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 102015
 

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!

tmbg

It’s hard to believe, but Flood, the breakthrough third album by They Might Be Giants, was released over a quarter of a century ago. Even harder to believe: John Flansburgh and John Linnell, the founders of the band, were only just getting started. They’ve since released another three dozen albums (counting compilations and live albums), won two Grammys, performed the theme songs for both Malcolm in the Middle and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, released the very first all-MP3 album by a major-label band (1999’s Long Tall Weekend), seen three of their children’s albums go gold, and sold more than four million records. Oh, and we can’t forget their pioneering Dial-A-Song phone line.

Yes, the two Johns know their stuff – and it shouldn’t be surprising that they know their cover songs as well. One of their signature songs is “Istanbul (Not Constantinople),” and it’s a good bet many of their fans don’t know that the Four Lads sang it first, in 1953. They’re not half bad on a few others, too…
Continue reading »

Jun 272015
 

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

johne

On June 27, 2002, John Entwistle died at the age of 57. Four days later, Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend began a tour as the Who. The show began with Daltrey announcing, “Tonight we play for John Entwistle…. He was the true spirit of rock & roll, and he lives on in all the music we play.” It goes without saying that all the music they’ve played since hasn’t been the same as it would have been with ol’ Thunderfingers in front of his Marshall stack, stone still except for his amazing hands.

While Townshend’s songs were the lifeblood of the Who, Entwistle carved out a distinctive part in the band’s voice with his own writings. Where Townshend’s work could take itself very seriously, Entwistle’s was able to be both lighter and darker – lighter in that it showed a sense of humor, darker in how ghoulish that sense of humor could be. He leavened the band even as he bolstered it.
Continue reading »

Jun 202015
 

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!

It’s a good time to be Brian Wilson. Earlier this spring, he released No Pier Pressure, his first album of new material in seven years. He is currently touring with Rodriguez, of Searching for Sugar Man (finally-)fame. Love & Mercy, the biopic featuring Paul Dano and John Cusack as different-era Brians, has been getting rave reviews. He’s not Mike Love. And today is his birthday.
Continue reading »

Jun 122015
 

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

Reginald Maurice Ball was born 74 years ago today. Two and a half decades later, he took the stage name of Reg Presley. He may not have been the most famous person to take his identity from the King (right, Mr. Costello?), but he and his band, the Troggs, had as great an impact on rock and roll as anybody, thanks to the lewd, crude attitude of “Wild Thing.”

But while the Troggs were masters of expressing primal urges, they were awfully good with gentle, melodic pop as well. Presley can take credit for this, as he wrote most of the band’s material (“Wild Thing” being a notable exception). Result: the band has a far richer back catalog than the general public realizes, and if today’s artists were to plunder its caves, they would make some valuable finds.
Continue reading »

May 222015
 

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.
Continue reading »

May 082015
 

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.
Continue reading »

Apr 252015
 

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.
Continue reading »

Mar 272015
 

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.
Continue reading »