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.

May 062022
 

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

Strangers in the Night

SecondHandSongs says that the two most-covered songs written in 1966 were by the Beatles – “Eleanor Rigby” and “Here, There and Everywhere.” That’s no surprise. The next two most-covered songs from that year were written by another songwriting team; Burt Bacharach and Hal David came up with “The Look of Love” and “Alfie.” Also no big surprise.

But then comes the fifth-most-covered song of 1966: “Beddy Bye” by Bert Kaempfert. Ring any bells? If not, perhaps you’ll recognize it from the movie it appeared in – the James Garner comedy-thriller A Man Could Get Killed. Still no? Well, at the time it had no lyrics, but once they arrived, and once Frank Sinatra sang them, it became immortal as “Strangers in the Night.”
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Apr 082022
 

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

Beatles Yesterday covers

This post has been a long time coming. Any cover song site worth its weight in scrambled eggs has to touch on the most covered song by the most covered band of all time. So now we arrive at “Yesterday” by the Beatles, a song they recorded four days before Paul McCartney turned 23. (They recorded “I’ve Just Seen a Face” and “I’m Down” during the same session – not a bad day’s work, Paul.)

“Yesterday” was the first Beatles song to feature only one member, and the first to feature a string quartet. The lads weren’t especially keen on the song, burying it deep on side two of Help! and not allowing it to be released as a single in the UK. Matt Monro stepped up to release his version two months after the Beatles released theirs. Après Matt, le déluge – over a hundred covers in 1966 alone, over three thousand covers total according to the Guinness Book of World Records (you get the sense that they eventually threw up their hands and stopped counting).

Sinatra, Aretha, Dylan, Elvis – all of them recorded terrific versions. Many more great ones were recorded by artists who weren’t known by only one name. Parodies were recorded by artists from EuFourla to the Beatles themselves (on their 1965 Christmas record). In fact, never has the topic “Five Good Covers” felt more woefully inadequate than it does for this song. Nevertheless, we persist, and we hope you enjoy these five drops in “Yesterday”‘s ocean.
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Mar 182022
 

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.

Where Eagles Dare

Let’s start with the chorus. “Where Eagles Dare” by the Misfits has one of the most insanely catchy choruses ever written, one that demands to be sung at the top of one’s lungs. Ironically, it’s a chorus that you’ll never hear on commercial radio, what with its using swear words (no matter what Archie Bunker says). But when you do hear this song, whether in a club or a set of headphones, just try not to bang your head or punch the air.

Seeing as how it’s impossible not to sing along, you can be sure it’s not impossible to find covers of “Where Eagles Dare.” Many of them are musical soundalikes, landing their punches just as hard as the original did (and does). But, as always, the ones we’re most interested in are the ones that take the song to another place. Of these…

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Mar 042022
 

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!

Garland Jeffreys

For an artist who never cracked the top 50 in the U.S., Garland Jeffreys has left quite a footprint. A friend of Lou Reed’s when they were students at Syracuse University, Jeffreys went on to perform on John Cale’s solo debut Vintage Violence before striking out on his own. His mix of rock, folk, soul, reggae, and more made him hard to pigeonhole, but the people who knew, knew. Rolling Stone named him the Best New Artist of 1977, a year that saw debuts from the Clash, the Jam, Talking Heads, Television, and more. Far from prolific – he released five albums between 1983 and 2013 – Jeffreys still secured a devoted following, especially in Europe. Though he no longer tours, he continues to write, maintains an active Twitter presence, and a documentary is in the works to raise awareness of this rare giant of the past half-century-plus.
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Jan 212022
 

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

California Dreamin' covers

Michelle Phillips had never seen snow before. She grew up in Mexico and California, so when she went to New York to stay at the Earle Hotel with her husband John, she didn’t have the right clothes. The couple had spent the day walking together, stopping by a church to warm up in the process. The next morning, John woke her up and told her to write this down.

“This” was the start of “California Dreamin’,” the Mamas and the Papas’ first big hit. It was earmarked to be Barry McGuire’s next big hit after “Eve of Destruction” – they’d recorded the backing vocals for him and everything – but then the powers that be decided to strip McGuire’s lead and add Denny Doherty’s. The Mamas and the Papas version came out first, and in Los Angeles, it did nothing. But in Boston, a town that knows a thing or two about wishing for warmth in the dead of winter, it hit big, and from there it soon made it to all of America. (Even if most of America, including Cass Elliott herself, misheard the lyric “I got down on my knees / And I pretend to pray” as “I began to pray.”)
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Dec 042021
 

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

I Fought the Law

In 1978, Joe Strummer and Mick Jones flew to San Francisco to record overdubs for the Clash’s second album, Give ’em Enough Rope. There, they heard the Bobby Fuller Four song “I Fought the Law” for the first time, on the studio jukebox. By the time they came back to England, they had heard it enough times to memorize it. They recorded the song and released in on an EP in the spring of 1979. Later that year it came out as a single in America, the Clash’s first. It appeared on their first American album as well, a rejiggered version of their UK debut two years before.

The story of a prisoner taking an oh-well attitude toward the turn his life took, “I Fought the Law” struck a chord with the Clash’s fans. It was a signature cover, both for the band and the song. And many many DJs who introduced this aggressive shrug of a song called it a cover of the top-ten hit by the Bobby Fuller Four.

Which it was.

But it wasn’t.
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