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7 Awesome Cover Albums

Updated on July 29, 2013

Cover songs--almost any rock band worth their weight plays a few of them. Performing music written and popularized by somebody else is as much an act of grounding as it is a rite of passage. Cover songs tend to shed light upon musical influences, and they often act as catalysts between new ideas brought to the table and the old ones that helped define their structure. When done well a freshly recorded cover song will remain intact at its core, retaining the qualities that make the particular song unique, while allowing the recording artist in question to sound like themselves. Channeling an artist is one thing, and using their song is another. If a cover song is included on an album of original music, the song must fit in with the others. Every once in a while, rock bands release entire albums of cover music. While contrastingly different from releasing a single cover on an album of original material, creating an album full of cover songs requires similar rules. It all must still flow as an album, and the band performing these songs must keep all of their unique band qualities--they still have to sound like themselves.

The nice thing about cover albums is that most of them are labors of love, and this enthusiasm usually translates well over a nice set of headphones. A cover album is almost always a product that a band wants to make; they are an act of tribute and recognition. Everyone has favorite songs--even the people that write these favorite songs--so it's easy to see why a band would want to record an entire album of somebody else's music. Here are seven notable cover albums from seven different artists. It is important to note that this list is not arranged in any sort of ranking; music is subjective, ranking it is kind of ridiculous. These are also not necessarily the "best" cover albums ever, they are just great examples of a genre typically only sought out by hardcore fans. Regardless of their merit, they are interesting records, and any curious minds are encouraged to seek them out.

Yeah! Track Listing (Original artists represented in parentheses)

1. 20th Century Boy (T-Rex)
2. Rock On (David Essex)
3. Hanging on the Telephone (The Nerves)
4. Waterloo Sunset (The Kinks)
5. Hell Raiser (Sweet)
6. 10538 Overture (ELO)
7. Street Life (Roxy Music)
8. Drive-In Saturday (David Bowie)
9. LIttle Bit of Love (Free)
10. The Golden Age of Rock n Roll (Mott the Hoople)
11. No Matter What (Badfinger)
12. He's Gonna Step on You Again (John Kongos)
13. Don't Believe a Word (Thin Lizzy)
14. Stay With Me (Faces)

Def Leppard - Yeah! (2006)

The five members of Def Leppard were so excited about releasing a cover album that they simply decided to title it Yeah! The enthusiasm is present throughout the entire affair, which results in not only a great cover album but also one of the band's best latter-day efforts. The theme surrounding Yeah! is mostly classic British glam-rock from the 1970s, a genre that greatly influenced Def Leppard's musical direction. Aside from "20th Century Boy" and "Rock On," the song selection on Yeah! features mostly tracks that weren't singles, an interesting concept considering the fact that Def Leppard were one of the 1980s biggest hit factories.

Anyone familiar with Def Leppard's history shouldn't be too surprised with the selections, though. Singer Joe Elliot is a self-proclaimed David Bowie fanatic, so the appearance of "Drive-In Saturday" is expected. Also included are "Don't Believe a Word," originally done by Thin Lizzy and "The Golden Age of Rock n Roll" from Mott the Hoople. The best track, though, is their cover of The Kink's "Waterloo Sunset," which sounds absolutely stunning when given Def Leppard's classic spit-and-shine treatment.

The Vegas Years Track Listing (Original artists represented in parentheses)

1. Rich Girl (Hall & Oates)
2. Our Lips are Sealed (The Go-Go's)
3. The Boys Are Back in Town (Thin Lizzy)
4. Bad Connection (Yazoo)
5. Kicks (Paul Revere & the Raiders)
6. Pocahontas (Neil Young)
7. Night Train to Memphis (Roy Acuff)
8. This Land is Your Land (Woodie Guthrie)
9. American Girl (Tom Petty)
10. Brown Eyed Girl (Van Morrison)
11. Southern Girls (Cheap Trick)
12. Land of the Lost (TV Theme Song)
13. Speed Racer (TV Theme Song)
14. 867-5309 [Jenny] (Tommy Tutone)

Everclear - The Vegas Years (2008)

Everclear have never been strangers to covering material, and anyone who has gone to one of their live shows can attest to the inclusion of at least one cover song during their sets. They also released numerous cover tracks as B-sides on their singles, but finding high-quality copies of these tracks could be a difficult task. In 2008, roughly a decade after the band hit the mainstream, Everclear released The Vegas Years, which features re-mastered versions of these old covers and a few new cover recordings.

