2015: The Year People Flipped Over Covers Albums
Albums of covers have existed for years. Technically, the first proper "albums" are covers collections -- one singer would create a unified set made up of songs written by one songwriter (or songwriting team) after they were already popular. (The oldest one being Lee Wiley's 1939 collection of 78s, Lee Wiley Sings the Songs of George & Ira Gershwin.)
Fast-forward about seven decades. Even as digital music consumption lessens the importance of the album as music's default art form, covers albums that cover an existing album start-to-finish have become increasingly commonplace. From the Walkmen's 2006 version of Harry Nilsson's Pussy Cats to the Flaming Lips remaking Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon in 2009, covers LPs have become a familiar treat.
Even so, covers albums reached new levels of public attention in 2015. And as with so many things, we have Taylor Swift to thank.
Long-running indie fave Ryan Adams got sick of recording his own material in 2015, so he did what absolutely no one expected: He hit the studio and recorded every song on Taylor Swift's blockbuster 2014 album 1989.
The slow rollout of Adams' 1989 -- involving song snippets and gleeful tweets from Taylor -- was so well-publicized that Father John Misty stuck his head up from his underground music cocoon for a minute to playfully mock the whole process with two Swift covers done in the style of Lou Reed.
Regardless, much of America dug Adams' effort, sending his version of 1989 to No. 7 on the Billboard 200 the same week Swift's original was at No. 8. Adams even went on a promo cycle of sorts for his covers album, extolling the virtues of Swift's songwriting and the durability of her material to us and the Daily Show.
A less lauded, but arguably more consistent, covers album in 2015 came to us via Bleachers. Jack Antonoff asked a variety of artists -- from Tinashe to Sia to Carly Rae Jepsen to tourmate Charlie XCX -- to cover different songs on his 2014 debut Strange Desire. Retitled Terrible Thrills Vol. 2, the collection even features his older sister, Rachel, on one song.
And, no surprise, 2015 saw the Flaming Lips deliver another covers record. After reinterpreting classic albums from Pink Floyd and King Crimson, the psychedelic-loving Lips finally turned their sights on the Holy Grail: The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. With assists from Miley Cyrus and My Morning Jacket, they delivered With a Little Help From My Fwends, an LP that confounded as many as it satisfied. Regardless, Wayne Coyne's merry band of musical pranksters deserve credit for doing something few artists dare to -- take musical risks with the beloved Beatles.
While a few of the tracks fell far short of getting better, several -- particularly Miley's cacophonous "Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds" -- captured the Beatles' restless spirit of innovation.
What covers albums will 2016 bring... or will it bring any? Has the novelty worn-out now that a Taylor Swift record is in the mix? Or will Father John Misty hunker down and record Adele's 25 in the style of Throbbing Gristle? We can only hope.