THERE'S a lot to like about tribute albums, where disparate acts come together to perform the songs of one legendary artist or group.
For bands, they're a chance to pay homage to their influences and maybe win new fans. For the fans, they often get to hear their favourite bands performing songs by another of their favourite acts. For everyone, you get to hear old songs in a new light.
Of course, they can go horribly wrong - a bad cover is not a good thing, but a bad tribute album is that same pain multiplied by the number of tracks on the record.
Thankfully there are some good ones out there. Here are some of the best.
Straight To You
TRIPLE J often gets criticised for strictly adhering to their new music ethos, but their now-regular tribute concerts have combined their playlist acts with the timeless music of an Aussie legend. Following on from their homages to AC/DC, The Go-Betweens and Paul Kelly is Straight To You: Triple J's Tribute To Nick Cave, which was first a tour, is now a double album and will soon be a DVD. It's a stunning collection with barely a mis-step thanks to great material and an amazing line-up of musicians. Sparkadia's Alex Burnett lends his lighter-than-air voice to a suitably spine-tingling rendition of the Roland S Howard-penned Shivers, Abbe May sounds eerily like former Cave flame PJ Harvey on Lie Down Here (& Be My Girl) and Grinderman's Depth Charge Ethel, Children Collide's Johnny Mackay gives a suitably unhinged version of Nick The Stripper before doing a sweet People Ain't No Good, while Tim Rogers' chaotically sinister From Her To Eternity is a haunting highlight.
Even the most-altered tracks work, such as Bluejuice's Jake Stone leading a surprisingly effective dub version of The Weeping Song or Urthboy hip-hopping O Children. It's the combinations that add an extra layer of excitement - Adalita and Paul Kelly are stylish individually on Straight To You and Nobody's Baby Now respectively but when they combine for Lament it's amazing, as is the theatrical reading of the Urthboy-led Stagger Lee. It's an amazing collection from end to end, one truly worthy of the great Nick Cave.
Here's Muscles and Bertie Blackman doing Do You Love Me?:
She/He Will Have Her/His Way
ANTIPODEAN songwriting heroes Neil and Tim Finn have a bounty of amazing songs spread across Split Enz, Crowded House, The Finn Brothers albums and their respective solo careers. Getting some of Australia and New Zealand's leading female singers to tackle such classics in 2005 was a masterstroke, and so was born She Will Have Her Way. Putting such beautiful melodies into the mouths of such gifted singers isn't foolproof - Renee Geyer's R&B take on Into Temptation is particularly disappointing - but for the most part the results are wonderful. Clare Bowditch's Fall At Your Feet feels fresh yet faithful, as is Brooke Fraser's Distant Sun, Missy Higgins strips the orchestral drama from Split Enz's Stuff And Nonsense to get to its raw heart, Little Birdy rock Six Months In A Leaky Boat, and I Hope I Never is a pretty waltz in Lisa Miller's hands.
But the centrepiece is Sarah Blasko's masterfully produced jaw-dropping take on Don't Dream It's Over. Naturally, the boys were going to have a go (She Will Have Her Way spent 15 weeks in the Australian charts) and in 2010 came He Will Have His Way. The male follow-up is notable for putting Boy & Bear and Busby Marou on the map with their excellent versions of Fall At Your Feet and Better Be Home Soon respectively. It's another solid collection, and while we probably could have done without Jimmy Barnes tearing his way through Message To My Girl or The Sleepy Jackson's seriously whack rendition of Better Be Home Soon, it's worth it for the earnest and stripped-back takes on I Feel Possessed (Oh Mercy), Distant Sun (Chris Cheney and his electric guitar), and Addicted (Paul Dempsey), as well as the upbeat rockers I See Red (Art Vs Science), I Got You (Philadelphia Grand Jury), and the once-in-a-lifetime pairing of The Break and Dan Sultan doing Shark Attack. Both tribute albums were combined and rereleased as They Will Have Their Way with four bonus tracks.
