preloder
Photo Frank Griffin

Celebrate Prince’s Birthday With 24 Rare Covers

By Mark Montgomery French

Prince songs are beloved by musicians of every stripe. Jam bands and jazz heads, country acts and chamber orchestras, neo-soul singers and new age slingers, all have been inspired to perform his “easy-to-play-yet-difficult-to-improve-upon” tunes for the sheer joy of it.

Here are 24 of them for your listening pleasure on June 7, Prince’s birthday. (That’s one song per hour, all day long!)


1) Green Day, “Let’s Go Crazy”

— Originally from Purple Rain

You don’t always have to play a Prince song when performing in Minneapolis — as Green Day did here in 2009 — but Minneapolis definitely appreciates it.

2) Snoop Dogg, “Cool”

— Originally from The Time

The Time was Prince’s foray into secretly creating entire albums then pretending he had nothing to do with them. The anthemic “Cool” single credits Jamie Starr as the songwriter, though Prince co-wrote it with his guitarist Dez Dickerson.

3) Stone Gossard (of Pearl Jam), “1999”

— Originally from 1999 

Stone Gossard’s soothing, rainbow-refracted, Sunday brunch spin on the nuclear armageddon classic features a sky that’s occasionally “all purple”.

4) Chris Stapleton, “Nothing Compares 2 U”

— Originally from The Family

Recorded two days after Prince’s death, country artist Chris Stapleton wrapped his leather-and-whiskey voice around the raw sadness of the Sinead O’Connor hit.

5) D’Angelo and The Roots, “She’s Always in My Hair”

— Originally the B-side of “Raspberry Beret”, later released on The Hits/The B-Sides

R&B sorcerer D’Angelo is famous for his enigmatic sense of groove and his glacial pace of productivity, rivalling Tool with his “one album per decade” catalog. But he did sneak his re-imagining of the slinky B-side onto the soundtrack of Scream 2, starting D’Angelo’s fascination with hiding new songs inside another creator’s violent media.

6) The Pike School Students, “Starfish and Coffee”

— Originally from Sign ‘O’ The Times

It’s sweetly perfect that this gentle song about a middle school classmate is performed here by middle school classmates.

7) Elvis Costello & The Attractions, “Pop Life”

— Originally from Around The World In A Day

Prince refused to let Elvis Costello release his studio cover of “Pop Life” so all we have is his live take…and Costello’s rewrite that became “The Bridge I Burned”.

8) Burnt Sugar, “Anotherloverholenyourhead”

— Originally from Parade

In which the avant-garde improvisational ensemble pivots to feast upon the gravy of a pre-written tune, and gets some stank on ya.

9) Lenny Kravitz, “When Doves Cry” and “The Cross”

— Originally from Purple Rain and Sign ‘O’ The Times

kra•vitz
verb: to strut and pout while soulfully rocking

“Augmented by a thick gospel choir, Lenny kravitzed through a Prince tribute at the 2017 Rock Hall Induction Ceremony.”

10) Pansy Division, “Jack U Off”

— Originally from Controversy

Veteran queercore punk rockers Pansy Division actually tones down some of the joyful sleaziness found in the original version, although it’s still PLENTY joyful and sleazy.

11) Tina Turner, “Let’s Pretend We’re Married”

— Originally from 1999

At the time of this recording, Tina Turner had recently escaped from a violent 16-year union to rock pioneer/wife-beater Ike Turner, so it’s amazing how well she can sell a happy pretend marriage. 

12) Michael Hedges, “A Love Bizarre”

— Originally from Romance 1600

The late acoustic “new edge” guitarist grooves all over the Sheila E. classic with a lil’ secret sauce from Shadowfax drummer Stuart Nevitt.

13) Herbie Hancock and The New Standard All Stars, “Thieves in the Temple”

— Originally from Graffiti Bridge

Legendary pianist Herbie Hancock assembled The Avengers of jazz players — Michael Brecker, John Scofield, Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette, Don Alias — for an incredible, uncanny, and mighty 22-minute live take.

14) HAIM, “I Would Die 4 U”

— Originally from Purple Rain

Not only did the Haim sisters invoke the spirit of the song, but they also invoked the choreography and the lighting. Prince would be impressed with their attention to detail.

15) Mitch Ryder, “When You Were Mine”

— Originally from Dirty Mind

This cover was produced by John Mellencamp, as his breakthrough success with American Fool earned him enough juice to get his rough-voiced idol Mitch Ryder signed to his label.

16) Muse, “Sign ‘O’ The Times

— Originally from Sign ‘O’ The Times

Already a heavy song emotionally, Muse sparks up the distortion and overdrives the heavy-ness literally.

17) Chris Robinson Brotherhood, “Raspberry Beret”

— Originally from Around The World In A Day

The former lead singer of The Black Crowes takes this song for a subdued and soulful spin, recorded on the day Prince died.

18) David Byrne, “The Future”

— Originally from Batman

Allegedly this live recording is the only time ex-Talking Heads mainstay David Byrne performed this song. You’re welcome.

19) Cory Henry and the Metropole Orchestra, “Purple Rain”

— Originally from Purple Rain

The best Prince songs examine the blending of boundaries: love and lust, male and female. This arrangement of “Purple Rain” takes that blending to a physical state, featuring an orchestra (circa 18th century) and a Moog Sub 37 synth (circa 2014).

20) Nik West, “Head”

— Originally from Dirty Mind

Nik West slaps her bass like it owes her gambling debts. She’s so uncompromisingly phenomenal Prince requested to work with her.

21) Dave Matthews Band, “Sexy MF”

— Originally from O(+>

An international Top 20* song that’s wholly concocted of sex rhymes and instrumental solos is catnip for jam bands to cover.

*Except in the US, where it peaked at number 66! I can’t believe American radio refused to play a song with the lyrics “Sexy motherfucker shakin’ that ass, shakin’ that ass, shakin’ that ass”.

22) Housequake, “Rockhard in a Funky Place”

— Originally from The Black AlbumPrince believed the low-down dirty funk of The Black Album was “evil”, and paid for the entire worldwide shipment to be destroyed rather than distributed. It currently exists only on dodgy 30-year old-cassettes, YouTube posts that the Prince Estate has yet to take down, and music auctions for the “if-you-have-to-ask-you-can’t-afford it” originals. So hats off to the band Housequake for covering “Rockhard in a Funky Place” because they really had to work to even listen to it.

23) Foo Fighters, “Darling Nikki”

— Originally from Purple Rain

Why did Prince cover Foo Fighters’s “The Best” during Super Bowl XLI’s halftime show? Possibly due to the Foo’s then-recent cover of the Tipper Gore-enraging ode to hotel fornication.

24) Meshell Ndegeocello, “Sometimes It Snows In April”

— Originally from Parade

This aching lament gained poignancy when Prince himself died in April 2016 and it began to tragically speak for grieving fans.

“Sometimes it snows in April
Sometimes I feel so bad, so bad
Sometimes I wish that life was never ending
But all good things, they say, never last”

About the author

Mark Montgomery French

I, San Francisco-native Mark Montgomery French, am an award-winning film composer with the group Spiky Blimp, an award-winning Creative Director with 20+ years of presentation experience, and a music culture writer noted for Uppity Music — Your Guide to Unsung Black Departure Albums, the series 28 Days, 28 Black Music Documentaries., and the music talk All Your Favorite Music is (Probably) Black. I was formerly the co-leader of the ’90s progressive funk band Endangered Species.

www.mmfrench.com

1 comment

  • I’m nearly 51, and i’m Balling my eyes out crying listening to these covers. For “F” Sake god invent reincarnation and bring him back….

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