Dec 142020
 

Follow all our Best of 2020 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.

best tribute albums 2020

It’s hard not to look at everything in 2020 through the mirror of the pandemic, and a few of the records on our list can be traced directly to it. One artist used her time in lockdown to cover every song on Radiohead’s The Bends, while another did the same thing with Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. An indie label pulled together a tribute to one of the many great artists tragically taken by this goddamn virus, Fountains of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger. Hal Willner’s long-in-the-works T. Rex tribute album wasn’t supposed to have anything to do with current events, but Willner, too, died of COVID-19 in the spring.

That being said, the majority of the albums on our list have nothing to do with the news. Any year’s a good year for covering obscure Neil Young songs. And if you want to try to tie 28 different bands covering Blink-182’s “Dammit” to 2020, good luck. Even the klezmer-cabaret artist who recorded an album covering the recently deceased released it March 13, just before she’d unfortunately have many more names to add to her list.

In a way though, the whole concept of the covers record is appropriate for a bleak year. They’re all about paying tribute in some way or another, lifting up influences or even guilty pleasures, honoring those that came before. You can listen to these through that prism if you like. Or you can just take a break from thinking about such things and listen to 28 covers of “Dammit.”

– Ray Padgett, Editor-in-Chief

The list starts on the next page…

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Jun 292020
 

Saving for a Custom Vanjenn champion the blue album

Adam Schlesinger died on April 1st from COVID-19 complications. Not even three months later, “collaborators, tourmates, friends, and fans” put together Saving for a Custom Van, an extensive tribute album spanning songs from his varied career. Schlesinger is best known for being a founding member of Fountains of Wayne, but he also was in the more indie band Ivy and the supergroup Tinted Windows (with members from Hanson, Cheap Trick, and The Smashing Pumpkins). He also wrote songs for a variety of movies (Music & Lyrics, That Thing You Do!, Josie and the Pussycats), television shows (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend), and Broadway (the postponed show, The Bedwetter) that also make an appearance on this tribute album.

The resulting collage of covers is heartfelt and plays like a personal mix tape of sorts. This makes it hard to pass any judgment. Overall, it is a powerful homage that also educates listeners on the history of Schelsinger’s work. In the sad context of the album, lyrics stand out as especially poignant, from the sad irony of “All Kinds of Time” to the evergreen “Troubled Times.”

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May 162020
 

‘The Best Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

britney spears covers

Last year, Rob Sheffield called 1999 “the year music exploded, the year when nothing made any damn sense, the year fans had to throw out any old-school rules for how pop worked.” If that’s true, then 2000 was the year when those new trends became the accepted norm. Back in January, we looked at covers of one of the year’s defining phenomenons – boy bands – and this month was tackle another: Britney, a pop supernova so massive she didn’t need a last name.

Her sophomore album Oops!… I Did It Again came out 20 years ago today, setting the record for the highest debut-week album sales by a female artist (it held for 15 years, until Adele’s 25). Though Spears was primarily a singles artist, her albums sold so much that even the deep cuts wormed their way into millions of teenage brains. When we compiled this list, I was pleasantly surprised it wasn’t just the half-dozen biggest hits being covered. Those songs got covered plenty, and still do (our number-four best cover of 2019 was a “Baby One More Time” – not a bad lifespan for a song written by a Swede whose grasp of English was a little rough), but musicians also dig into the album tracks and the singles that flopped.

Spears has shifted into the Vegas-residency stage of her career in recent years (not to mention Instagram star and cause-celebre hashtag). But even if she doesn’t have any more world-conquering hits in her, other artists are keeping her songs alive. Of the thousands of covers out there, here are the 25 best.

The list begins on Page 2.

May 062020
 
quarantine covers
Alt-J, Grouplove, more – Shelter from the Storm (Bob Dylan cover)

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Aug 262016
 

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.

hem

Writing an “Under the Radar” piece inevitably forces the writer to address the elephant in the room: Why is an artist you like enough to spend time researching and crafting a piece about considered to be “Under the Radar” by the vast majority of people? Hem, a band that formed in 2002 and sporadically released music until last year, would seem to have had so many advantages – intelligent songwriting, fine musicianship, a distinctive sound and, maybe most importantly, a lead vocalist with a scarily gorgeous voice. Seven of their songs were used in national commercials for Liberty Mutual Insurance, a classic Christmas cover was used in an ad for Tiffany’s, and other songs have appeared in television shows. They created music, which was well received by The New York Times, for a production of Twelfth Night for New York’s legendary Shakespeare In The Park program, featuring Anne Hathaway, Audra McDonald and Hamish Linklater. They were touted by outlets as diverse as NPR and Entertainment Weekly. Yet it appears that radar just doesn’t pick them up.
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