THE tribute album is a great way to recognise the influence of a great band.
And while it can be risky business getting a variety of acts to tackle a collection of all-ready much-loved songs, sometimes it works.
Here are some that are worth a look:
WHEN you think about Australia's biggest selling artists, it's easy to forget The Wiggles. But with an ARIA Hall of Fame induction, over seven million records sold and regular appearances on BRW's list of top-earning Australian performers, they've certainly carved out a place in the musical landscape over 20 years. Last year, to acknowledge The Wiggles success, the ABC commissioned Rewiggled - probably the most unlikely tribute album in Australian music history. But it's great and at least proves one thing - The Wiggles' lyrics are no more inane than a lot of pop music.
In fact, some turn out quite good, with the pick being Paul Greene's Henry's Spinning which fines a down-tempo beauty in a seemingly inoccuous song. The Living End's typically rocking take on Hot Potato is also a highlight, with one YouTube commenter saying they "wish (The Living End's) latest album had songs as fun and as good as this". Elsewhere, Bluejuice turn Wake Up Jeff into a classy Latin-esque number, Architecture In Helsinki brings the '80s dance to Wiggly Party, and Oh Mercy manage to keep a straight face through Toot Toot, Chugga Chugga, Big Red Car. Other contributors include a who's who of Triple J favourites: Washington, Jebediah, Sarah Blasko, Spiderbait, Frenzal Rhomb, Clare Bowditch, Busby Marou, Adalita, and Dead Letter Chorus.
Here's Bluejuice rendering Wake Up Jeff unrecognisable but oh-so-classy (and slightly sexy):
I'm Not There
AS mentioned in the previous blog on this subject, soundtracks provide a good outlet for tribute albums, often because they're cheaper than getting the rights to the original songs. In the case of the excellent Bob Dylan semi-biopic I'm Not There, the soundtrack proved to be just an excuse to let some great alt-rock musos loose on some classic songs, as most of the versions featured in the film are actually Dylan's. The backing band for many of the tracks, known as The Million Dollar Bashers, was worth the retail price alone - it featured Sonic Youth's Lee Ranaldo and Pete Shelley, Wilco's Nels Cline, Television's Tom Verlaine, Dylan bass player Tony Garnier, guitarist Smokey Hormel and acclaimed jazz keyboardist John Medeski.
They back Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder on a Hendrix-esque solo-heavy version of All Along The Watchtower, Pavement's Stephen Malkmus on great takes of Ballad Of A Thin Man and Maggie's Farm, and Yeah Yeah Yeah's Karen O on Highway 61 Revisited. That's just the tip of the iceberg and the list of talent shows how revered Dylan is - Willie Nelson, Roger McGuinn, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Los Lobos, The Black Keys, Yo La Tengo, Sonic Youth, Mark Lanegan, Jeff Tweedy, Sufjan Stevens, Antony & The Johnsons and Calexico all tip their hat to Bob. The highlights are many, and even Dylan himself gets a foot in the door, with the soundtrack featuring the long-bootlegged, but never-released track, I'm Not There, recorded as part of the legendary Basement Tapes sessions in 1967.
Here's The Million Dollar Bashers and Vedder doing All Along The Watchtower (guitar solos by Verlaine and Cline):
A String Tribute To...
THE most common of all tribute albums has to be the sub-genre of string tributes, where classically trained quartets tackle the back catalogues of just about any artist you can think of. And the group responsible for a lot of them is the Vitamin String Quartet, who have recorded more than 100. They pump them out at alarming rate and have done four tributes already to Radiohead, four for Linkin Park, three for Coldplay, three for System Of A Down, and a couple each for AC/DC, Incubus, Dashboard Confessional, Evanescence, Fleetwood Mac, Green Day and many more.
No genre is safe, but metal is a favourite - Slayer, Tool, Metallica, and Korn have all received the VSQ treatment. They've also tackled hip-hop (Dr Dre, Eminem), pop (Gwen Stefani, James Blunt), classic rock (Kiss, The Eagles), punk (Bad Religion, The Clash), and alternative (PJ Harvey, Jane's Addiction). They seem to be just picking acts at random - how else do you explain them paying tribute to acts that no one really wants them to pay tribute to like Hinder, Alter Bridge, or Staind?
From A String Quartet Tribute To Tool (a personal favourite) here's Aenima:
We're A Happy Family
IT'S hard to deny the influence of The Ramones. They didn't sell a lot of albums in their career (especially the early days), but like Velvet Underground, The Stooges and Pixies, those albums they did sell mostly fell into the hands of people who would go on to start their own bands. Some of those people and bands appear on We're A Happy Family, the album line-up is a testament to how loved The Ramones are. Metallica, U2, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kiss and Green Day are rock and roll royalty themselves, yet when Johnny Ramone came calling to ask for their participation, they all bowed down to his wishes - such is the reverence towards The Ramones.
We're A Happy Family would be one of the final Ramones-related tasks Johnny would undertake, coming out just 18 months before his death from prostate cancer in September, 2004. Key to Johnny's participation, aside from picking the bands, was making sure the bands understood to make the songs sound like their own and not Ramones replicas. As a result, the Chili Peppers get funky and slinky on Havana Affair, Marilyn Manson finds the sinister in The KKK Took My Baby Away, Rob Zombie goes party-metal on Bliztkrieg Bop, Kiss put some arena-sized rock behind Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio?, Green Day live up to their early sledge of being a Ramones cover band by covering Outsider, The Pretenders and John Frusciante find the heart in Something To Believe In and Today Your Love, Tomorrow The World respectively, Rancid race through Sheena Is A Punk Rocker, and Tom Waits is typically raucous and raw on Return Of Jackie & Judy (returning the favour from when The Ramones covered his song I Don't Wanna Grow Up). It doesn't all work. Metallica sludge their way through 53rd & 3rd and U2 turn Beat On The Brat into the wussiest-sounding punk song ever. But as author Stephen King says in the liner notes, most tribute albums are a piece of s***, but this one is actually good.
Rob Zombie meets The Ramones? Yeah, we can dig:
A Testimonial Dinner
BRITISH band XTC are a favourite with the Musicology brains trust and the tribute album in their honour, A Testimonial Dinner, shows we're not alone in our love of this under-rated act from Swindon. Released in 1995, it came out in the midst of XTC's seven-year strike, during which they withdrew their labour from Virgin Records in protest over their treatment of the band and its unfavourable record deal. The line-up is fitting of the era, but makes for a strong collection.
The Verve Pipe have a grungey go at Wake Up, The Rembrandts (best known for the Friends theme songs) thump faithfully through Making Plans For Nigel, They Might Be Giants (who had previously written a song called XTC Vs Adam Ant) tackle XTC side project song 25 O'Clock, while Crash Test Dummies, Spacehog and Freedy Johnston don't disappoint the source material. The highlights are Sarah McLachlan's jazzy take on Dear God, Panamanian star Ruben Blades' takes a better-than-the-original Latino swing at The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul, ELO II member P.Hux's full-blown rock rendition of Another Satellite, and Joe Jackson's stylish cover of Statue Of Liberty. Strangely, XTC turned up on their own tribute album in disguise as Terry & The Lovemen, re-recording an old b-side The Good Things.
Great version of XTC's best known song, Dear God:
Added bonus song, because we want to share the XTC tribute love around - Ruben Blades doing The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul: