May 262023

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10. Christer Knutsen – I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man

Christer Knutsen’s cover of “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man” is one of the more ingenious and endearing covers on 2008’s gluttonous 81-track, multi-artist Prince tribute album Shockadelica. Knutsen cleverly reimagines Sign o’ the Times‘ poppiest and most exuberant confection as a Ronettes song. Seriously. It is so freakin’ sweet and weirdly beautiful that it had me longing for an entire album of Prince songs sung in the style of The Ronettes by Norwegian rock ‘n’ rollers. But until that happens, this cover will have to suffice. Knutsen’s vocal is something akin to “exhausted Bruce Springsteen.” And the overt sonic references to “Be My Baby” might make you laugh (for example: check out how Knutsen forsakes the hyper guitar solo of the original and replaces it with a classic Ronnie Spector “Whoa-oh-oh-oh” after the last chorus). But there is something so genuine and heartwarming about this melange of Prince, ’60s Girl Groups, and The Boss which is just a roundabout way of saying it’s fabulous. Whoa-oh-oh-oh. – Hope Silverman

9. Hindu Love Gods – Raspberry Beret

Hindu Love Gods started out as a mid-‘80s mostly cover band side project for members of R.E.M. and Bryan Cook, who was in other Athens bands at the time. Occasionally, Warren Zevon would join the festivities. In 1987, R.E.M. drummer Bill Berry, bassist Mike Mills and guitarist Peter Buck served as the main backing band on Zevon’s album Sentimental Hygiene (Michael Stipe guested on one song). The legend is that one drunken night, the three R.E.M. guys and Zevon cut a bunch of covers, mostly blues songs, and “Raspberry Beret,” by Prince. Although there was no apparent intention to ever release the music, in 1990, those tapes became the album Hindu Love Gods, and the Prince cover got a bunch of radio play and hit #23 on Billboard’s Modern Rock chart. Zevon embraced the song, performing it live, and it appears on some of his greatest hits collections. And, not surprisingly, it sounds exactly like you’d expect it to–Warren Zevon and Berry/Mills/Buck rocking through the song. – Jordan Becker

8. Dwight Yoakam – Purple Rain

In 2016, country crooner Dwight Yoakam recorded an album of bluegrass reinterpretations of some of his biggest songs entitled Swimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars…. While he and his band were recording the record, Prince passed away. Yoakam decided to pay tribute to him with a heartfelt acoustic cover of “Purple Rain.” The track features Yoakam’s signature, laid- back drawl and plenty of finger picking and fiddles. Yoakam pushes the track squarely into the bluegrass space, and delivers a powerful cover that deserves a place among his own greatest hits. – Curtis Zimmermann

7. Cyndi Lauper – When You Were Mine

Side One of Cyndi Lauper’s 1983 masterwork She’s So Unusual is arguably one of the greatest album sides of the decade. It featured two career-defining hits for Lauper: “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” and “Time After Time.” Wedged in between these two classics is Lauper’s cover of Prince’s “When You Were Mine.” The synth-heavy track is emblematic of the ‘80s pop sound, but Lauper’s gender-neutral interpretation of the lyrics “I know that you’re goin’ with another guy” is decades ahead of its time. Even in the streaming era, her emotionally charged delivery makes this song worth listening to as opposed to simply skipping over. – Curtis Zimmermann

6. Richard Thompson – Kiss

Back in 2014, I wrote about Richard Thompson’s fun project, 1000 Years of Popular Music, which was essentially put together as a dare. One of the songs that I discussed in that piece was Thompson’s wonderful acoustic cover of “Kiss,” which Thompson considered “one of the best pop songs of the ’80s, by one of the best artists.” Go there and read the whole story, which includes how Thompson’s version is actually similar to Prince’s original demo, how a band called Mazarati improved on the demo to the point that Prince took it back, improved it again (including adding the famous guitar riff that Thompson also focuses on), and made it a hit. – Jordan Becker

