The cream of Prince
March 16, 2004 11:23 AM   Subscribe

On the heels of his induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, I've been thinking about Prince again. I flirted with his music in college, but his discography has gotten so out of control that I don't even know where to start. Did he ever write/perform a better song than Little Red Corvette? Are there gems on his epic 3-disc albums? If you were going to make an all-Prince compilation disc, what would you be sure to include?
posted by blueshammer to Media & Arts (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Purple rain: for the outro guitar solo, which suffices to establish Prince as a legend.

Kiss and Sexy Motherfucker.: for the funk.

Raspberry Beret: and all the horses wonder who you are.
posted by signal at 11:30 AM on March 16, 2004

Live stuff is always good: especially the "I Would Die 4 U/Baby I'm a Star" medley with Sheila E (which I think is on a DVD or lasersdisc, not sure what album it's on)...that's a cookin' band live. I'll second "Sexy Motherfucker" and "Kiss", and I also like "Cream".
posted by biscotti at 11:45 AM on March 16, 2004

The entire Purple Rain album still does it for me. The movie kind of... well, okay, I admit it... I like it when I was 11. But today, it's a comedy.
When Doves Cry was always my personal favorite.
posted by bradth27 at 11:48 AM on March 16, 2004

Purple Rain, of course, but I also love Sign o' the Times and Parade. I lost track of him for a while after the whole o+> mess, but the recent One Night Alone live set is astoundingly good, especially the "aftershow" part.
posted by muckster at 11:56 AM on March 16, 2004

blueshammer, you've come to the right place.

Prince's music, to me, becomes listenable around the album Dirty Mind and ceases to be so around Diamonds and Pearls. You will find that if you listen to a lot of Prince, your tolerance for the other stuff may grow, but for me those are the limits. Beyond those limits, the music is just too megalomaniacal for me.

The best part of the Prince arc is the period from about 1980 to about 1988. This includes the albums Dirty Mind, Controversy, 1999, Purple Rain, Around the World in a Day, Parade (the Under the Cherry Moon sountrack), Sign O' The Times, (The Black Album, and LoveSexy. The Batman Soundtrack is as good as LoveSexy, but it's the Batman Sountrack and so is its own thing.

Many will agree that Sign o' the Times is Prince's masterpiece; the diversity of sounds, the introspection of the lyrics, the overall badassedness with which it is all laid out--these are difficult to deny. The highlights of Sign are "Housequake," "The Ballad of Dorothy Parker," "Adore," "Starfish and Coffee", and the album's only real single, "U Got the Look," a duet with Sheena Easton.

Purple Rain is a close second for me. There's not a bad song on that album, and it's so iconic as to be nearly legendary. "When Doves Cry," "Let's Go Crazy," "Darling Nikki," "Purple Rain." How can you not love this album?

1999 is worth it just for the album version of "Little Red Corvette", which exceeds the radio version by about a minute and a half. Other highlights are "Delirious", "DMSR", the overplayed title track, and the ballad "Free."

Prince loses his way a bit after Purple Rain--Around the World in a Day and Parade both contain very strong and very weak material, though Parade contains the sublime "Mountains", the unforgettable "Kiss" and the very groovy "Anotherloverholenyohead." The movie for which it is the sountrack, by the way, is utter shit.

Going back to the beginning, Dirty Mind is clearly the work of a developing talent, but it has real high points if you can overlook the plastic-y 1980 production. "When You Were Mine," is a classic, as is "Dirty Mind," and, well, "Head" is pretty much what it sounds like.

At the end of his most creative period, by the time of Lovesexy the music has started to deflate a bit. Prince has come, by this point, to rely on a stock set of sounds that he will use again and again on later albums. By the mid-90's, he allows rap to infiltrate his music and, for me, it's all downhill from there. Not that rap is bad inherently, but rap on a Prince album just isn't right. The trend begins on Diamonds and Pearls, and for most listeners, Prince's music becomes simply unlistenable around 1994's Come, possibly his worst album ever. If you can stomach anything he's recorded since, you're a braver sould than I. Regardless, you've got ten solid years of music in his best years, which is more than the Beatles had. So, even though he's gone on to places where few will follow, he left behind a lot to work with.
posted by vraxoin at 12:07 PM on March 16, 2004

starfish and coffee.
posted by crush-onastick at 12:10 PM on March 16, 2004

To dabble and reintroduce yourself to Prince check out The Hits 1 and The Hits 2. From TH2 the song Pope is huge.

I really dig the entire Diamonds and Pearls CD from the power of Thunder to the raw sex of Cream.
posted by geekyguy at 12:16 PM on March 16, 2004

So I'm the only one who thinks that "Gett Off" is terribly essential when considering Prince's career? Sure, it's not as profound as "Purple Rain" -- but damn, if it ain't funky.
posted by grabbingsand at 12:21 PM on March 16, 2004

vraxoin touched on it, but the pre-1999 albums tend to be overlooked. Controversy and Dirty Mind are fantastic, and there are also some great tunes on the 1979 Prince record. (I wouldn't think of making a compilation without including "I Wanna Be Your Lover" (later covered by Chaka Khan) and "Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad".) The production is a little cheesey, but that's part of the appeal--at least for me.

Most of the world started to get bored with Prince when he changed his name, and the self-titled "symbol" album marked a downturn in popularity for him, but I think it's a great record.

I too have lost track of his later stuff, but I like Crystal Ball (a collection of Warner Bros-era stuff that he released himself when he left the label).
posted by jpoulos at 1:00 PM on March 16, 2004

1999 is worth it just for the album version of "Little Red Corvette", which exceeds the radio version by about a minute and a half. Other highlights are "Delirious", "DMSR", the overplayed title track, and the ballad "Free."