Sarah Blasko's beautiful version of Don't Dream It's Over:
Easy Star All-Stars
THERE'S a rare sub-genre of tribute albums in which a group of artists will come together to record a classic album in its entirety. Even rarer yet is when one band (and maybe a few guests) remake a classic album on their own. Easy Dub All Stars have made a career out of tackling the truly great albums of history and giving them a reggae/dub twist. Built around New York's Easy Star Records, the group came to prominence in 2003 with Dub Side Of The Moon (one of the many remakes of Pink Floyd's The Dark Side Of The Moon), which gave an exciting new polish to an old classic. Upstroke guitars, dub beats, reggae basslines, and Jamaican toasting transformed the likes of Money, Time and The Great Gig In The Sky into strange but awesome new creatures.
They followed this up with Radiodread, which did the seemingly impossible and added Caribbean spice to Radiohead's Ok Computer. Among the stand-outs are the mind-bending reproduction of the alt-rock-opera Paranoid Android, Toots & The Maytals joining in for Let Down, the spooky horns and dub of Climbing Up The Walls, and The Meditations funky vibe on No Surprises. And as if Ok Computer wasn't hard enough, they followed that up in 2009 with Easy Star's Lonely Hearts Dub Band, taking the technicolour of The Beatles and giving it a new groove. It's probably the weaker of Easy Star's tribute albums - Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds ends up a bit sleepy and a certain monotony creeps in that Sgt Pepper's never had - but With A Little Help From My Friends, Getting Better, She's Leaving Home, Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite, Lovely Rita, and A Day In The Life are re-born and re-arranged in fascinating ways. A remix album of Dub Side Of The Moon (called Dubber Side Of The Moon) also came out in 2010.
Personally, I think their version of Paranoid Android is kinda genius, especially when the horns kick in:
AS Easy Star All-Stars proved, if songs are great in one genre there's no reason why they can't work in another genre. But two years before their first reggae-dub remake, American bluegrass band Hayseed Dixie were genre-swapping the hard rock of AC/DC and reimagining it via the Appalachians. Their first album A Hillbilly Tribute To AC/DC unleashed a finger-pickin' fury onto the music of Angus and Malcolm Young to amazing effect - you haven't heard Highway To Hell or Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap 'til you've heard them played at breakneck speed by rednecks. Back In Black ends up surprisingly cruisey, while the sleazy nature of You Shook Me All Night Long works well in the hands of some good ol' Southern boys.
After a "romantic" covers album (Mountain Love), Hayseed Dixie returned to tribute mode for Kiss My Grass - their ode to Kiss, which saw them continuing the joke by racing at top speed through Calling Dr Love and Rock And Roll All Nite and putting some country swing into Detroit Rock City and Love Gun. Their subsequent albums have combined wacky originals with unexpected covers (except No Covers, which does what it says on the box). Their AC/DC and Kiss tributes, however, remain among the best-selling and best-loved of their works.
Highway To Hell y'all:
I Am Sam
A MOVIE soundtrack is a decent excuse for a tribute album, especially if there's a musical connection to the film. I Am Sam is a good example and a great tribute album, although it wasn't intended to be one. Sean Penn, who stars as a Beatles fan with a disability, had tried to secure the rights to Beatles' songs to make up the soundtrack but wasn't able to, so the film-makers instead turned to some top artists to provide cover versions of Fab Four tunes. The result is for the most part brilliant and extremely faithful to the originals - in fact, it's only when something new is tried that the songs don't work (notably Chocolate Genius' overwrought Julia and Grandaddy's rhythm-shifting Revolution).
The highlights are extensive, thanks in particular to a great marriage of artist and song. Eddie Vedder plays all the instruments on a languid You've Got To Hide Your Love Way, Ben Harper embraces his psychedelic side on Strawberry Fields, The Vines give a wonderfully uptempo rendition of I'm Only Sleeping, Nick Cave's sombre reading of Let It Be is perfect, Ben Folds is spot-on for Golden Slumbers, and Rufus Wainwright is in fine voice for Across The Universe. Non-US versions came with bonus tracks, the best being Neil Finn and his son Liam teaming up for a great take on Two Of Us. The soundtrack was a hit around the world.
The Vines do I'm Only Sleeping: