What are the best covers albums in musical history?
Boyzone, one of Ireland’s most successful exports, return next week with a brand new record. After their 2013 comeback record BZ20, this time they’ve decided to pay tribute to a few of their favourite Motown artists and have put together the compilation From Dublin To Detroit. The collection sees the band covering the likes of Jimmy Ruffin, The Temptations and Smoky Robinson and it’s released on Monday (November 24th).
In celebration of this new album, we’ve had a go at putting together the 10 best covers albums in musical history. A few rules, these have to be stand-alone covers albums, no bonuses on Best Ofs, no EPs, no tracks tagged on the end. So here we go…
(You can preview/download each of the albums in our digital store with the exception of Numbers 9 and 4).
Her star might have faded somewhat in recent years, but back in 2003 there was a good reason why the then 16-year old Joss Stone convinced well over five million people to part with their money for a copy of her debut album The Soul Sessions.
The album, which saw the precocious singer taking on soul heavyweights like Aretha Franklin, the Isley Brothers and Waylon Jennings, is a laid-back, sun-drenched, slinky listen, full of groove and quiet power. She’s never recaptured that formula again.
9. Patti Smith – Twelve
As with every creative decision she’s ever made, eccentric singer Patti Smith took the road less travelled for her 2007 covers record. Instead of opting to take on a selection of tracks that most people would consider uncoverable, like Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and The Rolling Stones’ ‘Gimme Shelter’, songs which she absolutely made her own.
Want a guide into the dark heart of seminal goth punks Siouxsie and the Banshees? Then this is an excellent starting point. Full of jagged, black-hearted takes on Sparks, Kraftwerk and Bob Dylan, this is still a favourite of many of the groups’ legions of fans to this day.
Scarlett Johansson was already one of the world’s most famous actresses back in 2008, but she still found time to record this collection of Tom Waits’ covers. Is it a vanity project? Sure. But it’s also really good, keeping Wait’s trademark vaudeville weirdness in tact, but adding her own disparate vocals and a unique take on the material.
Fresh from the exhaustive making and promoting of their epic Load and Reload albums, Metallica were looking for something fun, something to get them excited again and something free. With this in mind, they blasted out 1998’s Garage Inc, which was released within a month of being recorded.
A mixture of old school metal covers, like Diamond Head’s ‘It’s Electric’ and Black Sabbath’s ‘Sabbra Cadabra’, and classic dust in throat rocks songs like Bob Seger’s ‘Turn The Page’ and Thin Lizzy’s ‘Whiskey In The Jar’, the album is a good-time listen, full of vigour and energy and remains a quality listen.
The last thing the legendary rockers recorded before they completed fell apart was 1993’s covers album The Spaghetti Incident. A compilation of covers of old school punk rock anthems from the likes of The Damned, The Sex Pistols and The Stooges, the album is laced with the band’s classic sleazy guitar licks and unstoppable power.
4. Rage Against The Machine – Renegades
It still seems strange that the hugely influential funk-metallers’ parting shot with a covers album, but that’s the way things worked out.
Released in 2000, this 12-track collection is a mixture of reworkings of classic rock cuts like Bruce Springsteen’s ‘The Ghost Of Tom Joad’ and Bob Dylan’s ‘Maggie’s Farm’, and plenty of influential hip-hop tracks like Eric B & Rakim’s ‘Microphone Fiend’ and Cypress Hill’s ‘How Could I Just Kill A Man?’.
It’s an excellent collection, all killer, and many of the tracks are still a big part of the band’s live set.
In between releasing Aladdin Sane in 1973 and Diamond Dogs in 1974, the Thin White Duke still found time to record one of the greatest covers albums ever recorded. Bowie picked the songs that had shaped him, including Pink Floyd’s avant garde classic ‘See Emily Play’, The Yardbirds’ rowdy ‘I Wish You Would’ and a couple of The Who’s best cuts. As with all he does, Bowie took the tracks and infused them with a spooky magic…
All of the covers records Johnny Cash made with legendary producer Rick Rubin are bona fide classics, but the jewel in the crown is the fourth and last instalment. This time out Cash took on the likes of Depeche Mode, Paul Simon and Sting, with heartbreaking results.
The album’s piece de resistance is ‘Hurt’, Cash’s reworking on Nine Inch Nails’ bleak single, has been hailed by many as the greatest cover version ever recorded and led Trent Reznor himself to say after hearing it “[I felt like] I just lost my girlfriend, because that song isn't mine anymore”. He’s right too.
So what could possibly top Johnny Cash? Only the greatest covers albums ever recorded, Cat Power’s appropriately named The Covers Record, released back in 2000.
The album begins with Marshall’s stripped back take on The Rolling Stones’ ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, a track full of gusto and vibrancy in its original form, but given a completely new life with just a plucked guitar and Marshall’s sultry voice. It’s wonderful. The whole album, in fact, is a raw masterpiece, with most tracks never consisting of more than a guitar and Marshall’s voice.
Her take on Nina Simone’s haunting ‘Wild Is The Wind’ is just as powerful, as is her tender rendering of Lou Reed’s ‘I Found A Reason’. And, as for the closing track, her take on Phil Phillips’ soulful standard ‘Sea Of Love’, it’s just breathtaking…