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.

Oct 162020
 

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

Don't You Forget About Me covers

Keith Forsey and Steve Schiff wrote “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” while scoring The Breakfast Club. They sent it to Simple Minds, a favorite group of theirs. Simple Minds turned it down, preferring to do songs they themselves had written. Bryan Ferry turned it down. Billy Idol turned it down. Eurythmics turned it down. Cy Curnin of the Fixx turned it down. The record company suggested Corey Hart; Forsey turned them down. Chrissie Hynde loved it, but was pregnant and didn’t want to do the accompanying video, so she badgered her husband to try it. Her husband was Jim Kerr, of (wait for it) Simple Minds.

Once the band came around, they followed Forsey & Schiff’s demo pretty closely, with Kerr throwing in the “Hey, hey, hey, hey” and a few “la la la”s toward the end. After its release, while grateful for the doors it opened, the band sometimes sounded like they wished they’d stuck to their guns and kept turning it down. “(The lyrics) sound pretty inane to me,” Kerr later said. “Sometimes I play it and I just puke.”

It seems like the only people who ever loved the song were the target audience. They took the song to number one and permanently lodged it in the collective conscious of the class of ’85. When Simple Minds performed it at Live Aid (at Bob Geldof’s insistence), the Philadelphia crowd went crazy, and the band realized what they had on their hands was more than just another hit. Thirty-five years later, “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” can bring the era back like few other songs.

Such a song becomes an easy target for artists wanting to cover it. In Spin‘s definitive oral history of the song, Forsey says, “For me, the song only goes one way, and what we did when we did it was the way.” That’s as may be, but that didn’t stop many others from taking it their way. As Schiff says in the same article, “The song has really gone off on its own and has become that thing for other people, and that comes across when somebody else does it. You know, walking by bars in New Orleans, at a karaoke bar and it’s there. It’s sort of fun where it can pop up.”

Seven of them pop up below. Enjoy!

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Feb 072020
 

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

You Light Up My Life

It’s very likely that you never knew Debby Boone’s smash hit “You Light Up My Life” was a cover song. There’s a reason for that, and it’s not a very happy reason. This is a story about two women and the man who did so wrong by them, even as he saw them to stardom.
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Jan 242020
 

They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with covers of his or her songs. Let someone else do the work for a while. Happy birthday!

Today Neil Diamond reaches his three score and nineteen. Parkinson’s disease has taken him away from touring, but he assured fans that “I plan to remain active in writing, recording and other projects for a long time to come.” These projects include a Broadway musical and an upcoming Las Vegas benefit show. If that wasn’t enough, his songs continue to resonate with listeners today – “Sweet Caroline” was just chosen by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Recording Registry.

And if THAT wasn’t enough, his songs remain popular cover material, no matter who’s doing it or how. We’ve found five covers that take the words and music of the Jewish Elvis to their own personal Gracelands.
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Sep 202019
 

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

just like starting over covers

In October of 1980, John Lennon’s “(Just Like) Starting Over” was released as a single, serving as a harbinger for his first new album in five years. The critics were not about to swoon over his return; while it was nice to see him making music again, some scorned his contentedness and the song’s studio-bound ’50s sound; one British mag went so far as to headline their review “Get Down Lazarus.” Which Lennon did, to what must have been tremendous mortification on the headline writer’s part.

Lennon’s death virtually guaranteed a number one song; “(Just Like) Starting Over” reaped the morbid benefits. To this day, it serves as a bittersweet epitaph, and about as untouchable by cover artists as a song can get. What’s the point? It’s its own tribute, and bettering it is a thankless task.

But that doesn’t mean nobody’s tried…
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Aug 012019
 

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

A Day in the Life

Editor’s Note: This is the four thousandth post in the long and storied history of Cover Me. To mark the occasion, we went looking for a musical reference to the number 4,000. Thanks the all those rather small holes in Blackburn, Lancashire, we found a beauty. Now that we know how many Cover Me posts it takes to fill the Albert Hall, we hope you’ll enjoy this one just as much as all the ones before and beyond (and consider supporting our new Patreon to ensure we get to 4,000 more).

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is the album that sums up 1967 better than any other. It was experimental, confident, naive, challenging. It also had the greatest album closer of… the Beatles? the sixties? the 20th century? “A Day in the Life” has had all those applied to it, and is accepted as the pinnacle of the Beatles’ achievements.
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Jun 042019
 

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

sugar sugar covers

I used to work in the music department of a chain bookstore. One day a customer came in and asked, “Do you have a copy of the song ‘Sugar, Sugar’?” We did, of course; I took him to the Various Artists section and handed him a copy of Billboard Top Rock ‘n’ Roll Hits: 1969.

“Thanks,” he said. “I have to learn this song for a lip-sync for work.” He grimaced.

“Wait,” I said. “If it doesn’t matter what version you lip-sync to…”

In a twinkling he was holding a Very Best of Wilson Pickett CD, containing Pickett’s classic “Sugar, Sugar” cover. “Yes!” he said, eyes alight. “This has songs on it I’ll actually want to listen to more than once!”

The Wicked Pickett’s version is indeed eternally worthy of relistening, but I don’t want to slight the Archies song. Sung by Ron Dante and backed up by Toni Wine (who turns 72 today!), it’s the perfect AM rock song, the #1 song of 1969, one that Lou Reed once admitted he wished he’d written. It’s been remade for Archie-related live-action TV shows, not once but twice. And it’s raked up a lot of covers – including some by artists you never would have guessed…

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