Who gets to cover Prince? A primer going into this weekend’s Coachella

Prince performs at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on April 27, 2008.

Prince performs at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on April 27, 2008.

(Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times)

We’re still processing that we’re now a day into living in a world without Prince.

With a loss of this magnitude comes the inevitable, well-meaning tributes (keep your eye on the next Grammys, Oscars, the AMAs -- basically anywhere there’s more than five musicians in the same room). Included in that is this weekend’s Coachella, which just went from absorbing idle speculation about which famous guest will turn up to which of the many acts will pay tribute to one of music’s true indelible icons.

In a sense, the Empire Polo Club remains Prince’s house since his unforgettable Coachella set from 2008. Below is a list of a few acts who could deliver a fitting and goose-bump-raising Prince cover this weekend if they desired, along with a few other artists that, while their heart may be in the right place, may want to think twice.




Guns N’ Roses, “Purple Rain”

Realistically this track is already a rock power ballad, although one that could lead to realizing how little a song such as “November Rain” measures up against its might. Odds are the members of the reunited GNR aren’t even in the room together long enough when not onstage to even try a Prince cover, but if they are they should note this is the only song they should consider.

Sia, “Nothing Compares 2 U”

With a stage presentation that set both the polo field and Twitter buzzing, Sia may not have the proper lead time to hastily include a Prince cover. But can’t you imagine her absolutely nailing this Prince song popularized by Sinead O’Connor?

LCD Soundsystem, “Delirious”

James Murphy’s voice and his band’s occasionally arch, self-aware catalog is such that almost any Prince cover might sound like satire. But this funky, exultant classic from “1999" seems closest to their wheelhouse.

Gary Clark, Jr. “Let’s Go Crazy”


This one is almost too easy. Among Prince’s mind-scrambling array of talents, he was the sort of guitarist who frustrated his rock-leaning fans. Why? Because they knew from his early work that Prince could probably have matched and surpassed Jimi Hendrix for guitar wizardry if he wanted. That’s just it though; Prince wanted so much more.

Anderson .Paak, “Sign O’ The Times”

Last weekend, rapper, singer and drummer Anderson .Paak enjoyed what felt like a breakout moment at Coachella, and his multi-hyphenate skill set puts Prince’s music squarely in his wheelhouse. His sound, already steeped with R&B, funk and soul, makes it a safe bet that he will pay tribute in some form, but this track seems like a solid fit.

Shamir, “Kiss”


With his lighter-than-air voice and penchant for ‘80s synth-pop, you can imagine Shamir’s late-night Saturday set comfortably venturing into all sorts of directions in Prince’s catalog. Hopefully, he take a moment for this or “When Doves Cry.”

Grimes, “Darling Nikki”

The futuristic electro-pop auteur could explore acres in Prince’s catalog, but there’s something about imagining the oddest, most outrageous moment from “Purple Rain” in her hands that could become something unforgettable.

Gallant, “The Beautiful Ones”


The up-and-coming R&B vocalist was joined by Seal during a performance of his breakout hit “Weight in Gold” during Weekend 1, but the yearning in his voice begs for one of the most rueful moments on Prince’s “Purple Rain.”

Kamasi Washington, “1999"

Washington’s spiritually charged large-ensemble jazz already has an open approach to elements of R&B, and hearing his rhythm-heavy band of two drummers, a DJ and the inventive upright bassist Miles Mosley could call down the heavens for Prince’s celebratory look to the end of the world.

Calvin Harris, et al.


Any DJ crowding the dance tents this weekend within the reach of these words, your job is simple. Pick a Prince album, almost any Prince album, and press play. Adjust bass levels if you must. Your work is now done.



There’s something about this band’s exuberant mix of synthesizers and Lauren Mayberry’s voice that adds up to maybe being able to envision their laying down a brisk take on “Raspberry Beret.” Still, they probably shouldn’t. (And yet, an update: Chvrches has been performing “I Would Die 4 U” live for awhile now. And it’s not bad! So, look for that.)


Run The Jewels

Though the hip-hop duo of El-P and Killer Mike earned every bit of their headlines for the Bernie Sanders cameo, they would most likely agree their tributes should be kept to the shout-out level -- unless it’s the pitch-dark spoken-word threat of “Bob George” from the unreleased “Black Album.”

Courtney Barnett

Grammy nominated for best new artist, Barnett has received near universal acclaim for her sharp ear for crunchy rock melodies and songs with enough detail to be repurposed into short stories. I’m sure she likes Prince -- who doesn’t? -- but she should never try and sound like Prince.


Matt and Kim



I want to live in a world where Bay Area punk legends are among the countless artists ready to testify to Prince’s reach with a cover of any number of his most uptempo guitar classics. But I don’t think anyone is really ready to hear it.


Read more from me on Twitter: @chrisbarton


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