Covers

Playlist: Remembering Prince

April 21, 2016, the world lost one of music’s iconic and talented musicians, Prince. He was truly a legend who left a huge impression on music with his style, songs, and vision. He was a versatile artist who constantly pushed boundaries and challenged perceived notions of music. Since he was bigger than life, even though he only stood 5’3, you don’t picture him working with a lot of other artists or even performing covers. His music is so good, why should he play other people’s songs? But, surprisingly, Prince extended himself to various musicians and created memorable, yet underrated duets. At the same time, he also put his funky, sexy spin on songs you’d never guess he’d play. So let’s remember the late Prince by looking back at some of his most notable duets and covers.

“Love Song” – Madonna + Prince

When listening to Madonna’s landmark album Like a Prayer it’s easy to gloss over this smoldering track. The sexy ballad features the two music icons being seductive with one another. It’s a smooth, sexy track meant to put you in the loving mood. So how did the two end up working together? “We were friends and talked about working together, so I went to Minneapolis to write some stuff with him, but the only thing I really dug was ‘Love Song’ […]” With its funky groove and steamy lyrics, it’s more of a Prince song. It sounds like something that belongs on one of his albums and doesn’t mesh well with the pure pop of the rest of the album. You would think a song featuring two of the biggest acts of the 80s would get more attention. But the track couldn’t really compete with massive singles “Like a Prayer” and “Dear Jessie.”

“Creep” – Radiohead

You don’t expect someone like Prince to do too many covers, especially considering how many hits he has in his catalog. But during his headlining set at 2008 Coachella, he pulled out a number of them. He played The Beatles’ “Come Together,” Santana’s “Soul Sacrifice,” The B-52’s “Rock Lobster,” and Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel.” But the most talked about moment was his blazing cover of Radiohead’s “Creep.” Though the elements of the original are there, he turns the track into something completely his own. When he pulls out the extended solos and falsetto vocals, it doesn’t even sound like the same song. It’s amazing to listen to especially since he never played any of the band’s songs before. But of course, Prince wasn’t happy when footage of the cover went live online. He ordered the video to be taken down, which Radiohead reverted since it’s their own song.

“Waiting Room” – No Doubt + Prince

This is another unexpected Prince collaboration. Found on No Doubt’s Rock Steady, it’s got a bit of groove, it’s kind of soulful with a dash of synth and pop. Thanks to Prince’s work on the track, it sounds nothing like the band’s previous or later material. Apparently, Prince agreed to work on the track as a favor to the band since Gwen Stefani appeared on his track “So Far, So Pleased.” They sent him the track and he completely rewrote it. His influence can be heard all over the song. If it wasn’t for Stefani’s lead vocals, you would swear it’s a Prince song. It’s one of the weirder, yet satisfying options from No Doubt’s 2001 album.

“Best of You” – Foo Fighters

Prince’s 2007 Super Bowl Half-Time performance was the first time I realized just how versatile and insanely talented he was. We know how hard Prince rock’s his own material, but not too many other songs. That changed when he busted out renditions of “Proud Mary,” “All Along the Watch Tower,” and Foo Fighter‘s “Best of You.” You wouldn’t expect to hear falsetto shrills in a Foo Fighters song, but Prince truly made that track along with the others he featured all his own. He infused them with his attitude, flair, and a healthy dose of soul like no one else ever could. Though some people didn’t think he was worthy of handling the show, his performance is still hailed as one of the best in Superbowl history. Watching it now, it still gives you chills, especially when he busts out “Purple Rain” during an epic downpour.

“A Love Bizzare” – Shelia E + Prince

Prince was so unique and had a style unlike any other that his essence pours out of every song he writes. This duet with his protégé Shelia E, features the Purple One on background vocals and on bass. But even though Shelia E is the focus of the song, it’s undeniably a Prince song. With its upbeat funky groove, irresistible hook, and sultry lyrics it could’ve come from any of his albums. Though his contribution is kind of downplayed on the studio version, the live version has his flamboyance all over it. Like so many of his tracks, this one is fun, energetic, and sexy. Then again, what Prince song isn’t sexy?

