Inscrutable and defiant, the cover image of David Bowie’s 12th album “Heroes” is one of the most iconic images in all of rock ‘n’ roll. So you can hardly blame Bowie for thinking it was too good to only be used once. The cover of his latest album, The Next Day, is a direct homage to one of the most cherished albums in his lengthy discography. But while Bowie is an innovator in many fields, in this instance he’s actually part of a long tradition of artists using their album art to nod to the past.
Before the Clash, Ween and the X-Ecutioners became restless, boundary-pushing artists, they were devoted music fans. That spirit never left them, and they used the covers of some of their most beloved albums to pay tribute to those that inspired them to keep pushing forward. In an effort to pay tribute to other people’s tributes, we’ve gathered together 10 of our favorite album cover homages. As these picks prove, everyone gets inspired by someone else, but what matters most is where you take it next.
David Bowie and David Bowie
From Joni Mitchell to David Lynch to TV on the Radio, David Bowie has always been a vocal fan of the artists that excite him, and he’s nearly always shown great taste. So it makes sense that David Bowie would be a big David Bowie fan — because what right-thinking person isn’t? On The Next Day, Bowie and his trusted producer Tony Visconti revisit some of the sounds and lyrical themes from his most classic albums (single “Where Are We Now” even checks back in on Berlin), but always keeps an eye toward the future. As such, the cover of The Next Day makes sense: It acknowledges the past, but makes it clear that Bowie has no interest in staying there.
Elvis Presley and The Clash
The Clash famously sang “No Elvis, Beatles or The Rolling Stones” on their single “1977,” but don’t believe a word of it. One listen to their magnum opus London Calling reveals that Joe Strummer and co. had an encyclopedic knowledge of rock ‘n’ roll, rocksteady reggae and R&B. Just to prove these guys knew their roots, the cover of London is a spot-on reference to Elvis Presley’s self-titled debut album. The font and color scheme is the same, with a picture of bassist Paul Simonon wrecking his guitar subbed in for Presley playing his. It’s often read as an announcement that The Clash had officially arrived to tear down the past, but perhaps it was just a way for rock’s then newest vanguards to show sly respect to the king they knew they were replacing.
Simon & Garfunkel and Kruder & Dorfmeister
Austrian downtempo duo Kruder & Dorfmeister released this EP in 1993, well before Francis McDormand’s character in Almost Famous called Simon & Garfunkel “the poetry of drugs and promiscuous sex.” But they had likely already heard the rumors about how the New York folkies stayed so mellow and introspective. Their debut EP G-Stoned paid tribute to a previous generation’s chill-out soundtrack, while demonstrating the perennial ability of the black turtleneck to make anyone look sophisticated and intellectual.
Lifetime and The Ergs
New Jersey jokers The Ergs named their first album Dorkrockcorkrod and never let you forget that they were three obsessed music geeks, as quick to praise (lest you get it twisted, The Ben Kweller EP was truly a labor of love) as they were to condemn (all time greatest Ergs song title: “Johnny Rzeznik Needs His Ass Kicked”). Their 2005 EP Jersey’s Best Prancers paid tribute to Garden State Punk O.G.’s Lifetime’s seminal Jersey’s Best Dancers, an album best known for the scene anthem “Theme Song for a New Brunswick Basement Show.” Sure, The Ergs actually repped nearby South Amboy, but the sentiment crossed county lines.
Andrew Hill and Atmosphere
Atmosphere is best known for MC Slug’s tales of bad love and hard luck, but producer/DJ Anthony “Ant” Davis has always demonstrated a keen ear for 1960′s soul, pop and jazz samples. Though Atmosphere’s debut album has bits of Bee Gees and Stevie Wonder in the mix, the album cover pays tribute to Andrew Hill’s 1964 bop classic Judgment. Perhaps Ant already had it in his collection (the man knows a good horn riff when he hears it), or perhaps Slug could relate to the title.
Leonard Cohen and Ween
During their long, glorious existence, Ween were simultaneously the most irreverent and respectful group of music aficionados around. Sure, they might write a Jimmy Buffet pisstake called “Bananas and Blow,” but they still cared enough to totally nail the steel drum. The duo’s second album The Pod is perhaps the “brownest” album in their catalog, so dank and weird that it still gives a contact high two decades later. For reasons known only to The Boognish, these weirdos decided that this was the best possible moment to pay tribute to The Best Of Leonard Cohen, with the cover picture of Canada’s Greatest Poet swapped out for a shot of bassist Mean Ween enjoying some of Home Depot’s Finest. Hey, perhaps the authors of “She Fucks Me” wanted to make sure we knew that they knew that Leonard Cohen is some of the best getting-laid music around.
Public Enemy and The X-Ecutioners
Sure, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back gets all the attention, but Public Enemy’s debut Yo! Bum Rush the Show introduced the world to the prowess of DJ Terminator X and producer Hank Shocklee. This album finished the argument that Run-D.M.C. started, re: the ability of two turntables relative to the ability to rock a crowd. A nation of DJs owe this album an eternal debt, and New York scratch collective The X-Ecutioners paid tribute with the cover of their 2002 breakthrough Built From Scratch, which shoved turntabilism in to the mainstream for a few minutes via the Linkin Park collaboration “It’s Goin’ Down.”
Michael Jackson and Tech N9ne
Michael Jackson is arguably the most popular musician who ever lived, and Thriller is his world-conquering masterpiece. Tech N9ne, for his part, is really, really popular in Kansas City. Killer is another fine entry in a discography devoted to helping Midwestern rap fans blow off some steam and ruin their speakers. As the straitjacket cover and song titles like “Get The F**k Outta Here,” make clear, Tech isn’t really interested in making a four-quadrant audience pleaser in the mold of Thriller, though even MJ could get down with the message of “Hope For A Higher Power.” Though he probably would have preferred it came with less gunshot samples.
2 Live Crew and Spank Rock & Benny Blanco
Miami booty-bass mob 2 Live Crew were called all kinds of things during the run as lords of the low rider in the late ’80s — usually various synonyms for “juvenile” and “gross.” One thing they were hardly ever called was “inspiring,” but Luke Skywalker’s ass anthems must have touched the – let’s say “hearts” — of young Virginia smart alecks Spank Rock & Benny Blanco. The music often gets as cheeky as the cover, with tracks like “B-O-O-T-A-Y” serving double duty as paeans to both derrieres and sticky nostalgia for misspent youth.
Kiss and The Melvins
Before King Buzzo and company became the most pitiless riff monsters to ever emerge from the Northeast, The Melvins were just a bunch of teenage arena rock fans. And during the height of 1990′s cred-auditing, the group went out of their way to display their good standing in the Kiss Army by patterning a series of three Eps after Kiss’ infamous four solo album deluge. Gene Simmons recruited guests like Cher, Jeff “Skunk” Baxter and even a pre-fame Katy Segal for his opus, while Buzzo got his friend Dave Grohl, then at the height of Nirvanamania, to take care of the drum skins. Because the early ’90s were unfathomably strange, a year later The Melvins, whom often strived to sound like a black hole swallowing a whale, signed to a major label, toured arenas with Nine Inch Nails and even got Simmons to jam with them onstage.