On April 21, 2016, we lost a legend of the musical realm; Prince. At only 57, his loss was something so unexpected that it left all of the music world in a state of shock…the world in a state of shock. And it was left to sites like this (and award shows) to pay him some kind of tribute.
The best I could do was a playlist, but what should be on it has been in a state of flux ever since I set my mind to constructing it. What do I include? Or exclude? Should I do only the hits? What about those deep cuts? I have a few unreleased and rare tracks, maybe I should do those? Just from one particular era? One particular style? Songs that he wrote and gave to other artists? My mind reeled and time passed and I still had no idea what to do.
And then, on his birthday of all days, it came to me: why not just do my favorites? The thing about an artist like Prince, with such a diverse and strong discography is that everyone could compile a list of their favorite songs and there could be very little overlap. If you are at all familiar with his music beyond singles and hits, you get a lot to choose from. And so, because I think they are amazing, here are fifteen amazing songs that made me fall and stay in love with him.
An additional note, please forgive some skipping on a couple tracks. I have vinyl versions of many of these albums and had to do extractions from them.
1. Damn U – From his The Love Symbol Album, this song, while a single, didn’t really chart all that well (a feature that might be common among the songs on this playlist). But what really made me love it was the fact that, coming after tracks like My Name Is Prince and Sexy MF, it was such a switch in style and showed that an artist could be so much more than one note. It also showed the sex appeal was multifaceted and that it takes all sides to appeal to the brain.
But what really sells it is the outro. It’s not on the single version of the track, but the end of this song on the album is so left field and yet so Prince, you go from being enraptured to splitting your sides.
2. Gett Off – Yeah, we put Damn U before this for a reason. From the Diamonds & Pearls album, this was Prince fusing his style with that of hip-hop. I saw around social media that some people thought that Prince wasn’t initially on board with hip-hop, but it’s hard to listen to this track and see that as true (it did come out in 1991, so it’s not like he was late to the party). This is a freak anthem that is so well constructed with the harmonies, electric guitar, trilling flute, solid bars, and Sheila E. drum riffs in background that it feels wrong to call it a freak anthem. But it is…and it’s glorious.
3. The One – This one is a single, but it’s one that flew so far under the radar that even a lot a Prince stans don’t know it. Part of the reason is that it was released under just The New Power Generation instead of Prince and The New Power Generation, so it’s not often considered a part of his discography (he does appear on the cover of the album, though). The slightly Middle Eastern-styled ballad with it’s orchestral undertones is subtle and yet so powerful that it takes you aback at how well Prince could craft a song. Add to that him singing in his luscious falsetto about being a man that proves his love through actions and with expensive gifts and you have somethings so seductive that you feel sexy just listening to it.
4. The Beautiful Ones – From the Purple Rain album, many younger listeners may know the version of this that was recorded by Mariah Carey and Dru Hill (which isn’t bad at all) better. One of the biggest differences between the version is that Prince’s is actually faster (mid-tempo instead of down-tempo) and offers more vocal dynamics for the lead in that he changes octaves several times within a single lines. And the framing of the possible loss of someone you love as being too beautiful for you but still wanting to fight for them is a kind of generous poetic switch that a lot of male singers don’t want to make for their ego’s sake. A powerful song that is wrought with emotion and strong lyricism on top of great production.
5. Little Red Corvette – Do you know how old I was before I knew this song was about losing your virginity and sexuality? Way too old not to be embarrassed. From his 1999 album, this has to be one of the more–for lack of a better term–fun eras of Prince. There was something so carefree about him during this time and, even when he talked about a subject like this, he brought an air of party to it. There is also the fact that someone who was seen as sexually as Prince was had no problems writing songs about valuing when to express that sexuality. The synth and guitar overlays on this track are incredible and the vocals work is equal parts subdued (for Prince) and verbose on the adlibs and leads.
6. Scandalous – Ugh. I can’t explain this song beyond…just listen. From the 1989 Batman soundtrack, this sensual, sexual track reflects its name well. That first run when he sings wrap your legs around me…perfection. The soft and slightly off-kilter nature of the production just rolls from the moment the song starts until the end. The barely audible gasps and whispers, they get to you without being obvious. Too much commentary ruins it; it’s just great.
7. Sea of Everything – From his 20Ten album, this is Prince at his R&B best. This is something that so many forget about The Artist, he hopped genres as easily as most people change socks. He also had a bit of an R&B soul, but he never let it confine and constrain him from putting forward his vision. Beautiful harmonies and strong lyrics about not overlooking the best for you in search of something “better” that may never come, you feel like a bard in serenading you. With his still perfect falsetto (so many male artists lose their upper tones as they age), this song feels prophetic to the emotions that we felt after his death. We are wandering the wilderness, looking for a king now that our Prince is gone.