“Every Day is a Winding Road” Sheryl Crow + Prince

Any artist collaborating with Prince should know once he makes an appearance, he steals the show. That’s what happened during this live collaboration with Sheryl Crow. The two performed a hard-edge version of her hit “Every Day is a Winding Road.” Prince does backup vocals and shreds away on his iconic guitar. Shortly after this performance, Prince recorded his own version of the track for this 1999 album Rav Un2 The Joy Fantastic. If you’re lucky enough to find this version, you’ll find a completely different song. It’s funky, slinky, and downright sexy, which you don’t expect from a Crow song. It’s soulful and makes you want to dance. The cover is so good, Crow should hand it over to Prince to be rightfully his. On the same album, the two collaborate on the track “Baby Knows,” which has this cool rock, funk swing to it. If you want to hear it, you better pick up the record; they’re impossible to find online.

“Why Should I Love You?” – Kate Bush + Prince

Kate Bush is an iconic figure in alt rock. Her music is often dreamy, otherworldly, and elegant. So it’s a bit unexpected to learn she worked with Prince. The song, which appeared on her comeback album The Red Shoes, starts out with an air of whimsy and airy and quickly turns into a Prince jam. Seems to be the usual pattern with Prince collaborations. Apparently, Bush sent him the track back in 1991 so he could add background vocals. He not only added vocals but a lot of instrumentation. Since it sounded so different, Bush wasn’t sure what to do with it. They worked on it for two years trying to make it fit Bush’s sound. Clearly, it didn’t work.

“A Case of You” – Joni Mitchell

Prince is known for his sexy, funky style, but on this Joni Mitchell, we get to hear a different side. While it still has an air of sensuality, the track is absolutely gorgeous. It’s an intimate moment with Prince and a piano that’s unforgettable. Hearing his soaring falsetto vocals and the classy tinkling piano keys leave you in awe. We all know Prince was such an amazing guitar player, it’s often easy to forget what a versatile musician he was. This cover shows the beauty and elegance he could add to songs, whether they were his or not. This version is a stark difference from Mitchell’s original folk stylings.

“Love is a Losing Game” – Amy Winehouse + Prince

This haunting and somber track from Amy Winehouse’s final album Back to Black, received the Prince treatment several times live. Footage of this is difficult to find, but luckily, the two eventually teamed up for a powerful rendition of the song. Winehouse joined Prince onstage in 2007 during his final show at London’s O2 Arena. He leaves her to take care of the vocals while he tears it up on guitar. In case you forgot what a badass he is on guitar, you’re quickly reminded on this track. It’s an unforgettable collaboration, though you can’t help but feel a little sad since both musicians passed on unexpectedly.

“Honky Tonk Woman” – Rolling Stones

Prince started performing this song live in 1993, but his version was never officially released. Previously, it could only be found on the Japanese version of The Undertaker. The cover received a wider release when Warner Bros. shared rehearsal footage of Prince performing the track shortly after his death. He turns the song into a scorching number with meaty guitars and a bad ass solo. If you needed more proof of what a genius Prince was at playing guitar, just watch this video where he shreds away with an “I make this look good” look on his face.

“Give Em What they Love” – Janelle Monae + Prince

Prince doesn’t easily hand out compliments and didn’t hide it when he didn’t like someone. But he did admire Janelle Monae, who looked up to him. Luckily, the two worked together for this track from Monae’s second album, The Electric Lady. Not only does Prince play guitar, he also provides co-lead vocals on the track. The song is already is already hot with Monae’s passionate vocals and seductive demeanor. But having Prince sing his signature falsetto makes the track even sexier. Plus, it’s funny to hear Prince utter the term “chicken head.” It’s funky, has a healthy dose of attitude, and makes you feel sexy as hell.

