Dec 092016
 

Follow all our Best of 2016 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.

tribute records

We’ve done a Best Cover Albums list every year since 2009. That list usually ends up being a reasonably even mix of various-artist tributes and single-artist records. But in all those lists, our number-one pick has been, without fail, a single-artist album (for those keeping score at home, we’ve awarded The Lemonheads, Peter Gabriel, Baaba Kulka, Neil Young and Crazyhorse, Xiu Xiu, Andrew Bird, and Bob Dylan – who didn’t turn up to accept our prize either).

This single-artist streak is no coincidence. It is naturally easier for one artist, if he/she/they are good enough, to maintain consistent quality control over 10 or 15 tracks. Whereas even the best mixed-artist tribute records usually have one or two dud tracks. Take the National-curated Day of the Dead, certainly this year’s highest-profile tribute album. Some of these Grateful Dead covers were so good they’ll appear on next week’s Best Cover Songs of 2016 list. Many others were dreck, filler, or superfluous. So we ranked the record – spoiler alert – at #20, sort of an honorable-mention position.

Even various-artist tributes comprised of uniformly good covers typically don’t add up to more than the sum of their parts. For example, we ranked MOJO Magazine’s Blonde on Blonde tribute pretty high this year because we liked just about every one of the Bob Dylan covers on offer. But there’s little common ground between an aggressive electronic “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” and a tender folk “I Want You.” The record is more a bunch of great cover-song fodder for mixes and playlists than a truly great and unified album.

I sound like I’m being critical, but again, these are among the best cover albums of the year. This is usually the most a various-artist tribute album can aspire to: more good covers, few bad ones.

But this year, for the first time in our eight years making these lists, a various-artist tribute album rose so all the way to the top. This album was not only good top to bottom, but it felt like a real album, not just a collection of covers. It ably walked the finest of lines: showcasing diverse approaches to the source material while just remaining cohesive enough to stand together as a complete listen.

I don’t want to give away what that number-one album is just yet. We’ll get there, and there’s already enough of a tendency with year-end lists to skip straight to #1 and ignore the rest. I no doubt have not helped by hyping this magical album that broke our eight-year streak. But every one of the twenty albums we picked offers something worth hearing.

We’ve got jazz-sax forays through prog-rock and twee-pop covers of vintage punk tunes. There’s a ’60s New York icon honoring her then-competitors in the British Invasion, and a band from that same British Invasion honoring their American inspirations. There are tributes to great musicians who died this year, and tributes to long-dead musicians who there’s no news hook for honoring now, just great songs.

This list itself is as “various artists” as it can get, a whole array of genres and styles with one common thread: musicians honoring their inspirations and influences. Let’s dig in.

– Ray Padgett, Editor-in-Chief

Start the countdown on the next page…

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Aug 052015
 
ramonesweek

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

rocket-to-russia

Now, this’ll be a straight walk-off, old school rules. First model walks; second model duplicates, then elaborates. – David Bowie, Zoolander

If Ramones was the Ramones setting the pace, and Leave Home was them duplicating it, then Rocket to Russia was the moment where the Ramones refined their musical approach to an absolute peak. They had perfected their loud fast rules, and were able to expand on them without abandoning them. They varied their tempos, landing hooks with their slow songs just as easily as with their fast ones. They sounded better than ever, with a production budget nearly twice as much as that of their first two albums combined. And they did two cover songs instead of their usual one.
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Jun 202015
 

They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with other people singing his or her songs. Let others do the work for a while. Happy birthday!

It’s a good time to be Brian Wilson. Earlier this spring, he released No Pier Pressure, his first album of new material in seven years. He is currently touring with Rodriguez, of Searching for Sugar Man (finally-)fame. Love & Mercy, the biopic featuring Paul Dano and John Cusack as different-era Brians, has been getting rave reviews. He’s not Mike Love. And today is his birthday.
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May 092014
 

They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with other people singing his or her songs. Let others do the work for a while. Happy birthday!

As of today, Billy Joel is eligible for Social Security. So, now that his money woes are assuredly a thing of the past, let’s get to celebrating his 65th birthday in the accomplished style he really and truly deserves.
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Jul 282011
 

The loss of Amy Winehouse has startled and saddened music lovers all across the world. As the renegade of rock and soul her influence permeates into every genre and her brazen vulnerability into everyone’s hearts. Never has a singer sung with such admittance and transparency. In each song Amy confessed to what was so obviously on her sleeve. Addiction, heartbreak, self-inflicted abuse, and the resistance to rehab. Continue reading »