Hindu Love Gods/Prince: “Raspberry Beret”
Hindu Love Gods (1990)
Similarly to Graham Parker and the Jackson 5 from a recent Cover Friday, Warren Zevon and three-quarters of R.E.M., collectively known as the Hindu Love Gods, covering Prince would seem to be an odd combination. But when you think of it as one of the great songwriters and one of the great bands paying tribute to arguably the best songwriter/musician of the ’80s (and maybe beyond, depending on how you feel about his later work), it makes sense. And by stripping “Raspberry Beret” — originally from Prince’s 1985 album, Around the World in a Day — of its baroque, slightly psychedelic coating, peeling it all back to reveal its 4-piece-rock-band heart, Hindu Love Gods prove that even without the prettiness of the cellos and female backing vocals it’s simply a great song. If Warren Zevon’s gruff vocals can’t ruin the melody, you know it’s built to last.
The brief story behind the Hindu Love Gods is that R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, Mike Mills, and Bill Berry worked with Zevon on his 1987 album, Sentimental Hygiene, playing the part of his backing band for a majority of the album. It was a change of style for the R.E.M.’ers, who had not long before been best known for the jangle-pop of early R.E.M., but with Zevon transformed into a tougher, leaner rock band (and this style soon carried over into R.E.M.’s own work, as they were beginning to move away from the jangle around this time). The success of their collaboration with Zevon led the foursome to work together again, but this time on more equal ground as the Hindu Love Gods, releasing their one and only album, Hindu Love Gods, in 1990. It was strictly made up of covers — they were in it more just to jam than to make any big artistic statement — consisting largely of blues-oriented songs by the likes of Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, and Willie Dixon; a Woody Guthrie song; and a couple of more current (at the time) songs: “Raspberry Beret,” and the Georgia Satellites’ “Battleship Chains.” So the Prince song would seem like the odd man out, but they mold it into a tougher rock sound and show that it can work alongside blues standards.