Apr 212011

In Prince’s recent Lopez Tonight appearance, he once again attacked one of his favorite targets: cover songs. “I don’t mind fans singing the songs, my problem is when the industry covers the music,” Prince told George Lopez. “You see, covering the music means your version doesn’t exist anymore. There’s this thing called the compulsory license law which allows artists to take your music at will. That doesn’t exist in any other art form – there’s only one version of Law & Order, but there are several versions of ‘Kiss’ and ‘Purple Rain.'”

He makes a reasonable point about licensing laws, but takes it too far when he says there should be only one version of each song. From a man who’s given his songs to other people to record and even produced others covering his songs, profiting off both, this seems a somewhat irregular claim. Plus, the “don’t mind fans singing the songs” sentiment feels all warm and cozy, but it doesn’t match reality. He – or at least his label NPG Records – pulls fan covers off YouTube more than any other artist we’ve seen. I’ve heard from several bloggers who refuse to post Prince covers at all, no matter the source, for fear of his overzealous legal team.

Still, his current claim targets industry covers, so that’s where we’ll focus our counter-argument. Below we present ten great examples to prove Prince wrong. He doesn’t clarify what he means by “industry,” so we’re taking it to mean a famous artist on a major label. According to Prince, these ten covers should never have existed. We think you’ll disagree when you hear them.

The Jesus and Mary Chain – Alphabet St. (Prince cover)

Foo Fighters – Darling Nikki (Prince cover)

Corinne Bailey Rae – I Wanna Be Your Lover (Prince cover)

Tom Jones – Kiss (Prince cover)

Tina Turner – Let’s Pretend We’re Married (Prince cover)

Tori Amos – Purple Rain (Prince cover)

Warren Zevon – Raspberry Beret (Prince cover)

Gary Numan – U Got the Look (Prince cover)

Patti Smith – When Doves Cry (Prince cover)

Mitch Ryder – When You Were Mine (Prince cover)

Watch the interview here.

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  21 Responses to “Ten Reasons Prince Is Wrong About Covers”

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  1. Is he not aware that there are multiple versions of Law & Order? Think of SVU as Incubus’ version of “Purple Rain”

  2. Laughable to claim Prince wrong regarding the corrupt music industry he knows- and has started a war single-handedly against on behalf of artist rights- more about than anyone.

    As the God of music, peerless and unmatched in human history in his legacy, skills and body of work, along with the countless decades forward he’s progressed the state of music on his own, he speaks through the corruption and conservative money/power grabs that are the dark heart of the business.

    He’s done covers, but rarely and often WITH the original artist- his “Everyday is a Winding Road” was done not with Criw samples, but her in studio to create a better-than-the-original version passing along his superior knowledge to help her.

    How would you feel if you painted, and got online to see 10 other “artists” vastly inferior to you having mimicked your work, reaping monetary reward off your intellectual property? Particularly when their work is an offense to the original due to lesser skill?

    Prince is the good guy fighting to make sure future artists are not screwed over by the same corrupt industry he is, and by their own fans. You do NOT own his songs when buying an album, therefore you don’t have the right to use them- or ANY other non-public domain- music in your online websites/projects/videos. Again, say you were a musician and you come to find out about a video playing your latest hit… But the video is a Nei-Nazi railing against Jews. Or a person attacking vegetarians, when you as the artist ARE a vegetarian. Like it or not, that song gets associated to the video content.

    He’s teaching fans you don’t have these rights for very specific reasons.

    I know his thoughts as an insider. I’ve met him on several ocassions. I’ve talked to his band members at length- both old and new. A friend from my past ran his website/fanclub for years. I know what I’m talking about when it comes to his motivations, and they’re almost unerringly wrong when discussed and reported online and in print. I correct them to set the truth in place.

  3. Jaym, get your head out of your ass. It’s exactly that sort of over-indulgent egoism that feeds into the man’s insanity. Also, a lot of Prince’s stuff may be awesome, but a lot of it is just SHIT as well.

  4. Jaym, if nothing else, your sense of “reaping monetary reward” is seriously skewed…in music, if you publish a cover, you have to pay the original composer for sales AND for “performances”; if the same were true in painting, every time you saw one of your paintings copied by another for sale on line, you’d get to rub your hands together and be happy about the money rolling in to YOU. See, for example, Jeffrey Gaines’ version of In Your Eyes, a radio-popular track which – according to Gaines himself – sold plenty, made Peter Gabriel even more rich, and made Gaines known for that one song, and mostly broke and bitter (I’ve seen him say so on stage; it’s quite sad).