The Vegas Years could have easily been a tacked together collection of previously released material, but it is designed to flow as a standalone album. Many of the older recordings, such as "Southern Girls" and "Pocahontas", feature newly recorded guitar and keyboard tracks which allow them to fit in nicely with newer tracks like "Rich Girl" and "This Land is Your Land". Everything here is also sounds distinctly like Everclear--anyone unfamiliar with the authentic versions of these songs could easily mistake them for Everclear originals. The only song that feels out of place is their cover of Tom Petty's "American Girl," which was recorded in the early 1990s and sounds a bit too much like Everclear's World of Noise post-grunge phase. That's not to say it isn't a decent recording, but the band adopted a pop-oriented sound with later albums, and it simply doesn't flow like the rest of the album. That single track aside, the whole thing plays out quite nicely.

Garage Inc. Track Listing (Original artists represented in parentheses)

[Disc One]

1. Free Speech for the Dumb (Discharge)
2. It's Electric (Diamond Head)
3. Sabbra Cadabra (Black Sabbath)
4. Turn the Page (Bob Segar)
5. Die, Die, My Darling (Misfits)
6. Loverman (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds)
7. Mercyful Fate [medley] (Mercyful Fate)
8. Astronomy (Blue Oyster Cult)
9. Whiskey in the Jar (Thin Lizzy)
10. Tuesday's Gone (Lynyrd Skynyrd)
11. The More I See (Discharge)

[Disc Two]

1. Helpless (Diamond Head)
2. The Small Hours (Holocaust)
3. The Wait (Killing Joke)
4. Crash Course in Brain Surgery (Budgie)
5. Last Caress (Misfits)
6. Am I Evil? (Diamond Head)
7. Blitzkrieg (Blitzkrieg)
8. Breadfan (Budgie)
9. The Prince (Diamond Head)
10. Stone Cold Crazy (Queen)
11. So What? (Anti-Nowhere League)
12. Killing Time (Sweet Savage)
13. Overkill (Motorhead)
14. Damage Case (Motorhead)
15. Stone Dead Forever (Motorhead)
16. Too Late Too Late (Motorhead)

Metallica - Garage, Inc. (1998)

Before Metallica tore into the mainstream with their unmistakable brand of hard rock, they were a heavy-metal band. Before they were a heavy-metal band, they were a thrash band. In this sense Metallica have gone through three significant stylistic changes, so a dissection of their musical influences is bound to be interesting. Garage, Inc. features a relatively diverse collection of covers, and really does shed light onto the inner workings of the band.

As a whole, Garage, Inc. sounds a bit disjointed, but that's because it is not exactly a cover album, but rather a combination of a single cover album and several cover EPs released by Metallica. The first disc is the actual cover album, which was recorded in 1998 specifically for this release, and it features an eclectic variety of song choices. The songs here almost act like a chronology of Metallica's shifting musical direction. Punk songs like "Free Speech for the Dumb" and "Die, Die, My Darling" are given classic thrash treatment, and are reminiscent of Metallica's early years. Heavy-metal tracks like "Sabbra Cadabra" and "Astronomy" pay tribute to the genre that gives the band their namesake. The inclusion of classic rocks tracks like "Turn the Page" and "Tuesday's Gone" showcase Metallica's uncanny ability to remain simultaneously heavy and exist within the mainstream.

Me and Mr. Johnson
Track Listing (All songs originally performed by Robert Johnson)

1. When You Got a Good Friend
2. Little Queen of Spades
3. They're Red Hot
4. Me and the Devil Blues
5. Travelling Riverside Blues
6. Last Fair Deal Gone Down
7. Stop Breakin' Down Blues
8. Milkcow Calf Blues
9. Kindhearted Woman Blues
10. Come on in My Kitchen
11. If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day
12. Love in Vain
13. 32-20 Blues
14. Hellhound on my Trail

Eric Clapton - Me and Mr. Johnson (2004)

Eric Clapton considers himself a connoisseur of the blues, and he taps into his vintage repertoire with Me and Mr. Johnson, an album of covers featuring songs by the mysterious Robert Johnson. This isn't the first time Clapton has covered Johnson--Cream had a big hit in the late 1960s with Johnson's "Cross Roads Blues"--but it's the first time the British guitarist has provided an album-wide tribute to the bluesman from the 1930s.

Me and Mr. Johnson contrasts quite differently from the recording of Robert Johnson. Johnson performed as a solo artist, and his recordings only featured his voice and a solo-acoustic guitar. Eric Clapton's project, on the other hand, is a full band affair, with drums, bass, a honky-tonk piano and several guitars coloring the spaces sketched by the classic material. Blues purists may scoff at this expansion, but the songs retain the same basic grounding as their original recordings. It's not necessarily the best collection of Robert Johnson covers, but it's an admirable effort from Clapton, and Clapton fans are bound to enjoy it.

