Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!
The soundtrack to Purple Rain came out ten thousand days ago today. It feels like forever and that’s a mighty long time, but we’re here to tell you there’s something else…the full album, covered.
Purple Rain won an Oscar and two Grammy Awards, sold more than 20 million copies, and held the number one selling album slot in the US for twenty-four consecutive weeks (despite being released just three weeks after Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A.). The only debate that remains worth having: great Prince album, or greatest Prince album? Dirty Mind and Sign o’ the Times both have their backers, but neither of those albums tapped into the zeitgeist the way Purple Rain did.
Sure, we’ve seen multiple Purple Rain cover albums (ironic, considering how Prince feels about his songs being covered), due partly to the quality of the songs and partly to the brevity of the album – they just don’t make nine-song albums like they used to. Our cover album differs; we give you ten songs. Read on to see why…
Janelle Monae – Let’s Go Crazy (Prince and the Revolution cover)
Both the movie and the album get off to a rockin’ start, with Prince and the Revolution extending a musical invitation to the audience to lose their collective mind. At the 2010 BET Awards, Janelle Monae repeated the offer, electrifying the crowd with a fierce rendition of “Let’s Go Crazy.” Monae keeps the same arrangement, but brings an unbelievable energy the song. Video footage of Prince in the audience shows him smiling, which may be as close as we get to seeing him rave about a cover of one of his songs. No question – Monae earned every inch of that rare smile.
Marshall Crenshaw – Take Me With U (Prince and the Revolution cover)
Marshall Crenshaw’s self-titled debut album is one of the great freeway albums, perfect for playing at full volume with the top down, and in the nearly thirty years since its release, he’s maintained his high pop-craft standards. “Take Me With U,” from 2003’s What’s In The Bag?, shows him trading the psychedelic strings of the original for multitracked guitars and handclaps, making it next to impossible not to nod along. Incidentally, a happy birthday to Crenshaw, who turns 58 today.
Misty Dixon – The Beautiful Ones (Prince and the Revolution cover)
Misty Dixon covered “The Beautiful Ones,” arguably the most underrated song of Purple Rain, on their one album, Iced to Mode. Jane Weaver’s wistful vocal and the band’s folktronic sound helps to lay the vulnerable lyrics even more bare, and the gradual buildup to the intense emotional explosion at the end is just as affective and effective here as it is on the original. (It has to be asked – is that piano line a lift from “Baba O’Riley”?)
Denver Dub Collective – Computer Blue (Prince and the Revolution cover)
The Denver Dub Collective, an eleven-piece band based in guess where, recorded their own full cover of this album, calling it Purple Dub. It recast the album in a Jamaican light, with all the covers having ska and reggae slants. “Computer Blue,” with its dancehall vocals and pulsing rhythms, makes for an interesting change from Prince’s version.
Asylum Street Spankers – Darling Nikki (Prince and the Revolution cover)
Inarguably the most notorious song on Purple Rain, “Darling Nikki” prompted Tipper Gore to launch the PMRC and prompted dozens more, from the Foo Fighters to Rebecca Romjin-Stamos, to record their own versions. Most of them follow Prince’s blueprint, playing quiet enough to hear the vocals and then switching on the hard loud amplification when cued to “grind.” Acoustic traditionalists Asylum Street Spankers have a problem with that, in part because they play so many of their concerts without any amplification at all. Here they find a way to record “Darling Nikki” in a fashion that just might have been a big favorite in a 1920s speakeasy.
The Be Good Tanyas – When Doves Cry (Prince and the Revolution cover)
The best-selling single of 1984, “When Doves Cry” has so many remarkable things about it – the lack of bass not affecting the track’s danceability, the tension between attraction and anger, and one of the greatest opening lines in rock, to name just a few. The Be Good Tanyas apply their alt-country (that is to say, Canadian) chops to it, giving it a rootsy sound, a yearning feel, and (oh yes) a bass. Dig if you will.
Cush – I Would Die 4 U (Prince and the Revolution cover)
Michael Knott leads a group called Cush. A veteran of the Christian rock scene, his 2002 EP Spiritual includes song with titles like “Sign of the Judgment” and “We Shall Walk Through the Valley in Peace.” Not the first place you’d expect to find a Prince cover, but “I Would Die 4 U,” as the EP’s closer, is placed in a way that provides a whole different interpretation to the lyrics – was Prince always singing this one to his Lord and not his lady?
The Stonefunkers – Baby I’m a Star (Prince and the Revolution cover)
Purple Pain, another full album of Purple Rain covers, came out in 1995, released by Dolores Records and featuring an all-Swedish lineup. Reactions were mixed – Billboard sneered, “Among the nine acts who inflict their sounds on Purple Rain are…” – but on the evidence of this Stonefunkers track, it couldn’t have been all bad.
Martin Sexton – Purple Rain (Prince and the Revolution cover)
Big Daddy – Purple Rain (Prince and the Revolution cover)
Here’s how we got ten tracks on a tribute to an album with only nine. There are hundreds of covers of “Purple Rain,” the epic closer of the album. We winnowed it down to two, and no two could be more diametrically opposed. But the winnowing stopped there. How could anyone choose? Martin Sexton‘s acoustic cover is magnificently played and sung, in front of an adoring audience, and has a divine majesty to it – all of these describe Prince’s version as well, making it seem like the perfect selection. But that would mean turning your back on Big Daddy‘s “Not Fade Away”-inspired cover, depriving you of the joy of hearing a band take on two major figures in rock history at once and get away with it. So we leave the final decision up to you, but after hearing them, we’re guessing you’ll be glad you got the chance to have them both.