Pin Ups: The 20 best covers albums

19 October 2023, 09:00

David Bowie is joined by model Twiggy for the sleeve of his 1973 covers album, Pin-Ups
David Bowie is joined by model Twiggy for the sleeve of his 1973 covers album, Pin-Ups. Picture: Justin de Villeneuve/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

50 years after David Bowie paid tribute to his own musical heroes, who else has released whole albums of other people's tunes?

Radio X

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  1. David Bowie - Pin-Ups (1973)

    Hot on the heels of his Aladdin Sane album in 1973, Bowie issued this album of covers paying tribute to his musical influences and heroes. The choices lean heavily towards Bowie’s Mod roots - including two early Who tracks - but includes his take on Pink Floyd’s second single, See Emily Play.

    I Can't Explain (2015 Remastered Version)

  2. Johnny Cash - American IV: The Man Comes Around

    Producer Rick Rubin revitalised the Man In Black’s career and this set of covers was the final LP to be issued in Cash’s lifetime. It’s home to his awesome version of Nine Inch NailsHurt, but within the double album you’ll also find his sparse takes on Personal Jesus (Depeche Mode), Simon And Garfunkel (Bridge Over Trouble Water), and The Beatles (In My Life).

    Johnny Cash - Hurt

  3. John Lennon - Rock & Roll (1975)

    The former Beatle got into legal trouble with his song Come Together for copying a lyric and part of the settlement was to record an album of covers based on songs from Lennon’s youth. The whole story is quite involved and tortuous, but we got a pretty decent cover of Ben E. King’s Stand By Me out of it.

    Stand By Me - John Lennon

  4. Weezer - The Teal Album (2019)

    The band’s version of the classic 80s yacht rock classic Africa (originally recorded by Toto) was so successful that Rivers Cuomo and his crew unleashed a whole album of covers. Included on the pastel-coloured Teal Album are takes on Tears For Fears (Everybody Wants To Rule The World), TLC (No Scrubs), A-ha (Take On Me), Michael Jackson (Billie Jean) and ELO (Mr Blue Sky). Nice outfits, too.

    Weezer - Everybody Wants To Rule The World

  5. The Rolling Stones - Blue And Lonesome

    Mick, Keef, Ronnie and Charlie return to their early days as young blues fans with a collection of classics from the likes of Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon, Memphis Slim and more. It’s nice to see the old folk having something of their own that they can enjoy, isn’t it?

    The Rolling Stones – Just Your Fool - Blue & Lonesome (60” clip)

  6. Metallica - Garage Inc (1998)

    The LA metal legends took a return to their garage rock roots with an album of songs that had a huge influence on their music. There’s US rock (Blue Öyster Cult, Lynyrd Skynyrd), punk (The Misfits, Discharge), a bit of British metal (Black Sabbath, Diamond Head) and their version of the track covered by Thin Lizzy, Whiskey In The Jar.

    Metallica - Whiskey In The Jar (Video)

  7. Guns N’Roses - “The Spaghetti Incident?”

    A quick album of punk covers that turned out to be the band’s last album for 15 years. They take on The Damned’s New Rose, The Stooges’ Raw Power, New York Dolls’ Human Being and whipped up some mild controversy by including a song by convicted criminal and cult leader Charles Manson as a hidden track.

    New Rose Guns N' Roses

  8. Siouxsie And The Banshees - Through The Looking Glass (1987)

    )The Banshees liked a cover - their biggest hit was with The Beatles’ Dear Prudence - but this was a full album of the post-punk pioneers’ favourite tunes. They do Bob Dylan (This Wheel’s On Fire, Sparks (This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us), Kraftwerk (Hall Of Mirrors), The Doors (You’re Lost Little Girl) and even a track from the Jungle Book soundtrack (Trust In Me). But it’s their version of Iggy Pop’s The Passenger that’s the absolute banger.

    Siouxsie And The Banshees - The Passenger

  9. Paul McCartney - Сно́ва в СССР

    In the summer of 1987, before the Soviet Union broke up and the Berlin Wall fell, Macca recorded this album of 50s rock'n'roll covers as a gift to his fans behind the Iron Curtain. Issued on the Melodiya label in October 1988 and with a title that read "Back In The USSR" in Russian, the LP was given a release in the West three years later after copies of the original began changing hands in the UK for silly money.

    That's All Right (Mama)

  10. Bryan Ferry - These Foolish Things

    The Roxy Music frontman issued his first solo album - a collection of covers - at the same time that Bowie was readying Pin Ups, so there must have been something in the water. Ferry takes on the Stones (Sympathy For The Devil), The Beach Boys (Don't Worry Baby) and Bob Dylan (the excellent A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall).

