How Prince Redefined Joan Osbourne’s ‘One of Us’
Prince's three-disc Emancipation, released after he ended his nearly 20-year relationship with Warner Bros., was the first Prince effort to include covers. While two of them, "La, La, La Means I Love U" and "Betcha by Golly Wow!," were remakes of Philadelphia soul classics, he looked to the previous five years for the other two, Bonnie Raitt's "I Can't Make U Love Me" and Joan Osbourne's "One of Us."
A year earlier, Osbourne had taken "One of Us" to No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. Written by Eric Bazilian from the Hooters, the lyric suggests a world where God exists and lives anonymously among us. For Prince, covering the song was a natural extension of his own search for spiritual fulfillment.
As he told Toronto's Globe and Mail while promoting Emancipation, it made perfect sense to consider that God could be disguised in human form by bringing the conversation back to another favorite topic of his. “You don’t think God is sexy?” he asked. "When you have faith, serotonin starts pumping in your brain. It’s the same as when you have an orgasm.”
Listen to Prince's Version of 'One of Us'
However, Prince made a slight, but important change to Bazilian's lyric. In the chorus, instead of questioning whether God could be "just a slob like one of us," he sang, "just a slave like one of us." During his battle with Warner Bros., he wrote the word "slave" on his face to reflect his feelings on a contract that restricted how often he could release music. In the Globe and Mail interview, he accepted that "there is value" in record labels, primarily for "people who don’t want to own their work," but it comes at a cost.
“Understand, you can make yourself a slave,” he said. “I used to say to people, ‘Do you love me?’ And they’d say, ‘Of course we do.’ And I’d say, ‘Then can you help me get this off my face?’”
There's also a connection between Prince and Osbourne's recording. Rick Chertoff produced both Osbourne's Relish, the album on which "One of Us" appears, and Cyndi Lauper's smash debut She's So Unusual. Lauper's record, which featured Bazilian as a multi-instrumentalist, also included a cover of Prince's "When U Were Mine."
In 1997, Bazilian attended Prince's concert at the 3,000-seat Tower Theater just outside Philadelphia. “I had made my way to the proscenium at the Tower,” he told Philly Mag. “Prince started playing ‘One of Us’ and walked right up in front of me and played the guitar solo in the intro literally to me. It was otherworldly. He had no way of knowing who I was, but there he was playing and smiling at me. That’s the universe working in mysterious ways.”
Listen to Joan Osbourne's Version of 'One of Us'
Prince Magazine Cover Tributes From Around the World