Some tributes are clearly labelled as such. On Hunky Dory, David Bowie sang a song called Song For Bob Dylan. The music is in the style of Bob Dylan, the voice includes some of his quirks and he addresses Bob directly. However, some aren’t. The very next track on Hunky Dory is Queen Bitch, widely regarded as a tribute to The Velvet Underground. The arrangement, featuring a melodic bass line, a tight drum pattern, choppy distorted guitar chords, and an understated vocal performance by Bowie, resembles Sweet Jane but neither Lou Reed nor The Velvet Underground are mentioned in the lyric.
It’s the latter type I’m looking for.
My nomination for best Oblique Tribute goes to Brian Eno, of course. In 1977. He’d witnessed a New Wave act perform at CBGBs. He was so impressed he included a tribute on his album, Before And After Science, to mark the transition point from Before to After. The music is markedly jerky, yet funky, he goes to the trouble of impersonating the lead singer’s voice and the lyrics are peculiar. The title of the track is King’s Lead Hat, an anagram of the band in question, a band who were virtually unknown at the time.