12 Best Tribute Albums Of All Time

26 February 2024 | 11:25 am | Tobias Handke

Although in plentiful supply, there are only a handful of tribute albums that really stick the landing.

Neil Young / Jimi Hendrix / Yoko Ono / Neneh Cherry

Neil Young / Jimi Hendrix / Yoko Ono / Neneh Cherry (Supplied)

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It was recently announced that film production and distribution company A24 is releasing a Talking Heads tribute album. Everyone’s Getting Involved contains 16 covers from the band’s iconic 1984 live album Stop Making Sense, with the likes of Paramore, The National, Lorde and The Linda Lindas all contributing.

This concept of the tribute album isn’t a new thing, with the first album of this type believed to be Oscar Peterson covering Duke Ellington for the 1960 release Oscar Peterson Plays The Duke Ellington Song Book. Since then, there have been thousands of albums paying homage to the world’s best bands and artists, with everyone from The Beatles and White Zombie to Harry Nilsson and Dolly Parton having their songs covered by their peers.

Although in plentiful supply, there are only a handful of tribute albums that really stick the landing and offer unique and pleasing versions of the originals. If you’re wondering which of these albums are required listening, fear not, as we’ve compiled a list of our favourite tribute albums worth seeking out below.

The Bridge: A Tribute To Neil Young (1989)

This 1989 testimonial to Neil Young brings together an eclectic mix of ‘80s alternate acts for an album of intriguing covers. Along with contributions from the likes of The Flaming Lips, Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth and Pixies, proceeds from album sales went to various charities and non-profit organisations. Each performer injects part of their sound into each cover, with Nick Cave turning Helpless into a haunting hymn in the way only he can.

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Day Of The Dead (2016)

It’s been 25 years since Grateful Dead’s last studio album, but that hasn’t deterred their fan base from continuing to keep the group’s legacy alive. Among those who count themselves as Deadheads are The National’s Aaron and Bryce Dessner, who co-produced this release for the Red Hot Organisation.

Day Of The Dead contains a whopping 59 covers of Grateful Dead songs from an array of well-known artists, with The National contributing three songs themselves. Stand-out covers include Bruce Hornsby and DeYarmond Edison’s take on Black Muddy River, Angel Olsen’s live version of Attics Of My Life, and Charles Bradley and the Menahan Street Band tackling Cumberland Blues.

Stone Free: Tribute To Jimi Hendrix (1993)

Sometimes cover songs stay pretty close to the original, but that’s not the case for the majority of songs on this album. Those involved were encouraged to pick their favourite Jimi Hendrix track and put their own spin on it. The result is a mixed bag that sees The Cure turn Purple Haze into an ‘80s goth tune, Body Count pull off an impressive rendition of Hey Joe, and P.M. Dawn going off the deep end with the duo’s cover of You Got Me Floating.

Although a little inconsistent, the album is worth a listen just to hear M.A.C.C.’s (Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready and Jeff Ament, and Soundgarden’s Matt Cameron and Chris Cornell) ripping version of Hey Baby.

Neneh Cherry – The Versions (2022)

This one is a little different due to the fact Neneh Cherry appears on all the songs. Unlike your traditional tribute album, Cherry enlisted some of her favourite artists to help reimagine her biggest tracks.

The Versions features a diverse range of collaborators, with Robyn and Mapei appearing on Buffalo Stance, ANOHNI duetting with Cherry for Woman, and Sudan Archives lending her talents to a recreation of Heart. The album acts as a fantastic reminder of Cherry’s talent and how important her impact on modern music has been.

Enjoy Every Sandwich: The Songs Of Warren Zevon (2004)

When it comes to underrated artists, Warren Zevon is right up there. The Chicago songwriter toiled for several years before his third album, Excitable Boy, became an unexpected hit in 1978.

Despite that initial burst of success, Zevon’s career didn’t take off like many imagined. While his work was critically acclaimed, he struggled commercially, developing a cult following that endured right up until his early death from cancer at age 56 in 2003.

A year later, his career was celebrated by his peers with the release of Enjoy Every Sandwich. The record includes contributions from Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne, Bruce Springsteen and Don Henley. The most surprising cover comes from Adam Sandler, who plays it remarkably straight singing Werewolves Of London in a way only he can, highlighting Zevon’s cult appeal.

I’ll Be Your Mirror: A Tribute To The Velvet Underground & Nico (2021)

If you’ve ever wanted to hear Courtney Barnett turn I’ll Be Your Mirror into an idyllic acoustic number, then this is the album for you. In conjunction with the release of Todd Haynes’ documentary about The Velvet Underground, this album of artists covering the group’s 1967 avant-garde masterpiece The Velvet Underground & Nico was released.

Along with Barnett, you get Michael Stipe dazzling on Sunday Morning, Sharon Van Etten transforming Femme Fatale into a brooding string composition, and King Princess injecting There She Goes Again with her vibrant personality.

They Will Have Their Way: The Songs Of Tim And Neil Finn (2011)

We jokingly claim them as our own, but there’s no doubt the Finn brothers are New Zealand’s greatest musical export. After initial success with Split Enz, the duo went on to bigger and better things with the formation of Crowded House.

In 2005, a tribute album featuring female artists such as Missy Higgins, Little Birdy and Natalie Imbruglia covering the brothers became a surprise hit. Five years later a follow-up was released with male artists (Paul Dempsey, Oh Mercy, Dan Sultan and more) taking on the brother’s tunes.

2011 saw the inevitable release of a compilation featuring both albums. Boy & Bear’s cover of Fall At Your Feet is the record’s most notable track, coming in at the #5 spot on triple k’s Hottest 100 in 2010, but the real gem is New Buffalo’s (aka Sally Seltmann) riveting deconstruction of Four Seasons In One Day. Pure bliss.

Ocean Child: Songs Of Yoko Ono (2022)

Often painted as the villain in The Beatles story, Yoko Ono gets way more flak than she deserves. An accomplished artist in her own right, she counts Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard as a big fan – so much so that he produced an Ono tribute record to celebrate her career.

Released to coincide with Ono’s 89th birthday, Gibbard amassed a random assortment of contributors to interpret her extensive collection of songs. Sharon Van Etten, David Byrne, Japanese Breakfast, Yo La Tengo and Gibbard’s band all appear, with Sudan Archives’ soothing take on Dogtown a clear highlight.

We’re A Happy Family: A Tribute To Ramones (2003)

Even if you’re not a Ramones fan, this compilation is worth a listen just for the talent involved. Metallica, KISS, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Garbage and Green Day are just some of the massive ‘90s acts covering their favourite New York punk band’s tunes.

Produced by Rob Zombie (who also contributes a cover of Blitzkrieg Bop), highlights include Rancid performing Sheena Is A Punk Rocker, The Offspring’s surprisingly authentic take on I Wanna Be Sedated, and Eddie Vedder mumbling his way through I Believe In Miracles backed by punk rockers Zeke.

The Metallica Blacklist (2021)

Released to commemorate the 39th anniversary of Metallica’s eponymous 1991 album, The Metallica Blacklist features 53 artists covering the album, with multiple artists covering the same song. It’s overkill, with many of the renditions bordering on boring, but there’s enough here to make one solid album sure to pique the interest of any music lover.

Rina Sawayama takes Enter Sandman and turns it into Nine Inch Nails-esque industrial metal, St. Vincent goes dark synth-pop on Sad But True, and The Chats have a lot of fun with their balls-to-the-wall Aussie pub-rock version of Holier Than Thou. Then there’s Kamasi Washington going ham on My Friend Of Misery, which is an absolute joy to listen to. Metallica has never sounded better.