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.

Apr 192019
 

“Covering the Hits” looks at covers of a randomly-selected #1 hit from the past sixty-odd years.

Harry Chapin

No number one hit says “massive guilt trip” like Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle.” It’s become a shorthand reference to neglectful father-son parenting, featured in popular culture from Simpsons to Shrek the Third, and Stevie Wonder only wishes he prompted as many phone calls just to say “I love you.”

It started off as a poem by Sandy Chapin, Harry’s wife, inspired by the relationship between her first husband and his father. “He came home and I showed him the poem, and he sort of brushed it aside,” she said. But a year later Harry had become a father, and found himself living the life his wife had written about; he wrote music and a chorus, and David Geffen selected it to be a single. “You can’t do that; it’s ridiculous,” Sandy told him. “That song will only appeal to 45-year-old men, and they don’t buy records.” Harry himself wanted to re-record the song, saying “It’s terrible, just terrible. It’s much too fast a tempo.” Both of them were proved very wrong, as the song went to #1 in December 1974.

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Apr 122019
 

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!

Scott Walker

When Scott Walker passed away last month, the pieces written in tribute to his work mentioned the splash he made with the Walker Brothers, the Jacques Brel influence in his first few solo records, and his move into avant-garde music. One era of his was rarely mentioned – the early ’70s, which Walker described as his “wilderness years.” Adrift with little to say, dealing with drug and alcohol issues, pressured by his label to put out product, Walker lapsed into a series of albums that focused on covers of pop songs. The albums sold poorly, the critics were unkind, and Walker was content for them to stay out of print when the CD era arrived.

Here’s the thing – when you have a voice and a talent like Walker’s, you can’t help but lift the songs you sing to a better place. Many’s the person who said they would listen to Scott Walker singing the phone book, and songs from the likes of Burt Bacharach, Gordon Lightfoot, and Bill Withers are already several steps past 202-727-9099.
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Mar 292019
 

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

the cure

“Friday I’m In Love” is a dumb pop song, but it’s quite excellent actually, just because it’s so absurd…. It’s so out of character – very optimistic and really out there in happy land. It’s nice to get that counterbalance. People think we’re supposed to be leaders of some sort of “gloom movement.” I could sit and write gloomy songs all day long, but I just don’t see the point. – Robert Smith

For a mopey band, the Cure sure knew their way around a good pop song. Any number of sunshine ‘n’ rainbow combos would give their proverbial eyeteeth for the skills to write, record, and release songs like “In Between Days” or “Boys Don’t Cry.” But of all their songs, none seem so counter to Robert Smith & Co’s image as “Friday I’m In Love.” It’s so exuberant, so euphoric, you almost don’t know what to do with it. Picture someone skipping down the sidewalk, hands up high, beaming at the sunshine, people turning to stare at his wake – that’s “Friday I’m In Love.”

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Mar 272019
 

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

Stevie Nicks’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a historic one. She’s the first woman to be elected twice – once with Fleetwood Mac, and once for her solo career. Before Diana Ross, before Tina Turner, before Janis Joplin, before any other woman. We’ve discussed “Landslide,” her signature song that she brought to Fleetwood Mac; now we’ll pay tribute to what she accomplished after she emerged from their shadow. Continue reading »

Mar 172019
 

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

dick dale

Many of can say that rock and roll kept us alive and kept us going, but few meant it as literally as Dick Dale did. “I can’t stop touring because I will die,” he said in a 2015 interview, revealing that he needed to keep playing shows in order to raise the $3,000 a month he needed to treat his multiple health problems – rectal cancer, renal failure, diabetes, damaged vertebrae, and more. Four years after that interview, word came out that he’s played his last earthly concert, passing away at the age of 82.
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Mar 082019
 

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

Wikipedia reports that Imaginary Records, an indie label founded 1985 in Manchester, England, specialized in indie rock and post-punk. What it really specialized in, though, was tribute albums. Roughly a third of their album catalog saluted other artists. These ranged from the usual suspects (Dylan, the Stones) to decidedly unusual ones (Captain Beefheart, Syd Barrett).

In 1992, they released Brittle Days: A Tribute to Nick Drake. This was at a time when Drake was still more a cult favorite than a favorite. Anyone who bought the album was as likely to be being introduced to Drake as to the artists singing his songs therein. These artists were themselves destined to remain cult favorites; no future jackpots here like there were on Imaginary Records’ first Velvet Underground tribute. Instead, devotees expressed their devotion to other devotees, resulting in an album that was quiet, reverent, and more than a little haunting.

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