Prince’s time was the eighties and early nineties, and he, more than anybody – even Michael Jackson – symbolised the coming together of musical genres. Dance, rock, sweet soul, pop, metal, funk, rap. Black and white – no boundaries. Prince had it all, nothing contrived, just pure talent and invention. Live he was a true showman, in the tradition of Little Richard, James Brown, Sly Stone, Hendrix, Stevie Wonder, Michael J. Not a copyist, but a true original. I’ve seen him a couple of times live. The first time, at Wembley Arena in the round, in 1986, with a Red Corvette emerging from below the stage with Prince astride it, amongst other delights, goes down as my second favourite concert of all time (Bruce Springsteen, same venue 1981, gets top slot).
He’s still going, still playing brilliant shows. He has a back catalogue to die for. And yet… he doesn’t seem to have been as influential as you might have expected. Maybe because apart from a period of true originality in the mid-eighties, he was essentially a virtuoso. He could do anything, but too often the funk workout, the salacious lyrics, or the saccharine soul number seemed enough. He could do rap, but rappers did it better. He could rock, but rockers rocked harder, more often. He could do edgy, but he never went far enough in that direction. He could funk with the best, but it veered into showbiz. He was almost too talented. And then there were all those disputes with the record company, the symbols, the love-hate relationship with the internet. I, for one, lost interest.
But I’ll never forget those halcyon years, when there was really no-one better. And maybe his true legacy is yet to emerge.
My Ten then, is firmly rooted in the eighties. As ever, the ones I’ve left out could make another great list. But the discipline of ten really forces you to show your colours. These are mine…
10. The Cross, from Sign O’ The Times (1987)
Prince’s second best guitar anthem – the best comes much later! Slow build up, some religious imagery, but above all some guitar riffs that are pretty close to metal. Black Sabbath even comes to mind. Black Sabbath with soul, if that is possible.
9. Alphabet Street, from Lovesexy (1988)
A great pop tune and a easy funk beat give this a real feelgood aura. And then there’s the wild rap outburst by The Cat, one of Prince’s hot sidekicks. Enough said!
(Can’t find a decent clip on YouTube, but check the Spotify playlist)
8. Gett Off, from Diamonds and Pearls (1991)
There are loads of versions of this song. They are all brilliant dance mixes. It’s a combination of dance, rap, jazz and funk. It has a deep groove. The lyrics are classic Prince “sexy” but more humorous than usual. Total dance. The mix below is actually the one I like best, and have on 12 inch vinyl. So thanks to the person who has just put it on YouTube! Quite long but worth the listen.
7. Let’s Go Crazy, from Purple Rain (1984)
Starts with the “Dearly beloved…” weird ceremony and then rocks and dances from start to finish, with some wonderful guitar wig outs, especially at the end. Prince’s most joyous record. The clip is from the “Purple Rain” movie. You lose a bit of the opening weirdness. Check the playlist.
6. Kiss, from Parade (1986)
One of Prince’s most memorable hits, and covered, amongst others, by Tom Jones. A sharp, funky tune with Prince exhibiting his best falsetto. Very danceable indeed.
5. When Doves Cry, from Purple Rain (1984)
A great melody, poignant lyrics, powered along by an insistent electro beat and some funky keyboards. Sparse but powerful and some of Prince’s best singing. It’s hard to define, but this is one of those songs that no-one else could have made. One of the songs that really made us notice Prince.
4. Little Red Corvette, from 1999 (1982, but songs re-released in ’83)
A yearning rock’n’roll tune with an incredibly catchy chorus. This is where soul and rock met in perfect harmony.
3. 1999, from 1999 (1982)
Apocalyptic funk. Tonight we’re gonna party like it’s 1999…
2. Sign O’ the Times, from Sign O’ the Times (1987)
The sparsest, harshest of beats underpins the most socially conscious lyric that Prince ever sang. Heavy duty drug warnings. Dark, affecting, and brilliantly funky. It makes you wonder what Prince might have been capable of if he had really put his mind to it. In the meantime, let’s just be grateful for this magnificent piece of music.
1. Purple Rain, from Purple Rain (1984)
I agonised over whether this or Sign O’ the Times should be No1, but in the end the utter majesty of the guitar on this song gave it the nod. It’s Prince as Hendrix, with a bit more of a pop melody. When he played this at Wembley in 1986, with a transparent, swan-shaped guitar, I found myself in one of those rock moments when you feel like you’re in a bubble where the music is as good as it can ever be. Perfection. So, No 1 it must be.
Here’s the Spotify playlist of my top ten: TFW510 – Prince
As ever, so many. I think “Parade” is one of his finest albums and could have heralded an adventurous shift in sound. Songs like “Life Could be Nice”, “I Wonder U” and “Girls and Boys” stand out. “Sign O’ The Times” has “If I was Your Girlfriend” and “U Got The Look”. “Purple Rain” is brilliant from start to finish, and it hurt to leave out songs like “Take Me With U” and “I Would Die For U”. “1999” has “DMSR”, another great funk song. Then there is “Around The World In A Day”, the follow up to “Purple Rain”, with “Raspberry Beret” and “Pop Life” amongst others. And there are songs like “Cream” and “Lemon Crush” from “Batman”, “Sexy MF” and “The Morning Papers” from the Symbol album and “Jam Of The Year” from “Emancipation”. The latter is a 3CD album. I never gave it enough time when it came out, but when tracks crop up on shuffle, or when just listening to Prince for this exercise, I think there is more to these later albums than I gave credit for at the time. Some real treasures lurk. And we have to recognise Prince’s only No1 single in the UK, “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World”.