“One of Us” – Joan Osbourne

Prince covered Osbourne’s sole hit for his 1996 album, Emancipation and played it live in concert. With this track, he takes you to church. His soulful delivery, cries for the crowd to join him, and his passionate singing makes it feel like you’re in the middle of a sermon. You want to close your eyes, sway your arm in the air, and shout “preach!” as he’s singing. While there’s nothing wrong with the original, Prince’s version is superior especially with the fiery guitar solo that gives it an extra edge. He even uses the track to take a dig at his former label, Warner Bros. by changing the line “Just a slob like one of us” to “Just a slave like one of us.” This shows if Prince had a problem with you, he’d let you know it in the sassiest way.

“Shhh” – Tevin Campbell

There’s no question about it; Prince was a sexy mother. Just about everything he did dripped with sex. He does the impossible on this Tevin Campbell cover; inject a song that’s about getting in on and make it 100 times dirtier. No, he doesn’t change any lyrics or anything like that. It’s all in his over the top delivery. Hearing his falsetto cries of pleasure you’d swear he was having sex while recording the song. If that wasn’t enough to get you hot and bothered, the blazing guitar solo will do the trick. He takes a typical 90s slow jam and turns it into a sex romp. Only Prince could somehow make a sexy song even sexier.

“Crimson and Clover” – Tommy James and the Shondells 

If you thought Joan Jett made this song rock, you haven’t heard Prince’s version. For the most part, it’s a straightforward cover with Prince being playfully coy during the breakdown of “I think I love you” and blowing kisses into the mic. It’s not until the solo where he makes this song sizzle. In case you needed a reminder what an awesome guitar player he was, Prince make sure you remember with this performance. He makes the guitar burn and blaze like he’s Jimi Hendrix. It leaves you stunned the way he makes the guitar whine, scream, and trill. The cover appeared on his album LOtUSFLOW3R, but it’s his performance of the track on Ellen that gets a nod here.

Which ones of these Prince covers/duets is your favorite? Which ones did I miss? Let me know in the comments!

 

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Playlist: For Kurt

Last week marked 22 years since the death of Kurt Cobain. As usual fans and critics paid their respects from posting pictures on Twitter or writing lengthy pieces on the late singer. But instead of thought pieces on who Cobain was or why his death isn’t as straight forward as we want to believe, the best way to remember him is through the music. This month’s playlist is dedicated to covers of Nirvana songs. There are a lot of them out there and I couldn’t possibly cover every one, so here are some of my favorites.

“In Bloom” – Sturgill Simpson

I honestly don’t know much about Sturgill Simpson, but his version of “In Bloom” has been spreading around the internet last week. While it’s not the best Nirvana cover I’ve ever heard, it is the most interesting and musically diverse. When the song starts you’re looking for that familiar growl of the guitar riff. You can’t even tell what song it is until Simpson starts singing. His Southern twang in his vocals oddly works with the lyrics along with the light music and Western feel. The track comes alive at the end when an unexpected brass section joins in. I’m actually surprised by how much I like his mellow, soulful version.

“Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle” – Jay Retard

I remember listening to the In Utero tribute album released by Robotic Empire a few years ago. And it was fucking awful. The only redeeming quality was this cover by Jay Retard. Sounding like he’s submerged underwater, his version is more rock and a bit psychedelic than harsh and heavy. It’s not too drastically different from the original, but Jay Retard’s touch makes this cover interesting and at least not a carbon copy of the original.

“Lithium” – The Vaselines

It’s pretty cool that The Vaselines did a cover of this Nirvana single since the guys covered one of their songs in their early days. Unlike the original which is instantly catchy, harsh, and melodic, this version is haunting and subdued. There’s very light music recreating the unforgettable riff and Frances McKee’s vocals are fragile and soft. What makes it even more eerie is the background singing that sounds like moaning and the swelling organ that becomes more apparent as the song reaches its end. It’s actually really beautiful and something Kurt might’ve appreciated.

