To mark the fourth anniversary of Prince’s death this week, the producers of the Grammys put together an all-star tribute to the Purple One with performances of his songs by John Legend, the Foo Fighters, St. Vincent, Morris Day and the Time, and many others. Strangely absent from the festivities, though, was “What’s New Pussycat?” belter Tom Jones, who experienced a late-career renaissance in the late Eighties, in part thanks to a sleek, hyper–New Wave cover of Prince’s “Kiss” that he recorded with Art of Noise. The track was a Number Five hit in the U.K. and has subsequently become one of his most performed songs live.
A couple of years later, Jones decided to keep the Prince love going by covering His Royal Badness’ greatest hit, “Purple Rain,” as part of his ITV miniseries The Right Time, which ran throughout the summer of 1992. The show found him examining the roots of pop music with episodes dedicated to gospel, soul, country, and rhythm & blues, and he used it as a platform to team with a stunning guest list that included Stevie Wonder, Cyndi Lauper, Erasure, and Joe Cocker, among others. But perhaps the most unexpected collaboration was with Pink Floyd frontman David Gilmour on “Purple Rain.”
Pink Floyd were experiencing a massive commercial surge at the time, after their 1987 LP A Momentary Lapse of Reason enabled them to play stadiums throughout the late Eighties, and they were still a few years out from another monster tour in support of 1994’s The Division Bell.
You can hear that confidence in Gilmour’s solo for “Purple Rain.” Never once does he imitate or even quote Prince’s original lead line. Much like how Jones made the vocal line a distinctively Tom Jones performance — with his signature deep-toned melodrama (and widening eyes on the line “I never wanted to be your weekend lover”) — Gilmour plays his own instantly recognizable long, weeping notes over the familiar chord progression.
Years later, during the week after Prince’s death, Gilmour revisited “Purple Rain,” though in a different way. Midway into his performance of “Comfortably Numb” for the Teenage Cancer Trust in London, he spontaneously took his solo band into a few minutes of “Purple Rain” before closing it out with his own iconic Pink Floyd solo.