Waxing Nostalgic: An Introduction to Cover Albums

Published on June 12th, 2013 in: Music, Waxing Nostalgic |

By Jeffery X Martin


There comes a time in every established musical act’s career when they say to themselves, “You know what? We should do an entire album of other people’s songs.” Most of the time, this is the worst possible decision a musician can make, yet these albums keep coming. Why is this? Why do otherwise intelligently managed musical acts decide to make cover albums? As far as I, a reasonably intelligent music outsider, can tell, there are three reasons.

#1: It’s cheap. Writing songs is hard work. Believe me. I’ve done it. Your audience expects results and shit. Why not let other people do the actual songwriting work, pay some minimal royalties, and maybe score a top ten hit off of it? You’ll get all the glory for “breathing new life” into an old song and maybe the original artists will get a half-hour special on VH1. Everybody wins.

#2: You want to pay respect to the artists who influenced you. Not every professional musician is a jaded old fart, just sucking the money out of a business gone sour. Some musicians are still music fans. They think back to their influences, the bands that formed their own musical blueprints, and they sincerely want to present an homage. The most sincere form of flattery is imitation, after all, so why not say “thank you” by covering your most beloved material?

#3: You’re a lazy ass. Let’s say you’ve got a contract to fulfill. You suck live, so a new concert album is out of the question. You’re too coked out to actually write and perform a totally new record. What choice do you have? Might as well lay down some tracks for song you already know by heart. You could just turn on a mic while you’re in the shower, grab a vocal track, and have some session players lay down some basics. It’s simple. It fulfills your contact. You’re finished. Go off to Palm Springs and play golf with Alice Cooper.

I’m being a bit sarcastic, obviously, but this whole phenomenon of “cover albums” keeps popping up. Specifically, bands from the Eighties, the very decade I was hired to write about for this fine website, keep pumping out this kind of “entertainment” for the masses. Certainly, you don’t expect an entertainment destination such as Popshifter not to address this situation.
And I am just the man to do it.

Over the next few weeks, I shall expose you to things you never dreamt possible, or even probable, in this world you believe to be so civilized. I have found albums from the least likely of artists covering the least likely of songs. You may be shocked and amazed. You won’t be alone.

Please join us next week as I begin a new series: Cover Albums—Your God is Dead.

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