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Celebrate Prince’s 60th Birthday With His Greatest Performances
Prince was always rightfully protective over his music. There’s a vault in his estate at Paisley Park where archivists are currently going through thousands of the late artist’s recordings. The latest song to be shared from that vast catalog is his original recording of “Nothing Compares 2 U.” It’s incredible, but it’s also a recording that Prince never intended anyone to hear
That’s why today it’s difficult to find a number of his greatest live performances and recordings on the Internet. Two years ago, audio of his legendary Coachella performance briefly appeared on Soundcloud, but it was quickly removed. The only recording that exists of that performance is his cover of Radiohead’s “Creep,” which remains the best Coachella moment of all time, and possibly the finest version of that song in existence. That’s not to belittle Radiohead’s original recording, but to point out the transformative ability of a Prince cover. It wasn’t just Prince covering a Radiohead song—Prince made a Radiohead song a Prince song.
There are entire blog threads dedicated to his solo in this performance. This is a moment of music that will never be recreated, from his scream in the chorus to his scat singing in the refrain. And that’s exactly how Prince intended it—this cover happened there and then. It was for him and anyone lucky enough to be in attendance in that crowd of 10s of thousands at Coachella in 2008.
I’m fortunate to have seen Prince twice live in my life—both in the same day, in fact, when he was doing his small club tour in 2013 with 3rdEyeGirl. And I can attest that no film or recording can capture his live presence. That was a show where any recording device would get you removed from the theater. Prince wanted to be with you in that moment.
As much as I would like to relive the memories of Prince teasing “When Doves Cry,” the way he tailored the entire set to a three-piece rock outfit, the power of his guitar, the way he looked at the crowd—I just can’t. That’s not what Prince intended.
Now that he’s gone, it’s difficult to resolve the desires of the artist with the wishes of the fans. We feel like we deserve everything he produced. Those thousands of recordings in a vault at Paisley Park should be shared with the world, right? But that’s an insult to the man who made them. Part of what made Prince such a legend was his strict filter on what he put out in the world. His image, his recordings, and his live performances were all carefully curated.
If that Coachella performance was only to be experienced live in the desert, then so be it. I want to hear it, but I trust Prince enough to hear it the way he intended. That’s what makes his stunning original version of “Nothing Compares 2 U” so bittersweet.
Yet, some footage of his performances still exists. One of them includes another one of his finest shows: His 2007 Super Bowl halftime show, where he played Purple Rain in a total downpour. The set also included “We Will Rock You,” “Let’s Go Crazy,” “Baby I’m a Star,” “Proud Mary,” “All Along the Watchtower,” and “Best of You”—along with some of the most incredible production the Super Bowl has ever seen.
Perhaps it’s the rarity of these performances that keep the legend of Prince alive. He’s allowed us to have these, and on his birthday, those are his gift to us.