“All Apologies” – Sinead O’Connor

For some reason, this Nirvana song is a popular one to cover. It’s been done by many artists, but Sinead O’Connor’s version is among the best. She presents a delicate version of the tune. It’s nothing but her and a soft guitar that sounds like only two notes are being plucked. She brings out even more heartbreak and sadness in the song with her light delivery of the song. Just when you thought the unplugged version of the song was depressing, O’Connor makes things even worse.

“Stay Away” – Charles Bradley

Ever wanted to hear what Nirvana would sound like if they were a soul band? Charles Bradley gives you an idea with this soulful rendition of “Stay Away.” It’s different from most Nirvana covers out there, which either try to recreate what the band did or just play the song louder. I’ll admit it took me a bit to appreciate his version, but I actually like the different take on the song. It slows things down a bit and adds a little funk to the mix. Bradley succeeds in showing how Nirvana’s music can span various genres.

“Lithium” – Muse

Muse aren’t shy about their love of Nirvana. In various interviews, the members have talked about how Nirvana were one of their early influences and part of the reason why they started their band. Though they haven’t officially released a Nirvana cover, they’ve played their songs several times live. When they played Lollapalooza in Brazil, it was the 20th anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death. They acknowledged it by playing “Lithium” and they did a kick ass job with the song. It’s a very straightforward cover, but Bellamy’s voice surprisingly works well with the song. And watching the clip, which is interrupted by interview footage, it’s clear Muse are enjoying themselves while playing the song.

“Smells Like Teen Spirit” – Tori Amos

Tori Amos version of the famous Nirvana song often pops up when looking for the best Nirvana covers and for good reason: it’s beautiful. Apparently, she was the first artist to cover the song and she made it her own. She takes this angst ridden song filled with aggression and anger and turns it into something heartbreaking. It’s nothing but Amos and the piano, which gives it a classical air. Her version changes the entire mood and vibe of the song turning it into something completely different. It’s so haunting you’ll have chills as her voice hits those soaring notes. Cobain even commented on the cover, calling it “a great cereal version.”

“Heart Shaped Box” – Dead Sara

If there’s any band fit for a Nirvana cover, it’s Dead Sara. Emily Armstrong’s vocals are rough and raspy, which perfectly fit with the grunge genre. Their cover the In Utero track is pretty straightforward. They keep same mood and vibe as the original. Still, Armstrong and crew sound amazing when performing the song. The guitars are harsh and dirty while Armstrong’s vocals hit all the right notes. It doesn’t do anything new with the song, but it’s still a respectable cover.

“Breed” – Titus Andronicus

Recorded for Spin’s tribute album to Nevermind, Titus Andronicus takes on Nirvana’s “Breed.” It doesn’t stray far from the original keeping the same general vibe and feel. Where their version does differ is it’s a more raw, sloppy, punk rock version of the Nirvana track. The music is generally the same, but Patrick Stickles’ vocals are edgy and on the harsh side. It’s simple, but it’s very satisfying to listen to.

“Come as You Are” – Yuna

Yuna is a Malaysian singer/songwriter who does a lot of covers of popular artists, like Drake. Her version of “Come as You Are” is something you wouldn’t expect to like. She slows things down considerably, turning the grunge song into something mellow. Her vocals are relaxing and flowing as she sings the familiar chorus. Her voice is actually beautiful and works really well with the R&B/indie pop vibe of the song she’s set up. The whole thing is really dreamy and soft, something you wouldn’t expect from a Nirvana song.

“Smells Like Teen Spirit” – Patti Smith

For her 2007 covers album Twelve, Smith did a folk rendition of the Nirvana classic. With her wavering vocals and plucks of a banjo, the track sounds fragile and haunting. If it wasn’t for the well known lyrics, it’d be difficult to tell it was a Nirvana song at all just because the mood is so different. Smith takes liberty with the bridge where she starts speaking about injustices and problems within the world. This part isn’t for everyone and it kind of kills the mood, but it wouldn’t be a Patti Smith song if there wasn’t some sort of commentary on society.

