Every year on Halloween, Phish dons a “musical costume” and covers a classic album in full. Once a glorified excuse to play some Beatles classics, Phish’s Halloween show has become one of their most popular live sets (and boy, do they have many), with Phans spending the rest of the year voting, arguing and predicting whether they should tackle the Talking Heads next or just do some more Zappa.
But covering an entire album isn’t just a jump-off for jam sesh, and neither does it have to be an exercise in mimicry. Like the best Halloween costumes, a full-album cover takes the original and shifts it, reassembles it and recontextualizes it into a whole new experience. So rather than trot out a playlist full of “spooky songs” - why do we only have to listen to Bauhaus once a year, anyway? - we thought we’d take a look at some of our favourite front-to-back covers of entire albums.
Can’s Ege Bamyasi Played by Stephen Malkmus and Friends
Before Pavement became the secret handshake band of the record snob community, that band was Can. So it only seems fitting that Stephen Malkmus would celebrate Record Store Day (a.k.a. music geek’s Christmas) by teaming with local band Von Spar, covering all of Can’s Ege Bamyasi in their hometown of Cologne, Germany, and then releasing it on two colours of limited edition vinyl. Can’s tight, funky krautrock would seem like a challenge for Malkmus, who’s always shunned virtuosity in favour of self-conscious sloppiness, but it fits him like a small-run record sleeve.
Booker T & the MGs, McLemore Avenue
The mother of all full-album covers, Booker T & the MGs’ recorded their funky instrumental tribute to the Beatles’ Abbey Road as a way to say “thanks” for the influential record. The band rearranged the album into three long medleys, similar to the Beatles’ Side B-closing suite, and took their own version of the iconic street-crossing cover photo on McLemore Avenue, where their recording studio, Stax, was located. They released it just six months after the original. If the rest of this list is to be judged, history was made.
Daftside, Random Access Memories Memories
Before they released their debut album Psychic earlier this month, Nicolas Jaar and Dave Harrington renamed their Darkside project Daftside and tackled all of Daft Punk’s much-hyped 2013 album Random Access Memories. Many interpreted it as a commentary on the overblown nature of Daft Punk’s album, but when Darkside released Psychic just a few months later it started to look more like a mission statement: the straight-faced mix of Pink Floyd/Dire Straits classicism and future electro that Daft Punk claimed they were delivering before drowning it in their own excess.
The Flaming Lips and Stardeath and White Dwarfs with Henry Rollins and Peaches Doing The Dark Side of the Moon
Of all the things the Flaming Lips did between 2009’s Embryonic and this year’s The Terror, covering the entirely of Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon might have been the least weird. For most, remaking an entire album, let alone one of the most canonized rock albums of all time, is an ambitious undertaking, but when you compare it to a 24-hour song, a synchronized 12-iPhone symphony or a collaborative album packaged with vials of Ke$ha’s blood, covering Dark Side is almost quaint. And, despite the presence of Henry Rollins and Peaches, their treatment of Floyd’s seminal album is not that far off from the dark, loose, psychedelic style of Embryonic. Covers of the Stone Roses and King Crimson were not far behind.
Easy Star All-Stars, Radiodread
Easy Star All-Stars’ decision to cover The Dark Side of the Moon as Dub Side of the Moon made perfect sense. Most dorm rooms have a Pink Floyd poster next to a Bob Marley poster anyway, so why not push them together to create the perfect bongload soundtrack? Their follow-up cover of Radiohead’s OK Computer is less obvious. Yes, many of the same fans love Radiohead, but their complex time signatures and dense arrangements don’t obviously lend themselves to the reggae treatment. The All-Stars do an admirable job staying faithful to the material while remaking it in their own image, without sliding too far into jokey territory (“Jah loves his children” lyric on “Paranoid Android” notwithstanding).
Beck’s Record Club, The Velvet Underground & Nico
Beck has recently taken tentative steps back into active musician duty, but at the time he started Record Club he was finding comfort in recording other people’s music. Between playing producer for Stephen Malkmus, Thurston Moore and Charlotte Gainsbourg, writing songs for the fictional Scott Pilgrim band Sex Bob-Omb, and releasing an album of sheet music, he gathered a room full of famous friends to record covers of classic albums. Like many other artists, Beck was happy to proclaim the influence of Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, as were Nigel Godrich and Giovanni Ribisi, two of his collaborators he recruited to cover their landmark debut album.
The Darcys, AJA
Like many cover versions, the Darcys’ reinterpretation of Steely Dan’s Aja was borne out of creative frustration. After parting ways with their former lead singer Kirby Best forced them to re-record, remix and remaster their 2011 self-titled album as a four-piece, the Toronto band found themselves in limbo. So they decided to start a new project to keep them busy. They picked a hell of a project. Aja is one of the most expensive, laboured over studio records in an era full of them. But rather than try to recreate Donald Fagen and Walter Becker’s insane perfectionist excess, they stripped the songs down, rebuilt them as moody post-rock Darcys compositions and realized, hey, there are some really dark tunes underneath all this yacht-rock jazz .
Deer Tick, In Utero
When they’re not playing their own brand of boozy country-rock, Deer Tick moonlight as the Nirvana cover band Deervana. The boys dusted off that alt-persona just in time for In Utero's 20th anniversary, playing the whole album in New York City. Though frontman John McCauley stated many times that the band is “just for fun” it was still captured in full, good-quality by NYC Taper. Head there to grab the whole thing, and listen to “All Apologies” streaming above.
Sceeching Weasel, Ramones
There’s no secret the Ramones are a fun band to cover: they’re hooky, don’t have piles of lyrics to memorize and, because most songs are only a few chords, they're easy for anyone to pick up and play. So it’s no wonder they’re such a popular musical costume. The Vindictives, Queers, Parasides and Mr. T Experience have all taken on different Ramones albums. But for Screeching Weasel, the exercise may just have saved their volatile band (until the next disgusting crisis), who at the time had lost their bassist, Johnny Personality. The limited edition Ramones cover album revitalized the band to keep going for many more years, for better or for worse.
Dirty Projectors, Rise Above
In 2006, Dave Longstreth got in the van, listened to a ton of Black Flag’s Damaged, got out of the van and into the studio to cover 11 of its 15 tracks from memory. Dirty Projectors' busy, caffeinated style is about as far removed from Black Flag’s stripped down hardcore as you could conceivably get, and while Henry Rollin’s desperate, rage-filled sneer rarely hit the right note, Longstreth’s melismatic vocals hit both the right note, the wrong note, and every note in between. It’s hard to imagine the Black Flag faithful pumping Rise Above in their own vans, but it’s a favourite for Dirty Projectors fans.