Prince was a visionary, there’s no doubt about it. The Purple One had a habit of writing songs and performing them in such a unique way that it isn’t very often that you will see many Prince songs covered by other artists. His style has remained, for the large part, inimitable — or so you may think. The truth is, while Prince had a distinct creative path for his work, he was also a wildly talented musician, meaning some of his songs soon found their way into the canon of other singers and bands.
Below, we’ve picked out ten of the best songs Prince ever gave away, and it makes for comprehensive proof of the musician’s masterful command of pop music. While some of the tracks featured were given away after Prince had recorded them, some became huge hits without the public ever knowing of the purple pen that composed them. Others, meanwhile, were written side by side with the artist in question. One thing that is clear from revisiting some of the selected songs is that Prince certainly knew his stuff.
There aren’t many musicians who can match up to Prince. Simply put, he was one of the most gifted songwriters and all-around technically skilled musicians of his generation. Not only was he an early producer of modern R&B jams, bringing a smooth sexiness that had otherwise been elusive in the music industry, but he could fire out a blazing guitar solo to make the greatest players in rock ‘n’ roll blush with self-deprecation.
That all adds up to a performer and artist who was never likely to stay in their lane. Sure enough, within a few years of even entering the music industry, Prince was trying to turn it on its head with his feature film and follow-up album Purple Rain. The record would become a key piece of his iconography and a rich moment of pure pop majesty while the film cemented Prince as a unique member of music’s royalty. It was arguably the turning point of Prince’s career and saw him become more than a pop star. Now, he had become an icon.
As with many icon’s emergences, he quickly became the hottest ticket in the music world and soon enough everybody wanted to work with him. Notoriously picky when selecting collaborators, Prince largely moved away from writing for other artists later in his career meaning that his production of solid gold pop hits dwindled too. Forgetting his own reem of glittering pop tunes, even if the ten songs below were his complete contribution to music, he would be a worthy note in the annals of pop history.
10 best songs Prince gave away:
10. ‘A Love Bizarre’ – Sheila E.
A Prince co-writing credit is worth its weight in gold and Sheila E.’s song ‘A Love Bizarre’ came complete with a signature from the Purple One. The object of his affections from the first moment he met her in 1978, a time when Prince proclaimed during a backstage conversation that he and bassist Andre Cymone “were just fighting about which one of us would be the first to be your husband”, their connection was unbreakable.
Sheila E. worked with Prince on his iconic Purple Rain before breaking out on her own in the mid-1980s. She had a string of hits but none were as imposing as ‘A Love Bizarre’. The song is a duet between the pair as they discuss “outrageous sin” and how they got “kinda rough in the back of our limousine.” While the album version is longer, the single certainly packed a punch.
9. ‘Yo Mister’ – Pattie LaBelle
Not many people can claim Pattie LaBelle as a fan but Prince certainly could. The singer is a powerhouse of the music world but it would appear for some time even she needed the help of the diminutive musician.
The song, composed solely for Patti LaBelle’s album Be Yourself, saw Prince try his hand at a modern version of swing music, even taking the production reins for the song too. The track is a cautionary tale about a father-daughter relationship and how they can go awry, it became one of LaBelle’s highest-charting R&B hits.
8. ‘How Come You Don’t Call Me’ – Alicia Keys
There aren’t many terrible moments on Alicia Keys multi-platinum selling record Songs in A Minor and, quite possibly, the brightest moment comes from a rarely heard Prince B-side. ‘How Come You Don’t Call Me’ was the flipside to ‘1999’ and while the song has been covered before, Keys arguably gives the definitive version of the song.
Only 19-years-old at the time, Keys showed nous beyond her years to repurpose the song, catching a new generation of Prince fans as she did. The singer later became friends with the legendary guitarist and musician, inducting him into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2004: “There are many kings…but there is only one Prince,” she said. “[He wrote] songs that made me look at songwriting as stories that are untold passions dying to be heard.”
7. ‘When You Were Mine’ – Cyndi Lauper
Originally featuring on Prince’s 1980 album Dirty Mind, ‘When You Were Mine’ was never released as a single but was given a special 12″ release alongside ‘Gotta Broken Heart Again’ and ‘Uptown’ also featuring as the B-side to his 1981 hit ‘Controversy’. It’s not necessarily a classic piece of pop from Prince but it is certainly gilded with the same finery he gave all his work.
Cyndi Lauper took on the track as part of her 1983 debut LP She’s So Unusual and made, at the time, the unusual decision to keep the original lyrics of the song maintaining the “he/him/his” pronouns of the track. Slowing down the tempo and upping the integration of synthesisers, Lauper transformed the song into something acutely singular to her own sound, a facet of Prince’s work that is rarely explored with such esteem.
6. ‘Jungle Love’ – The Time
Assembled by Prince, The Time included two songwriting heavyweights of its own in Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. However, they would require the push from Prince for their first major hit ‘Jungle Love’.