    Happily, Prince’s complaint seems to be about artistic theft, not monetary theft. And since every OTHER musician I’ve ever spoken to LOVES having their songs “out there” in cover form BECAUSE THEY THINK IT HELPS SPREAD THE WORD ABOUT THEIR ART, my primary protest against Prince thinking that what he does is somehow sacred and unique on a scale that makes no sense is to eschew posting his work, covers OR originals, ever. Because NOT posting his songBOOK in the hands of others makes his songs LESS WELL KNOWN. And making him both obsolete and unfamiliar to the next generation is exactly what he deserves for thinking that instructing his “people” to take down amateur covers on YouTube doesn’t hurt his fans, period.

  5. I’m a big fan of Howard Tate’s cover of “Kiss”.


  6. That Tori Amos cover of Purple Rain kicks ass in a major way! Especially the ending. It made me appreciate the original song more. Prince is so wrong.

  7. I just saw Prince on night 2 of his Twenty One Nite Stands residency at the Forum here in LA. Prince and The New Power Generation tore through several covers – including Crimson and Clover where Prince interpolated potions of Wild Thing, which resulted in a watering down of both overplayed 60’s tunes. Some of last night’s covers were just straight (virtually) note-for-note rundowns, where he didn’t really add anything to the original. He played the entire concert with passion, integrity and enthusiasm.
    I don’t really buy his spiel about covers – he seems to perform a few at every single show (including his scant 15 minute spot at The Superbowl a few years back.) I don’t believe that he honestly feels that he is taking the original performance away from the original artist.

  8. This list must include George Clinton’s “Erotic City” form PCU. Much better than the original.

  9. You’ve probably been told, but the 1st song is “Alphabet Street,” rather than “City.”

  10. @Jadasc Fixed, thanks!

  11. Karaoke?

  12. Just thought I’d add to the heap here. Prince as usual doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
    I have a friend who works for him, and has dinner with him on a regular basis and what that person tells me is that he has pretty much cut himself off from the world, including the modern one.
    To give you an example, remember him ranting about the internet (and math oddly enough) a few months back? That’s because he literally has no idea what the internet is. He’s never seen it and his understanding of it is about as informed as that one Senator’s description of it being a ‘series of tubes’.
    And as far as Jaym’s argument of artists ‘having mimicked your work, reaping monetary reward’, he, and apparently Prince as well, know nothing of how music publishing/licensing works, as artists will rarely see a dime from any cover they perform.
    Anyway great article Ray!

  13. Funny, Prince’s cover of Radiohead’s Creep at Coachella a few years ago is one of my favorite covers ever.

  14. I would add Marshall Crenshaw’s Take Me With You from What’s In The Bag to that list.

  15. What the casual reader might not get here is that Prince is little more than a hypocrite. What he thinks applies to others should never apply to him & vice versa.

  16. I wonder if he’d mind if I were to cover “Raspberry Beret”?

  17. Dear Jesus… That just broke my heart…. Tori is one of the most talentend artists out there 2day & i Love hearing her sing this… Especially now that hes gone cuz these two People have been the biggest influence in my life….. Him with the spirituality & her with embracing my womanhood & being a strong individual…… Ok… & i got that from HIM 2… Tori has been so shunned 4 the stupidest reasons. Madonna did something similar 2 this & i find it appalling.

  18. Prince was right I agree with him people don’t understand. It’s not that he was being selfish and it’s not about money. I don’t care if I would get paid because someone has to pay me to do a cover. Everyone isn’t money hungry. What he saying is us who write songs that should stay original instead of 100 other people making another version of it. Do you people not understand that when artist get inspired that mean something to them & the original is how we heard it why should we have to listen to 100 other complete strangers take our music & twist it & turn it into what they want changing the feelings & sound that we put into it. Writing songs is not easy. Putting music together is not easy. It takes time, energy & money than a random person who didn’t help you do anything can just come along & use it & make it there way changing your vision & image for the song because they have the right licences. Why can’t y’all just make y’all own song then instead of covering & changing someone else’s work? He’s right a lot of times those covers get more attention than the real copy. It should not be allowed period especially after we paid for copyright s which is not cheap these days. Like I said everyone don’t do music just for money so you covering my song wouldn’t do nothing for me nor your payments. Every thing is not about money that’s what’s wrong with the world now & Maybe we would feel better about it if at least there was a law stating that people have to ask you first if it’s okay with you instead of taking it upon they self to just jump and do it cause there’s a loophole in the copyright system allowing y’all to be able to get the license etc. Without asking the artist if they feel okay with other people using their created hard work. Then to make it worst some people will put their cover of your song on their own album & sale it when it was never theirs to sale nor use in the first place. Our problem is that copyright says that it will protect against other people using your work without permission but it doesn’t protect against covers which basically does just that allows people a way to use your music even without permission under certain circumstances if they have all the right licenses. That is a problem & it should be law to have to ask the artist, that if the artist is not okay with people using their work/music than people can’t do it, it should be required to get the artist permission before making a cover and/or parody out of respect & if y’all can’t understand that than something is wrong with you & your just selfish looking for selfish gain & exposure off of someone else work, creativity & ideas.

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