One of these days, someone will write a psychoanalytical college thesis about Prince’s choice of cover songs.

The tiny funkster might be the most important musician of his generation, but when he decides to interpret outside material, the results span the wide gulf between sublime and “What the fuck?”

Over the years, he’s tackled Joan Osborne’s horrid “One of Us” (as in, “What if God was ... ?”), Foo Fighters’ “Best of You,” Sheryl Crow’s “Everyday Is a Winding Road,” Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Whole Lotta Shakin’,” The Rolling Stones’ “Miss You,” Amy Winehouse’s “Love Is A Losing Game,” Rufus’s “Sweet Thing,” and The Stylistics’ “Betcha By Golly Wow!”

No Prince cover, however, has drawn more fascination than his performance of Radiohead’s “Creep” at this year’s Coachella Festival. It was an unexpected meeting of two enigmatic musical forces, made all the more intriguing by Prince’s strangely erotic falsetto and his refusal to sing the word “creep” on the choruses (opting for what sounded like a combination of “yeah, yeah” and “baby, baby, baby”).

The concert clip became an instant YouTube sensation, but when Prince cried copyright infringement, the video became scarcer than an article of clothing on Apollonia 6.

The anti-YouTube stance is hardly surprising from a Type A control freak such as Prince. This is a man who shut down his own website when fans began posting messages that diplomatically critiqued his recent music; a man who scrawled “Slave” on his face when he felt that his record label wasn’t sufficiently supportive. Last September, he threatened YouTube with legal action over their apparent unwillingness to block fans from posting unauthorized clips of him. In his statement at the time, he grumbled: “YouTube ... are clearly able (to) filter porn and pedophile material but appear to choose not to filter out the unauthorized music and film content which is core to their business success.”

No one was more amused by Prince’s “Creep” show than Radiohead, whose lead singer Thom Yorke got a laugh out of the irony that he was blocked from viewing footage of a song he wrote, by a man who was merely
covering it.

The bigger issue with YouTube is the way it’s altering the art of live performance. Some bands shy away from testing out new material at concerts because they know that a video-phone clip on YouTube may render the song obsolete by the time it finds its way to CD. The members of R.E.M. have acknowledged that they took a big risk last year by previewing new tunes at a series of Dublin shows. As guitarist Peter Buck pointed out, YouTube Nation could have easily rejected the songs well before they reached record stores, effectively killing the resulting album.

The only thing Prince hates more than rejection is a loss of control, and that’s why YouTube has become his latest, and greatest, nemesis.

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