5. Alicia Keys – How Come U Don’t Call Me

The piano plays an important role in this song, with its give and take of volume, nearly invisible for periods of time but then roaring back in to reassert itself in key building moments of the song. Alicia Keys is a natural fit for a cover, and she brings strength and feeling to the lyrics. There is light falsetto and powerhouse falsetto; both Prince and Keys have the standout powerhouse kind shown off in this song. Both can balance the reaching moments that are a restrained shriek. Ironically, the piano plays a lesser role in her version until the very end, but this allows us to go through the story of emotions with her. – Sara Stoudt

4. Dump – 1999

Not only was he dreaming when he “wrote” it, the singer here sounds as if he still is, as this version lopes out into a languid hypnagogue, trippier than a shedful of psilocybin. The three-way contrast between the blissed out vocal, the drone of keyboard and the crazy pulse of the drumbeat is bonkers, that being the glue that holds it together. Dump I had to look up, discovering they/he is the nom de tune of Yo La Tengo bassist James McNew, to show off just what he can do at home, playing with a 4 track machine. This comes from an all-Prince-covers EP, That Skinny Motherfucker With The High Voice. And it is all (nearly) as good as this. Join the party? Hell, yeah, and I’ll have what he’s having, please, waiter. – Seuras Og

3. Be Good Tanyas – When Doves Cry

“When Doves Cry” was the last song recorded for Purple Rain, and the first single released from the album. And Prince’s first Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 hit. And it is easy to see why. Starting off with some flashy guitar, the song is catchy–it settles into a pounding synth-drum track, with vocals that build in both power and number of voices as the song progresses, ending with more guitar and classical-ish piano. And yeah, Prince played everything. The Be Good Tanyas, a trio from Vancouver featuring Frazey Ford, Samantha Parton and Trish Klein that played rootsy string band music, tacked a cover of “When Doves Cry” as a hidden track on their third album, 2006’s Hello Love. It’s my policy not to paraphrase a review when I don’t think that I can say it better, so here’s a description of the song from The Guardian: “the hidden track is Frazey’s delicious version of Prince’s ‘When Doves Cry’ that sounds as if it was written to be played as delivered here, on acoustic guitar, banjo, standup bass and brushed snare.” On the other hand, Allmusic called the cover “misplaced.” The Guardian is right. – Jordan Baker

2. Meshell Ndegeocello – Sometimes It Snows In April

Meshell Ndegeocello’s 2018 album Ventriloquism features eleven covers of ‘80s and ‘90s pop and R&B, but the pick by Prince is unquestionably that record’s best–a soulful, totally spellbinding odyssey. The track takes its time, easing in with nearly two minutes of slow build until the moment where Ndegeocello’s vocals begin; from there on out, she keeps the tune cooking at a long, low simmer. The original feels very much like a live and collaborative take–Prince in the room with Wendy and Lisa, gathered round the piano and in cahoots. Meanwhile Ndegeocello’s version is both lonelier and more vast–exhaling, solo, in the void. Bittersweet and atmospheric, dirge-like and loopy (or, as Taylor Swift recently described the feeling of snow that arrives in unanticipated places/seasons in quite plain terms: “weird but fucking beautiful”). – Ben Easton

1. Sinead O’Connor – Nothing Compares 2 U

What hasn’t already been said about this undoubted classic cover, oft included in best-ever cover lists, let alone best Prince covers, up there with Hendrix’s “Watchtower” and the Byrds’ “Tambourine Man”? It’s known that the man himself didn’t much like her version, although why has never fully been explored. O’Connor had her own opinions, largely relating to the sometimes uncomfortable relationship between the singer and his protégées, usually the only outlets he preferred his material interpreted through. Be that as it may, so huge did the song make her, I am not sure she was quite ever to deal with the concomitant acclaim and exposure. Arguably a pretty slim item in the hands of its composer, O’Connor gave it a remarkable polish, inhabiting the lyric and bleeding out the meaning. OK, she had, and still has, the vocal chops to squeeze emotion into and out of almost anything, and this song is a masterclass in voice control, of volume and microphone technique. The video, especially as she sheds unprompted tears, clearly adds to the overall heft, but even without that visual, still the power is immense. Completeness also insists on showing how timeless her ownership of the song has been, with a live performance or two, decades apart, each as striking, in different ways, as the other. – Seuras Og

Check out more installments in our monthly ‘Best Covers Ever’ series, including Tom Waits, Dolly Parton, Queen, and Stevie Wonder.

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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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