“All Apologies” – Cage the Elephant

For a live iHeartRadio broadcast Cage the Elephant, who have always had some similarities to Nirvana, covered “All Apologies.” Unlike Sinead O’Connor’s version, this one doesn’t stray far from the original. It’s very bare bones featuring only Matt Shutlz on vocals and Brad Shultz on an acoustic guitar. Though Matt’s vocals are raspy and raw like Cobain’s, it never sounds like he’s trying to copy the late singer. Instead he does things naturally. His voice works so well, I would love to hear more covers featuring the entire band.

Which Nirvana cover is your favorite? There are a ton out there, so which one did I miss? Let me know in the comments.

Musical Quickie: counterfeit e.p. – Martin Gore

Release Year: 1989

Rating: 7.5/10

Martin Gore is known as the baby faced songwriter for Depeche Mode, but in 1989 he ventured out on his own for his debut solo EP during a band hiatus. Rather than dishing out some new material Gore covers six songs and he does a great job at making them his own. One of the best and catchiest tracks is “Compulsion” with feel good upbeat synth and Gore’s unmistakable falsetto vocals. For the most part all of the songs are good from the somber “In A Manner of Speaking” to the creepy and slightly disturbing “Smile in the Crowd.” The only dull track is “Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth,” which sounds like an overblown message to protect the planet. It’s really sappy, wishy washy, and downright boring.

A big issue with the EP is the music. It sounds fucking awesome, but no matter how hard you try you can’t help but make comparisons to Depeche Mode. “Gone” and the other songs all have synth and new wave elements that remind you of the band’s earlier material. It makes it hard to distinguish Gore’s own work from what he’s done with the band, but it’s still an interesting listen. This is must have for any Gore addicts out there and DM fans are sure to like it too, but with familiar music and lack of new songs, it can’t outrun Depeche Mode’s shadow.

For the Masses: A Tribute to Depeche Mode

ForTheMassesRelease Year: 1998

Rating: 6/10

Most tribute albums are pretty shoddy and aren’t worth your time, but since this one boasted some big acts, like The Cure, Smashing Pumpkins, and Deftones I decided to check it out. While the covers from the aforementioned artists are pretty good, the rest of the renditions either play it safe and change nothing about the song or change everything about it making it sound bad. By the sixth track, you’ll be ready to turn off the album and listen to some real Depeche Mode.

Let’s start with the good. Smashing Pumpkins’ version of “Never Let Me Down Again” is really soft and mellow. It’s actually a decent cover, but since it is so mellow and light it may take some getting used to. You would expect something more vibrant and energetic from the band, but they did the complete opposite. They at least provide a different take on the song while making sure fans knew which Mode single it was. It’s not the best cover on the album, but it’s one you should check out. The best track here is The Cure’s version of “World in My Eyes.” With the upbeat electronic inspired music on the track, it manages to sound like a Cure song from the mid-90s, but you can still hear elements of the original. This one actually adds a fresh element to the song without taking anything away from it. I just think it’s awesome how The Cure covered one of their songs, considering Depeche Mode looked up to the band when they first started.

Another decent cover is “To Have and to Hold” by Deftones. This is another version that stays true to the original, but the music is really fuzzy and heavy, which helps to keep the dark tone of the track. Other than that, there really isn’t much else to say about the song. When researching the album, I found out Nine Inch Nails, Foo Fighters, and Marilyn Manson were supposed to add contributions, but didn’t have the time. With the way it turned out, they should’ve waited for these artists to finish because the rest of the covers are pretty awful. God Lives Underwater turns “Fly on the Windscreen” into some weird hip-hop, R&B song where you can’t even hear the singing (not that you would want to), while Failure (appropriately named) took away all the despair from “Enjoy the Silence” and turned it into a weird lounge rock infused version.

