Ramones, Hendrix, and other great tribute CDs
An unaccustomed feeling struck me the other day: I found myself actually looking forward to a tribute album — in this case the upcoming Ramones tribute featuring Green Day, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rob Zombie and others.
Now, normally, news of yet another tribute album?s imminence is greeted with a sigh and a roll of the eyes by this rock critic (and many others, I?m sure). Over the past decade, there have just been too many lame, extraneous ones hitting the racks. (”A Tribute to Poison”? Gimme a break.) Still, it?s easy to see why labels like these albums. They offer a chance to rope in fans of the band or artist being honored, as well as fans of those doing the honoring. Ka-ching! More records sold!
In spite of my jaundiced views, I?m really curious to hear what a bunch of the Ramones? spiritual children will do with the band?s tunes. The Ramones? trademark sound is so archetypal, so definitive, so right — can anyone top (or even equal) them at their own game? Probably not, but I?m interested in hearing them try.
Actually, tribute albums are not by definition bad things. The recent ”This is Where I Belong: The Songs of Ray Davies & the Kinks” was especially solid (of course, they had great source material). In the past few years, there?ve even been a handful of other tributes that I?ve found myself treasuring. Following is a brief, subjective list of them:
”A Tribute to Curtis Mayfield” The love and respect for Mayfield that these artists (including Bruce Springsteen and Lenny Kravitz) brought to this project is tangible, and profoundly moving. This one leaves a lasting impression.
”More Oar: A Tribute to Alexander ?Skip? Spence” The late Moby Grape member was the very definition of a cult artist, a guy whose reputation was largely based on his obscure 1969 solo album ”Oar.” Here, hipsters like Tom Waits and the Afghan Whigs reinterpret that venerated classic to stunning effect.
”Return of the Grievous Angel: A Tribute to Gram Parsons” Country-rock legend Parsons was another tragic figure whose genius was underappreciated in his heyday. But Emmylou Harris, Sheryl Crow, and others show him love on this tastefully assembled collection. The Pretenders? version of Parsons? ?She? is alone worth the price of the CD.
”Sweet Relief: A Benefit for Victoria Williams” Assembled to raise money to help Williams in her fight against multiple sclerosis, this is a wonderful sampler of Williams? extraordinary tunes as interpreted by the likes of Pearl Jam, Lou Reed, and Soul Asylum.
”Stone Free: A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix” Since no guitarist could possibly cut Hendrix, you?d think this would be an exercise is embarrassment and self-consciousness. Think again. Unexpected artists like the Cure and P.M. Dawn rethink Hendrix?s tunes, with often incandescant results.
What do you think? Can you name any especially good or bad tribute albums?