Oct 052020

Go back to the beginning

Spiders From Venus: Women Cover David Bowie

This third tribute album from the Skipping Discs label is a play on the name of David Bowie’s band in the early 70s, Spiders from Mars, and brings us David Bowie covers by women. “Boys Keep Swinging” stands out as benefitting the most from the gender reversal. Bowie’s version is chipper, while Aspyg’s version is sardonic. 

Songs like “Hallo Spaceboy” and “I’m Afraid of Americans” get amped up with harder rock interpretations. The latter hits especially hard these days. But, lest you think this album only contains angsty covers, Ce Ce Zen contributes a somber, synth-turned-piano ballad with “As the World Falls Down,” and Astrid Young’s “Modern Love” flips the original’s upbeat nature to reveal a newfound yearning.

The contributors with the most name recognition now are Tegan and Sara, but when this album was released in 2003, they hadn’t yet hit the mainstream. Their “Rebel Rebel” cover is a feel-good standard. – Sara Stoudt

Best cover: Aspyg, “Boys Keep Swinging”
Worst cover: Essra Mohawk, “Golden Years”

Sticky Soul Fingers: A Rolling Stones Tribute

People don’t tend to think of the Rolling Stones as a soul band, but maybe they should. Over the last six decades, the Stones have covered the likes of Marvin Gaye, Solomon Burke, and Don Covay, while occasionally coming up with stellar soul tunes of their own; “Fool to Cry,” “If You Really Want to Be My Friend,” and “Tops” are prime examples. Given this long history with the genre – which also included a long association with the great Billy Preston – it’s not surprising that they would be the subject of a full-length soul tribute album.

Right from Alice Russell’s incredibly catchy reworking of the timeless “Brown Sugar,” you know that you’re in for a treat. This leads into Black Joe & The Honeybears’ intense reading of “Sway,” before Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings take us deep into soul country with a transformed “Wild Horses.” The Bamboos’ “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,” meanwhile, sticks close to the original, although it’s amazing how much of a difference is made by transposing Keith Richards’ guitar riff to the horn section.

The Stones’ blues cover “You Gotta Move” gets a full soul makeover courtesy of Naomi Shelton & The Gospel Queens, before Aloe Blacc and Joel Van Dijk slow things down with a haunting version of “I Got the Blues.” This would be the album’s standout track…if it weren’t for the jaw dropping “Sister Morphine” by Ren Harvieu that follows immediately afterwards.

Anthony Joseph & The Spasm Band lighten the mood with a funky “Dead Flowers”‘ before Lee Fields’ “Moonlight Mile” takes us home with its dreamy, night-time-on-a-plane atmosphere. Only the bonus track, Beta Hector’s “Angie,” sits a little awkwardly with the rest of the material. Otherwise, Sticky Soul Fingers is finger-lickin’ good. – Tim Edgeworth

Best cover: Ren Harvieu, “Sister Morphine”
Worst cover: Beta Hector, “Angie”

Take Me Home: A Tribute to John Denver

As gifted a performer as John Denver was, Take Me Home reveals that his truest gift was his songwriting. The performances here reveal that Denver was a man who knew about pain and solitude, and who wrote about both very well. It’s a revelation that Denver long deserved, and if it wasn’t for this album, he might still not be getting his due to this day. Few tribute albums have had that strong an effect on how an artist is perceived, but Take Me Home forever shifted the way people listen to its subject.  I’ll stand on a rocky mountain high and call this downcast collection one of the greatest tribute albums ever made. – Patrick Robbins

Best cover: Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, “The Eagle and the Hawk”
Worst cover: Hannah Marcus, “Looking for Space”

Tegan and Sara Present The Con X: Covers

Tegan and Sara were starting to get attention after previous album So Jealous, but The Con solidified their place in the public ear. This tribute album celebrates the album’s 10th anniversary with proceeds going towards the Tegan and Sara Foundation that supports LGBTQ+ women and girls.

The Con is an emotional album, and what I love most about this cover album version is that the loud songs are made soft, and the soft songs are made loud. The original “Burn Your Life Down” is fairly upbeat given the lyrical content, but Bleachers’ version is quiet, almost whispered. Songs like “Relief Next to Me” and “Call It Off,” that are originally sparser, get more background instrumentation in the cover versions.

