It’s hard to argue that Prince is one of the most talented and versatile musicians to ever set foot in a recording studio. Since 1978, he’s released over 30 albums, had dozens of hit singles, a few movies, and sold out concert venues from his hometown of Minneapolis to Japan.
With a catalog as vast as his, picking his ten best songs is no easy task. We’re still not sure that this list is complete. We’ve left off quite a few songs. There’s no “I Wanna Be Your Lover” on the list. “Uptown?” That didn’t make it either. “Let’s Go Crazy?” Not this time.
Samples of History: Inheriting Prince’s Funk
10. When You Were Mine
Prince’s third album, 1980’s Dirty Mind, was what most people would call a “departure” record. Gone were the disco influences that shaped songs like “I Wanna Be Your Lover” and “Soft & Wet.” In their place were shades of the punk rock and new wave scenes that were beginning to take hold of America at the time. “When You Were Mine” manages to combine the new wave influence with an admitted Beatles-esque sensibility that provides the soundtrack to Prince’s obsession with an ex.
9. Pop Life
In 1985, Prince followed up the massive success of the Purple Rain album and film with Around The World In A Day, a psychedelic pop record that only someone as weird as Prince could make. Despite its many nods to psychedelia, one of ATWIAD’s best songs was “Pop Life,” a song that addresses social issues like the dangers of drugs.
Influenced by R&B ballads by singers like Anita Baker and Luther Vandross, one of Prince’s biggest songs that never became a single was “Adore,” the final song on Prince’s sprawling 1987 double album, Sign O’ The Times. Prince toes the line between the sacred and profane with the song’s churchy instrumentation, and erotic lyrics. The song also is home to the classic lyric “You could burn up my clothes / Smash up my ride / Well maybe not the ride…”
7. Purple Rain
We all know this song, which probably owes more to the traditions of country music than to R&B. The nearly nine-minute album version is a revelation with Prince’s extended guitar solo. There’s a reason why Prince performs this song at nearly every concert he does.
Originally intended for a group called Mazarati that Prince signed to his Paisley Park Records label, “Kiss” started off as a simple 90 second demo. Prince gave the demo to his engineer, David “Z” Rivkind who managed to take Prince’s extremely rough sketch of a song, and turn it into one of the funkiest songs His Royal Badness ever touched. Mazarati recorded a version of the song, which Prince is rumored to have taken to a popular outdoor basketball court in Minneapolis to get feedback. The feedback was so positive that Prince decided to keep the song for himself. Mazarati weren’t left completely in the dirt though. Their background vocals remain on the track.
5. If I Was Your Girlfriend
“If I Was Your Girlfriend” was released as the second single from Prince’s 1987 album, Sign O’ The Times. Despite a warm reception from black radio at the time, the song stalled on the pop charts, mainly by those who were confused by the song’s premise. Using a sped up vocal to simulate a woman’s voice, Prince is actually singing to his then-girlfriend, Susannah Melvoin about how he wishes that he had a closer relationship with her, like that of one of her girlfriends. Of course, things get kinda freaky as the song goes along, but this is Prince we’re talking about.
4. Joy In Repetition
A relatively obscure track to casual fans, “Joy In Repetition” appears on the soundtrack to Prince’s 1990 film disaster Graffiti Bridge. The song’s narrative vividly details Prince walking into a club where “four-letter words are seldom heard with such dignity and bite.” Inside the club he sees a woman on stage singing the same two words over and over again as he falls in love with her, dragging her from the stage and running out of the club arm in arm. Prince rarely goes into narrative mode to the extent that he does in this song. Plus, he straight up murders the guitar solo.
3. The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker
“The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker” is another one of those rare narratives in Prince’s discography. A deceptively simple song, the song features little more instrumentation than a drum machine, keyboard, guitar and bass. In the song, Prince tells the tale of meeting a waitress, the titular Dorothy Parker, who starts flirting with him. He leaves the restaurant with her even though he admits that he’s seeing someone. But as the song ends, he reveals that Dorothy “didn’t see the movie cuz she hadn’t read the book first.”
2. Little Red Corvette
With those opening synth chords, and the opening lyric, “I guess I shoulda known by the way you parked your car sideways that it wouldn’t last,” Prince hit critical and commercial pay dirt. Prince works the fast woman as fast car metaphor for all its worth on this song, which was reportedly written in between cat naps while riding in the car of one of his band members. “Little Red Corvette” has the distinction of being one of the first videos by a black artist played on MTV.
1. When Doves Cry
The last song written for Purple Rain, “When Doves Cry” is a pop music masterpiece. The opening guitar riff grabs your attention and doesn’t let go until the sparsely arranged song comes to an end. “When Doves Cry” helped propel Purple Rain, the film and album, to classic status.
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