Prince has been a very generous songwriter. He’s given away hundreds of songs to artists (mostly his protegé groups such as the Time, the Family, Sheila E. and Vanity 6). Others have decided to cover his songs, and most of the time a cover isn’t as good as the original.
But in a few cases, the cover is better than Prince’s original effort, to the point where some Prince originals are almost unlistenable, especially after years of hearing the cover. Here are a few covers that surpass what Prince initially put down on tape:
Any song by The Time – In demos, Prince apparently dictated exactly how each song by the Time was supposed to be played and sung, right down to the voice inflection. Lead singer Morris Day had to practice for hours to get his voice to match Prince’s. So the versions sung by Prince and the Time should sound exactly the same, right? Except the Time had Morris Day, who had his own cocky, pimped-up personality. To borrow a cliche from “American Idol,” he made Prince’s songs his own, regardless of how much they sounded alike.
“When U Were Mine” (Ani DiFranco). This admittedly is close to a tie, and Prince probably gets the nod since the song is from his groundbreaking album Dirty Mind, but DiFranco turns it into a bittersweet ballad that is hardly recognizable from Prince’s fast, New-Wave version. Honorable mention goes to Cyndi Lauper, whose version isn’t as energetic as Prince’s but still retains that New Wave sound.
“I Feel for U” (Chaka Khan) – Prince’s version sounds dated with its cheap synthesizers. And for someone who grew up listening to Chaka Khan’s version, Grandmaster Melle Mel’s rap and Stevie Wonder’s harmonica playing just seem missing from Prince’s version instead of the other way around.
“Manic Monday” (The Bangles) – Part of the reason the Bangles sound better on this version is that Prince sang it as a duet with Purple Rain co-star Apollonia, who could neither act nor sing. She’s no Susanna Hoffs.
“Nothing Compares to U” (Sinead O’Connor) – Sinead stole this straight out from under Prince’s nose, totally transformed it into a sad orchestral piece, and her sometimes gentle, sometimes shrieking voice is so much more emotional than what Prince does in his version. He still resents this song’s popularity and occasionally adds it to his setlists at concerts to remind everyone that he wrote it.