The back half of the album is strongest, and Hayley Williams’s “Nineteen” is a clear peak. You’ll feel it in your legs before you even hear it. Accompanied by only a simple synth, Williams’ emotional delivery foreshadows her Petals for Armor style, honest and evocative. – Sara Stoudt

Best cover: Hayley Williams, “Nineteen”
Worst cover: Mykki Blanco, “Knife Going In”

A Tribute to Joni Mitchell

This tribute set was released in 2007, and focuses mostly on Mitchell’s early 70s catalog. The Hissing of Summer Lawns and Blue are well represented, each with three songs selected for the compilation. Court and Spark is here as well, with two songs in the mix. Don Juan’s Reckless DaughterFor the Roses and Ladies of the Canyon have one song each, as does the lone timeframe anomaly, 1994’s Turbulent Indigo.

The talent roster is impressive. Sufjan Stevens gives us a lively take of “Free Man in Paris,” Björk does a  fine version of “The Boho Dance,” and Prince remakes “A Case of You” into “A Case of U,” a piano-forward version that retains the emotional gravitas of the original without coming off as quite so dirge-like. Sarah McLachlan, Annie Lennox, Elvis Costello, James Taylor, and others offer up their own homages, mostly successfully. The best track is k.d. lang’s “Help Me,” arguably the record’s most familiar inclusion, with Emmylou Harris’ “Magdalene Laundries” a very close second. In each of these versions the singers manage to capture some of Mitchell’s own vocal nuances, without resorting to full-on impersonation. This affords them more emotional gravitas, and actually highlights what an important part of her music Joni’s voice really was. A fine tribute to a Canadian treasure. – Adam Mason

Best cover: k.d. lang, “Help Me”
Worst cover: Brad Mehldau, “Don’t Interrupt the Sorrow”

Twistable, Turnable Man: A Musical Tribute to the Songs of Shel Silverstein

As a fellow Sara(h) Stou(d)t who is also not a huge fan of taking the garbage out, I’ve been a fan of Shel Silverstein as a poet for awhile. However, I did not know he was so connected to the music industry. This tribute album pays homage to both the poet and songwriter, revealing that he indeed wrote popular songs like “A Boy Named Sue,” “The Cover of the Rolling Stone,” and many songs performed by Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show. 

One of these Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show songs, “Queen of the Silver Dollar,” gets reimagined here by Sarah Jarosz and Black Prairie. Their version doubles down on the folk themes and adds plenty of twang to the Queen’s story, from fiddle to harmonica to banjo.

The album is an eclectic mix, bouncing from big names like John Prine to a family affair of Bobby Bare, Bobby Bare Jr., and Isabella Bare (“Daddy What If” will melt your heart). When heard along with some of Silverstein’s poems for children in song form, like “Twistable, Turnable, Man” it becomes more clear that the storytelling aspect of “A Boy Named Sue” fits in with Silverstein’s repertoire. – Sara Stoudt

Best cover: Sarah Jarosz and Black Prairie, “Queen of the Silver Dollar”
Worst cover: Nanci Griffith, “The Giving Tree”

Two Rooms: Celebrating the Songs of Elton John & Bernie Taupin

The list of performers on the 1991 tribute album Two Rooms reads like a who’s who of Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees. Nine of the sixteen artists on the album eventually made their way to the rock hall. With such an impressive batch of performers, debates about the best track could be just as heated as arguments about the merits of inclusion in the hall itself. Say, why has Jon Bon Jovi (who performs “Levon”) been inducted, but not Joe Cocker (who covers “Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word”)?

Standouts include The Who’s hard-rocking take of “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” and Phil Collins’ spirited rendition of “Burn Down the Mission.” Even the Beach Boys’ cheesy reworking of the nostalgia-fueled “Crocodile Rock” is a fun, guilty-pleasure listen. In my view, the strongest cover is Daryl Hall and John Oates’ take on “Philadelphia Freedom.” The dynamic duo delivers a spirited tribute to their hometown, blending elements of synth pop with their own brand of blue-eyed soul. – Curtis Zimmermann

Best cover: Daryl Hall and John Oates, “Philadelphia Freedom” 
Worst cover: Wilson Phillips, “Daniel”  

Veggie Rocks! (The Music of VeggieTales)

Continuing my love of children’s music reworked by adult contemporary artists, 12 Christian pop and rock bands contributed a track to this cover album of songs from the children’s TV show VeggieTales. While researching this piece, I discovered that one of the best tracks on the album is actually an original – Newsboys’ “In the Belly of the Whale” – which excludes it from our best track declaration. However, there is more to make up for it (not including “Promised Land” by Sanctus Real), such as “I Can Be Your Friend” by the OC Supertones, which turns a humble song of friendship into a pop-punk-ska banger. – Brendan Shanahan

Best cover: The OC Supertones, “I Can Be Your Friend”
Worst cover: Sanctus Real, “Promised Land”


