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.

Jan 252019
 

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.

This is the year Roxy Music finally gets into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Babies have been born since they were first eligible who are now old enough to legally drink. Would that they were also being introduced to the stylings of Bryan Ferry and company, who married prog and glam and were New Romantic before New Romantic existed. How is it possible that a band had to get rid of Brian Eno because he was holding them back?

Eno was more than gracious about that – he’s declared Stranded, the first Roxy Music album without him, to be his favorite. His taste proves impeccable once again – Stranded has a (UK) hit single in “Street Life,” a perfect ode to heartbreak in “A Song for Europe,” and one of the greatest centerpieces of all ’70s rock albums, “Mother of Pearl.”
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Jan 182019
 

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

blue

At that period of my life, I had no personal defenses. I felt like a cellophane wrapper on a pack of cigarettes. I felt like I had absolutely no secrets from the world and I couldn’t pretend in my life to be strong. Or to be happy. But the advantage of it in the music was that there were no defenses there either. – Joni Mitchell, 1979

As many a person has pointed out, Blue works really good if you’re really low. These five girls came up to me once in a bar and said, “Joni, before there was Prozac, there was you.” – Joni Mitchell, 1996

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Jan 112019
 

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

star trek

Beyond / The rim of the star-light / My love / Is wand’ring in star-flight / I know / He’ll find in star-clustered reaches / Love, / Strange love a star woman teaches. / I know / His journey ends never / His star trek / Will go on forever. / But tell him / While he wanders his starry sea / Remember, remember me.

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Nov 302018
 

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!

Whiterhorse

Whitehorse has had a pretty darn good 2018. Their 2017 album Panther in the Dollhouse was nominated for a Juno for Adult Alternative Album of the Year. They recorded two new albums: A Whitehorse Winter Classic, released earlier this month, and The Northern South Vol.2, which comes out in January. We premiered their cover of Slim Harpo’s “Baby, Scratch My Back,” and also learned about some of the favorite covers of Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland, the husband and wife that make up the band. Continue reading »

Nov 092018
 

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

The Smiths

If you Google “perfect Smiths song,” you’ll find a lot of different titles – “The Boy with the Thorn in his Side,” “How Soon Is Now,” “I Won’t Share You,” “Half a Person,” and “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out,” just to name the results on the first page. But some opinions are bigger than others, and in lead singer Morrissey’s opinion, the perfect Smiths song – or at least, in his words, “very close indeed” – was “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want.” Allmusic.com calls it “a minimal yet lush two minutes of almost otherworldly beauty… Almost impenetrably sad, [it’s] a masterpiece both musically and emotionally.”

Starting life as a Johnny Marr instrumental called “The Irish Waltz,” the song became something more once Morrissey sang his lyrics of longing in a voice far gentler and quieter than his usual melodramatic croon. “Please Please Please” turned into a hymn to the art of pining and yearning, the anthem of the unrequited lover, cf. Duckie in Pretty in Pink. And it did so in a minute and fifty seconds, making it the shortest Smiths song ever. Why so short? Morrissey explained:

When we first played it to Rough Trade, they kept asking, “where’s the rest of the song?” But to me, it’s like a very brief punch in the face. Lengthening the song would, to my mind, have simply been explaining the blindingly obvious.

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Oct 262018
 

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

Ben

It says something about Michael Jackson, and I’m not sure what, that his first solo number-one record being a love song to a rat is one of the less strange things about him. Just fourteen years old, Michael was recording solo work at the behest of Motown Records, who wanted to have Jackson 5-related product to sell without necessarily having all five Jacksons. Meanwhile, a movie was coming out that featured young Lee Montgomery performing a sweet song, but the producers wanted a bigger name to rerecord the song for the movie’s theme, and Donny Osmond, the original choice, was on tour with his brothers. That’s how “Ben,” the title track to the sequel to Willard, found its way into Jackson’s hands and onto the airwaves in 1972.

Ben was the tale of an ailing young boy who befriended a rat colony that had been trained to kill in the previous film, led by the dashing young varmint Ben. The critics weren’t kind – Roger Ebert called it “a geek movie” back in the day when that couldn’t be anything but an insult – but the theme song, a gentle oasis amidst the horror that surrounded it, caught the public’s fancy, and they flocked to it like a rat to cheese. “Ben” wound up selling 1.7 million copies in the US alone.
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