From Nirvana to McCartney: 8 tribute albums that were actually incredible

Paying homage to a revered artist is actually tumultuous ground – people are always going to judge with vindication and more often than not it never quite works out. Here are 8 times it did.

The rumour that Kanye West was planning on making a tribute album to David Bowie provoked some serious uproar. There were even numerous petitions against it, which over 20,000 people signed. Sarah Blasko’s haunting version of Life On Mars and Jarvis Cocker’s two-hour Bowie tribute however, were raved over, confirming once again that whichever artists are involved, paying homage to a musical hero is a seriously tricky business.

Tribute albums began life underground in the 80s, but during the 90s, slid rapidly into the mainstream and onto full-on gimmick until eventually, bad tribute albums were about as common as flannel shirts. Fast forward a couple of decades, and even T Swizzle has been honoured – thanks, Ryan Adams – and so many artists and musicians have created tribute albums for AC/DC, ranging from death metal and rockability to bluegrass and classical, there’s even a comprehensive Wikipedia page about it. Still need some convincing? Here are 8 of our favourites.

sarah blasko life on mars

Grateful Dead Tribute Album

Okay, so we’re cheating a little… The Nationals Grateful Dead project, which they’ve been working on since 2011, is allegedly due for release later this year, as the band are still whittling down from around 70 contributions. The directives were for reimaginings rather than carbon copies, and the likes of Bon IverGrizzly Bears Daniel Rossen, Phosphorescent, Unknown Mortal Orchestra and The War On Drugs are set to make the final cut, as well as The National’s contribution, Peggy-O. If their curation of 2009’s Dark Was The Night is anything to go by, it’s safe to say we’re pretty stoked.

Stone Free: A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix

Hendrix’s contemporaries jumped onboard with this one: The Cure, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and members of Pearl Jam all paid homage, but contributions came as diverse as classical violinist Nigel Kennedy. Being a Hendrix fan was pretty much a given, and instructions to make their mark on the song of their choosing resulted in some pretty spectacular interpretations. Half the artists’ royalties went to a number of charities, including the United Negro College Fund.

I’m Your Fan

French music magazine Les Inrockuptibles were behind the creation of I’m Your Fan (points for the pun) – a tribute to the songs of Leonard Cohen. Following some serious song butchering in previous tribute albums – which Cohen’s always been impressively patient about, I’m Your Fan enlisted an impressive resume of artists, including Nick Cave and Robert Forster, who both chose to cover Tower of Song. Nick Cave’s reworking was originally an hour long, and abbreviated profoundly for the album.

In Utero In Tribute

The replication of Nirvana’s third and final album wasn’t without its dramas. In Utero In Tribute took seven years to complete before it was eventually emulated in track-by-track order. Before then, it had been stalled by legal obstacles, delays on delays, disbanding and re-banding, plus the death of Jay Reatard, who provided Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle.

Nuggets: Antipodean Interpolations Of The First Psychedelic Era

When Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From The First Psychedelic Era: 1965-1968 was released in 1972, it was hailed as a ground-breaking assemblage of American garage and psychedelic rock whose effects rippled through the generations of rockers to come. To mark the landmark album’s 40th anniversary, Australian artists created their own compilation with a selection of Nuggets’ original tracks in tribute to Lenny Kaye’s original. The result received the nod of approval from the man himself.

The Art of McCartney

Paul McCartney has been subject to an impressive number of tribute albums, and the intention to create The Art of McCartney, which accumulates both McCartney’s solo music and his work with The Beatles, was kicking around for more than 10 years before it was finally released in late 2014. James McCartney got together with The Cure to record Hello, Goodbye, and other contributors include Alice Cooper, Bob Dylan and Yusuf Islam.

We’re a Happy Family: A Tribute to Ramones

Pressure’s on, but it’d be kinda hard to get a tribute album wrong when you had a member of the original lineup on hand. Johnny Ramone oversaw the entire album, and clearly exercised privileges over his contact list, roping in the likes of Marilyn Manson, Metallica and Red Hot Chili Peppers – he liked the latter’s cover of Havana Affair so much, he used it as the opening track. The album came complete with three 10-second tracks of silence, and a hidden track from John Frusciante.

This Is Where I Belong: The Songs Of Ray Davies & The Kinks

Queens Of The Stone Age, Ron Sexsmith and Yo La Tengo and among the artists that reworked Ray Davies’ catalogue with their own musical styles – some more unrecognizably than others, as This Is Where I Belong roped in an impressively wide variety of genres. The closing track offers a true meta moment, with Ray Davies turning up not just to provide five pages of liner notes, but also to cover his own Waterloo Sunset, with some help from Damon Albarn.

Have a look at our 5 best covers of Leonard Cohen‘s Hallelujah here.