One of the most recent tribute albums on this list is the 2019 Wilco covers set called, naturally, Wilcovered. Like a few of the others here, it was pulled together by a British music magazine – Uncut, in this case. This is one of the most impressive examples in years, getting indie faves like Courtney Barnett, Kurt Vile, and Sharon Van Etten to cover Wilco deep cuts and (relatively speaking) hits. True to the band itself, the covers get experimental, from Ryley Walker’s trippy “Love Is Everywhere (Beware)” to Puss N Boots’ country stomper “Jesus, Etc.” to Ohmme’s poppy version of a song Wilco never put on their own album, “Kicking Television.” The one downside of these British magazine tributes is that they are hard to come by. Luckily, it was just re-released for Record Store Day. – Ray Padgett

Best cover: Ohmme, “Kicking Television” [not streaming]
Worst cover: Twin Peaks, “Spiders (Kidsmoke)”

שירים משומשים: פרשנויות בעברית לשירי טום ווייטס

For those of you who don’t speak Hebrew, I’ll let Google Translate take a crack at the title: Used Songs: Hebrew Interpretations of Tom Waits Songs. Yes, these are 22 Hebrew-language covers of songs from across Waits’ catalog, from the very early (“Martha”) to the relatively recent (“Lie to Me”). Though Waits is not Jewish, the crossover makes sense since he has drawn from Klezmer music in some of his work, recent concerts especially. I can’t read the liner notes to tell you more about the concept or artists, but the music holds up on its own, whether or not you can understand the words. – Ray Padgett

Best cover: Einav Jackson Cohen & Iddo Sternberg, “Teshakri li (Lie to Me)”
Worst cover: Haya Miller, “Geshem red (Make It Rain)”

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PS. Want more? How about some honorable mentions:
Achtung Baby Covered
Amarcord Nino Rota (I Remember Nino Rota)
Bad Scene, Everyone’s Fault: Jawbreaker Tribute
Beautiful: A Tribute to Gordon Lightfoot
Big Star Small World
Blues on Blonde on Blonde
A Blues Tribute To Creedence Clearwater Revival
Bob Dylan in the 80s: Volume One
A Case For Case: A Tribute To The Songs Of Peter Case
Come and Get It: A Tribute to Badfinger
Country Goes Raffi 
Days Full Of Rain: A Portland Tribute to Townes Van Zandt
Dig For Fire: A Tribute To Pixies
Do It Again: A Tribute To Pet Sounds
Do Me Baby: Austin Does Prince
Exit Music: Songs For Radioheads
Farewell Transmission: The Music of Jason Molina
For The Love Of Harry: Everybody Sings Nilsson
From the Land of the Ice and Snow: The Songs of Led Zeppelin
Gazing With Tranquility: A Tribute To Donovan
Gentle Giants: The Songs Of Don Williams
Gigantic: A Tribute to Kim Deal
God Don’t Never Change: The Songs of Blind Willie Johnson
Goin’ Driftless; a Tribute to Greg Brown
Great Jewish Music: Serge Gainsbourg
Green Leaves: Nick Drake Covered
Hadde Månen En Søster – Cohen På Norsk
Harvest Revisited
Headed for the Ditch: A Michigan Tribute to Neil Young
Heaven & Hell: A Tribute To The Velvet Underground (Volume Three)
Highway 61 Revisited – Revisited
How Soon Is Now?: The Songs of The Smiths By…
I’m Not There (Original Soundtrack)
Indie Translations of The White Stripes
Johnny Boy Would Love This: A Tribute to John Martyn
Johnny’s Blues: A Tribute to Johnny Cash
Joy of Living: A Tribute to Ewan MacColl
Just Tell Me That You Want Me: A Tribute To Fleetwood Mac
Keep Your Soul: A Tribute To Doug Sahm
Kindred Spirits: A Tribute to the Songs of Johnny Cash
King of the Road: A Tribute to Roger Miller
The Last Temptation of Elvis
The Late Great Daniel Johnston: Discovered Covered
Legacy: A Tribute To Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours
Let All The Children Boogie: A Tribute To David Bowie
Let It Be Revisited
The Life & Songs Of Emmylou Harris: An All-Star Concert Celebration
Look Again to the Wind: Johnny Cash’s Bitter Tears Revisited
Lost In The Stars: The Music of Kurt Weill
Loving Takes This Course: A Tribute To The Songs Of Kath Bloom
Mama’s Hungry Eyes: A Tribute To Merle Haggard
Master Mix: Red Hot + Arthur Russell
Monsieur Gainsbourg Revisited
More Barn: A Tribute To Neil Young
New Tales To Tell: A Tribute To Love And Rockets
No Prima Donna: The Songs Of Van Morrison
A Nod To Bob: An Artists’ Tribute to Bob Dylan
Oh, Michael, Look What You’ve Done: Friends Play Michael Chapman
OKX: A Tribute To OK Computer
One Way: The Songs of Larry Norman
Paint It Black: An Alt Country Tribute To The Rolling Stones
Paper Bag Records: True Blue
Perfect as Cats: A Tribute to the Cure
Pet Sounds Revisited
Play Some Pool, Skip Some School, Act Real Cool: A Global Pop Tribute To Bruce Springsteen
Please, Please, Please: A Tribute To The Smiths
Poet: A Tribute to Townes Van Zandt
Red Hot + Blue: A Tribute to Cole Porter
Return of the Grievous Angel: A Tribute to Gram Parsons
Revolver Revisited
Sail Away: The Songs of Randy Newman
The Sandinista Project: A Tribute To The Clash
Seven Swans Reimagined
Sgt. Pepper Knew My Father
Shangri-La: A Tribute To The Kinks
Shockadelica: 50th Anniversary Tribute To The Artist Known As Prince
Sing a Song for You: Tribute to Tim Buckley
Songs from the Neighborhood: The Music of Mister Rogers
Spirit Of Talk Talk
Step Right Up: The Songs of Tom Waits
STROKED: A Tribute To Is This It
Stoned: A Psych Tribute to the Rolling Stones
Subterranean Homesick Blues: A Tribute to Bob Dylan’s ‘Bringing It All Back Home’
Sweet Relief: A Benefit for Victoria Williams
Sweet Relief II: Gravity of the Situation (The Songs of Vic Chesnutt)
Tease Torment Tantalize: A 30th Anniversary Tribute to the Smiths’ Debut
This Is the Town: A Tribute to Nilsson, Volume 1
This Is Where I Belong: The Songs Of Ray Davies & The Kinks
Till the Night Is Gone: A Tribute to Doc Pomus
Time Between: A Tribute to The Byrds
Total Lee: The Songs of Lee Hazlewood
Tower Of Song: The Songs Of Leonard Cohen
Treasure of the Broken Land: The Songs of Mark Heard
Tri Angle Records presents: Let Me Shine For You
A Tribute To Curtis Mayfield
Turban Renewal: A Tribute To Sam The Sham And The Pharaohs
Us and Them: A Delicate Saucerful of Pink Floyd Covers
We Were So Turned On: A Tribute to David Bowie
We Will Fall: The Iggy Pop Tribute
We’re a Happy Family: A Tribute to The Ramones
Weird Nightmare: Meditations on Mingus
When the Wind Blows: The Songs of Townes Van Zandt
Where Is My Mind?: A Tribute to Pixies
Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye: A Tribute to Roky Erickson
White Riot, Volume 1: A Tribute to The Clash
Whore: Various Artists Play Wire
Wig in a Box: Songs From and Inspired by Hedwig and the Angry Inch

