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 202018
 

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.

There was nothing that preceded it. I didn’t have those words. I didn’t have that melody. And I was playing chords and all of a sudden, I sang that. And I couldn’t believe it. I was dumbstruck…. I have no idea where that came from. It was far about the level I was writing at the time…. I was sort of conscious that it was a gift. And I was very emotionally moved by it.

Paul Simon knew he had something special when he wrote the first two verses of “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Since Simon wrote the song in a higher key than he was used to singing, he also knew the song was meant for one man and one man only to sing. Art Garfunkel demurred at first (“You have a nice falsetto, Paul, why don’t you sing it?”), out of a giving spirit more than anything else; it didn’t take long for Simon to talk him into it. The song needed a third verse in order to properly build up (Simon whipped one up in the studio), and it took seventy-two takes to record, but “Bridge” came together beautifully. Simon may have felt that Garfunkel’s gospel touch was “more Methodist than Baptist,” but Clive Davis, head of Columbia, knew what they had immediately. Even at a longish (for a single) five minutes, he announced that it would be the first single, first track, and title song of their next record.

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Jun 082018
 

That’s A Cover? explores cover songs that you may have thought were originals.

Fred Neil just wanted to go home. The cantankerous folkie hated being in the studio, and pulling his third album together was like pulling teeth. It was almost finished, but it had to have one more tune to fill it out.

“We needed another song, and he said he might have one more,” said his manager, Herb Cohen. “Matter of fact, I think he completed it in the toilet of the Capitol Records studio. As you can tell by the lyric, all he wanted to do was finish the album and go to Florida.”

Singing in a gruff, weary voice, Neil finished his yearning to breathe free in one take and got out of the studio as fast as he could. The album, Fred Neil, didn’t sell well, which probably suited Neil just fine – the less publicity he had to do, the better. Little did he know that he had just come up with the key that would unlock the door to his freedom.
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Apr 062018
 

Ethan Gold Bedroom ClosetWhen Ethan Gold began recording cover songs in his bedroom closet, they were more than his tributes to artists that mattered to him – they were therapy. Gold had sustained a head injury in a warehouse accident that left him unable to speak, let alone do the complex sound engineering his work required. He had also just been forced to leave the condemned residence that inspired his previous album, Songs from a Toxic Apartment. So these covers, one-take performances filmed for YouTube, were Gold’s road to recovery. Now they’ve been compiled and released as a digital-only album, Live Undead Bedroom Closet Covers, and it’s a pleasure to see that his recovery is complete.
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Apr 012018
 

That’s A Cover? explores cover songs that you may have thought were originals.

Bob Dylan Friday

In 2011, Rebecca Black released “Friday” and put up the video on YouTube. A month later the Tosh.0 blog, then at the height of its influential powers, discovered it and posted it under the headline “Songwriting Isn’t For Everyone.” Result: the internet lost its hive mind. The video racked up millions of downturned thumbs. People attacked Black for her heavily auto-tuned voice, her poor dancing skills, and lyrics so inane even Justin Bieber couldn’t believe them.

But Black had supporters. Lady Gaga called her a genius. Simon Cowell of American Idol declared himself a fan, nothing that “the fact that it’s making people so angry is brilliant.” He went on to add, “Anyone who can create this much controversy within a week, I want to meet. I love people like that.”

Cowell certainly would love the author of “Friday,” and the Tosh.0 people certainly need to rethink their snarky headline. For, even as the Friday Fenomenon steamrolled America, word began trickling out that the man who wrote the song was far more than just another pretty voice. That’s right: Rebecca Black didn’t write “Friday.” Bob Dylan, the man behind the best song of all time according to Rolling Stone, crafted the lines about which seat on the school bus to select.
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Mar 152018
 

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

Rich Girl covers

In 1960, Victor and Everett Walker opened the first Walker Bros. Original Pancake House in Wilmette, IL. By the end of the decade, Victor retired, having sold his restaurant and the 15 KFC franchises he owned. At age 50, he was fixed for life – as were his three sons. One of them, Victor Jr., dated a woman named Sara Allen for a while in college. She broke up with Victor Jr. (but remained friends) and began going out with Daryl Hall, who would write “Sara Smile” about her and write many other songs with her.

Hall knew the young Vic and later referred to him as a “burnout.” “He came to our apartment, and he was acting sort of strange,” Hall said in an interview. “I said, ‘This guy is out of his mind, but he doesn’t have to worry about it because his father’s gonna bail him out of any problems he gets in.'” That thought led to a song. “But you can’t write, ‘You’re a rich boy’ in a song,” Hall said, “so I changed it to a girl.” Continue reading »

Nov 172017
 

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.

It’s hard to comprehend that Jeff Buckley should be 51 years old today. He’s forever frozen in our mind’s eye, no older than 30 (still, a couple years older than his father Tim got to be), at the peak of his beauty and talent. These days he’s best known for a cover song (three guesses which one, first two don’t count), but he was no slouch with a pen himself – “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over,” from Grace, was less a breakup ballad than a broken-up ballad, one that showcased remarkable imagery and a truly painful longing just as surely as it showcased Buckley’s remarkable voice.

“Lover, You Should’ve Come Over” gets a lot of covers from YouTube artists, most of them determined to follow in Buckley’s footsteps; this leads to such faithfulness that the covers tend to have a sameness to them, no matter how expressive the performer. But a few manage to break free from Buckley’s binds…

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