14 Cover Albums Worth Another Listen - Part One
14 Cover Albums Worth Another Listen - Part One
With the news Miley Cyrus will be releasing a Metallica covers album in 2021, it seems like a good time to take stock of which artists have previously turned in a decent collection of covers. Cover songs are strange beasts: get them right and they’ll one day overshadow the original recordings (hello Jeff Buckley and Johnny Cash), get them wrong and you’ll be laughed out of town (crooner Pat Boone’s 1997 collection of metal covers). So whose cover collections are worthy of another look? Here are 14 albums that don’t stink up the vinyl shelf…
1. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Kicking Against The Pricks
Originally called Head On A Platter before reverting to a title lifted from Acts, Chapter 26, recordings for Kicking Against The Pricks began in Melbourne in 1985 after Nick Cave's farcical Australian co-headline tour with Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. The covers project not only allowed Cave a chance to showcase his influences on record, but it also gave him time away from the stresses of songwriting so he could focus on finalising his first novel, And The Ass Saw The Angel. Bad Seeds guitarist Blixa Bargeld recalled in Ian Johnston’s Bad Seed biography how quickly the album came together. “We did six songs on the first day and another five the next day. Lots of songs were recorded but not released.” Highlights include the underlying tension of "All Tomorrow’s Parties," the threatening "Hey Joe" and the absurd sounds of "Something’s Got A Hold Of My Heart" – released a full year before Marc Almond had a hit with a similar revival.
2. Metallica - Garage Inc
Speaking of St Nick, his "Loverman" is covered on this little album by metal titans Metallica. Following in the wake of the exploratory but widely panned Load/Reload era, Metallica licked their wounds by paying tribute to some of their key influences. Accompanying covers previously released on 1987’s The $5.98 EP - Garage Days Re-Revisited (Killing Joke, Misfits, Diamond Head) and B-sides (Queen, Motorhead, Budgie) were sturdy renditions of Bob Seger’s "Turn The Page", Black Sabbath’s "Sabbra Cadabra" and "Whiskey In The Jar," based on Irish group Thin Lizzy’s arrangement). The album proved an inspired move, debuting locally in the ARIA Chart at number two in December 1998.
3. Rage Against The Machine – Renegades
If you ever thought a band bowing out with covers album sounds like a disheartening way to close out a recording career, you’ve obviously never heard how vital and potent Rage Against The Machine’s 2000 release Renegades sounds. In fact, with activism and movements such as Black Lives Matter at the fore in 2021, the album might be even more powerful in the modern world. In the hands of RATM, the fury of Afrika Bambaataa’s "Renegades Of Funk," the heightened danger of MC5’s "Kick Out The Jams" and the simmering menace to Devo’s "Beautiful World" (Devo were also winningly performed by A Perfect Circle on their covers album eMotive) hit like an unexpected upper-cut. Let’s not forget their cover of Bruce Springsteen’s "The Ghost Of Tom Joad," which was so remarkable The Boss ended up commandeering guitarist Tom Morello as a part-time member of his E Street Band.
