No Doubt

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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Worst Album of 2016

This is What the Truth Feels Like – Gwen Stefani

I was never a huge No Doubt fan growing, but I’ve come to like them more over time along with Gwen Stefani. There was a point when she was the epitome of cool in alt rock. Her solo music is vastly different from what she did with No Doubt, but it’s still catchy, enjoyable, and fun. When she dropped two singles in 2015, I was pretty excited to hear what her next album was going to sound like. I actually dug Love.Angel.Music.Baby, but didn’t care for The Sweet Escape. Turns out, I hated  even more.

It feels kind of harsh calling this the worst of the year, but out of everything I sought out and listened to, this is the album I hated the most. I’ll admit, most of the songs are unoffending. Some are even pretty good, like the hypnotic “You’re My Favorite,” but once I got to songs like “Naughty” and “Red Flag” I couldn’t take anymore. I thought she was joking. The horrible rap segments, the sad attempt at trying to keep up with the trends, and the ridiculous lyrics made the rest of the record laughable. She tries to hang with Fetty Wop on “Asking 4 It” and comes off awkward while her other attempts at rapping are just sad.

What’s most annoying is her pretending she’s still this rebellious, bad ass we came to love in the 90s. It’s fine if Stefani has grown up and is more comfortable following the herd now. But it feels like she’s pretending she’s still alternative like she was back in the day. With tracks like “Asking 4 It” and “Rare” it seems like she’s trying to hold on to her edgy title, when that’s not who she is anymore. And that’s fine.

When the album isn’t delving into horrible rap, it’s just bland and dull making you think “meh” as you listen to it. Very few of the songs are interesting. The rest follow the same pop music trends as everyone else. There’s even a few songs you’d think were outtakes from Madonna’s Rebel Heart. This is What the Truth Feels Like was hardly worth the 10 year wait. Hopefully, her next effort will be interesting and bring back some weirdness to pop music. But considering her last few releases, it doesn’t look too promising.

Musical Rant: The Let Down of Band Reunions

Well, it’s finally here. The news is out, pre-sales started, and scalpers are ready. Guns N Roses are officially hitting the road this year. But not just a bloated Axl Rose with new young replacements to be his backing band. It’s Rose and most of the original members, minus Izzy Stradlin. Everyone is freaking out with excitement at the thought of catching the original bad boys performing together once again. But it seems like people are forgetting something. This is Axl Rose we’re talking about.

How many concerts has this guy walked out on or not showed up for? He infamously got the group banned from St. Louis because security didn’t deal with a guy who was taking photos of him. He’s known for his random rants and hissy fits as if anything can set him off. And he’s notoriously late. In 2010, the band got on stage an hour late causing them to play til 2AM. The crowd couldn’t take anymore and started walking out. Personally, I don’t think this reunion stands a chance. There’s a reason the band moved away from Rose in the first place. And it already got off to a rocky start with Rose canceling his appearance on Jimmy Kimmel.

This got me thinking about band reunions in general and I came to one conclusion: they suck. Sure, some of them are pretty successful, like Refused or Black Sabbath. But most of them are nothing but disappointing ventures that produce lackluster new material. Just look at Van Halen. It took two attempts to reunite them with David Lee Roth before it finally worked out. Even then their latest output hasn’t been great. And how about Blink-182? They set fans’ hope high with a reunion, new album, and tour. It looked like things were looking up until the band imploded. Now, they’re trying again with a new guy, but that’s a rant for another day.

When there’s bad blood between band members who then try to reunite are like that one friend you have. You guys used to hang out and talk, but somewhere along the line you stopped contacting them. Then one day you’re bored, they pop into your head, and you contact them out of the blue. And then you remember why you guys aren’t friends anymore. It seems when a lot of bad blood exist between bands there’s no amount of money that can heal those wounds. If it’s not a band trying to put their hatred aside for yet another reunion, it’s a band who haven’t done anything together in a while and release a new album. And man, is it disappointing.

This is another reason band reunions suck. They never seem to live up to expectations. Maybe it’s the fans putting too much stock into it. Maybe the band doesn’t work well together anymore. For one reason or another usually the new output is nowhere near as good as their past work. As I said before there are exceptions, but how about No Doubt? Gwen Stefani returned to the band in 2012, more than 10 years since their last album, and they released Push and Shove. It performed decently on the charts, but the album was overall unmemorable. Now, Stefani is out of the band, maybe. Some bands just can’t get it together after being apart for a considerable length of time. It seems something is lost when you don’t work with someone for over ten years.

