Apr 212017
 

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

new sell out

It couldn’t miss – a music genre’s Who’s Who paying tribute to the Who.

These were some of the biggest names in the power-pop world (a small underground world, granted, but one with a truly devoted population) taking on The Who Sell Out, the band’s concept album that saluted pirate radio and served as a bridge to the world of Tommy. Like the original album, the tribute would feature fake commercials and promos – “every word, every chunk, in order,” said Keith Klingensmith, the head of Detroit indie label Futureman Records. “My partner, Rick McBrien, and I had this idea for a while now, and we knew we would never get another compilation idea this good, so we decided to do it ourselves.”

The power pop intelligentsia waited for the album’s release with bated breath and more than a little drool. And waited. And waited…
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Mar 102017
 

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

Scratch_My_Back

Until 2010’s Scratch My Back appeared, Peter Gabriel had been an artist more covered than covering – arguably a pity, given the cracked wistfulness of his croaky beauty. But I guess if you can write material of the quality and diversity that he has, why bother with someone else’s material? The problem was, Gabriel hadn’t been writing that kind of material – this was his first album in eight years.

So was Scratch My Back just, as covers projects can so often be, a stopgap sales pitch to keep his brand alive during a creative lull? Who knows? I think not and hope not, feeling this a deliberate if somewhat failed experiment on two levels. Flawed, maybe, rather than failed.
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Feb 032017
 

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

Rutles+Highway+Revisited

Until such time as a record company can be persuaded to put together a Spinal Tap tribute album (and really, how did that never happen?), the award for Best Tribute Album To A Fictional Band has to go to Rutles Highway Revisited. The Rutles were a takeoff on the Beatles with songs written by Neil Innes that were SO close to the originals that Innes now has to share royalties with Lennon and McCartney. They had a brilliant (and little-seen at the time) TV special with many Saturday Night Live members and a few quality musicians (including a heavily disguised George Harrison). The Shimmy Disc label saluted the band in 1990 with an album designed mostly to promote the label’s frequently eccentric artists, but with such cheerful pastiches to work with, the hits-to-misses ratio was pretty darn good.
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Nov 252016
 

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

Come Together Black America

Tony Rounce, the guy at Ace Records who compiled Come Together: Black America Sings Lennon & McCartney, had an easier job than most people who put together tribute albums. For one, this wasn’t an album that required all-new recordings by current bands; Rounce got to cherry-pick the best of the best from the ’60s and ’70s. For another, when the greatest songwriting team in the history of rock and roll is being interpreted by the likes of Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, and Little Richard, it’s going to be hard not to put together an excellent product.
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Oct 092016
 

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

john-lennon-rock-n-roll

By the time he recorded Rock ‘n’ Roll, John Lennon had been through quite a lot. From the dissolution of the Beatles to the fracturing of his marriage to the ever-present threat of deportation, he clearly had a great deal weighing on him. It was during this same time that he embarked on his legendary “lost weekend” in Los Angeles while estranged from Yoko Ono. Tearing through the city with drinking pal Harry Nilsson, Lennon seemed to fully embrace his chaotic path of self-destruction. While he would eventually come around enough to bring himself out of his increasingly fraught downward spiral, there was a clear spiritual line of demarcation between what came before and what was cut tragically short just a few years later.

It is within this self-reflective/post-self-destructive climate that Lennon embarked on the sessions that would produce Rock ‘n’ Roll. Not only would it represent a return to the music that inspired him in the first place, it also served as a swan song/love letter to fans, as he would, for all intents and purposes, retire from music and the public eye for the next half decade to concentrate on being a father to his son Sean. Because of this, there’s a heavy air of nostalgia at play. From the cover image (John in 1961 Hamburg, with a blurred Paul, George, and Stu Sutcliffe walking past him) down to the track listing, Rock ‘n’ Roll represents something of a mid-life reanalysis of self for the erstwhile Beatle. By returning to his roots, he was able to reassess his own position within and feelings toward the world of pop music.
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Aug 192016
 

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

sketch10

With Out of Time, R.E.M. completed their transition from college band to global stardom, and they wanted their next album to move away from Time‘s gentle lushness and move into harder-rocking territory, more suited to the grunge-y times. But when the band members reconvened, they found they were no longer of a mind to write loud ‘n’ angry. Result: Automatic for the People, a meditation on loss that’s downbeat without being depressing, from a band turning away from a world begging to be conquered so it could consider its disquiet. The record wasn’t what they originally promised, but it didn’t disappoint either – it went top-five worldwide, and today it’s considered the band’s masterpiece, the kind of album you put on and then you just lie down and you let it engulf you (or so it is said).

“Every one of its 12 songs is worthy of attention,” MOJO said, and in 2007 the website Stereogum proved it with their tribute album Drive XV: A Tribute to Automatic for the People. A celebration of Automatic‘s 15th anniversary, the tribute featured artists who grew up with R.E.M. as a constant in their lives, and hearing that familiar band speaking with a new voice clearly made an impression on these musicians who were still discovering their own voices and the ways they could be raised.
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