15 Great Prince Songs That Were Hits for Other Artists – Rolling Stone
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15 Great Prince Songs That Were Hits for Other Artists

The purple touch that helped the Bangles, Sinead O’Connor, Chaka Khan and more

Tom Jones; the Bangles; Sinead O'Connor

Tom Jones, the Bangles and Sinead O'Connor have all found success with Prince songs.

Minneapolis' favorite son was a whirlwind of creativity that knew no bounds, the purple-minded genius releasing dozens of albums on his own, but also mentoring and producing dozens of bands like dirty-minded girl group Vanity 6 and synth-funk dynamos the Time. His songs became massive pop hits for stars as disparate as Sinead O'Connor, Chaka Khan, the Bangles and Tevin Campbell. He turned his personal treatises on sexual persona, spiritual angst and social unrest into a universal art that spoke to millions, no matter their race, class, or gender. Few pop artists over the past four decades were as universally beloved as Prince. These are some of the best Prince songs that became hits for others.

Prince; 15 songs other artists; hits

Chaka Khan, “I Feel for You” (1984)

Hot 100 Chart Position: Number Three

Prince allegedly penned "I Feel for You" as a valentine to one of his crushes, jazz-funk queen Patrice Rushen, and included it on his 1979 self-titled album. Years later, Chaka Khan and longtime producer Arif Mardin turned "I Feel for You" into a Gold-certified cataclysm of electro-funk, R&B and hip-hop. There is the seductive voice of Melle Mel of "The Message" and Beat Street fame serenading Chaka, a harmonica riff from Stevie Wonder and those loud, blaring synthesizer stabs typical of pop music of the era. Just as big was its heavy-rotation video clip that featured L.A. break dancers like Shabba Doo and Boogaloo Shrimp, fresh from their triumphant performances in the unexpected box office hit Breakin'. But Khan, who had spent much of the early-Eighties delving into sensuously mature boogie-funk and jazz-pop, wasn't entirely comfortable with the colorfully gauche "I Feel For You. " "Arif and I had to make a conscious effort to do that," she told Billboard in 1984. "'I Feel For You is obviously a song that appeals to a lot of the younger kids.'" Khan probably didn't mind when "I Feel for You" became the biggest hit of her solo career, topping the R&B charts and earning her a 1985 Grammy for Best R&B Song. As for Prince, he was too busy with Purple Rain to appear on the track. "Prince [had] schedule problems, couldn't do it," Mardin said.

Prince; 15 songs other artists; hits

Sheena Easton, “Sugar Walls” (1985)

Hot 100 Chart Position: Number Nine

"I walked into the studio and there was no 12 bodyguards, just him," Sheena Easton told Q in 1991, recalling her first meeting with Prince in the Eighties. "He was very quiet and shy." As quiet and shy as Prince may have been, there's nothing modest about his first collaboration with Easton, "Sugar Walls." Listed by Tipper Gore's Parents' Music Resource Council as one of the "Filthy Fifteen" songs that were sure to pervert the minds of young America, the Prince-penned "Sugar Walls" contains one of the most viscerally erotic double entendres in pop history: "Come spend the night inside my sugar walls," Easton croons over dreamy alien funk.

Prince; 15 songs other artists; hits

Sheila E., “A Love Bizarre” (1985)

Hot 100 Chart Position: Number 11

The only track from Sheila E.'s 1985 album Romance 1600 to have a Prince co-writing credit, "A Love Bizarre" is a sinewy duet between Prince and his collaborator/paramour that hints at kink with references to "outrageous sin" and things getting "kinda rough in the back of our limousine." As with their collab "The Glamorous Life," the album version is decidedly longer, with a slow-burn back end that incrementally turns up the temperature. Prince repurposed the track on the 1995 standalone single "Purple Medley," an 11-minute travelogue through his catalog that also includes the Time's "777-9311." 

Prince; 15 songs other artists; hits

The Bangles, “Manic Monday” (1986)

Hot 100 Chart Position: Number Two

After seeing an early Bangles show in Los Angeles, Prince sent the band a tape with two original songs he wanted them to record. One was "Manic Monday," a jangly, infectious diary of 9-to-5 office blues, that Prince was able to accurately capture without experiencing. The track is relatively innocent, but Prince does get in a classic line: "Of all of my nights/Why did my lover have to pick last night to get down?" It was the band's first hit, reaching Number Two in the U.S. "I remember going in and singing that song and being on the mike and it was kind of like red light fever," Bangles singer Susanna Hoffs told Songfacts. "I knew it was a Prince song, and I wanted to do a great job on it." Her mind was eased when Prince listened to the track. "He was really thrilled with how it came out. I think he might have said something like, 'Oh, I was surprised you guys didn't use my track,' or something. But he was very happy with it."

Prince; 15 songs other artists; hits

Art of Noise feat. Tom Jones, “Kiss” (1988)

Hot 100 Chart Position: Number 31

Prince's 1986 bluesy stomper "Kiss" has a long lineage. He originally wrote it for bass player Brown Mark's band Mazarati, but – just as Bruce Springsteen did with "Hungry Heart" when he wrote it for the Ramones – Prince stole it back for 1986's Parade, and the song went to Number One. Soon, Tom Jones added the song to his Vegas live show. The avant-garde group the Art of Noise got in touch after seeing him perform it on TV, and the unlikely pair teamed up. The result was an industrial and funky, the best thing Jones had done in years. "When they sent me the finished version I thought, 'If this isn't a hit, I'll bloody well pack it all in.' It was a busting hit." It got Jones on MTV for the first time, kicking off a commercial comeback.