8. Sexy MF – The urge to put the hilarious edited version of this track on here, but this isn’t the place for that. From The Love Symbol Album, this track feels like a sequel to Gett Off in that he drops rhymes for the entire track and has the hard freak atmosphere. But there is a major difference for a good amount of the track; the subject matter. Other than the shakin’ dat ass line, a good part of this song focuses on the non-physical things about the woman in question that turn him on (something that was always missing from the coverage of this song when it was initially released and subsequently banned). He wants to understand her mind along with her body and knowing the former better just makes the latter that much more appealing. Add to that some dope horns and an unexpected by blues guitar breakdown about halfway through and this is well crafted despite what seems like ordinary subject matter.
9. Thieves In The Temple – From the Graffiti Bridge soundtrack album, I feel like this song gets overlooked because of (let’s be honest) how bad the movie is. Thieves In The Temple is one of those songs that is so quintessentially Prince as it defies classification in genre and is so lyrically and vocally strong. Besides the fact that this song features a strong harmonica solo, some country elements as well as some Middle Eastern elements and slowly ramps up its tension by escalating the production and pace, the lyrics are poetic in their framing. When he says Love come quick, he could be talking about a personification of love the emotion or speaking to a person. You get the feeling his soul is on the line of he either doesn’t open himself up for love or he’s in danger of losing someone if he is thrown further into temptation. Very well crafted and just a good listen.
10. Life O’ The Party – From the Musicology album, this song is for everyone who marches to the beat of their own drummer and don’t need the approval of the “it” crowd to have fun. As a self-identifying nerd girl, this song has always struck a chord with me. It made me feel safe to be myself and let me know that, if I stayed true to that, I would always be the life of my own party.
Back the song itself, the division of this song is just great. Most of the song speaks to the listener as encouragement from Prince about self actualization, but the middle section with the beat change makes the song some of that signature Prince shade to his haters who said he [didn’t] make hits anymore. The song then becomes a kiss of an embrace of the fans who stuck with him throughout his career. The song’s meaning becomes, “If you ain’t down with us, who cares? We still have fun.”
11. Future Baby Mama – From his Planet Earth (The Sunday Mail) album, I sigh with contentment every time I hear this. Anyone who remembers the Boyz II Men song Thank You In Advance know that a song that, no matter how well meaning, a song that seeks to express the potential future with a woman can come of creepy. This song finds the sweet spot by putting the onus of making life happy for themselves more on him than her and still gives her a choice in not choosing him (the essential part of the equation). The spoken breakdown here expresses the duality that sometimes comes with a relationship; wanting to be as happy as possible and wanting people to KNOW it. A simple idea, but crafted in a way that only Prince can.
12. Kiss – Do I really have to talk about this song? Having been remade (horribly) by a plethora of other artists and used as a basis for a track by one of my Korean faves, JYP, this is that Prince song that everybody knows even when they aren’t remotely interested in anything Prince. The song is so good, so well crafted, and so well sung that it becomes on of those things that marks a decade (the 80s) and an album (Parade) with its greatness.
13. I Wanna Be Your Lover – Prince’s first single from his self-titled debut. There are three things that you notice as you listen to this. The first is that Prince’s style has been his style for a long time and that he made tweaks as the decades moved along to keep himself sounding relevant. Second, that falsetto never broke. Third, Prince was in the game for four decades and kept releasing quality.
This song is drenched in its 70’s-era flourishes, but it still sounds good (as a lot of songs from that era do but get wrongly lumped in with bad, flash-in-pan disco). The thing that a lot of younger listeners will notice is that more than half of the album version is pure instrumental, a common thing from this time. What you may not realize is that Prince is playing every instrument on this track, so this is still very much him showing out and doing it well.
14. P Control – Or, if you want to be real about it, Pussy Control. One of the main reason that I love this song from the Gold Experience is that I could only imagine if a female artist back in 1995 would have had the balls to sing (or rap) a track like this the uproar that would have occurred. This stands out, even today, because it’s not about sexual ability but the strength of a woman and her ability to make it without a man and demand respect from the ones that she lets in. I often wondered if men could really write a feminist track and I came to the conclusion that the answer was yes–if they are written like this.
Also, she hired the heifers that jumped her/and made every one of them work for free. Just boss.
15. Purple Rain – You knew it had to be this or When Doves Cry. Why did I pick this one? That weeping guitar and the anguished singing. This a breakup song for the ages. You are moved to tears from the moment the intro starts and they just pour down once he starts singing. This is the kind of song that just shows you that you don’t have to overdo it vocally or on production if you connect with good lyrics and emotion. The fact that this song is nearly nine minutes long and it doesn’t feel like it is best complement you can give a songwriter; when I listener feels the length of your song, you make them feel like they’ve wasted their time. That isn’t the case here, even with a deceptive ending at about 6:45.
I had the temptation to type the name as Purple Reign. It would be an honest assessment.