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 The Warmer.

Feb 032023
 

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

See No Evil Television covers

January 2023 was not a good month for guitar heroes. Not three weeks after Jeff Beck passed away, Tom Verlaine followed him to the great gig in the sky. Both were hailed from all corners of the music world and valued for their contributions to their instrument. Verlaine had one advantage to music fans’ hearts that Beck didn’t – he was the front man for Television, writing the band’s songs and singing them with a voice of strangled urgency.

Millions of people listened to Television’s Marquee Moon this week, whether in memoriam or to find out what all the fuss was about. The opening track, “See No Evil,” was a thrilling introduction to one of the era’s greatest albums. It saw great interplay with guitarist Richard Lloyd (that’s Lloyd doing the solo), and bassist Fred Smith and drummer Billy Ficca held down a solid rhythm that allowed Verlaine and Lloyd the chances to drive, lift, and soar.

Continue reading »

Dec 022022
 

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

Editor’s Note: Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac died on Wednesday after a brief illness. She was 79. In her honor, we’re resurrecting a post from a decade ago, lightly reworked for the sad circumstances.

Christine McVie was the Mona Lisa of ’70s rock music. She always seemed one cool remove away from the maelstrom of Fleetwood Mac, but there was a lot going on behind that sardonic gaze, and she let it out in her songs, where she specialized in first-person accounts of romances that could be right even when they felt so wrong – and, of course, vice versa. Today we’re celebrating McVie with five covers that give a whole different meaning to the phrase “one cool remove away.”
Continue reading »

Nov 182022
 

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

Fifty years ago today, on November 18, 1972, Neil Young fired Danny Whitten. The 29-year-old guitarist had already been dismissed from Crazy Horse due to his drug use. Young gave him another chance to join his touring band, the Stray Gators, as they went out to promote Harvest. When Whitten proved he couldn’t handle that either, Young gave him fifty dollars and a plane ticket back to Los Angeles. That night, he got a phone call: Whitten had died of a drug overdose.

A crushed Young, who had already written “The Needle and the Damage Done” about Whitten, went on to record Tonight’s the Night, a tribute to him and to roadie Bruce Berry. These are some of Young’s strongest works and have all the impact today that they had on first release. But there’s another artistic work related to Whitten that’s arguably greater and longer lasting. And it came from the pen of Danny Whitten himself.
Continue reading »

Oct 312022
 

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.

You're So Vain covers

If a horse could sing in a monotone, the horse would sound like Carly Simon, only a horse wouldn’t rhyme “yacht,” “apricot,” and “gavotte.” – Robert Christgau

It’s definitely not about James [Taylor]… but he had the unfortunate experience of taking a jet up to Nova Scotia after I’d written the song. He was saved by the fact that it wasn’t a Lear. – Carly Simon

Rolling Stone: A musical question. As per legend: “You’re So Vain” — did you think the song was about you?
Warren Beatty: [Laughs, 15-second pause] Who wrote that?

Continue reading »

Sep 162022
 

One Great Cover looks at the greatest cover songs ever, and how they got to be that way.

Puttin On The Ritz

If you’re blue, and you don’t know where to go to
Why don’t you go where Harlem flits?
Puttin’ on the Ritz

Spangled gowns upon the bevy of high browns
From down the levy, all misfits
Putting’ on the Ritz

That’s where each and every lulubelle goes
Every Thursday evening with her swell beaus
Rubbin’ elbows

Come with me and we’ll attend their jubilee
And see them spend their last two bits
Puttin’ on the Ritz

When Irving Berlin wrote those lyrics in 1927, he was writing about the fad of the day, where poor black people would get dressed to the nines and parade up and down Harlem’s Lenox Avenue (which today is also known as Malcolm X Boulevard). Berlin used the word “lulubelle,” which was a slang term for a black maid, and Thursday was traditionally the maid’s day off. It was a gentle satire with a remarkably intricate rhythm, and while it didn’t coin the phrase “putting on the Ritz,” it certainly did popularize it.

Continue reading »

Sep 092022
 

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

Otis Redding

This year, a lot of musical artists turn 81 years old. Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Neil Diamond, Aaron Neville, Paul Simon, David Crosby–the list goes on. But it’s one shorter than it should be. Otis Redding would be 81 today if he hadn’t died in a plane crash almost 55 years ago. Thinking of how much potential we never got to see fulfilled is a fool’s errand, so let’s focus on what Redding did give us in his 26 years and change.

Redding brought a voice full of emotion, an electric stage presence, and sheer drive to the sweet soul music of the ’60s. His work ethic got him to the top; his talent kept him there, long after he passed away. He’s one of those singers who’s always ripe for discovery; for an encouraging look at our future, search “first time hearing Otis Redding” on YouTube to find the next generation doing just that.

Continue reading »