Prince didn’t play well with genre tags. It wasn’t really in his style to get pigeonholed, and he seemed to loathe whenever people tried to put him in a box. While he has different eras that emphasise different sonics – like his early R&B phase, his world-conquering pop stardom, his blissed-out psychedelia, his dalliances with hip hop, and his later reliance on funk – Prince was always mixing these styles together at different points as well.
It’s part of what made him such a genius artist: none of the 1980s rock kids could cross over to liking Madonna or Michael Jackson, but Prince was such a shredder that he could connect with that particular audience. Factions between soul purists and rap pioneers emerged in the early ’90s, but Prince was one of the first artists to combine both styles into a new fusion genre. No matter what style of music you identified with most, there was a Prince song for you.
That meant that Prince’s influence extended farther than most could even conceive. There are some clear disciples: D’Angelo took his wild genre-blending style directly from The Purple One, while shapeshifters like The Weeknd and Janelle Monae owe much of their artistic identity to The Artist. But there remains a whole bevvy of musicians who took after Prince, even if they don’t exactly replicate his sound or style.
Here are some of the most surprising acts that were influenced by Prince.
Eight artists influenced by Prince:
The wildly experimental Pennsylvania duo of Ween are legendarily in their own world: if terms like a taster, the brown sound, or the Boognish don’t mean anything to you, then most of the Ween catalogue reads like sophomoric insanity. But during their earliest days, Dean and Gene Ween bonded over their shared love of Prince and cited him as a major influence.
You can hear that influence explicitly on songs like ‘L.M.L.Y.P.’, but also throughout Dean Ween’s psychedelic guitar playing on tracks like ‘Transdermal Celebration’ and even on wonky quasi-hits like ‘Ocean Man’. What Ween really seemed to pick up on was the diversity of Prince’s output, with the duo amassing their own eclectic and genre-bending catalogue as well.
U2 were one of the few contemporaries of Prince who managed to evolve and survive through multiple decades of music. They were direct competitors at times, like when The Joshua Tree beat out Sign o’ the Time for the Album of the Year Grammy in 1988, but the members of U2 were quick to sing the praises of The Artist.
Along with a heartfelt tribute upon Prince’s death, Bono also mentioned Prince’s influence when he assembled his own list of 60 songs that saved his life. You can hear the influence of his choice, ‘When Doves Cry’, when U2 turned industrial on Achtung Baby. The Edge also got some hot Prince-like licks in when performing ‘Mysterious Ways’.
Beck started life as a no-wave folk rock outcast, playing street corners and coffeehouses to audiences who seemed completely disinterested in this weirdo with an acoustic guitar. But when Beck got to bigger stages, a certain funky dance-move crazed demon seemed to erupt out of him – someone who greatly resembled a performer like Prince.
Of course, Beck also owes some chameleon-like tendencies to Prince as well. But on albums like Midnight Vultures, especially on the song ‘Debra’, Beck transforms into full-on Prince mode. He even throws in the occasional Prince cover in his live shows, just to prove how devoted of a disciple he is.
4. St. Vincent
From twee art-rock to dirty ’70s funk to hard-driving electronica, it’s hard to think of a more eclectic artist in modern music than St. Vincent. Unwilling to repeat herself in any way, Annie Clark is probably more analogous to David Bowie, but there are plenty of influences from Prince in her artistry as well.
Apart from covering ‘Controversy’ at a Grammy salute to the late Purple One in 2020, Clark also picked up a few guitar tricks from Prince throughout her career, most noticeably on her self titled fourth studio album. Songs like ‘Down’ and ‘Regret’ don’t work unless the fuzz-filled guitar lines don’t at least give a slight nod to ‘Purple Rain’ or the bloopy synths don’t fire up images of Dr. Fink.
5. Cyndi Lauper
Another contemporary of The Artist, Cyndi Lauper and Prince were forever tied due to their shared place on the infamous ‘Filthy Fifteen’ assembled by the PMRC in the mid-1980s. Lauper and Prince actually became friends, no doubt at least partially thanks to Lauper’s cover of ‘When You Were Mine’ that she included on her debut LP She’s So Unusual.
Lauper even wrote a song in honour of Prince: ‘Same ‘Ol Story’, which she conceived after watching Prince’s legendary 2007 Super Bowl Halftime Show. Prince might have been taken aback that Lauper used a curse word and the name of God in the same line, but Lauper insisted that she and The Purple One always got along well.
6. Dave Grohl
There’s a great scene in the Foo Fighters documentary Back and Forth when the group are recording guitar parts for the album Wasting Light. Chris Shiflett is laying down a chorus-heavy rhythm part for ‘These Days’ when Dave Grohl breaks out into a spontaneous and brief rendition of ‘Purple Rain’. Obviously, a walking musical encyclopedia like Grohl has some experience rocking out to Prince.
Grohl and the Foos have busted out a few Prince covers in their day, with ‘Darling Nikki’ being a particular favourite of the group. But the ultimate honour actually came the other way around, when Prince sang parts of ‘Best of You’ during his Super Bowl Halftime appearance. Grohl later called it his “proudest musical achievement”, and he joins a strange list of Prince covers that also includes Radiohead.
7. Phil Collins
For a guy in his early 30s, Phil Collins was remarkably in tune with modern trends during the 1980s. On the cutting edge of sound techniques like gated reverb, Collins also sought to leave the confining world of prog rock and enter into the limelight of pop stardom. To do so, he needed to “borrow” (or perhaps outright steal) from the best and the brightest of the day. Collins was smart enough to go with Prince.
The similarities between ‘1999’ and ‘Susussudio’ are pretty glaring when put up next to each other. Collins openly admits to frequently listening to Prince on Genesis’ tour bus during the early ’80s, and his desire to replicate The Artist’s sound was most blatantly obvious when Collins put out No Jacket Required in 1985.
8. Red Hot Chili Peppers
It’s wild to think that the Red Hot Chili Peppers dropped their debut album only two months after Purple Rain was released. Prince and the Chili Peppers seem to occupy two completely different corners of the musical universe, but in reality, Anthony Kiedis owes a lot of his salacious lyrical themes and funk-rock pilfering to Prince.
It’s most obvious on songs like ‘Sir Psycho Sexy’, and Prince was apparently enough of a fan to invite Kiedis to Paisley Park for a preview of the album Diamonds and Pearls. According to the book Fornication: The Red Hot Chili Peppers Story, Kiedis was left alone in Prince’s house/studio for several hours before getting his sneak peek of the album, but that didn’t dull Kiedis’ appreciation for The Purple One.