I get it. Your favorite band getting back together is exciting and brings back so many good memories. You want those moments and good times back, but no matter how good something is the reformed band won’t live up to your expectations. The music won’t be as good, the vibe will be different, or they just won’t sound the same. No matter what you think, something is going to be different and chances are you’re going to hate it. But I guess you can’t blame a band for trying to recapture that old spark. After all, it’s worked out quite well for other bands, like Megadeth. Maybe we as fans need to remember when we hear a band is getting back together, it’s not gonna be perfect and it may just not work out at all. So don’t get those expectations up too high when buying those Guns N Roses tickets.

This Is What the Truth Feels Like – Gwen Stefani

Release year: 2016

Rating: 6.5/10

I had no intention of reviewing this album. It’s not because I don’t like Gwen Stefani. I’m actually a fan of her work both in No Doubt and solo. Even though I didn’t care for her 2006 release The Sweet Escape, I was still excited to hear her new material after a ten year absence. My plan was to listen to the album and just enjoy it. But when I put it on I was so confused, shocked, and appalled I just had to talk about it. So was it worth waiting so long for new Stefani material? Well…

This is another case of an album that’s overwhelming just okay. There’s only a handful of good songs I can stand to listen to again. The opening track “Misery” manages to be catchy despite its recycled pseudo tropical beats and generic pop music format. Otherwise, it’s a pretty standard pop song exploring Stefani’s recent divorce from ex-Gavin Rossdale. The next track “You’re My Favorite” is a bit better with its cool hip hop/electronic infused music. The only problem is it sounds like something that could’ve been on Madonna’s last album. Stefani has always been compared to the Material Girl , but here those comparisons seem to be justified. Aside from this the song will get stuck in your head with its simple hook and slick style.

From there the rest of the album is a carbon copy of current pop music trends. Just about all of the songs continue with the hip hop/electronic infusion introduced on the first few songs. The only time it really changes is on what is probably the strongest track “Used to Love You.” This constant repetition makes songs like “Rare,” “Send Me a Picture,” and “Truth” dull and uninteresting. The worst offense comes in the last few songs where Stefani amps up the hip hop vibe by rapping. Yes, it’s fucking terrible. When I first heard “Red Flag” I exclaimed out loud in my empty apartment “What the shit?” Suddenly, the album shifted gears for the worse. Stefani sounds like someone whose trying to prove how cool they are by laying down some rhymes. And it’s awful. It’s like she wanted to recreate the hip hop vibe of “Luxurious” but failed miserably.

With the heavy thumping beats and Fetty Wap’s drunken vocals “Asking 4 It” doesn’t sound anything like a Gwen Stefani song. And it’s not a good thing. Similar to the previous track, this one is bland and so unlike her. It doesn’t even seem like it fits the album. And the ridiculous song “Naughty” isn’t any better. This is yet another track where Stefani tries going hip hop. Though it’s more playful and focused than “Red Flag” it falls apart at the chorus where she begins to sound like Nicki Minaj. To make things worse you have to uncomfortably sit through Stefani’s lifeless moans during the hook. Maybe she was going for the ridiculous with this track, but I personally found it off putting.

It seems the problem with this album is Stefani trying to retain her cool alt girl title that she had while in No Doubt. In that context it made sense. Her vocals were unconventional, she didn’t look like your average singer at the time, and the band infused ska with punk, rock, and pop to get their sound. But once Stefani branched out her own, the title was lost. She was just another mainstream artist with songs that got stuck in your head easily. With so many of these songs it seems like she’s trying to show the world she’s still edgy and unique when it’s pretty clear she’s not. And that’s fine if she would just own up to it. She even tries to reach “Hollaback Girl” status on the track “Where Would I Be?” during the bridge featuring cheerleader-esque chanting. It’s like she’s trying to win back the alt crowd that followed her during the No Doubt days, when they’ve most likely moved on.

While there are some definite hits on the album that’ll climb the charts, but the record as a whole is pretty weak. Many of the songs sound the same and most of them follow current trends making them sound generic and familiar. Even though the rap songs were horrible, I commend Stefani on trying to keep listeners on their toes and trying to branch out. It’s just in this case the results led to bland , forgettable songs and an album that’s nowhere near a strong or original as her debut.