I'd also recommend "Lady Cab Driver" from that album. It's got a groove that can go all night.
posted by jpoulos at 1:07 PM on March 16, 2004

'I Wish you Heaven' for the smoochin' and 'Girls & Boys' for the the funkin'
posted by punilux at 1:51 PM on March 16, 2004

If you get a chance to see him live, go. There's just something startling about all that music pouring out of one little guy. His bands tend to be pretty good, too.
posted by timeistight at 2:12 PM on March 16, 2004

No props for "Alphabet Street"? Lovesexy goes downhill after that, but it's got a great groove.
posted by soyjoy at 2:22 PM on March 16, 2004

Well since you asked, my heavily played Prince mix tape would be incomplete without Take Me With U, Strange Relationship, Pop Life, and I Want to Be Your Lover.
posted by lilboo at 2:36 PM on March 16, 2004

I've got The Hits/The B-sides. All Music Guide recommends The Very Best of Prince.
posted by kirkaracha at 2:43 PM on March 16, 2004

All the above is good advice but based on his studio work

Additionally, there are some monstrously good live boots of his that are not to be missed. recently hosted a torrent of him jamming with Miles Davis at some Music Biz party that in 20 minutes or so really shows just how good he & his band were back in the mid to late 1980s.

Think fluid, jammy, funky...
posted by BentPenguin at 2:55 PM on March 16, 2004

There are also zillions of Prince bootlegs, studio and live. There's some fantastic unreleased material -- he had so many "grooves and grooves up on the shelf" that he couldn't fit them into the release schedule dictated by Warner Brothers. Not all the good stuff made it to Crystal Ball.

Crystal Ball itself is a reference to an original 3-LP set that was ultimately pared down to Sign o' the Times. That set, in turn, was built on Dream Factory, the last, unreleased Revolution album. Fans of Sign should try to track down both of the precursors, as they're interesting in their own right. (Oh, and I almost forgot Camille, an entire album of songs with a sped-up vocal track; a few of these, such as "Housequake," where cherry-picked for Sign.)

Sign, Dirty Mind, 1999, and Purple Rain would be my top 4 recommendations, in that order. (Actually, I like many of the Purple Rain b-sides -- such as "Erotic City" and "Another Lonely Christmas" -- as well as most of the album, which has kind of worn thin through overexposure.) I'd also rate Parade, The Black Album, and Lovesexy higher than many people do.

Hits collections will do for an introduction, but Prince set out to make albums, not singles. All but a few of the albums from Dirty Mind through Lovesexy are brilliantly cohesive and well worth owning.
posted by macrone at 3:29 PM on March 16, 2004

Nothing Compares 2 U w/Rosie Gaines.
posted by oh posey at 4:36 PM on March 16, 2004 recently hosted a torrent of him jamming with Miles Davis

posted by lbergstr at 4:46 PM on March 16, 2004

I recommend The Hits 1 and The Hits 2, too.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:37 PM on March 16, 2004

"Pop Life" is good.

So is "I Would Die For You/Baby I'm A Star."

And his music for the first Keaton "Batman" flick was pretty groovy.

"Controversy," too, is good.

In other words: I'm just repeating what some others have said, but every vote counts, right?
posted by davidmsc at 5:40 PM on March 16, 2004

"I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man" is pretty damn hot.
posted by nicwolff at 7:03 PM on March 16, 2004

The movie for which it is the sountrack, by the way, is utter shit.

I cannot let this stand. Under the Cherry Moon is a camp classic (or at least it ought to be.) Who doesn't want to see Prince in black and white as tragic French Riviera gigolo, with Jerome Benton from The Time as his sidekick? The sooner this film comes out on DVD, the better off the world will be. And we desperately need the Sign o' the Times concert film, too.

Otherwise, I agree with vraxoin's estimation of Prince's best period, although I'd pick different favorites from every album. To me, it's all about "It's Gonna Be A Beautiful Night."
posted by muckster at 11:41 PM on March 16, 2004

Response by poster: Purple Rain is coming out in a 2-disc special edition DVD in a few months, and Under a Cherry Moon and Graffiti Bridge will be released at the same time.
posted by blueshammer at 4:37 AM on March 17, 2004

"Kiss" is one of the top ten songs of all time. All time. Top five, even. If you could bottle and sell that funk, you'd be a rich and happy person.

Other irresistable groovers beyond the obvious old gems: DMSR, The Sacrifice of Victor, Come, P Control. Gett Off is absolutely essential.

Even if 40% of his stuff is utter crap, the man is a hands-down musical genius. The Mozart of the 1990s.
posted by gottabefunky at 9:15 AM on March 17, 2004

Chaka Khan covered "I Feel For You", not "I Wanna Be Your Lover", but other than that I agree with jpoulos that his pre-!999 albums do get overlooked. "Let's Work", "Controversy" and "Do Me Baby" from the Controversy album are some of my all-time favorites. "Soft and Wet", "Head", "Dirty Mind", and the like are all classic Prince tunes.

Also worth listening to are the first two albums by The Time which he had a very big part in (I swear you can hear him singing clearly in the background).
posted by monique at 9:18 AM on March 17, 2004

A lot of Time tracks are essentially Prince recordings with Morris Day's vocals on top. This is true of the third and (to a lesser degree) fourth Time albums as well.

The Time was the best Prince side-project, but there were many. Jill Jones, the Family, Sheila E., Mazarati, Apollonia 6, Vanity 6, etc. The Family album, in particular, is really just a Prince album in disguise. Prince's demos are identical, save for the lead vocal.
posted by macrone at 7:11 PM on March 17, 2004

Chaka Khan covered "I Feel For You", not "I Wanna Be Your Lover"

posted by jpoulos at 9:28 AM on March 18, 2004

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