Some of the covers have really weak vocals. The singer of Hooverphonic tries way too hard to be sensual on “Shake the Disease” while the guy from Monster Magnet sounds like a poor man’s Chris Cornell when singing “Black Celebration.” Apollo Four Forty tries way too hard to make their version of “I Feel You” sound like the original. They even have their singer trying to pull the same vocal effects as Gahan on the track. Locust tries to turn “Master and Servant” into a smooth jazz duet and Rabbit in the Moon drag out “Waiting for Tonight” to the point where it bores you to tears. Even when the artists don’t suck at singing or music in general they play it safe by not changing a thing, which is the case with Veruca Salt’s “Somebody.” It doesn’t sound terrible, but with the exception of a different singer, it’s a copy of the original.

Overall, the album gets 6/10. What seemed to be a promising tribute album is mediocre at best. There are some notable covers by the likes of The Cure and Smashing Pumpkins, but the rest try too hard to replicate the original making them dull. When a cover does manage to shake things up it does it in the worst way possible. If anything this album makes you want to listen to some classic Depeche Mode and forget the time you wasted on this garbage.

Skeletons in the Closet – Children of Bodom

SkeleRelease Year: 2009

Rating: 6.5/10

It’s standard for musicians to do a few cover songs in their career, but cover albums are usually reserved for those that need to revive their career or are desperate for some cash. There doesn’t seem to be many modern artists making these full length albums anymore, which is why this Children of Bodom release is a little odd. The guys have done some awesome covers before, which made this record promising. Unfortunately, song choices, length, and lack of variation holds the album down.

This release is 17 or 18 songs long, depending on which you get, and after a while the tracks start blending in with one another. But COB does manage to get a few stand out tracks that are worth fans’ time. The weirdest and most pleasing cover is “Oops…I Did It Again.” For some reason metal bands love covering pop songs and Bodom is no different. It’s funny to hear Alexi Laiho sing the infamous hook while blazing guitars fire off in the background. Their version would’ve been even better if they kept out the female singer and tossed in some more guitars. For some reason they didn’t go as far as they could’ve here. It’s like they wanted to keep the vibe of the original and just added in some shredding guitars. It’s definitely entertaining, but isn’t as good as you expect it to be.

Another decent cover is Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Looking Out My Backdoor.” It definitely is strange to hear the guys do a take on a southern rock song, but that’s what makes it so interesting. While they add in metal touch with intense vocals and signature guitars, they manage to keep the southern feel with the twangy banjo during the bridge. Their take on Alice Cooper’s “Bed of Nails” is pretty straightforward, yet still pleasing. They pretty much just punch up the energy and the heaviness of the music with the addition of Alexi’s growling vocals. For Poison’s “Talk Dirty to Me” they keep the fun, party vibe of the track and faithfully cover Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell.” While these songs manage to stand out the others don’t do as well.

For their covers, Bodom stay faithful to the originals, too faithful. On tracks like “Don’t Stop at the Top” and Slayer’s “Silent Scream” they sound so close to the original versions you question why you want to listen to this one. A lot of the time the only difference between the two songs is how the music is being played and Alexi’s vocals. Just listen to their take on Iron Maiden’s “Aces High.” They actually do a pretty good job, but it sounds so much like the Maiden version it doesn’t hold your interest for long. This issue is present for just about the entire album. Their cover of WASP’s “Hellion” again shows off their impressive musicianship and doesn’t sound bad, but there’s nothing about it that separates itself from the original. It’s fine that they didn’t want to stray too far from these songs, but they don’t do anything to make them their own or show a different side of the band.

Overall, the album gets 6.5/10. While there are some notable covers, most of the record falls flat. Lack of variation on just about all of the songs makes most of them dull. They may sound pretty good, but they don’t do much to make their version distinct from the original. The tracks they picked are interesting and tackle different genres, but there are only a few you’ll want to hear again. Also, the album is way too long. Maybe if it was shorter the listener would get bored so easily. This is probably why more artists don’t release cover albums.