Prince was fiercely protective of his songs — if you ventured to cover his material, it had to be on his terms. This has led to some entertaining dust-ups with other artists over the years. After Foo Fighters covered “Darling Nikki” for a B-side, he dismantled and rewired “Best of You” at Super Bowl XLI, possibly as revenge. He covered Radiohead’s “Creep” at Coachella in 2008; when the band wanted to see it, he had already scrubbed it from YouTube.
In a 2011 interview with George Lopez, Prince flirted with the idea of nobody covering his music at all. “Covering the music means that your version doesn’t exist anymore,” he said, interpreting U.S. compulsory licensing law himself. “People think that I’m doing Sinéad O’Connor’s song and Chaka Khan’s song, when in fact, I wrote those songs.”
Instead of handing others rough sketches to build on, Prince delivered fully fleshed-out tracks, leaving very little up for interpretation. His new posthumous album, Originals, features his self-recorded versions of 15 songs made famous by others — and startlingly, some of these “demos” sound full-fledged enough to dominate the charts themselves.
Some of these Prince-assisted acts, like Vanity 6, Apollonia 6 and the Time, were curated protégés, a “Minneapolis scene” he mostly propped up himself like action figures. Others, like O’Connor and the Bangles, were formidable artists with or without his songs. But they all share the presence of the fastidious, ultra-prolific Purple One hovering in the background of their legacies.
Now, we can give Prince credit where it’s due, hearing these songs as if he kept each one rather than gave it away. Here’s a rundown of how every track on Originals compares to its outside version.
Apollonia 6, “Sex Shooter” (Apollonia 6, 1984) What’s different? Vocals
A carnal rocker from the 1984 classic Purple Rain, “Sex Shooter” was recorded almost solely by Prince under the alias The Starr Company. The vocals came courtesy of Apollonia 6, a Prince-curated girl group led by Purple Rain co-star Patricia Kotero. Any difference between these two versions is just about negligible; Prince seems to have recorded “Sex Shooter” himself and had his vocals replaced with theirs.
The Time, “Jungle Love” (Ice Cream Castle, 1984) What’s different? Vocals
The Time, a crack combo of Minneapolis soul, pop and funk musicians, was another Prince-curated band that appeared in Purple Rain. Their version of “Jungle Love,” a four-on-the-floor joint that hit No. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100, features the band’s Morris Day on lead vocals. Despite Prince not being credited at all under his own name, the instrumentation is almost identical to his demo.
The Bangles, “Manic Monday” (Different Light, 1985) What’s different? Vocals, instrumentation, production
The Bangles owe a lot to Prince, but they weren’t propped-up channels for his songwriting like the Time or Apollonia 6. The band caught his ear at an early Los Angeles show; he responded by sending co-founder Susanna Hoffs “Manic Monday,” which he fully mapped out and wanted the band to record. A gorgeous, ‘60s-tinted pop gem, the Bangles stayed close to Prince’s arrangement while giving it their own hues. It peaked at No. 2 on the Hot 100 and remains the Bangles’ most-performed song.
Sheila E., “Noon Rendezvous” (The Glamorous Life, 1984) What’s different? Vocals, instrumentation, production
Prince and drum legend Sheila E. co-wrote this song about their relationship at the time. Not only were they engaged in the Sign O’ The Times era, they had creative chemistry galore: Prince contributed heavily to her 1984 debut The Glamorous Life. The studio version of “Noon Rendezvous” is full of squelchy period synths; Prince’s piano-led demo is more intimate and restrained, a ballad for the wee small hours.
Vanity 6, “Make-Up” (Vanity 6, 1982) What’s different? Vocals, instrumentation, arrangement
Before Apollonia 6, there was Vanity 6, a girl group with Denise Matthews (or “Vanity”) at the helm instead of Patricia “Apollonia” Kotero. “Make-Up,” written for the band by Prince, is a winking list of cosmetic products from blush to base: “The raunchier, female expression of his sensibility,” Prince biographer Alan Light described this project to Tidal. Check out this live video to hear Prince’s subdued version blown up with slap bass and fried guitar soloing.
Mazarati, “100 MPH” (Mazarati, 1986) What’s different? Vocals
Led by Prince and the Revolution bassist Brownmark, Mazarati wasn’t a wholesale creation of Prince like others on this list. Still, their sole charting song, “100 MPH,” was written and almost completely recorded by him. Sans lead vocals by Sir Casey Terry and backing vocals by the rest of Mazarati, the two versions are virtually identical. The band has since stretched beyond Prince’s sphere, signing to Motown in 1989 before undergoing a rebrand as Mazarati Revisited.