- Bryan Ferry - These Foolish Things
Momentarily moving away from the glam theatrics of his day job with Roxy Music, Bryan Ferry’s first solo album from 1973 featured songs that dated back to the 1930s. Kicking off with Ferry’s memorably mournful cover of Bob Dylan’s "A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall" (backed by Jessie Smith of The Ikettes), the set included a soulful crooned take on "Piece Of My Heart", a lovingly assembled "The Tracks Of My Tears" and a camply enunciated "Sympathy For The Devil" worthy of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Showing there was no malice in his solo escapade, a number of Ferry’s Roxy cronies played on the album, with the band returning with fourth album Stranded just a month after These Foolish Things. In the United Kingdom, These Foolish Things entered the charts in the same week as our next entry…
5. Bowie – Pin Ups
No one could ever accuse David Bowie of labouring over the production of 1973’s Pin Ups release. Whipped out in a dizzying whirl between 1973’s Aladdin Sane and 1974’s Diamond Dogs, even Pin Ups’ cover art (featuring British model Twiggy, who’d already appeared in the lyrics to Aladdin Sane’s track "Drive-In Saturday") was simply a Vogue photoshoot reclaimed by Bowie for his own usage. Released in time for the Christmas rush (and becoming the 12th biggest selling album in Australia for the year, despite being released at the tail end of October), Bowie suggested Pin Ups’ tracklisting were “among my favourites from the '64–67' period of London”. An antsy version of The Easybeats’ "Friday On My Mind" is tossed off with lacklustre appeal and the cover of Pink Floyd’s "See Emily Play" is bereft of Syd Barrett’s original psychedelic aura, but songs including Them’s "Here Comes The Night" and The McCoys’ "Sorrow" fare far better. Avoid The Who’s "Anyhow Anywhere Anytime" though – it’s woeful.
6. Ramones – Acid Eaters
Sorry Mr Bowie, but here’s a far better example of how to pull off a cover of The Who. With their familiar 1-2-3-4! schtick, Ramones might not seem like an obvious band for a covers album, but their take on "Substitute" on 1993’s Acid Eaters was a fine power-pop effort (it even featured a certain P Townshend on guitar!). Other highlights include Jefferson Airplane’s "Somebody To Love" given a surf rock punch (and featuring former teen porn star Traci Lords on guest vocals), The Animals’ "When I Was Young" sounding anguished and Bob Dylan’s "My Back Pages "given a complete Ramones overhaul.
7. Peter Gabriel - Scratch My Back
Known for his questing musical output, former Genesis frontman Peter Gabriel devised an intriguing two-part process to his 2010 covers project. Initially releasing a lushly orchestrated collection of songs written by artists Radiohead, David Bowie and Neil Young, the plan was for the covered artists to respond with their versions of Gabriel’s songs on a companion disc, And I’ll Scratch Yours. While the three aforementioned artists turned down the opportunity, Gabriel’s beautifully fragile covers of acts such as Arcade Fire, Regina Spektor and Paul Simon resulted in astounding companion tracks from the writers. When And I’ll Scratch Yours eventually arrived in 2013, it also featured impressive contributions by Lou Reed, Elbow and Bon Iver.
8. Jennifer Warnes - Famous Blue Raincoat
Having worked as Leonard Cohen’s backing vocalist since the 1970s, Grammy Award-winning vocalist Jennifer Warnes paid tribute to her boss with the 1986 album Famous Blue Raincoat. A rarity among cover albums, Famous Blue Raincoat featured recordings of Cohen songs before Laughing Lenny had released them himself (including the opening track "First We Take Manhattan", which was also the opener on Cohen’s 1988 album I’m Your Man). Proving herself as masterful with others’ songs as Linda Ronstadt, the title song is beautiful low-key jazz, "Came So Far For Beauty" a heartfelt highlight and "Bird On A Wire" a striking song of independence. The ‘80s production might be dated, but the songwriting power remains.
9. Tori Amos - Strange Little Girls
Tori Amos has also covered Leonard Cohen’s "Famous Blue Raincoat" in the past, but Cohen didn’t make the cut on her 2001 album devoted to skewing a selection of male-written tracks. Seeing out her Atlantic record contract with a covers album, Amos pulled together a fascinating release. If the sign of an astonishing collection of songs is a constantly evolving shortlist of personal favourites, look no further than Strange Little Girls: her twists on Joe Jackson’s "Real Men", Lloyd Cole’s "Rattlesnakes" and Depeche Mode’s "Enjoy The Silence" are mesmerising, with surprising overhauls of The Beatles, Neil Young, Tom Waits and The Velvet Underground also profound.
