Over our time tracking cover songs (13 years this month!), we’ve written about hundreds of new tribute albums, across reviews, news stories, and, when they’re good enough, our best-of-the-year lists. We also have looked back on plenty of great tribute albums from the past in our Cover Classics series. But we’ve never pulled it all together – until now.
If you are a fan of Elton John and all of his many reinventions, this is the time of your life. It started in late 2017 when Elton along with Bernie Taupin sponsored a worldwide YouTube contest to reimage videos for three of Elton’s most popular songs, “Bennie and the Jets,” “Rocket Man,” and “Tiny Dancer,. It continued with his announcement that his upcoming three-year tour will be his last. Suffice to say, our eyes and ears will be treated to various projects with the volume turned up to “all Elton, all the time” for the foreseeable future.
Tonight, when the Eagles take the stage in Indianapolis for the start of their 2018 tour, they will be joined by country crooner Vince Gill to fill the void left by the death of Glenn Frey. Those who have followed Gill’s career know that his journey to Eagles-dom began in 1993. That year, he recorded a cover of “I Can’t Tell You Why,” for the triple-platinum covers album Common Thread: The Songs of the Eagles. The album, which will mark its 25th anniversary this fall, was such a commercial success upon its release that it played a major role in reuniting the band.
In the early ‘90s, despite having not played live or recorded in over a decade, the Eagles were as popular as they had ever been. The band’s music dominated classic rock radio. Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) was on its way to becoming the best-selling album of the 20th century in the U.S. And most of the music coming out of Nashville sounded, well, a lot like the Eagles.
To capitalize on the group’s popularity amongst the boots-and-spurs set, Don Henley and Eagles’ manager Irving Azoff organized the tribute album as a fundraiser for Henley’s environmental charity The Walden Woods Project. To serve as executive producer, Azoff and Henley tapped James Stroud who assembled many of the hottest country stars of the era. “Everybody wanted in,” Stroud told Entertainment Weekly. “Once we started, the phones lit up.”
Common Thread was to Music Row in 1993 what Law & Order was to the New York branch of the Actors Equity Association: a full-fledged jobs program. The album featured 10 solo artists, two bands and one duo. More than 70 musicians and backup singers are directly credited as well as an orchestra called the Nashville String Machine. On the production side, 14 people were listed as producers or co-producers, including Stroud and two of the artists themselves: Suzy Bogguss, who produced her version of “Take It To the Limit;” and Billy Dean, who co-produced his rendition of “Saturday Night.” There were also 25 people listed as engineers, assistant engineers or mixers and seven production assistants.