Kenny Rogers, “You’re My Love” (They Don’t Make Them Like They Used To, 1986) What’s different? Vocals, production, instrumentation
Prince had a brief, unlikely union with Kenny Rogers, who needed a song for his 1986 album They Don’t Make Them Like They Used To. Rather than write something new, Prince threw him a scrap from his vaults: “You’re My Love,” which he recorded back in 1982. While Rogers’ band played it in an adult-contempo style fitting his voice, it hews strongly to Prince’s demo. He got a writing credit under the pseudonym “Joey Coco.”
Sheila E., “Holly Rock” (Krush Groove: Music From The Original Soundtrack, 1985) What’s different? Vocals
It doesn’t get more 1985 than this. “Holly Rock,” a high-energy rap possibly inspired by the Flintstones’ prehistoric vision of Hollywood, was plucked from an aborted song by the Family to soundtrack the film Krush Groove, a loose dramatization of the story of Russell Simmons and Def Jam Recordings. Sheila E. was cast in the movie as a love interest for Simmons; in the original scene, the music is identical to Prince’s version, but the lovably dated pep is all her.
Jill Jones, “Baby, You’re a Trip” (Jill Jones, 1987) What’s different? Vocals
Jones was a signee to Paisley Park Records, a label founded and run by Prince from 1985 to 1994; her self-titled album was her only release on the label. Jill Jones remains out of print and largely unavailable online, but in live footage, you can hear the backing track from Originals fully intact with Jones’ voice overlaid. After Paisley Park Records folded, Jones soldiered on, working with Nile Rodgers and Chic; about a year after Prince died in 2016, she released a bittersweet tribute: “I Miss You.”
Sheila E., “The Glamorous Life” (The Glamorous Life, 1984) What’s different? Vocals, extra instrumentation
Like “Manic Monday,” “The Glamorous Life” was a holdover from Apollonia 6 before Prince swiped it away — this time, for his lover and collaborator Sheila E. Its two versions begin with a saxophone wail from Larry Williams; the ensuing music is roughly identical, too, except for some extra rimshot percussion from E. Her version peaked at No. 7 on the Hot 100.
The Time, “Gigolos Get Lonely Too” (What Time Is It?, 1982) What’s different? Vocals
The formula for “Jungle Love” goes for this, too; a completed demo from Prince, with the vocals tracked over by Morris Day. Their version reached No. 77 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart; as of 2019, the Time still perform this ballad about a male escort craving true love.
Martika, “Love… Thy Will Be Done” (Martika’s Kitchen, 1991) What’s different? Vocals
While combing Prince’s vaults for songs to include on Originals, co-curator Jay-Z got stuck on a semi-forgotten No. 10 chestnut: “Love… Thy Will Be Done,” from the 1990s dance-pop musician Martika. Good thing he kept his ears open; this spare, emotive ballad is a clear highlight of Originals. Besides Martika’s lead vocals, the two versions are about flush with each other.
Sheila E., “Dear Michelangelo,” (Romance 1600, 1985) What’s different? Vocals, production, arrangement
Recorded in between dates on the 1985 leg of the Purple Rain tour with Prince on all instruments, “Dear Michelangelo” is a highlight of Sheila E.’s Romance 1600. Prince’s original demo sounds drier and funkier; befitting a song about the gardens of Florence and the colors of dreams, E.’s version of “Dear Michelangelo” is ethereal and mellow without dampening Prince’s hook.
Taja Sevelle, “Wouldn’t You Love to Love Me?” (Taja Sevelle, 1987) What’s different? Vocals, production, arrangement
Prince first recorded “Wouldn’t You Love to Love Me” as a demo in 1976, one year before his debut For You. He played everything on this later version by Minneapolis singer/songwriter Taja Sevelle. Though he glossed up his original arrangement idea, the song failed to chart; Sevelle later had a Hot 100 hit with 1987’s “Love is Contagious.”
The Family, “Nothing Compares 2 U” (The Family, 1985) What’s different? Vocals, production, arrangement
This ode to Prince’s housekeeper had many lives: as an obscurity by the Family, a No. 1 hit by Sinéad O’Connor, and here, the 1984 demo that started it all. Play all three chronologically, and you hear a clear progression: from Prince’s stripped-down ballad to the Family’s warbling, synthesized take to O’Connor’s emotive hit version. After O’Connor made “Nothing Compares 2 U” a hit, Prince made an about-face. He introduced it to his live sets for the first time — and performed it over 400 times until his death.