by Eugene Freedman
Most of Prince’s music is not on Youtube, but if you add kroyte AT gmail.com to your Google+ profile you should get access to a playlist of all these songs. Good luck. You will not be spammed.
When Peter suggested that I write a 60-minute playlist for Prince I immediately balked. I thought it would be far too hard to condense Prince’s material into only 60 minutes. I was already working on ranking his top 200 songs—for my own personal edification—but that too proved very difficult.
Prince can’t be easily categorized. He started off as an R&B artist with mainly ballads and dance tracks for his first few albums. As he grew as an artist he started adding in a lot more funk, synth-pop, and ultimately hard rock style guitar. Before he became a headliner in his own right he opened for Rick James on one tour and the Rolling Stones on another.
Peter placed Prince and the Revolution’s Purple Rain #26 on his Essential Remnants list. I immediately pointed out that Sign O’ the Times is Prince’s best studio album. It shows the greatest depth and breadth of his skill—many of the tracks were written, produced, and performed exclusively by Prince. I started there in putting together my 60 minutes of Prince—but alas Sign itself is longer than 60 minutes, it was a double LP when it was released.
I didn’t include a lot of Prince’s longer tracks even though some are my favorites, because when you’ve only got 60 minutes, you have to go for variety and quantity in my mind, not necessarily the best. I also only included album or primary release format versions of the songs avoiding longer live versions in order to cram as much as I could into 60 minutes. I kept everything under six minutes and most under five in order to include more tracks. So, with all due respect to Days of Wild, Come, and Adore, here are my 60 minutes of Prince:
Head, Dirty Mind (4:45): Head is one of Prince’s most directly sexual songs on his most sexual album; I once told a friend that Prince’s songs were either about sex or God. If you listened to Dirty Mind you’d believe that they were all about sex. Tipper Gore would not approve.
When Doves Cry, Purple Rain (5:54): Q- When does an R&B track not include bass? A- When Prince is experimenting with his first major guitar riff driven album. It was Prince’s first Billboard hot 100 No. 1 and hit No. 1 on the Black Singles chart and the Dance/Disco chart. It was the No. 1 song of 1984, and Prince had the No. 1 Movie, Album, and Single in the country at the same time. Yet, listen to this song, or almost any song from the Purple Rain album, and you will not accuse it of being pop. Before 1999 almost all of Prince’s songs were bass and drum driven or slick synth-pop, with rhythm guitar in the background. On 1999 Prince started integrating rock guitar with limited solos on some of his tracks, but they were still bass and drum driven. The Purple Rain album was the first album that had guitar driven tracks. And, with When Doves Cry, he completely eliminated the bass line.
Another Lonely Christmas, B-Side of I Would Die 4 U (4:52): Although sex or God are consistent themes in Prince’s catalog, some of his best songs are are lamentations, and this is the best of those. The song begins, “Last night, I spent another lonely Christmas,” and Prince played this song only once live—appropriately on December 26, 1984. Prince conveys real pain from loss on this track.
Raspberry Beret, Around the World In a Day (3:33): Now, this song has a pop groove. Yet, it manages to tell a good story. Only charted as No. 2, yet I include it on the list as Prince’s truest pop song. Bear in mind the Prince released this single only four months after his last single from Purple Rain was released. Unlike other “pop” artists, Prince never took breaks. He wrote multiple albums per year, condensing them down, and releasing only about one third of his work because of Warner Bros. fears about saturating the marketplace with his work. It’s also why there are so many bootlegs and vault compilations out there from about 1982-2000. Meanwhile, he was writing and performing everything for The Time, except lead vocals, plus writing and playing on all of his own side acts—Vanity 6, Apollonia 6, Andre Cymone, The Family, Madhouse, plus many of the tracks on Sheila E.’s albums during that period.
Sign O’ the Times, Sign O’ the Times (4:57): Another lamentation. This one about social ills affecting the world in 1987. Yet, it does not sound dated today. “In France a skinny man died of a big disease with a little name, by chance his girlfriend came across a needle and soon she did the same. At home there were 17 year old boys and their idea of fun, was being in a gang called the Disciples, high on crack, and toting a machine gun.”
The Ballad of Dorothy Parker, Sign O’ the Times (4:02): Sign was a double album culled from the triple album Crystal Ball (not to be confused with the release under the same name) which had combined the projects Dream Factory and Camille written for Prince’s female alter-ego of the same name. Warner Bros. balked at a triple album and couldn’t release a non-pop, genre-less track as a single. Prince selected this song to be the fourth cut on every iteration of the album and this song should not be missed.
Forever in My Life, Sign O’ the Times (3:30): This is not one of Prince’s famous falsetto R&B songs. It’s another in-between song that doesn’t really have a category. Maybe those are my favorites. They are not R&B, funk, pop, or rock; they are Prince songs. My wife and I printed the lyrics to this song on the back of our wedding program.
Shockadelica, B-side of If I Was Your Girlfriend (3:31): Both this and it’s A-Side were from the Camille project. I could have selected anything from that un-released album, but this is my favorite track. The track is so funk laced it’s got you in a trance. ‘Cause when this woman say dance, you dance.
The Cross, Sign O’ the Times (4:46): Prince has a lot of music about his spirituality and religious beliefs. I picked this one because of the imagery it conjures as it describes religion as escape from everyday problems—from a believer’s perspective. But, it also contains a great guitar solo. The main riff was later used in “7” on the O(+> album.
Alphabet St., Lovesexy (5:39): Prince lays down a funky groove in this song that is almost unfair. There’s research showing that people who listen to certain classical music have better ability to perform special temporal tasks immediately after listening. It’s referred to as the Mozart Effect. While it doesn’t change people in the long term, when I learned about that effect, I thought of Prince, and his songs like Alphabet St. The songs are so complex musically, or at least seem that way to someone untrained like me, they sound three-dimensional, whereas most songs are only two-dimensional. This song has a musical depth.
Joy in Repetition, Graffiti Bridge (4:54): My favorite song. Another Prince song without the ability to categorize it otherwise. Another song originally from Crystal Ball recorded during the Dream Factory sessions. Sometimes things recorded in 1986 show up on albums released as late as 1990. That’s the nature of having too much material. The song is a story, written as a riddle—at least the first time you hear it. Joy in Repetition has a terrific guitar solo and is even better live, especially when Prince doesn’t ruin the riddle too soon in the performance.
Call My Name, Musicology (5:16): Many think that Prince stopped creating great music in the 90’s. That’s not true. He keeps cranking it out today. Call My Name is another one of his falsetto classics and it’s not from the back catalog. It’s from 2004.
Fury, 3121 (4:02): Fury is a driving, guitar driven track from Prince’s most recent masterwork album. Prince’s pace has slowed in recent years. He no longer writes three full-length albums a year. And, he no longer releases one album a year. It’s a bit disappointing. But, when he puts together a perfect album like 3121 he covers all of his range and leaves you wanting more. Fury is my favorite track from this 2006 album.
If I were to put together a list of my favorite Prince works, it would not be the same list. This list attempted to cover all of Prince’s different styles, eras, and fit within the format of 60-minutes of essential Prince. Ask a different question and you would get a different answer.