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  12 Responses to “The 50 Best Tribute Albums Ever”

Comments (12)
  1. Virus 100, for me. Some five-star songs on that one, like Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy and Sepultura.

    • It’s way too uneven, in my opinion – there’s a bunch of stuff that I just kinda slide past.
      That said, I’ll definitely also agree that some of those tracks are ABSOLUTELY essential. (Dat Evan Johns track, and GOOD GOD YEAH, that Disposable Heroes track is even HARDER now.)

  2. What about Lemme take you to the beach, Zappa goes surfin’

  3. Let us not forget…

    To Cry You A Song – A Collection Of Tull Tales

    Magellan do a storming version of Aqualung and Roy Harper sings Up The ‘Pool

  4. Congrats for this marvelous list. I only miss the tribute to Police made by various Latin Artists entitled Outlandos d America

    Here is link https://www.discogs.com/pt_BR/Various-Outlandos-DAmericas-Tributo-A-Police-A-Tribute-To-The-Police/release/8519675

  5. Jennifer Warnes’ groundbreaking Famous Blue Raincoat is a glaring omission.

  6. Fantastic list, though I still think Eggbert’s MELODY FAIR deserves a spot. WIG IN A BOX is due for a re-release, not least because I need to hear Frank Black’s “Sugar Daddy” again…

  7. Great job, Cover Me team! Thank you! There are some well-worn favorites here, but also many I’d never heard of and am now inspired to track down …

  8. I know it was in the Honorable Mentions list, but I gotta put “Where the Pyramyd Meets the Eye” higher – it’s an all-killer-no-filler collection of tracks.

    (I’m also incredibly fond of “Last Temptation of Elvis”, but I’ll certainly concede that it’s got its fair share of stumbles. But lordy, there’s some great stuff on there, and that Nancy Griffith “Wooden Heart” is just LOVELY.)

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