May 262023

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20. Anneli Drecker & Bugge Wesseltoft – I Wish U Heaven

Shockadelica was an 81-track (!) album of Prince covers by Norwegian artists released in 2008. It came packaged in a purple box and its contents were spread over five CD’s (!). It takes 5 hours and 32 freakin’ minutes (!) to listen to the whole thing. It features all the hits and a plethora of deep cuts. Despite the staggering number of covers on offer, there’s only a minimal amount of repetition on Shockadelica, with no more than two versions of any one song (a tribute to the purple one’s fevered songwriting activities). More tracks mean a higher ratio of good covers and a larger quantity of not-so-good ones. But to be clear, the best ones are exceptional and rank as some of the best ever (like a lot of you, I’m a massive fan and have strict standards). Amongst the finest is Anneli Drecker (of dream-poppers Bel Canto) and jazz pianist Bugge Wesseltoft’s version of the minimalist yet thundering “I Wish You Heaven” from 1988’s Lovesexy. The song is stripped down to its bare bones and turned into a spare, meditative, and supremely haunting ballad. It’s absolutely gorgeous. – Hope Silverman

19. Lavender Diamond – Purple Rain

Originally written as a country song for an abortive collaboration with Stevie Nicks, the title track of the Purple Rain album morphed into a power ballad that owes as much to bands like Journey as it does to soul and funk. In fact, Prince contacted Jonathan Cain of Journey to confirm with him that “Purple Rain” didn’t plagiarize his song, “Faithfully.” Cain agreed that it didn’t, and Prince released the song to great success. Fittingly named Lavender Diamond recorded their cover of “Purple Rain” for Spin magazine’s 2009 giveaway tribute collection, Purplish Rain. Lacking the sweeping grandiosity of the original, Lavender Diamond’s version is more straight ahead indie-rock, and features the distinctive vocals of Becky Stark. I’d make a joke here about the Lavender Diamond version being a light Purple cover, but that would be too easy. – Jordan Becker

18. i’m loved. i’m alive. – I Would Die 4 U

More love sick than jubilantly declared, this song puts an acoustic guitar and dreamy reverb vocals to work for the perfect mix of forlorn and pensive feelings. The opening gives you a hint of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” a sharp contrast to the triumphant opening of the original complete with punctuating horns and claps. This version shortens an already short song, but by the time it ends you are lost in a daydream. – Sara Stoudt

17. Ani DiFranco – When U Were Mine

In this live recording from 1999, Ani DiFranco surprises Prince’s hometown Minneapolis with a wrenching version of “When You Were Mine.” The crowd instantly recognizes the song from the Dirty Mind album. To underscore that means business, she brings up saxophonist Maceo Parker of James Brown and Parliament-Funkadelic fame. Parker was starting to work with Prince around the time of this show, and would join Prince’s band a few years later. The arrangement here is sparse, leaving plenty of space for the emotion and the showcasing of the lyric. A great and unexpected collaboration perfectly delivered. – Tom McDonald

16. Chaka Khan – I Feel For You

ChakachakachakachakachakaKhan. ChakaKhan. Okay, I’m sorry but I had to do that (belated thanks to Melle Mel for one of the most iconic raps in pop history). Let us all now marvel at how Prince’s lo-fi shy, cute yet ridiculously horny admission is transformed into an astoundingly joyful, iconic, body-poppin’ anthem, while simultaneously reigniting Chaka Khan’s career. The title track from her fifth album, “I Feel For You” turned out to be the biggest hit of the Khan solo years, blessed with not only a Stevie Wonder harmonica solo and sample from his classic “Fingertips” but an iconic, candy-coated, electro-crazy production by the legendary Arif Mardin. It is a whirlwind of synthetic joy. While there are moments when the busy (but ecstatic) production threatens to overwhelm Chaka’s powerhouse vocal, she expertly rides the wave of sound and absolutely kills on the song’s high-flying coda. – Hope Silverman

15. Nina Simone – Sign O’ The Times

Nina Simone doesn’t sing “Sign O’ The Times” so much as she holds forth. Where Prince sounded tired and resigned about the bleak state of the world, Nina sounds angry. Damned angry. Especially at the end, when she goes after those who made the times what they were. This wound up not making the cut for her final album, 1993’s A Single Woman, not seeing the light of day until an expanded version was released in 2008. That was five years after she died, on April 21 – the same day Prince would die, thirteen years later. – Patrick Robbins