Love.Angel. Music.Baby – Gwen Stefani

Release Year: 2004

Rating: 7.5/10

It’s natural for anyone in a band to branch out on their own and try something new. That’s what Gwen Stefani did in 2004. Her solo outing spawned several hit singles and proved she was just as powerful by herself as she was with No Doubt. The album is upbeat, fun, and perfect for anyone who loves the 80s. A lot of the music and the lyrical content is inspired from the era, showing how Stefani’s love for the decade had a big influence on her music.

Stefani moves away from her rock, punk, ska style that made No Dobut popular and experiments with a range of genres. The opener “What You Waiting For?” just like most of the songs here, has an 80’s synthpop style that’s hard to resist. It’s still one of the best tracks on the album, especially since it’s the most personal. I never realized how the opening refers to her time with No Doubt and how suddenly she was all by herself. The lyrics then go on to describe both her hesitation and excitement for launching her solo career. This gives the single more depth than most of the songs here. “Rich Girl” has more of a ragga style, which is a nod to the Fiddler on the Roof track “If I Were a Rich Man.” It’s another infectious song that only gets better when Eve is thrown in the mix. This shows good things always happen when these two ladies collaborate. (“Let Me Blow Ya Mind” anyone?)

“Hollaback Girl” is that one song you find annoying, but secretly love. Written as a response to Courtney Love who called Stefani a cheerleader for Jive records, the song sticks with a marching band style complete with horns and pounding percussion that gets you pumped up. It sounds like something you hear during a pep rally. Stefani goes full cheerleader during the bridge with the infamous “This shit is bananas/b-a-n-a-n-a-s” which can get annoying, but is so irresistible. “Cool,” which is about the singer’s relationship with No Dobut bandmate Tony Kanal, has a soft new wave vibe to it. I love the way she sounds here; her voice is soft and sweet making her sound innocent. It was co-written by Dallas Austin, who based the song off the No Doubt single “Simple Kind of Life” another track that references her previous relationship with Kanal. It’s an unconventional way to write a song, but the result is solid. It’s interesting how she revisited the topic of this breakout since it’s something she previously explored on most of Tragic Kingdom.

Bubble Pop Electric” is one of those songs that runs the risk of being really annoying, but is actually a lot of fun. The upbeat nature and playful mood makes it a standout track. “Luxurious” takes things in another direction. Sampling the riff from “Between the Sheets” by The Isley Brothers, this song has more of a hip-hop and slow jam R&B vibe. The groove is slinky and sexy, which goes along with Stefani’s seductive vocals. It’s not the strongest track on the record, but it’s still a good one. From here the rest of the songs blend together. Though “Danger Zone,” “Crash,” and “Serious” are all good, they use a lot of the same synthpop that makes them hard to distinguish. All of them sound like they could be club songs from the 80s, with the exception of “The Real Thing,” which sounds like a New Order track. Turns out, the guys from the band worked on it. Go figure.

While the album as a whole is really fun to listen to and gets you moving, it does have its low points. “Harajuku Girls” is one of those songs I can’t decide whether or not I like. The lyrics find Stefani gushing over the Harajuku fashion scene of Japan, but her overenthusiasm makes her come off as a creepy weeaboo. Also, she uses Japanese stereotypes to talk about the culture, which makes the song a bit problematic. It’s not horrible, but she could’ve handled it in a better manner. The closing track “Long Way to Go” is a weak point. Featuring Andre 3000, the song was actually meant for his solo album, which is painfully clear. The frantic music and hip-hop feel sounds too much like an Outkast song to be on the record. The message of the song is about interracial relationships and how love has no color. It’s a well meaning message, but it comes off forced and awkward, even more so when clips of Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech are used. It comes from nowhere and sticks out in the worst way. One small thing I found annoying about the album as a whole is how many times she dropped the name of her fashion label LAMB. It comes up several times on different tracks, such as “Rich Girl.” It felt like she was trying to sell me something, especially since her clothing pop up around the same time as this record. Self-advertisement is nothing new in music, but she came on a bit too strong.

Stefani will always be known as the spunky frontwoman of No Doubt, but with this album she proved she could handle things on her own. Taking a lot of music, synth, and sounds from 80s dance music, the album makes for a fun, upbeat, and energetic experience. While there are a number of tracks that are now considered classics for Stefani, some of them are weak and others are forgettable. Still, Stefani knows what makes a good pop song: catchy music and a chorus that’s slightly annoying, but irresistible. Hopefully, we’ll see where she goes next in her career later this year.