    Bryan Ferry - A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall

  11. Ringo Starr -Sentimental Journey

    Old Ringo was roundly mocked when this collection of covers recorded for his mum Elsie was issued as the first "real" solo album to come from a Beatle in March 1970 - in fact, the drummer had only just issued the LP when Paul McCartney announced that the Fab Four were no more.

    Starr takes on old standards such as Love Is A Many Splendored Thing and Bye Bye Blackbird, with orchestrations by George Martin and Quincey Jones, but contemporary reviewers thought it was stuffy and old hat; it's only in recent decades that people realised that Ringo was anticipating the "big band" revival of later years (see: Robbie Williams, Westlife, etc).

    Ringo Starr - Sentimental Journey

  12. Various Artists - Rubiyat

    In 1990, the influential US record company Eketra was celebrating its 40th anniversary, so to mark the occasion modern acts signed to the label were asked to cover tracks by older Elektra artists. This means you get The Cure covering The Doors (Hello I Love You), Happy Mondays covering John Kongos (Tokoloshe Man, the session that spawned the hit Step On) and Metallica doing Queen (Stone Cold Crazy). The most startling moment is the Pixies' scorching version of Born In Chicago by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

    pixies born in chicago

  13. Nina Simone - Here Comes the Sun

    Miss Simone issued this album of contemporary covers in 1971 and her take on George Harrison's title track almost eclipses the original. Elsewhere, you'll find versions of Bob Dylan's Just Like A Woman (a very pointed cover, coming from Simone), Mr Bojangles and the inevitable My Way.

    Nina Simone - Here Comes the Sun (Audio)

  14. Various Artists - Ruby Trax

    For the NME's 40th birthday, the big indie bands of the day covered Number 1 hits from the music paper's lifetime up until that point. Best tracks include Manic Street Preachers doing Suicide Is Painless (Theme From MASH), Blur doing Rod Stewart's Maggie May and The Wonder Stuff's passable take on Slade's Cuz I Luv You. Skip The Farm slaughtering The Human League's Don't You Want Me, though.

    Manic Street Preachers - Theme from M*A*S*H (Suicide Is Painless) (Video)

  15. Deftones - Covers

    The US alt.rockers compiled this collection of covers from b-sides and extra tracks, and it's pretty eclectic. They do The Cure (If Only Tonight We Could Sleep, which got the thumbs-up from Robert Smith himself), The Smiths (Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want), The Cars (Drive) and - unexpectedly - Sade (No Ordinary Love).

    Deftones - If Only Tonight We Could Sleep (live at MTV Icon)

  16. Tori Amos - Strange Little Girls

    The American singer-songwriter had her own take on the covers album concept in 2001: the tracks she covered were all written and performed by men. This means you get Tori's version of Enjoy The Silence (Depeche Mode), I'm Not In Love (10cc), The Beatles (Happiness Is A Warm Gun) and The Stranglers (the title track).

    Tori Amos Strange Little Girl Music Video

  17. Placebo - Covers

    Another collection of b-sides and extra tracks, Brian Molko's version of 20th Century Boy by T. Rex will be well know, but the band's take on Running Up That Hill by Kate Bush is outstanding and the versions of Where Is My Mind (Pixies) and Bigmouth Strikes Again (The Smiths) are also great.

    Placebo - Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God) (Cover) Official Music Video

  18. Nouvelle Vague - Nouvelle Vague

    The French band have made a career of recording lounge covers of classic indie and post punk hits, but their first, self-title outing remains the best. Their versions of Joy Division's Love Will Tear Us Apart, Depeche Mode's Just Can't Get Enough and The Clash's Guns Of Brixton are the stuff of imaginary John Lewis Christmas adverts.

    Nouvelle Vague - Love Will Tear Us Apart (Full Track)

  19. Booker T & The MGs - McLemore Avenue (1970)

    Best known for their 1962 hit Green Onions (as heard in the film Quadrophenia), the Memphis band covered The BeatlesAbbey Road (well, most of its famous medley anyway) in their own soulful style. As a gag, their album was named after the location of the Stax studio in Memphis, with the band pictured crossing the road outside as per the Fab Four’s version. Have a listen to them noodling around Golden Slumbers.

    Medley: Golden Slumbers / Carry That Weight / The End / Here Comes The Sun / Come Together

  20. Martin L Gore - Counterfeit EP

    The songwriter from Depeche Mode issued this six-track collection of covers in 1989, just before the band returned with Violator. Gore's tremulous voice adds new depths to what tends to be unfamiliar material: the opener, Compulsion is a memorable song by indie one-off Joe Crow, and there are tunes by The Durutti Column and The Comsat Angels, while Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth is a prescient ballad from the hugely influential Sparks.

    Martin L. Gore - Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth