Prince’s influence has been discussed far and wide, from fashion to music videos to the actual, Hendrixian quality of his guitar playing. But it’s always unusual when the mercurial purple genius decides to directly contribute to another artist’s canon, particularly since one really never knows where he’s going to end up next.
What follows is a chronological list of ten of Prince’s most interesting “guest appearances.” Half of them are actual guest appearances, the other half either songs he wrote or covers of his hits (we have disqualified anything Prince produced, as everyone knows as soon as Prince sits in a producer’s chair, it’s essentially his song). Some of these might not be new to you if you’re a die-hard Prince fan, but at least you can reflect on His Royal Badness and the far-flung influence he’s had on pop music for more than a quarter-century. Take a look after the jump.[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YA9zdHliGRs&feature=related]
Stevie Nicks, “Stand Back” (1983)
Prince’s first high-profile guest contribution actually wasn’t as high-profile as it may seem. In 1983, the Fleetwood Mac frontwoman was driving to her honeymoon suite with new husband Kim Anderson, was taken by a song on the radio and recorded a demo based around said song in said honeymoon suite. (Only in the music business.) That song turned out to be “Little Red Corvette,” which was well on its way to becoming a hit for Prince. While recording the full version for her album The Wild Heart, Nicks got the idea to call Prince and tell him of the song’s origin, which pleased Prince enough to make a whirlwind contribution to the track: a synth line that complements the “Little Red Corvette” similarities nicely. She gave him half the songwriting royalties for his influence, and – she later told MTV – he gave her a tape of a song he was working on for her to consider adding lyrics to. She never did, but he did; the song became “Purple Rain.”
Chaka Khan, “I Feel for You” (1984)
Prince had written this upbeat, synth-driven ditty for his sophomore LP, Prince, in 1979. It was pleasant, but never released as a single – it probably wouldn’t have done much at that point anyway. It got covered twice in 1982 and 1983 by The Pointer Sisters and Rebbie Jackson, respectively. Again, neither version was released as a single; each act had a bigger hit to deal with at the time (“I’m So Excited” for the Sisters, and “Centipede” for Jackson, written and produced by little brother Michael). Then Chaka Khan recorded her version, and became the only act in history to out-Prince Prince. First, there’s Melle Mel of Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five stutter-rapping over a monstrous rhythm track (masterminded by producer Arif Mardin). Then those synths kick in like retro-rockets – and Mr. Stevie Wonder launches into a powerful harmonica solo. Khan owns the track from there, but not before the track turns into the aural equivalent of a transmission from outer space. (Craziest moment: when Mardin follows Wonder’s middle-eight solo with a sample of 12-year-old Wonder from “Fingertips Pt. 2”!)
The Bangles, “Manic Monday” (1986)
Written for Apollonia 6 after Purple Rain (not long before that project fell apart with Apollonia’s exit), Prince searched far and wide for a girl group with enough pop and edge to honor his composition. Enter The Bangles, a sun-soaked all-girl group coming off a successful debut (All Over the Place (1984)) and opening slots for Cyndi Lauper and Huey Lewis and The News. Prince, who was clearly smitten with lead singer Susanna Hoffs (who wouldn’t be?), gave her a demo of “Manic Monday” under the pseudonym “Christopher” (the same name as his character from Under the Cherry Moon, that scamp), and the band’s version was a major hit, coming up to No. 2 on the Billboard charts. (What stopped it? None other than “Kiss,” by Prince and The Revolution.)
Kenny Rogers, “You’re My Love” (1986)
You’re not misreading that. Prince gave country legend Kenny Rogers a song for his unusually modern album They Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Used To (1986), under the pseudonym Joey Coco. It didn’t earn much recognition on an LP already crammed with star power (Michael Boddicker, Steve Lukather and Jay Graydon all contributed to the album, and Prince’s song features backing vocals from El DeBarge!), but if nothing else, it’s a sign that Prince’s talent extends far beyond pop, rock and soul styles.
The Art of Noise featuring Tom Jones, “Kiss” (1987)
Easily the most bizarre Prince cover in recorded history, this campy, brassy take featured ’60s pop crooner hamming his way through the track, which eventually brought him to a strange career resurgence. The song provides a few grins every couple of listens (particularly when The Art of Noise quote their own earlier hit covers, “Peter Gunn” and “Dragnet”), but Prince proved conclusively that minimal is better in the case of “Kiss.”
Madonna, “Like a Prayer” (1989)
Probably my favorite guest slot on this list. Fans know that Prince co-wrote and performed “Love Song” with Madonna on the Like a Prayer LP, but their collaboration went further than that (musically at least, Madonna was allegedly disappointed that Prince seemed more into the music than he was into her). If you have the album on you, find the last track “Act of Contrition” and play it backwards. It’s the choral counterpoint to the bridge of “Like a Prayer,” with a mind-bending guitar solo that can only be The Purple One (credited as “The Powers That Be” on the sleeve). Part of that solo was in fact used on several “Prayer” remixes (the 12″ extended version and club mix, notably), but the original LP version lacks the six-string mania. It would be a gem for both artists if Warner Bros. ever grafted Prince’s work back onto Madonna’s already-classic single.
Celine Dion, “With This Tear” (1992)
Celine Dion was just a rising star in America when Prince penned this tune just for her. It was included on her self-titled album (her second English-language LP) but was overshadowed by hit singles “If You Asked Me To” and the theme to Beauty and the Beast.
Quindon Tarver, “When Doves Cry” (1996)
Baz Luhrmann’s contemporary remake of Romeo + Juliet did a great job of making the Shakespeare tale palatable for attention-challenged teens, but it also had a pretty intriguing soundtrack that, at one point, uses Prince’s biggest hit to drive home to agony separating the star-cross’d lovers. Young singer Quindon Tarver, backed by a full gospel choir, re-interprets the song so well, you hope that Prince himself is proud of the cover.
Mariah Carey featuring Dru Hill, “The Beautiful Ones” (1997)
She didn’t out-Prince Prince, but Mariah’s cover of the Purple Rain album cut evokes the original rather nicely, even with the presence of Dru Hill (the vaguely memorable R&B group that indirectly birthed Sisqo and “The Thong Song”) on background vocals. Not every one of Carey’s tracks is a dog-whistle divafest, and this does a good job of proving it.
The Foo Fighters, “Darling Nikki” (2004)
Released as a B-side (allegedly because Prince wouldn’t allow it to go any further than that, nautrally), this was a pretty solid take on a pretty solid Prince tune by a pretty solid band. It’s perhaps notable for some of the other performances it inspired: Prince’s Super Bowl appearance saw him covering the Foos’ hit “Best of You,” and the band performed it live for MTV with rapper/singer Cee-Lo Green of Goodie Mob and Gnarls Barkley fame.