Prince; 15 songs other artists; hits

Patti Labelle, “Yo Mister” (1989)

Hot 100 Chart Position: Didn't chart, but Number Six on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs

Written for LaBelle's Be Yourself album, "Yo Mister" represents Prince trying his hand at New Jack Swing – he also produced the track. The song, a cautionary tale about what happens when a father can't overlook his daughter's indiscretions, became one of LaBelle's highest-charting R&B hits.

Prince; 15 songs other artists; hits

Sinead O’Connor, “Nothing Compares 2 U” (1990)

Hot 100 Chart Position: Number One

In 1990, five years after "Nothing Compares 2 U" was released by Prince side project the Family without causing too much of a ripple, Sinead O'Connor became a star with her evocative, emotionally pummeling cover. The Irish singer shifted the lyrics from being a break-up ballad to an exploration of loss, dedicating the song to her mother who died the same year the song had been originally released. The year O'Connor's version blew up, her and the track's original songwriter appeared on Rolling Stone's cover four months apart. "I love it, it's great!" Prince said of the new star's take. "I look for cosmic meaning in everything. I think we just took that song as far as we could, then someone else was supposed to come along and pick it up."

Prince; 15 songs other artists; hits

The Time, “Jerk Out” (1990)

Hot 100 Chart Position: Number Nine

Like so much of Prince's work with the Time, "Jerk Out" has a complicated and perhaps unknowable history. The song is officially credited to the Time, but Jimmy Jam has said that he, bassist Jesse Johnson, keyboardist Terry Lewis and Prince wrote the song. "Back in those days, Prince would come in with a lot of the ideas… and then we'd flesh them out," Jimmy Jam told Billboard. "It was always like a jam session. 'Jerk Out' was written like that. It was a drum machine groove that we filled in." Written sometime in the early Eighties, "Jerk Out" finally appeared as the first single on the Time's 1990 reunion, Pandemonium, and delighted their fans with its vintage Minneapolis funk swing. However, the comeback also coincided with Prince's film disaster Graffiti Bridge, and when the Time appeared on BET's Video Soul that year, they seemed to mock the entire fiasco. Decades later, when group members reunited for a critically acclaimed 2012 album and tour, the Purple One legally kept the funk juggernaut from using the Time name, so they were forced to call themselves the Original 7ven. "I think he feels like he's a member of the group because he was the architect of those earlier records," Jam said. However, he added, "As the Time or the Original 7ven, we can't make a record without Prince's influence… In a way, we feel like we're his kids."

Prince; 15 songs other artists; hits

Tevin Campbell, “Round and Round” (1990)

Hot 100 Chart Position: Number 13

Graffiti Bridge may have been a flop at the box office, but the accompanying album boasted the buoyant debut single from the charismatic Texas teenager who had previously worked with Quincy Jones. From the ecstatic opening cry to the airy chorus boasting Campbell's young MJ-style vocals to the loose-limbed groove, "Round and Round" sparkled with youthful charm. It also featured classic Prince-ly lyrics like "Is the truth really there or is it right under our hair?" The payoff comes in the spoken word bridge during which Campbell predicts making it in the big city before signing off "'Cuz I plan to be a cool kitty." The song, which also appeared on Campbell's debut album T.E.V.I.N., garnered a Grammy nomination for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance.

Prince; 15 songs other artists; hits

Martika, “Love… Thy Will Be Done” (1991)

Hot 100 Chart Position: Number 10

Two years after her chart-topping hit "Toy Soldiers," Martika sought out Prince for help with her second LP. He ended up writing four of the 10 songs on Martika's Kitchen, including the somber and meditative "Love… Thy Will Be Done." She calls it a hymn, but it actually started out as prayer Martika had written in a notebook she brought along to their sole meeting at Paisley Park. He borrowed her book for a few hours that day and when he returned it, she says Prince told her, "I have photocopied a few things. Why don't you just let me live with this for a bit and we'll go from there." A week later, back in L.A., she received a fax with the lyrics and a cassette with the music in the mail. Martika never saw him in person again, but "Love… Thy Will Be Done" became a hit in the U.S., and an occasional touring song for Prince himself.

Prince; 15 songs other artists; hits

Alicia Keys, “How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore” (2001)

Hot 100 Chart Position: Number 59

On her seven-times platinum debut Songs in A Minor, Alicia Keys interpreted this classic Prince B-side. It wasn't the first time a woman had covered his breakup ballad – just months after he originally issued "How Come You Don't Call Me Anymore" as the flipside to "1999," Stephanie Mills recorded a version with distinctly gospel tones in 1983. But Keys represented a new generation embracing the genius of Prince. The 19-year-old prodigy added a steady and pulsing bass line to the piano arrangement, and hummed and growled huskily in homage to her hero, while adding new details like, "I always thought you'd be by my side, poppa, and now you're gone … and I'm not trying to hear that shit). " She subsequently became friends with the legendary guitarist, and when he entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, Keys inducted him. "There are many kings … but there is only one Prince," she said. "[He wrote] songs that made me look at songwriting as stories that are untold passions dying to be heard."

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