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With word that Sister Cristina Scuccia, the singing nun from The Voice Italy, has released her debut album, with selections that include Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” and Duran Duran’s “Ordinary World,” I decided to list 20 of the craziest albums of covers we’ve ever heard. That doesn’t mean Sister Cristina album is bad. Just unusual. If anything, I am just disappointed by it, because I would’ve been psyched if she covered “When the Levee Breaks” or “Welcome to the Terrordome.” But there’s always next time!
These covers albums, however, are much weirder…
1. William Shatner - Seeking Major Tom
Captain Kirk made quite a name for himself back in the “old days” when he did unusual interpretations of “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.” His cover of Pulp’s “Common People” from 2004 was stunning. And in 2011 he released an album on which he blasts through Deep Purple’s “Space Truckin’,” Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Elton John’s “Rocket Man,” and even Hawkwind’s “Silver Machine” with special guest Wayne Kramer of the MC5. How is it possible that William Shatner has cooler taste than our parents? (Well, mine, OK.)
2. Kenny G - At Last…The Duets Album
There are many music fans who take umbrage when the name “Kenny G” and the word “music” are used in the same sentence. That, however, did not stop artists such as Burt Bacharach, Barbra Streisand, LeAnn Rimes, and Chaka Khan from collaborating with the G on this album where Bryan Adams’s “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You,” Wham’s “Careless Whisper,” and Elton John’s “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” are given the “G” treatment. Gives new meaning to the phrase, “ain’t nuthin’ but a ‘G” thang.”
3) Pat Boone - In a Metal Mood: No More Mr. Nice Guy
Pat Boone has the unfortunate legacy of being the white guy who made the works of Little Richard palatable to suburbanites of the 1950s who were obsessed with their lawns. Cashing in on that squareness, Boone sings this collection of hard-rock tunes as lounge standards. Some find it funny. Some find it torturous. I’m just disappointed there’s no Pantera.
4. Paul Anka - Rock Swings; Classic Songs, My Way
Now, see what I did. We all thought it was funny and kind of touching when Paul Anka sang Oasis’s “Wonderwall” and Billy Idol’s “Eyes Without a Face,” so, sure enough, he returned with a second album that includes the Killers’ “Mr. Brightside,” Duran Duran’s “Ordinary World” (is this where Sister Cristina got the idea?), and other songs done as you might imagine Frank Sinatra or Michael Bublé singing them. I’m still waiting for an album of Lubricated Goat covers!
5. Rockabye Baby!
Everyone wants their kids to be quiet. No one knows how to do it. But the folks who put these collections of “lullaby renditions of baby’s favorite rock bands” have the right idea, turning the music of Madonna, Bob Marley, U2, Aerosmith, Guns N’ Roses, Journey, Kanye West, and Metallica into soothing music to drool and sleep by.
6. Rush - Feedback
When Feedback was released in 2004, it made pretty much everyone do a double-take. Two Buffalo Springfield covers? Two Yardbirds covers? “Crossroads”? Most of us were under the impression that Rush was a new chapter in rock and didn’t look back, and if they did it would be to Wagner not Eddie Cochran. Luckily, Lou Reed never got a chance to hook up with them.
7. The Blues Brothers - Briefcase Full of Blues
I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that the Blues Brothers’ debut album went to No. 1 and sold more than 2 million copies, not because people were huge Delbert McClinton or Big Joe Turner fans, but because they watched Saturday Night Live and liked John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd’s characters. But I’m probably wrong about this.
8. Michael Bolton - Timeless: The Classics
Everyone’s favorite whipping boy, Michael Bolton does pick classics to cover: “Yesterday,” “Knock on Wood,” “White Christmas,” “Reach Out I’ll Be There.” It’s just not clear whether he means the songs or if his renditions are timeless. Actually, he’s right on both counts. But not for the reasons he likely thinks.
9. Scarlett Johansson - Anywhere I Lay My Head
Critics liked to pile on Johansson for this album of Tom Waits covers, but — and you can quote me — it’s not bad! If all actors had great taste in music, we’d be seeing all kinds of great albums. Brad Pitt sings Iron Butterfly! Angelina Jolie sings U2! George Clooney sings Neil Young! Gwyneth Paltrow sings Coldplay! I’ll bet Gwyneth already does. Or did.
