(Prince at Coachelal 2008. AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)
Yes, the late Prince wrote some of the most enduring music of the past century, but he spent nearly as much time exploring other people’s songs. He was fiercely curious, and he understood the importance of taking apart others’ work to return more deeply to his own.
And despite being one of the most magnetic performers in a generation, Prince was also comfortable in the shadows — playing the role of producer, sideman, and/or songwriter for others (often under pseudonyms like “Christopher,” “Alexander Nevermind,” and “Joey Coco”). The music was the thing. He often didn’t care whose name was on the marquee.
Here are a few great moments of Prince paying musical service to others.
Prince threw a bone to the Coachella faithful with this Purple Rain-esque remake of Radiohead’s classic. Thank Thom Yorke himself for making sure it saw the light of day. Prince famously hated having his material online, but since Radiohead own the composition, they convinced Prince to relent.
“A Case of You” (2007)
Prince’s cover of Joni Mitchell’s Blue classic was recorded for the 2007 A Tribute to Joni Mitchell album. He played it during his last “Piano & A Microphone” tour. More evidence that he could have had a career as a straight-up jazz pianist if he’d wanted.
Performed during his final weeks, this David Bowie cover is now haunting for its subtext. Boing Boing pop culture critic Xeni Jardin sums it up in this tweet:
Prince was a certain American generation’s David Bowie.— Xeni (@xeni) April 22, 2016
On the final night of a string of Madison Square Garden shows, Prince gave the stage to CeeLo Green, backing him up for a faithful, funkier version of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy.”
“Everyday People” (circa 2002)
Sly & the Family Stone’s influence on Prince is self-evident. He even picked up Sly’s bassist, Larry Graham for much of his later career (Graham is said to have introduced Prince to the Jehovah’s Witness faith). This life performance brings it all full circle.
For another Sly fix, check this live take on “Sex Machine.” Just epic.
“With a Little Help From My Friends” (2014)
Prince was a famous nightcrawler who regularly showed up at clubs unannounced to jam into the day morning hours. Witness this 2014 drop-in at the Hollywood W Hotel. It’s worth it just to hear the stunned reactions of the crowd. The solo is damn good, too.
Chaka Khan Tribute (2006)
Prince honored his heroes and loved strong women. He gave Chaka Khan one her biggest career hits with “I Feel For You” (originally on Prince’s 1979 debut album). The mutual admiration continued in 2006 when Prince joined a BET tribute as part of the band playing Chaka’s songs.
“While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (2004)
This performance from Prince’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony sums up all you need to know about his generosity and joy as a player. Prince’s transcendent, epic solo closing George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” at the 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction has circulated on the internet for years, and it’s easy to see why. He summons every signal being poured from above into his red fedora, brings the classic rock geezers to church, throws his guitar to the heavens, and disappears. Amazing.