Skip to main content

Ryan Adams’ ‘1989’ & A History of Cover Albums

Ryan Adams has gone where no artist has gone before, placing his 1989 cover album in the top 10 of the Billboard 200, right next to Taylor Swift's original. But Adams is not the first artist to…

Ryan Adams has gone where no artist has gone before, placing his 1989 cover album in the top 10 of the Billboard 200, right next to Taylor Swift‘s original. But Adams is not the first artist to perform the rare feat of covering another artist’s entire album.

The Memphis-based instrumental group Booker T. & the MG’s covered the BeatlesAbbey Road, releasing McLemore Avenue just a few months after the original debuted on the Billboard charts.

McLemore Avenue, named for the street where the offices of the Stax label were located, consisted of four medleys of instrumental versions of the songs included on Abbey Road. While the Beatles’ album spent 11 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, the cover version peaked at No. 107, the eighth-highest-ranking album of Booker T. & the MG’s 10 chart albums.


More Than Half of Ryan Adams’ ‘1989’ Debuts on Hot Rock Songs Chart

Booker T. wasn’t the only artist who came up with the idea of covering Abbey Road. George Benson followed a similar format, recording the Beatles’ songs from that album in five medleys. The Other Side of Abbey Road was also released in 1970. It was his second album to chart, and when it peaked at No. 125, it became his highest-ranking set to that date. Six years later, Benson topped the Billboard 200 with his most successful LP, Breezin’.

Two decades after Booker T. and Benson reinterpreted Abbey Road, the retro-rock band Big Daddy gave the same treatment to another Beatles album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Signed to Rhino, the group gave a ’50s doo-wop spin to the Sgt. Pepper songs, placing them in the same order as the original. In 2009, Cheap Trick also kept the original track list on Sgt. Pepper Live, adding a medley of songs from Abbey Road as the last cut.

Both Taylor Swift & Ryan Adams’ ‘1989’ Albums Are in Top 10 of Billboard 200 Chart

There have been other instances of artists covering an album, if you include new versions of Broadway cast albums. In 1968, Berry Gordy had Diana Ross & the Supremes perform the songs from Barbra Streisand‘s Funny Girl original cast LP. The Motown version was released just as the motion picture, also starring Streisand, was hitting theaters.

Before the Supremes asked you not to rain on their parade, the “teenage triangle” stars of Colpix Records — actors James Darren, Shelley Fabares and Paul Petersen — along with the hit singing group the Marcels (“Blue Moon”), did a cover album of the songs from the Broadway rock ‘n’ roll musical Bye Bye Birdie.

In 1963, Frank Sinatra came up with the idea of having the artists on his Reprise label — including fellow Rat Packers Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. — along with artists from other labels record four albums that covered the cast albums from Guys and Dolls, Finian’s Rainbow, Kiss Me Kate and South Pacific. They were originally sold as a box set through mail order and then, a year later, issued separately and sold in record stores. The only one of the four to have a CD reissue is Guys and Dolls.

Any discussion of cover albums would have to include tribute albums, which are usually dedicated to an artist, not a specific album. An exception is Legacy: A Tribute to Fleetwood Mac‘s Rumours, featuring acts like Goo Goo Dolls, Matchbox Twenty and Elton John. Released in 1998, the album peaked at No. 86 on the Billboard 200. Camper Van Beethoven also paid tribute to Fleetwood Mac, releasing a song-for-song remake of Tusk in 2003.