10. Young @ Heart Chorus - Mostly Live
Just because you’re older doesn’t mean you give up living. Contrary to John “Cougar” Mellencamp’s assessment that “life goes on long after the thrill of living is gone,” these New England seniors, who’ve also been the stars of the film Young@Heart, have a great time singing “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” “Every Breath You Takem” and even Coldplay’s “Fix You.” Can you imagine what’s on their iPods?
11. Tori Amos - Strange Little Girls
Many people weren’t sure how to take her cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” but by the time she made this album, folks were pretty hip to what she could do. Whether it’s Eminem’s “97 Bonnie & Clyde” or Slayer’s “Raining Blood” or Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence,” Amos defies all expectations.
12. The Langley Schools Music Project - Innocence and Despair
Originally recorded in 1976-77, and re-released to popular acclaim in 2001, Innocence and Despair is the sound of students in music class from British Columbia running through “Good Vibrations,” “Band on the Run,” “Sweet Caroline” and “Desperado.” Pretty hip for the mid-’70s, when most kids were stuck singing “The Farmer in the Dell.”
13. The Flaming Lips - The Dark Side of the Moon
While the Flaming Lips come to mind when thinking about Pink Floyd, Henry Rollins is a bit of a stretch. The guy from Black Flag? But he’s here, running through “Money,” “Brain Damage,” and others. The result is quite loud. You know, the Lips’ recent Miley-assisted Sgt. Pepper remake might be even crazier than this.
14. Mary Lee’s Corvette - Blood on the Tracks
Sometimes the easiest way to get people to pay more attention to you is to do something they know. Every rock critic alive has spent hours writing their dissertation on Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks (I got a C-), so it was a pretty clever idea for Mary Lee Kortes and her band to record the entire album live at Arlene’s Grocery in New York City, where the shows were always free, so you couldn’t ask for your money back. I’m talking about her!
15. Camper Van Beethoven - Tusk
When Camper Van Beethoven decided to reform, they did it in high style, by giving the world their song by song recreation of Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk, because what could possibly be more natural to do than take an album legendary for its expense and ambition and attempt it yourself? The end result is long. The traffic noise during “Honey Hi” is essential. I always thought David Lowery reminded me of Stevie Nicks. You too?
16. Laibach - Let It Be
Everyone loves the Beatles! Right? And to better show their appreciation, this Slovenian avant-garde group cover Let It Be in a way that no one could have predicted. Don’t be surprised if you put on their cover of “I’ve Got a Feeling” or “Across the Universe” and are met with blank stares before someone realizes what song it actually is. It’s a lot like seeing Bob Dylan in concert, where I nearly got in a fight with a guy when he wouldn’t believe me that the song was “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.” I’m just sayin’.
17. Various Artists - If I Were a Carpenter
The 1990s were an unusual time, when underground bands became popular and music that had been considered cheesy and off-limits became cool and well-liked. The Carpenters, the duo that defined Easy Listening, were given new life among the Lollapalooza crowd. Sonic Youth’s take on “Superstar” surprised everyone, while covers of “Top of the World,” “Rainy Days and Mondays,” and “We’ve Only Just Begun” also made people rethink just how good these songs were.
18) Booker T. and the MG’s - McLemore Avenue
Within a year of the release of Abbey Road, some of the greatest musicians the world has ever known released their album of instrumental covers of songs that appear on Abbey Road, with a cover shot of them walking across the street outside their studio on McLemore Avenue in Memphis. The album didn’t have quite the same effect. Not nearly as many people visit Memphis to have their picture taken out in the street. The 2011 remaster blows the concept by adding bonus cuts of Beatles songs not on Abbey Road.
19. Various Artists - Pickin’ on Creed: A Bluegrass Tribute
I’ve never heard this, so I don’t know if hearing the music of Creed done as bluegrass is an improvement or an insult. Apparently, there’s an entire line of cover albums including Pickin’ on Willie Nelson, the Rolling Stones, Elton John…
20. Dread Zeppelin - Un-Led-Ed
Robert Plant dug them. While the idea of a reggae-rock band doing Led Zeppelin covers while fronted by a 300-pound Elvis impersonator sounds like something you’d dream about after eating fried chicken just before bedtime, it really happened. And continues to happen. Their debut album not only includes famous tunes such as “Black Dog” and “Whole Lotta Love,” but “Moby Dick,” which is a drum solo. Who covers a drum solo? Genius!