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.

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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Oct 252021
 

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!

Tina Turner covers

Tina Turner’s place in rock ‘n’ roll history has long been assured. In fact, those words could have been spoken forty years ago, thanks to her Hall of Fame-worthy career with Ike Turner. But it’s what she’s done since then that really puts her over the top. She overcame a textbook case of a hellish marriage, turning tragedy into triumph. Her solo work has become her signature work, something no Beatle or Supreme could ever say. And for the past twenty years, she’s been in the Guinness Book of Records for selling more concert tickets than any solo artist before or since. Make no mistake: her second trip into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is even more deserving than her first.
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Oct 152021
 

Under the Radar shines a light on lesser-known cover artists. If you’re not listening to these folks, you should. Catch up on past installments here.

Isto

Here’s a great example of how internet rabbit holes work. I wanted to find out if the Broccoli family that produced the James Bond movies was named after the vegetable or the other way around (answer: inconclusive but leaning toward the former). I learned that broccoli was considered a delicacy in America in the early 20th century. Then I remembered the famous New Yorker cartoon. Well, I thought, that explains that, and went to learn more about that. This was where I learned that Irving Berlin wrote a song called “I Say It’s Spinach (And the Hell With It),” so of course I had to go find it on YouTube.

This is how I discovered Isto.


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Aug 262021
 

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

The Velvet Underground

The Velvet Underground are making one of their regular visits to current-events music magazines, what with the Todd Haynes documentary that wowed Cannes and the impending Hal Willner tribute album. Of course, they’ve never left the annals of influence – not since all those few who bought their first album went out and formed bands.

But it’s their third album we’re going to look at today. A complete one-eighty from White Light / White Heat, the album that preceded it, The Velvet Underground saw Lou Reed embracing his inner balladeer, writing and playing slower and so much sweeter. With Doug Yule replacing the singular John Cale, and with Sterling Morrison and Maureen Tucker both as simpatico with bucolic Lou as brusque Lou, the band was more united than ever, and just as powerful in a whole new way. (Quick aside: Happy birthday to Maureen Tucker, who turns 77 today, and a moment of silence for Sterling Morrison, who was born one August 29 and died one August 30.)
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May 202021
 

Under the Radar shines a light on lesser-known cover artists. If you’re not listening to these folks, you should. Catch up on past installments here.

Bob Dylan tribute band

As we’ve talked about before, tribute bands don’t deserve the bad rap they get. There are musicians who love an artist enough to want to play their songs and play them well for an audience, just as there is an audience that loves an artist so much they want to experience their music in a live setting. It’s also a way to separate wheat from chaff – seeing a tribute act can guarantee that you won’t hear Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock ‘n’ Roll” on your night out. On the other hand, maybe you want to see a Seger tribute band that will guarantee you do get to hear it.

With over five hundred songs in his catalog and a fanatical following, Bob Dylan is a prime candidate for the tribute band treatment. As Dennis Bailey, founder of the Bob Band, wrote in his excellent essay about forming a tribute act (he prefers “cover band”), “To me, a Bob Dylan cover band is a genre band, like a blues band or a country band. Bob Dylan is a genre all its own.” So it follows that there are plenty of tribute bands out there ready to salute that genre, whether by playing the music or listening to it. Here’s a sampling of some of those who’ve made it their life’s work to bring Bob Dylan to the masses, whether they’re Bob Dylan or not.
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May 142021
 

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

Cecilia covers

Eddie Simon started it. He was with his brother Paul at the house on Blue Jay Way where George Harrison had been inspired to write the song of that name. Now Art Garfunkel had rented it for a few months, and there were a few festive evenings there in the summer of ’69. One night, Eddie started banging out a rhythm on a piano bench, and it proved so infectious that everyone there joined in, banging along with whatever they could find. They taped the track, and Paul kept returning to its ebullience. When he brought it into the studio, he and producer Roy Halee made a loop of one section, to which Paul added lyrics that literally went from heartbreak to jubilation.

“The whole thing was a piece of fluff,” he later said. “But magical fluff.” Indeed, the song was as sexy as Simon and Garfunkel ever got, and as one biographer later put it, “the song’s thwacking, thumping battery of percussion felt like an ad-hoc group of street-musician drummers pounding away in Central Park.” As Bridge Over Troubled Water‘s third single, the song went top-five in America and remains a classic rock favorite.
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