It was around 1952 that the notion of the cover version switched from industry jargon and into the realm of common vernacular. Since then, bands writing their own material has become common and expected practice, but that’s hardly stopped musicians tackling the material of others.
Some, such as Elvis’s reading of Carl Perkins’ Blue Suede Shoes, have superseded the originals, while others crawl lower than a snake’s arsehole (see Celine Dion and Anastacia’s drubbing of You Shook Me All Night Long).
Rising from this sea of tributes and parodies has been the cover album, where artists have, for various reasons, elected to cover an entire album from another act. From pointless tributes to heartfelt celebrations via jokes that quickly outstay their welcome, allow us to guide you through the good, the bad and the ugly.
Easy Star All-Stars - Dub Side Of The Moon
You’d be forgiven for thinking that this reggae re-working of Pink Floyd’s 1973 classic deserves to languish in the bin marked ‘novelty’, but what makes this reworking such a joy is its sincerity.
Here, Dark Side Of The Moon’s central themes of class conflict, capitalism, mortality and the debilitating effects of alienation are given a righteous overhaul. Adding dancehall and jungle into the mix, this favourite of stoners the world over can be appreciated from more than just a single bong.
Pussy Galore – Exile On Main Street
Widely regarded as The Rolling Stones’ loosest set of set of songs, this low-fi and ramshackle re-interpretation is just about held together by chewing gum and a variety of sticky and salty bodily fluids.
Featuring Jon Spencer before his blues were exploding, this limited edition cassette release vacillates wildly from the visceral (an extremely NSFW Rocks Off), the shambolic (Loving Cup), the intriguing (I Just Want To See His Face) and the plain unlistenable (Shine A Light). Irreverent it may be, but it’s a scream throughout.
Ramsey Lewis – Mother Nature’s Son
Though debate still rages over whether The Beatles’ 1968 eponymous double set (aka The White Album) would’ve made for a better single album and what would’ve gone on it, jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis was out of the starting block early with these 10 selections.
Revolution 9 is given an obvious swerve, but here Ramsey’s magic fingers re-invigorate Dear Prudence and Back In The USSR. Producer Charles Stepney’s orchestrations occasionally overwhelm, but when Lewis hits a groove then it’s impossible to resist.
Beck – The Velvet Underground & Nico
Freed from his record contract, Beck founded the Record Club. A studio-based project, the idea was to cover an album in a variety of styles with guest musicians and have it in the can by the end of the working day.
Assembling a cast including producer Nigel Godrich, members of his touring band and his brother-in-law, the actor Giovanni Ribisi, Beck captures the spirit of the original album whilst harnessing the power and potential of the then still expanding YouTube.
The Flaming Lips - The Time Has Come to Shoot You Down...What a Sound
Given the variable quality of their albums over the past decade, there’s a convincing argument to be made that The Flaming Lips really should put more effort into their own music rather than the endless cover albums they keep releasing.
So while The Beatles, King Crimson and Pink Floyd have been tackled to varying degrees of success, their reading of The Stone Roses’ eponymous debut subverts the melodic sweetness of the original into the worst acid trip you’ve never had.
Laibach – Let It Be
With their penchant for uniforms, discipline and high levels of industrial noise, Slovenian avant-garde music collective Laibach are everything that the Fab Four weren’t in the closing overs of their career.
Taking The Beatles’ most unloved album by the scruff of the neck, Laibach push it into two years of National Service. Get Back becomes a mechanoid disco number, For You Blue soundtracks a military march, while the female choir and harpsichord on Across The Universe is better than the original.
Six Feet Under – Graveyard Classics, Vol 2
And while there’s much hilarity listening to Chris Barnes guttural vocals stamping all over Brian Johnson’s 40-roll-ups-a-day rasp on Hells Bells, the joke soon wears thin by the time Shoot To Thrill gets the Cookie Monster treatment, which is way too early for a 10-track album.
Camper Van Beethoven – Tusk
Recorded over a painfully long period and at a cost of around $1m, Fleetwood Mac’s follow-up to the planet-shagging success of Rumours would fragment the band’s delicate inter-personal relationships even further.
On the other hand, US indie darlings Camper Van Beethoven recorded their track-by-track cover of Tusk for a laugh during the downtime for sessions for their 1987 album, Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart, and then waited 15 years to release it. A fun curio, but one that won’t change your affection for the original.
The Smithereens – The Smithereens Play Tommy
New Jersey’s doyens of power pop The Smithereens were always more than a little in thrall to the British invasion of the mid-1960s. Little wonder, then, they released two albums of Beatles covers in the shape of 2007’s Meet The Smithereens and B-Sides The Beatles a year later.
Dream Theater - Master of Puppets
What makes this reproduction of Metallica’s third album so remarkable isn’t that it’s so faithfully reproduced, but that it was recorded live as an encore. Just let that sink in for a moment, given the length of Dream Theater’s epic shows.
Though the prog-metallers have also covered Pink Floyd, Iron Maiden and Deep Purple, this one’s the clincher on the back of its sheer, raw power and evident love of the source material. Oh, and knowing that Lars Ulrich could never drum Dream Theater.