Although I love Chaka Khan with all my heart, if I never hear her 1984 cover of Prince’s “I Feel for You” ever again, I’m cool. As far as Prince remakes, thirty-one years after it was originally recorded, it remains the most popular. One of the signs of a wonderful song, besides your fans humming and singing it constantly, is when others can’t wait to cover it. Writing eternal material during his ‘80s and ’90s heyday, Prince has since become the equivalent of Cole Porter or Burt Bacharach and Hal David for a new generation that still appreciates perfect pop.
So without further ado, soulhead and I present to you the 7 greatest covers of The Purple One, plus a handful of other renditions that also warrant praise. Enjoy the list, and be sure to let us know what your favorite Prince cover songs are in the comments section below.
#1: Living Colour | “17 Days” (1993)
Considering that this month marks the 30th anniversary of the Black Rock Coalition, it seems only fitting to begin with the band created by the organization’s co-founder, guitarist Vernon Reid. As the other popular guitarist of color in the ‘80s, Reid was the electric-mojo leader of the rock band Living Colour. Fronted by Brooklyn-bred vocalist Corey Glover, their intense version of “17 Days” (originally the B-side of “When Doves Cry”) was recorded during sessions for their third album Stain and released as the B-side to “Leave It Alone.”
#2: The Jesus and Mary Chain | “Alphabet Street” (1994)
While true fans know that Prince’s influence is vast, the last group one might expect to remake the purple rhythms is noise-propelled Scottish brothers Jim and Will Reid of The Jesus and Mary Chain. Known for their wall of blaring guitars and roaring feedback, they took one of Prince’s shinier pop jams and transformed it into an angst-ridden anthem complete with screeching strings and depressing vocals that can be found on the CD single of “Come On.”
#3: George Clinton | “Erotic City” (1994)
Recorded for the soundtrack of the forgettable comedy PCU, starring David Spade and Jeremy Piven, funk overseer George Clinton puts his own brand of nasty on the most famous of Prince B-sides. While he doesn’t sway from the original, Clinton performed his P-Funked version of the risqué record in the film, replacing the original Shelia E. parts with a bunch of back-up singers that are cool. Signed to Paisley Park at the time, one imagines that Prince must’ve given Clinton his personal blessing.
#4: D’Angelo | “She’s Always in My Hair” (1997)
Like many of the aural freaks (Joi, Dallas Austin) who were mere kids when Prince began getting his groove on, D’Angelo’s early lessons in songcraft came from studying the sound of the master. D obviously learned his lessons well as he master-mixed his own southern comfort soul food (served with a side order of greens) on this quickie remake that appeared on the soundtrack of Scream 2 (1997).
#5: Herbie Hancock | “Thieves in the Temple” (1994)
An old school jazz Jedi whose fusion masterworks in the seventies influenced Prince, keyboardist Herbie Hancock reworked “Thieves in the Temple” into an instrumental in 1994 on his 40th album The New Standard. While the first minute or so sounds like some laidback smooth jazz crap, once Hancock begins acoustic piano soloing you know big bro is taking stuff seriously. In addition, Michael Brecker’s sax, John Scofield on guitar and Jack DeJohnette on drums lushly layered the song, as these premier music men turned what could’ve sounded cheesy into something sonically special.
#6: LaToya Jackson | “Private Joy” (1984)
While LaToya’s version of “Private Joy” could’ve easily turned into a public spectacle, Ms. Jackson actually does a great job delivering. While the dance track from Prince’s fourth album Controversy was only two years old when LaToya tackled it, her version was recorded for the successful Heart Don’t Lie. Sounding like a black Pat Benatar, she swags through the track (in my mind, I see leather pants) as the girl-group backup singers wail in the background. As she says, “If anybody ask you, you belong to Toy.”
#7: Joshua Redman | “How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore” (1998)
While I dig the Stephanie Mills and Alicia Keys versions of Prince’s midnight heartbreak and salty tears song, the sultry sax of Joshua Redman’s version pulled me in and refused to let go. Like Herbie, he starts off on a smoothed-out on the jazz tip, Najee style, but he soon detours that well travelled road to swing as though he were on the bandstand at Minton’s.
The Other 7 (Runners-Up):
Millie Jackson | “I Wanna Be Your Lover” (1986)
Stephanie Mills | “How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore” (1983)
Mariah Carey ft. Dru Hill | “The Beautiful Ones” (1997)
Gary Numan | “U Got the Look” (1992)
Etta James | “Purple Rain” (2006)
TLC | “If I Was Your Girlfriend” (1994)
Corinne Bailey Rae | “I Wanna Be Your Lover” (2011)