The song is simply dripping in unadulterated funk and when completed by the jungle themes becomes not only a raucous pop hit but an archetypal eighties smash. ‘Jungle Love’ was made for dancefloors and carries a lot of Prince’s signature stylings, but it’s something that has been disputed by Time guitarist Jesse Johnson. He told NME in 1986: “Prince is such an asshole, I wrote, played and produced stuff like ‘Jungle Love,’ that’s my sound.”
5. ‘Manic Monday’ – The Bangles
Pop hits don’t come much bigger than The Bangles smash ‘Manic Monday’. But while the song became one of the most played songs on the radio and MTV, hardly anybody knew of the track’s potent songwriter; Prince. Despite never having to work a 9-5 job in his life, prince accurately captured the doldrums of full-time employment and packaged them in a glittering piece of jangle-pop joy.
It was The Bangles first hit and peaked at number two in the US charts. “I remember going in and singing that song and being on the mike and it was kind of like red light fever,” Bangles singer Susanna Hoffs told Songfacts. “I knew it was a Prince song, and I wanted to do a great job on it.” Thankfully, those nerves would soon dissipate further once the Purple One heard the song. “He was really thrilled with how it came out. I think he might have said something like, ‘Oh, I was surprised you guys didn’t use my track,’ or something. But he was very happy with it.”
4. ‘Why Should I Love You?’ – Kate Bush
If you were ever looking for proof of Prince’s unstoppable ability to create, then you needn’t look any further than ‘Why Should I Love You?’. Predominantly written by the esteemed British singer Kate Bush, the mercurial performer was setting the song up to be a part of her The Red Shoes record and sent the song off to Prince to contribute backing vocals after the Purple One agreed to lend his voice to the track.
Prince had taken a little longer than expected with the song and when Bush’s team received the tape in the post they quickly realised why: Prince had added far more than backing vocals. Instead, Prince had contributed many different musical parts to the song, adding instrumentation and effects that only he could. Bush and her producer Del Palmer weren’t sure what to do with the track and spent nearly two years trying to return it back to a ‘Kate Bush song’. The track was eventually used on The Red Shoes and has been widely loved ever since.
3. ‘Stand Back’ – Stevie Nicks
Much like the Kate Bush song before it, this song isn’t quite a 100% authentic Prince song. Stevie Nicks, who had left Fleetwood Mac to pursue a solo career, can take the credit for the majority of the song ‘Stand Back’ but has always maintained that the song “belongs” to Prince, thanks to its conception and the hand he played.
She and her new husband, Kim Anderson, were driving in their car following their wedding, heading to Santa Barbara for a small honeymoon. While driving the pair heard the Prince song ‘Little Red Corvette’ and became instantly inspired. Nicks pulled over the car and began penning the song ‘Stand Back’ almost immediately. The star called Prince to tell him of the story and within twenty minutes Prince was standing at her studio door.
She remembers that he “walked over to the synthesizers that were set up, was absolutely brilliant for about 25 minutes and then left. He spoiled me for every band I’ve ever had because nobody can exactly recreate – not even with two piano players – what Prince did all by his little self.”
2. ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ – Sinead O’Connor
They don’t come much bigger than this one. Sinead O’Connor became a global star after she lent her heartbreakingly beautiful vocals to this forgotten Prince song. Released in 1985 as part of Prince’s side project the Family, O’Connor took the track five years later and turned it into one of the best songs of the 1990s.
It’s one of the most emotionally charged songs on this list and could quite rightly top it on many other occasions. The breakup ballad is all about loss and deeply-held emotion that many can connect with. O’Connor dedicated the song to her mother who had died earlier that year and compounded the high stakes emotion of the song with a video for the history books.
The MTV machine kicked into overdrive when O’Connor shared the video for ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ featuring a face-on shot of the singer performing the track and letting a single unscheduled tear roll down her face in the process. “I love it, it’s great!” Prince said of O’Connor’s version of the song, “I look for cosmic meaning in everything. I think we just took that song as far as we could, then someone else was supposed to come along and pick it up.”
1. ‘I Feel For You’ – Chaka Khan
If you want perhaps the perfect origin story for a song then this may well be it. Prince allegedly penned the classic song ‘I Feel For You’ as part of a valentine for his crush, the jazz-funk royalty Patrice Rushen. Including it on his self-titled album from 1979, the track remained largely untouched until Chaka Khan, and producer Arif Mardin, took it to new heights.
The song is full of classic moments, from the voice of Melle Mel serenading Chaka Khan to a harmonica riff from none other than Stevie Wonder, it’s fair to say the track has some serious credentials. But while on paper the song is great, it is in the airwaves that its infectious and uncontrollable groove can be most resolutely felt. Pure pop brilliance.
“Arif and I had to make a conscious effort to do that,” she told Billboard in 1984, referring to the need to keep the ’80s favourite instrument, the synth, at the forefront of proceedings. “‘I Feel For You’ is obviously a song that appeals to a lot of the younger kids.” The song became Chaka Khan’s biggest hit and won her a Grammy for Best R&B Song. It remains the finest song prince ever gave away.