When news that iconic singer/songwriter Prince had died at the age of 57 hit headlines on Thursday, fans were swift to share their memories of his original music and best concert performances on social media sites. Whether you had an intimate connection with one of his timeless hits (for me, "Purple Rain" will always bring me back to my parents' basement, eating Barbeque chips and making out with my high school crush) or one of his "B" side hidden treasures, Prince was arguably one of the strongest performers in living memory. But what about Prince's best cover songs?
Prince was primarily an original, an artist who refused to conform to industry standards (remember the flack he took for refusing to sing "We Are The World"?). His music was covered by a wide variety of artists over the years — one of my absolute favorites, particularly at karaoke night after too many glasses of Pinot, would be Sinead O'Connor's version of "Nothing Compares 2 U" — but it was the rare covers that His Purpleness performed that were the delicious hidden gems of his career. With his vocal range and deceptively skilled guitar licks, Prince could essentially have covered any song out there, but he was as selective in this as he was with nearly everything else. Here are a few of his best:
Prince performed "Creep" by Radiohead in 2008 at Coachella, and his performance was awe-inspiring. The song lasts around eight minutes (and has only recently been released online, since Prince was pretty stringent about copyrighting his material), and will stay with you for a long time after. Prince's performance here is an emotional, moving tribute to the original '90s hit song.
"While My Guitar Gently Weeps" (The Beatles)
While performing at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame tribute to George Harrison, Prince's spine-chilling guitar solo here is a tragic reminder of his "other" phenomenal skill — being arguably one of the best guitar players of our generation. His solo close to the end of the song is so technically perfect that, even playing among legends like Tom Petty and Steve Winwood, the diminutive Prince stands head and shoulders above the crowd.
"A Case Of You" (Joni Mitchell)
At first glance, Prince covering a Joni Mitchell song doesn't make much sense. But bear with me: Mitchell was known for her personal, relatable lyrics. Prince too was clearly a huge fan of this song, performing it many times over the years and adding some funky guitar, his gorgeous falsetto, and some haunting piano to the mix to make it his own. The first time he performed this song was at a 1983 concert, and Mitchell gave his rendition her hearty stamp of approval. She told New York Magazine that he was her favorite of the many musicians citing her as an influence. She explained,
Prince attended one of my concerts in Minnesota. I remember seeing him sitting in the front row when he was very young. He must have been about 15. He was in an aisle seat and he had unusually big eyes. He watched the whole show with his collar up, looking side to side. You couldn’t miss him—he was a little Prince-ling. [Laughs.] Prince used to write me fan mail with all of the U’s and hearts that way that he writes. And the office took it as mail from the lunatic fringe and just tossed it!
"Best Of You" (Foo Fighters)
Before Beyoncé was busy owning the Super Bowl halftime show, Prince was literally singing in the Purple Rain. During the 2007 Super Bowl halftime, Prince covered a few great songs, but one of his most surprising was "Best Of You" by the Foo Fighters.
There was a little backstory here, if the rumor mills are to be believed. The Foo Fighters released a "B" side version of Prince's "Darling Nikki" and His Royal Purpleness was none too pleased. Many considered his performance a bit of a hollerback, but The Foo Fighters were delighted. Drummer Taylor Hawkins told MTV,
Dude, I have no idea why he did it, but I’d love to find out. I mean, the thought went through my head that maybe he was doing it as a sort of "F— you" to us, or maybe he really likes the song. Either way, it was pretty amazing to have a guy like Prince covering one of our songs — and actually doing it better than we did.
Prince might have been an original, but he was clearly a generous artist who appreciated the talent around him. He collaborated with talented artists from Sheryl Crow to Bob Dylan to one of my all time favorites, Amy Winehouse (their version of "Love Is A Losing Game"... there are no words). And while no one will ever replace him, fans might find comfort in listening to some of his best covers, with the understanding that the iconic artist likely inspired an entire generation of musicians who might someday do the same.