10. Robert Plant and Alison Krauss - Raising Sand
In a 50+ year career filled with awards and plaudits, not even his output with Led Zeppelin comes close to the rave reviews and gongs Robert Plant received for his 2007 Alison Krauss collaboration, Raising Sand. Produced by T Bone Burnett, the collection won Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals at the 2008 Grammys and an additional five Grammy Awards at the 2009 ceremony. With their vocals effortlessly complementing each other, Krauss and Plant’s takes on songs by Gene Clark, The Everly Brothers and Tom Waits are timeless. Absurdly, one of the standout moments was Plant’s cover of himself: "Please Read The Letter" was initially written by the vocalist and his Zep colleague Jimmy Page for their 1998 album Walking Into Clarksdale. Sessions for a follow-up album were said to have been abandoned, but Plant has since mischievously suggested a sequel album is kept locked away in his desk drawer.
11. Billy Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones – Foreverly
Jazz muso Andy Armstrong and sitar guru Ravi Shankar might never have met, but the pair’s famous offspring created an underrated album together. In 2013 the unlikely pairing of Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong and soft jazz vocalist Norah Jones produced Foreverly, a tribute to The Everly Brothers’ 1958 album "Songs Our Daddy Taught Us." With the relaxed feel of a couple performing acoustic songs in front of a bluestone fireplace on a cold night, Billie Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones’ vocals lovingly entwine on these timeless ballads. The album received an unexpected chart boost when Phil Everly died six weeks after Foreverly’s release, pushing it into the top 20 of the Billboard 200 Chart.
12. John Lennon - Rock N Roll
Recorded to settle a murky copyright infringement issue dating back to John Lennon ripping off some Chuck Berry lyrics on The Beatles’ "Come Together," 1975’s Rock N Roll saw Lennon reuniting with Wall of Sound producer Phil Spector to knock out a collection of rock staples. The cover art, a photograph taken by The Beatles’ colleague Jurgen Vollmer during the band’s famous early ‘60s Hamburg era, reflects the musical inspirations behind the recordings: classic early rock and R&B songs by artists including Gene Vincent ("Be-Bop-A-Lula"), Ben E King ("Stand By Me") and Chuck Berry (You Can’t Catch Me, the very song Lennon had pilfered for "Come Together"). The collection was Lennon’s last studio recording until 1980’s Double Fantasy.
13. Weezer - The Teal Album
Frontman Rivers Cuomo might have seemed like an earnest nerd when Weezer hit the big time with Weezer (AKA The Blue Album) in the mid-‘90s, but this former hair metal dude has routinely shown he doesn’t take himself too seriously over the years. Evidence A: 2019’s The Teal Album. Having a whole load of fun with a bunch of ‘80s hits and a few other stragglers, if anything Weezer could have pushed a little harder on the cheese with their fondly reimagined covers of Eurythmics’ "Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)", a-ha’s "Take On Me" and Michael Jackson’s "Billie Jean". Their cover of Toto's "Africa" gave the band their first US gold record in many years. They performed "Everybody Wants To Rule The World" with Tears For Fears at Coachella Festival later that year.
14. Duran Duran - Thank You
Duran Duran’s 1995 tribute Thank You has routinely been derided for its inclusion of the Public Enemy song "911 Is A Joke" (a cloth-eared recording of millionaire white guys making a hash of a song about ingrained US racism) and even called “the worst album of all time” by Q Magazine. Inclusions such as the Grandmaster Flash anti-drugs track "White Lines" sound baffling given Duran Duran’s rampant coke abuse in the ‘80s, but the album is home to many underrated renditions. The group’s dreamy version of Lou Reed’s "Perfect Day" pre-empted a number one UK charity cover of the song two years later, while their version of Elvis Costello’s "Watching The Detectives" sounds like wonky trip-hop. More than 25 years later it’s a mystifying concoction, but not the trainwreck history might suggest.
What other covers albums deserve a recommendation? Let us know on the I Like Your Old Stuff Facebook page for possible inclusion in 14 Cover Albums Worth Another Listen – Part Two!
Listen to Duran Duran on Spotify here:
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