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From Joni Mitchell to The Beatles: Prince's six best covers of all time


“Music is the ultimate power.” — Prince.

The walking talking embodiment of the phrase “good things come in small packages”, Prince Rogers Nelson, later known simply as Prince and, for some time, only a symbol, is one of the finest musicians pop music has ever witnessed. A truly transcendent performer, Prince’s style for stirring up a party while on stage was only matched by his unruly perfectionism when in the studio. It can be strange for an artist so meticulous about their sound to be heard on somebody else’s song.

Prince is more widely known for his ability to write songs that other singers and bands could pick up and adapt into their own vernacular. For Prince to work the other way, and pick up somebody else’s music to play around with as his own, was almost unheard of. Throughout his career, he rarely dared to put his own spin on somebody else’s work, perhaps for the fact that, if he did, he would have altered the song forever. Below, however, we have six of the finest examples.

Prince was a man of supreme taste. No matter where you found him in his glittering career, Prince was likely not only surrounded by admirers from all corners of the music world (he once even convinced Eric Clapton that rock and roll wasn’t dead) but gorging on their work, picking flecks and inferences that he would implement on to his own glimmering vision. It can be seen in his choices for covers too.

Not only does Prince pay expert tribute to some of his heroes, such as Jimi Hendrix and David Bowie, but he was more than happy to tread on some of the most famous songs in the world, too — including tracks from Radiohead, Joni Mitchell, Led Zeppelin and The Beatles. The truth is, no matter the artist or the song at hand, Prince approached it all with the same sincere and searing creativity.

Below, we’re giving you the perfect vision of an artist who refused to be intimidated—Prince’s six most excellent covers of all time.

Prince’s six best covers:

‘Red House’ – Jimi Hendrix

Prince was a mercurial artist with the rare ability to assimilate himself with any genre or artistic endeavour he desired. If you needed further proof of his majestic skills, then his cover of Jimi Hendrix song ‘Red House’ is all the funky evidence you need.

Hendrix was often considered a godfather of sorts for Prince, thanks to the duo’s incredible guitar command. The Purple One took on the cover as part of the 2004 tribute album Power Of Soul: A Tribute To Jimi Hendrix, a project that welcomed some of the finest guitar players of all time, with the likes of Eric Clapton, Santana and Stevie Ray Vaughan all contributing with their own efforts.

The cover is a funk-ridden bop that refuses to quit and confirms that Prince appeared to be descended from the great man himself, whether he liked it or not.

‘Heroes’ – David Bowie

The moment when Prince performed a moving rendition of the iconic David Bowie song ‘Heroes’ is a timeless one. The performance, which came as part of Prince’s final tour, took place at the Sony Centre for the Performing Art in Toronto, Canada, just a week after David Bowie passed away following a battle with cancer.

Prince’s Piano & A Microphone Tour saw the musician perform solo, arriving at the stage without a band and armed only with his voice and the keys. “I’m doing it to challenge myself; I won’t know what songs I’m going to do when I go on stage,” he said of the exposing tour. “I won’t have to because I won’t have a band,” he added.

Opening up with ‘I Would Die 4 U’, Prince rolled through his extensive back catalogue and returned for two encores that would include renditions of ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’, ‘Purple Rain’ and more. Earlier on in the set, Prince decided to pay homage to his friend, inspiration and colleague David Bowie.

‘Whole Lotta Love’ – Led Zeppelin

Few songs are more difficult to cover than Led Zeppelin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’. On the track, John Bonham, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, and Jimmy Page express their limitless talent to produce one of the most delicate slices of rock ‘n’ roll majesty ever to be created. However, if one artist matched up the band with sheer musical virtuosity, then Prince is a great candidate.

Prince was open about his love for Led Zeppelin and once remarked: “Led Zeppelin, for example, would make you feel differently on each song.” The love between the two acts was mutual, with Robert Plant later commenting, “I’m not really intimidated by too many people, but I’m very impressed by people,” he said. “Prince is probably the most impressive single person … he’s incredibly inventive, but he’s using a lot of old … he’s coming from all sorts of areas of the past, and he’s really pushing them all through a blender. So they come out oozing and dripping with honey – sex.”

‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ – The Beatles

OK, so this one is a little different from the rest of this list. Prince never performed this song solo, and he didn’t contribute a single lick of vocals. Instead, he delivered perhaps the defining performance of one of The Beatles finest songs. Originally written by George Harrison, the song ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ is recognised as one of the songwriter’s finest moments on record.

Harrison initially penned the song as a pure exercise but soon realised he had a winner on his hand. As he and the band went in to record the song for The White Album Harrison decided that it should be Eric Clapton who took the almighty solo. Clapton destroys it, too, nailing one of The Beatles ultimate guitar moments. After Harrison’s tragic passing, Harrison’s friend Tom Petty would lead an all-star band in a tribute performance of the song.

With Petty on the mic, it was down to Prince to enter the stage at the time of the solo and perform it with as much guts and guile as it ever has before or since.

‘Creep’ – Radiohead

If Prince takes on one of your songs, it simply has to be regarded as the best cover. When he delivers a zeitgeist moment at Coachella singing ‘Creep’ in his unique way, then it remains in your brain forevermore. Prince had an on-off relationship with the internet during his all too brief time with us. The artist at moments threw himself into the virtual world and at others found its lack of personality abhorrent. This meant that for years the moment he and his illustrious band covered Radiohead’s mega-hit ‘Creep’ at Coachella in 2008 remained only in the memories of those who attended the event.

A naturally sombre yet distinctly flourished and polished affair, Prince’s version of the ’90s hit is at times euphoric and ascending, and at others so drenched in melancholy that you’d be forgiven Prince was actually a young, down-and-out student in his dorm room wailing away.

‘A Case of You’ – Joni Mitchell

Prince’s adoration of Joni Mitchell has been well documented. The Purple One was a huge fan, and Mitchell even remembers spotting the singer at one of her shows. “Prince attended one of my concerts in Minnesota. I remember seeing him sitting in the front row when he was very young. He must have been about 15. He was in an aisle seat, and he had unusually big eyes,” she said.

Adding: “He watched the whole show with his collar up, looking side to side. You couldn’t miss him—he was a little Prince-ling. Prince used to write me fan mail with all of the U’s and hearts that way that he writes. And the office took it as mail from the lunatic fringe and just tossed it!”

Pushed forward by Mitchell’s artistry, Prince decided to pay homage to the singer with a cover of her song. Prince never shies away from a challenge, and the same can be said for this beautiful cover of Joni Mitchell’s ‘A Case Of You’ from her seminal album Blue. One difference is, while the aforementioned covers were from Prince’s later career, this version of Mitchell’s track comes from his fiery beginnings. It’s a testament to the pedestal upon which Prince put Mitchell’s talent.