his coolness.
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Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

Lemmy has admitted to being more of a slot machine man than a poker one, but the Motorhead bassist knew which topic would make a better lyric (“when it comes to that sort of thing… you can’t really sing about spinning fruit”). “Ace of Spades,” his paean to gambling that sure sounds like it’s about more than your typical deck of cards, is his band’s signature work and the proto-speed metal song. Anyone can perform it and sound dynamic – even a bunch of plastic dolls.
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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.

The way Adrian Edmondson tells it, he bought a mandolin after an inebriation-inducing lunch near Denmark Street in Soho, “a very dangerous place to be with a group of friends, drunk, if you have either cash, or a credit card about your person.” The next day, he picked it up and began playing the songs of his youth – by bands like the Clash, the Sex Pistols, the Ramones, and other bands that certainly informed his portrayal of Vyvyan Basterd in the beloved Britcom The Young Ones. What came out was something very special indeed – so much so that Edmondson went out to find like-minded folk musicians to play this music with him, and when he found Uilleann pipe player Troy Donockley, the Bad Shepherds were born.
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Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!

At this point, is there anything about Pink Moon that isn’t legendary? Age of artist: 23. Recorded in two nights. Voice and acoustic guitar, plus one small splash of piano. Not even a half hour long. Dropped off at the label’s office with barely a word. Sank like a proverbial stone upon release. Two years later, it was the artist’s turn. Then the pilgrimages to his home began, from listeners all over the world who’d connected with his songs. And then, two decades later, a show of hands in an ad agency office. All in favor of using the Church’s “Under the Milky Way” to score this car commercial? All in favor of Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon”? In the end, Nick Drake won (read more about the making of VW’s Cabrio ad from adman Shane Hutton in the comment section here), and in the very end, his work finally introduced to millions, he won again.
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Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

Kirsty MacColl was still in her teens when she wrote and recorded “They Don’t Know.” It should have been a major smash, and in a way it was, peaking at #2 on a UK airplay chart; unfortunately, her distributor picked a horrible time to go on strike, which meant the single never got released, which meant it never placed on the sales-based UK Singles Charts. It took Tracey Ullman’s near-soundalike cover four years later to bring the song into the top ten where it belonged. Kirsty helped out with the backing vocals (that’s her a cappella “BAY-ee-BEE-ee!”), and she never resented Tracey for coming up with the brass ring that in a perfect world would have been hers; instead, she said things like “I don’t mind a bit of reflected glory” and “I’m grateful for (her) paying the rent.”
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Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

“Eleanor Rigby,” the second track on the Beatles’ Revolver album, may be the most atypical Beatles single. No Beatle played a note on it; instead, they were backed by a small string ensemble. Released as a single, it was the flip side of “Yellow Submarine,” and could not have been more diametrically opposed to that children’s song. It was a song not of love, but of loneliness and death, one that ran counter to their Fab-Four-moptop image. To quote Alan W. Pollack, a musicologist who gave close readings of all the Beatles’ songs, “As one of the most ‘serious’ pieces of the entire Beatles’ canon, this song straight-facedly vaporized several commonly supposed limitations of what the two-minute AM-radio pop/rock musical genre might be capable of including within its purview and power of expression. Pigeon-hole terms, such as Crossover, Fusion, or Hybrid, somehow don’t seem to do it justice.”
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