The notion of a tribute is appalling to many and intriguing to a few. Most of these things come off as nothing more than a bunch of cover bands hacking up the hits. Most of the time you can just as well as go to the local dive bar to listen to crappy versions of good songs. Many times these tribute albums are done as a fundraiser for some well-deserving charity. But, much of the time, it is simply a ploy by a small record company in an attempt to hype their roster of talented artists (my apologies Bruce B!) or a crass attempt to revive interest in a fading artist. Still, occasionally, magic will strike, and we will be given a brilliant album of cover songs.
There are two types of tribute albums. The first is when one artist tackles the songs of a beloved artist, album or era of songs. A famous example of the first type of tribute album is Jennifer Warnes’ brilliant late-Eighties album of Leonard Cohen songs entitled Famous Blue Raincoat. For some reason, this album introduced many people my age to the wonderfully dark world of recent Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Leonard Cohen.
An example of the second type of tribute album is when The Smithereens released their 2009 album, The Smithereens Play ‘Tommy’, their tribute to The Who’s Tommy album or whenever Phish does their Halloween concerts during which the band dons a musical costume in the form of an album. In the past, Phish have played, recorded and released these concerts during which they have covered among many others Little Feat’s Waiting for Columbus, Remain in Light by Talking Heads and The Beatles’ White Album.
The last example of a tribute album by a single artist is when the artist covers songs from a particular era in musical history. The best examples are when Rod Stewart (his Songs from the Great American Songbook series), Bob Dylan (2015’s Shadows in the Night and 2016’s Fallen Angels) and Willie Nelson (his widely acclaimed late-Seventies album Stardust) have all made albums in which they recorded songs from “The Great American Songbook”. On these albums, each artist covered songs that which made famous in the 1920s through the 1950s.
And, then, there are those tribute albums which were compilations of songs by an eclectic group of artists covering a more famous artist’s songs or albums. The compilation albums of an artist’s songs include the tribute album to KISS from the mid-Nineties called Kiss My Ass: Classic Kiss Re-grooved or the vastly popular country artist tribute album to the Eagles from the same time period entitled Common Thread: The Songs of the Eagles. The success of both albums resulted those bands reforming to great fanfare and tour success.
The more difficult tribute album to pull off is the famous album’s songs being covered by different artists. Although this type has not been attempt much, you can discover many examples included with various rock magazines, particularly those produced in the U.K. Not too long ago, a power pop label gathered some artists together in order for the artists to record a song found on The Who’s The Who Sell Out album. Although many of the artists are unknown to the general public, this album was successful as an artistic statement. This album can be found on the Bandcamp website (bandcamp.com), which is full of new artists selling their music, and is entitle The New Sell Out. I only have an electronic copy of that one, but I guess I could order a hard copy if I was motivated to do so.
Below is my lists of my favorite tribute albums. I have separate lists for albums by one artist and multi-artists albums.
My Favorite Single Artist Tribute Albums
- Erasure – Abba-esque (1992) [Abba]
- Jennifer Warnes – Famous Blue Raincoat (1987) [Leonard Cohen]
- P. Hux – Homemade Spaceship: The Music of ELO Performed by P. Hux (2005) [Electric Light Orchestra)
- Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs – Under the Covers, Vol. 1 (2006) [Music from the ’60s]; Vol. 2 (2009) [Music from the ’70s]; Vol. 3 (2014) [Music from the ’80s]
- Cheap Trick – Sgt. Pepper Live (2009) [The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band]
- Phish – Live Phish: 1996-OCT-31 The Omni (1996) [Talking Heads’ Remain in Light]
- Phish – Live Phish: 2010-OCT-31 Atlantic City (2010) [Little Feat’s Waiting for Columbus]
- Rush – Feedback (2004) [’60s Classic Rock Songs]
- Ciccone Youth – Whitey Album (1988) [Madonna]
- Ryan Adams – 1989 (2015) [Taylor Swift’s 1989]
- Dump – That Skinny Motherf***ker with the High Voice (2001) [Prince]
Various Artist Tribute Albums
- Endless Highway: The Music of The Band (2007)
- Right to Chews: Bubblegum Classics Revisited
- Drink a Toast to Innocence: A Tribute to Lite Rock (2013)
- Never Surrender: A Cheap Trick Tribute (2015)
- Two Rooms: Celebrating the Music of Elton John and Bernie Taupin
- Enconium – A Tribute to Led Zeppelin (1995)
- Enjoy Every Sandwich: The Songs of Warren Zevon (2004)
- Beyond Belief: A Tribute to Elvis Costello (2014)
- The Music Is You (A Tribute to John Denver) (2013)
- Substitution Mass Confusion: A Tribute to the Cars
- What the World Needs Now: Big Deal Recording Artists Perform the Songs of Burt Bacharach
There are so many others that I could have mentioned, but this blog is long enough. At least I hope you will search out some of these albums to try some of the music on them. Not all tribute albums are crappy!