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.

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.

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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.

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Sep 022022
 

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

Pearl

The album Pearl saw Janis Joplin working with a strong set of songs, a tight band in Full Tilt Boogie, and a simpatico producer in Paul Rothchild. She may not have known she was making a masterpiece, but there was no disguising how well the sessions were going. They came to the most abrupt end possible, however, on October 4th, 1970, when Joplin died of a heroin overdose at the age of 27. A few months later, Pearl was released, and while her death couldn’t help but overshadow it, over the years that shadow has receded. More than just a final statement, it sealed Joplin’s place as the best female singer of blues and rock ‘n’ roll of her era, and in “Me and Bobby McGee” it contained her signature song, one that still feels good to hear on the radio.
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Jul 162022
 

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.

Thunderstruck

From 1990’s The Razors Edge, “Thunderstruck” has become one of AC/DC’s best and biggest hits. Their most played video on YouTube (last fall it racked up its billionth view), it has also become a magnet for unusual covers, from babies to Buddhist monks to bagpipes. We thought we’d take a look at the instrumental side of the “Thunderstruck” equation, to go with this week’s Q&A, and pick out the best vocal-free performances. It wasn’t easy, spoiled for choice as we were, but we’ll stand by our top three…

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Jul 012022
 

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!

Debbie Harry

Happy birthday to Debbie Harry, who turns 77 today with all the tough beauty and street cool that she’s had for decades upon decades. While best known as the vocalist and focal point for Blondie, Harry has had a much fuller career, ranging from go-go dancer and Playboy Bunny to author, actor, and philanthropist. Rock and roll is lucky to have her as one of its elder stateswomen.

Blondie knew their way around covers–two of their biggest hits, “Denis” and “The Tide Is High,” were written and performed by others first–so it should come as no surprise that their own songs are strong enough to take on all comers of all genres. You’ll find no new wave in what follows; instead, get ready for rockabilly, Americana, folk, and even a little bit of rap.
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