Honkin on Bobo Track Listing (Original artists represented in parentheses)

1. Roadrunner (Elas McDaniel)
2. Shame, Shame, Shame (Smiley Lewis)
3. Eyesight to the Blind (Sonny Boy Williamson)
4. Baby, Please Don't Go (Big Joe Williams)
5. Never Loved a Girl (Aretha Franklin)
6. Back Back Train (Fred McDowell)
7. You Gotta Move (Fred McDowell)
8. The Grind (Aerosmith)
9. I'm Ready (Willie Dixon)
10. Temperature (Little Walter)
11. Stop Messin' Round (Fleetwood Mac)
12. Jesus is on the Main Line (Traditional)

Aerosmith - Honkin in Bobo (2004)

2004 was a year that saw the release of two cover albums from seasoned rock artists, the first being Eric Clapton's Me and Mr. Johnson, and the second one being Aerosmith's Honkin on Bobo. Although the two records were released around the same time and both exclusively feature blues covers, the comparison ends there. Me and Mr. Johnson was a traditional, sophisticated blues record, whereas Honkin on Bobo will go down in history as Aerosmith simply sounding like Aerosmith.

That's not a bad thing. Aerosmith have always been indebted towards the blues, but they're absolutely a rock n roll band, and nothing can ever change that. On Honkin on Bobo, they take 11-classic blues cuts and give them the standard Aerosmith treatment: a raucous, hip-shaking affair that's bound to get the party moving. Although released late in the band's career, Honkin on Bobo sounds a lot like their late 1970s material, which should please fans let down with their pop-oriented 2001 album Just Push Play.

The Spaghetti Incident? Track Listing (Original artists represented in parentheses)

1. Since I Don't Have You (The Skyliners)
2. New Rose (The Damned)
3. Down on the Farm (U.K. Subs)
4. Human Being (New York Dolls)
5. Raw Power (The Stooges)
6. Ain't It Fun (Rocket From the Tombs)
7. Buick Mackane [Big Dumb Sex] (T-Rex/Soundgarden)
8. Hair of the Dog (Nazareth)
9. Attitude (Misfits)
10. Black Leather (The Professionals)
11. You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory (Johnny Thunders)
12. I Don't Care About You (Fear)

Guns n Roses - The Spaghetti Incident? (1993)

1993 was a difficult year for Guns n Roses. Rhythm guitarist and primary hit-maker Izzy Stradlin quit the group, relationships between singer Axl Rose and the rest of the band were tense because of legal issues and disagreements on musical direction, and fans were demanding a follow-up for their Use Your Illusion double-album. Amid all of this, they released The Spaghetti Incident?, which would be the last album bearing the Guns n Roses moniker until 2008's Chinese Democracy. This was also the very last album to feature original members Slash and Duff McKagen. Drummer Matt Sorum, who replaced original drummer Steven Adler for the Use Your Illusion albums, also left after this.

Although written of as a lesser Guns n Roses release by many a fan, The Spaghetti Incident? is not without merit. This collection of punk and glam rock covers can lay claim for allowing the group to do what they arguably did best: sleazy, out of control rock n roll. The bands debut album, Appetite For Destruction, was a rollicking hard rock affair, so the studio polish and odd sophistication surrounding the Use Your Illusion albums often felt like a very different band was playing. Whether or not The Spaghetti Incident? is an appropriate follow up is left for debate, but it's hard to deny the fact that many of the tracks present within it represent Guns n Roses at their best. Many of the songs on this album were sung by Duff McKagen, who, it turns out, has a pretty decent punk-rock voice.

The Anatomy Of Track Listing (Original artists represented in parentheses)

1. Blackened (Metallica)
2. Kickstart My Heart (Motley Crue)
3. The Day I Tried to Live (Soundgarden)
4. Bicycle Race (Queen)
5. Three of a Perfect Pair (King Crimson)
6. Us and Them (Pink Floyd)
7. Geek U.S.A (Smashing Pumpkins)
8. Forced March (Earth Crisis)
9. Territory (Sepultura)
10. Change (Blind Melon)
11. Malpractice (Faith No More)
12. Little 15 (Depeche Mode)
13. Cemetery Gates (Pantera)
14. Colorblind (Counting Crows)

Between the Buried and Me - The Anatomy Of (2006)

Between the Buried and Me are one of the more interesting heavy metal bands to come out of the 2000s. They can be ridiculously heavy at times, and then can do a complete-360 and be mellow enough to challenge Coldplay. They also have a knack for performing guitar parts that sound like an 8-bit video game soundtrack.

The Anatomy Of is one of the most diverse cover albums of all time, but it is an absolutely appropriate collection of songs given Between the Buried and Me's unique sound. The list is literally way out there--from Metallica to Queen to Pink Floyd to Counting Crows. The band effectively channels the bands that they cover on this release, and some of them are so good that they require multiple listens on repeat.


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