From albums released under his own name, to those with protégés and pseudonyms, Shaun Ponsonby rates every Prince album from worst to best.
There has been a flurry of Prince-related activity over the past few months.
It all kicked off with his former band The Revolution playing a pair of well received shows at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in February, followed by a plethora of reissues ranging from Ultimate Rave, The Versace Experience, a series of mid-90s albums released on vinyl for the first time, his unfinished memoir The Beautiful Ones was published last month.
And there is more to come. This week sees the release of a super deluxe edition of his landmark 1999 album, and his lonest standing band The New Power Generation are about to kick off a UK tour, heading into Manchester’s O2 Ritz on the 11th December.
It’s already been over two months since Prince passed away, and it still feels odd to talk about him in the past tense. In fact, we’re still half expecting him to show up at the Grammys next year.
In the spirit of all of that, this is our definitive guide to all of Prince‘s albums, no matter what name they were released under. Some of these are down as Prince or , some of them share billings with his backing bands The Revolution, 3RDEYEGIRL and New Power Generation.
But that’s not all. Prince was so prolific that he wrote, produced and recorded dozens of albums for other artists, before drafting in another vocalist and having the record released under their name. This is true for albums by The Time, Sheila E, Vanity 6 and even some of his personal heroes, such as Stax/gospel/soul icon Mavis Staples. Do these not count as Prince albums because his name isn’t on the tin? Of course they do. We decided that for these albums to count, at least 50% of the work must have been done by Prince. Ergo, albums that included songs written for the likes of The Bangles, Patti LaBelle, Three O’ Clock, Martika and Tevin Campbell were not eligible, despite the fact that Prince was responsible for the most well-known tracks on them.
In terms of albums that carried Prince names, only albums made up entirely (or mostly) of previously unreleased material were allowed, so live albums and compilations are missing (with the exception of compilations of previously unreleased material, such as Crystal Ball or The Vault: Old Friends 4 Sale).
Many of these records have been deleted, so to ensure that we left nothing out, Prince Vault was used as our reference point, and we rated each album on a percentage.
So, indulge us and take a peek at where we believe each album fits in the pantheon of his work. If you disagree and think we are full of it, feel free to comment below!
70. Carmen Electra [Carmen Electra, 1993]
The often repeated joke is that Prince’s Paisley Park label could sometimes come across as a way for him to get laid – and this is probably the most obvious example of that on first listen. Prince discovered dancer Tara Leigh Patrick in the early 90s and renamed her Carmen Electra. The resulting album can be summed up with its two singles; Go-Go Dancer and Fantasia Erotica. It’s all kinda bland early 90s House-ish music trying way so hard to be sexy that it misses the mark entirely.
69. The Versace Experience (Prelude 2 Gold) [, 1995]
Released as a mixtape in 1995 and given away free to attendees of the Versayce…uh, I mean Versace collection at Paris Fashion Week. Possibly due to the legal disputes involved in The Gold Experience, the Estate recently re-released this to a baffled fan base. It mainly consists of truncated versions of songs from that album, along with the NPG’s Exodus, the aborted Madhouse album 24 and the NPG Orchestra’s Kamasutra. Perhaps this had a purpose in 1995, but it’s a bit pointless in 2019. Avoid.
68. Kama Sutra [NPG Orchestra, 1998]
’s ballet. It mixes classical and jazz, and isn’t really all that great. However, we do give it extra points simply for trying something so different and utterly bonkers. That it was written for his wedding to Mayte Garcia gives it some sweetness, but it becomes a bit of a slog.
67. 20Ten [Prince, 2010]
This was the second album that he released free as a newspaper covermount in three years, and it has to be the Prince album with the least amount of atmosphere. In fact, it sounds as if a lot of it could have been knocked it off in his sleep. If he did, then kudos. Prince being Prince, he couldn’t make a total stinker and Beginning Endlessly and hidden track Laydown (“From the heart of Minnesota, here come the Purple Yoda!“) almost make up for the likes of Everybody Loves Me, which might just be the most lightweight song in his catalogue. In retrospect, he sounded bored. The fact that he wouldn’t release another album for four years – by far the longest stretch of time between LP’s – might be a testament to that. Oddly it never received an official release in the US.
66. The Slaughterhouse [Prince, 2004]
A bit dull to get through. Released via the NPG Music Club, Prince‘s pre-iTunes online subscription service that helped revolutionise what artists could do online. There is probably a reason he held these tracks back from major releases, and with the exception of the funky Northside, very little of it is memorable.
65. New Power Soul [New Power Generation, 1998]
actually takes all the vocals on this, even though it’s down as an NPG album. The One, Come On and Wasted Kisses are great…but you can pretty much bin the rest. Apparently even the engineer H.M. Buff thought this was the worst Prince album. Obviously, we’re not going that far here, but it clearly isn’t one worth tracking down unless you’re a diehard.