14. Patti Smith – When Doves Cry

“OMG, the lyric really is ‘Animals strike curious poses!'” is just one thought that tends to race through people’s mind on first hearing Patti Smith’s stripped-back, desolate, and clearly pronounced version of Prince’s most famous song. The punk legend performed “When Doves Cry” live many times before officially releasing her rendition on the second disc of her 2002 compilation Land (1975-2002), followed by the Lost in Translation soundtrack. And as you’d expect on the recording, she uproots the complex psychological pain within the song that had previously been so easily overlooked within the strangely danceable framework of drums and synthesizers. She’s accompanied by the haunting guitar atmospherics of Lenny Kaye, as she gets suitably sonorous and soul-searching on those extraordinary lines. She’s certainly more Cathy from Wuthering Heights than Prince when she sings, “How can you just leave me standing alone in a world so cold.” – Adam Mason

13. Jimmy Scott – Nothing Compares 2 U

Is there really room for more than one version of “Nothing Compares 2 U” on this list? After all, when, you know, the “other version” is so close by? Scott takes a whole different approach. He strips it right back, leaving little to the imagination, his curiously halted delivery and cracked voice seizing hitherto untold depths of disconsolate yet detached despair from the lyric. Scott was an altogether remarkable guy, born with Kallman syndrome, a form of genetic dwarfism, his tiny frame and build the reason for his curious voice, with any normal puberty denied him. An earlier career stalled in the ’60s seeing a return to more menial work, ahead of being re-discovered in the late ‘80s. (And yes, that was him in Twin Peaks.) This comes from an extraordinary album, 1998’s Holding Back The Years, where he covers a host of songs in his inimitable way, including the title track, “Jealous Guy” and “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word.” The melancholy oozes out of every note he sings, and there can be few more wee small hours of the night interpreters who can hit such a maudlin frame of mood. – Seuras Og

12. Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings – Take Me With U

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings are one of the great combinations of music history. A backing band that sounded virtuosic without ever overshadowing the singer, hitting every beat and keeping things interesting. A singer whose voice was incredibly powerful and was able to take originals and covers alike and make them her own. When Jones sings “Take Me With U” and the music drops out, it’s hard not to think this is an original. Good luck sitting still while listening to this one. – Mike Misch

11. Joan as Police Woman – Kiss

With “Kiss” being one of Prince’s most covered songs, an artist really has to step up to stand out. Joan as Police Woman brings the slow burn in this one. Every detail of the delivery is designed to tantalize, from the enunciation on “extra time,” the drawn out syllable rhythm of “sassy attitude,” and the the buildup to “kiss” that is barely there in each chorus. The simple groove line in the background is steady, always pushing forward, but the absence of the release on “kiss” keeps us guessing; will they, won’t they? – Sara Stoudt

The list continues on Page 5.

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  7 Responses to “The 40 Best Prince Covers Ever”

Comments (7)
  1. Sandra Bernhard’s “Little Red Corvette” from Without You I’m Nothing (album, 1989; film, 1990) remains my favourite Prince cover.

  2. Great list. I’m a Prince fanatic, so it’s hard to narrow it down to just 40 … and I have a few to add.

    – I Wanna Be Your Lover – Corinne Bailey Rae
    – Take Me With U – Marshall Crenshaw
    – Fantasia’s Confidential ghetto: 1999/Once In A Lifetime/Coconut – PM Dawn
    – Never Take the Place of Your Man – Goo Goo Dolls (they left off the “I Could”)
    – The Beautiful Ones – Susan Voelz
    – I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man – Eels
    For country music covers of Purple Rain, my fave has always been LeAnn Rimes’ version.

    But my favorite of all – a track I’ve played about as many song as any other during the pandemic for some reason – is:

    – When You Were Mine – Lambchop

  3. Nice choice, but I prefer when the song is transferred to another genre and gets a different atmosphere. my number 1 is definitely senor coconut and its version “Kiss”.

  4. Jennifer Terran
    I ‘ve seen her perform this live and it is astounding every time

  5. Just off the top of my head, a couple of my favorites that didn’t make this list:

    – “Sign of the Times” by Arcwelder
    – “Little Red Corvette” by The Gear Daddies

  6. I miss Har Mar Superstar’s cover of “When you were mine”.

  7. While Prince might not have agreed with this list, I think he would have cracked a little smile that half of the top ten are by women, including the top 3! Great list!

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