Over the holidays MEC received a copy of Iron Horse's Fade to Bluegrass album, a collection Metallica songs done in a bluegrass style. Most of the album works really well in my opinion, but he asked me for my thoughts about the whole tribute phenomenon, and then suggested I publish the brief response I wrote. So, without further ado, and for the ages, here it is:
> Yes, what's up with those? I've run across several of these recently. Have I just not been paying attention, or are tribute albums becoming more common?
Tribute albums have been coming out in huge numbers in the last several years, beginning with one-off arrangements of rock songs for string quartet. Kronos Quartet's rendition of Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze" is the first one I remember seeing in the early 90s. In that case, I think it had something to do with elevating Hendrix to some sort of "artistic" status -- the string quartet instrumentation has the reputation in classical music of being one of the most learned (learn-ed) genres (sort of like the symphony but somehow more interior because of the four solo voices working together). Then again, we can't forget the spate of symphonic tribute albums that were released in the early 90s: London Symphony Plays the Music of the Beatles (or Genesis, or Sting, or the Rolling Stones). Like the string quartet arrangements, the symphony arrangements were also an efforts to both elevate the "tributee" through association with classical music as well as to make classical music seem more hip.
The bluegrass tribute idea is a mixture of the string quartet elevation in that it uses an instrumentation quite different than the original rock instrumentation, and the general tribute album concept of other musicians paying "tribute" to a well-known musician/band with an album of covers. From what I've seen the two types (different instrumentation vs. usual instrumentation) are released in generally equal numbers, and it's a strong-enough market that there are already tribute albums to Britney Spears, N*SYNC, and Justin Timberlake. It seems you haven't achieved cultural greatness unless you've had a tribute album recorded for you (or three or four in the case of Metallica). Sure, it's all an incredibly silly marketing scheme on some level, but then again cultural value judgements have always been a mixture of art and commerce.
Posted: Tuesday - March 15, 2005 at 05:53 PM