64. Elixer [Bria Valente, 2009]
Prince’s then-girlfriend tries to do Sade. It’s a nice idea – it had been years since Sade released anything at that point, so perhaps it was a sound idea to create an album of that vibe. But a lot of it ends up sounding a bit like elevator music, and it never really takes off. There are a couple of tracks that pique interest, more so on the second half (Another Boy, 2Nite and the Prince duet on the title track), but it’s really just another lackluster album from one of Prince’s girlfriends.
63. N.E.W.S. [Prince, 2003]
In the days when it was uncool to like Prince, what I’d say to music snobs who refused to acknowledge his talent because all they knew were pop hits was “You know, he’s made instrumental jazz records?” It didn’t matter that most of these records weren’t the greatest jazz records ever made, it was enough to stop them in their tracks. N.E.W.S. is a pretty good example of that; four tracks named North, East, West and South with each clocking in at 14 minutes. Some of them meander and drag a little too much, but it’s pleasant enough for what it is. It feels more like an experiment on his part than anything. It has the dubious distinction of being Prince‘s lowest selling album. But does he really seem like he was aiming for a hit with this one?
62. One Man Jam [94 East, Recorded 1975-1979]
These recordings have been released under a variety of names, we went for the most common one at the moment. It’s an interesting collection for fans, consisting of recordings Prince made with the Minneapolis group 94 East before signing his solo deal. Few of the vocals are actually taken by Prince – some are notably his early mentor Pepe Willie, and Prince plays multiple instruments throughout. But when he does, such as on the standout Just Another Sucker, you actually do get a sense of the direction that this 17 year old might be heading in. Maybe worth streaming a couple of tracks rather than buying it unless you’re a collector, but an interesting document of the kid who would be Prince.
61. C-NOTE [Prince & The New Power Generation, 2004]
This was a live record of new material recorded at soundchecks, and it basically amounts to a bunch of instrumental jams. The only thing that rises it higher than an album like N.E.W.S. is that it includes lost outtake Empty Room – a fan favourite and genuinely brilliant song, proving once and for all that Prince outtakes weren’t like everyone else’s outtakes. Of note, this was the final album to be credited to Prince & The New Power Generation.
60. Child of the Sun [Mayte, 1995]
An album that sounds exactly like the kind of album you would expect to make with his (then-) wife. If Eye Love U 2Nite (which he had previously given to Mica Paris) is quite cool. He also continues milking The Most Beautiful Girl In The World to death, awkwardly renaming it The Most Beautiful Boy In The World, which doesn’t role off the tongue quite so well.
59. Apollonia 6 [Apollonia 6, 1984]
Apollonia 6 were once Vanity 6, but Vanity left the group. So in comes Apollonia for both the group leader and for Prince’s love interest in the Purple Rain movie. Unfortunately it became obvious early on that Apollonia wasn’t interested in sticking around after her contract expired, so nobody really sounds like they care as much as they should. So it is possible that these songs would have been improved with Vanity rather than Apollonia, as her delivery was much more in-keeping. What we wouldn’t give to hear the Vanity versions of Blue Limousine and A Million Miles. Still, despite being far from a masterpiece, we have softened on it little over time.
58. Rave Un2 / In2 The Joy Fantastic [, 1999/2000]
After a couple of years off most people’s radar, Clive Davis tried to do for what he did for Santana‘s Supernatural. Only problem is, where Santana listened to advice from the label, was gonna do what do for Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic. A lot more radio friendly than some of his previous albums, but it doesn’t really work as well as it could have. Guests include Gwen Stefani, Chuck D, Sheryl Crow and funk legend Maceo Parker (saxophonist with James Brown and George Clinton). Like the audience and critics, wasn’t happy with it and released a remixed version called Rave In2 The Joy Fantastic (notice the slight vowel change). It isn’t much better or worse, but does feature Beautiful Strange in place of a confusing cover of Crow’s Everyday Is a Winding Road.
57. Goldn*gga [New Power Generation, 1993]
Prince tries hip-hop with the NPG. “Tries” being the operative word. Notoriously, lead MC Tony M wasn’t that good a rapper, and feels like a guy who got the gig simply by virtue of being there and Prince needing somebody quickly to keep up with trends. Warner Bros refused to release it and considered him selling it at shows as a blatant break in contract, adding to his worsening relationship with them at the time. But there are plenty of funky tracks that could have been improved with a full Prince treatment, especially Deuce & Quarter and 2Gether.
56. For You [Prince, 1978]
The big debut feels more like a “Hey, look what I can do” moment than a real stab at genius. He was only 18 to be fair, and provided him a platform to build on, but comes up a little short when compared to the next few years. The breezy debut single Soft and Wet was a minor hit and hinted at the more explicit work to come, Just As Long As We’re Together is one of the great lost singles, and Crazy You is a surprisingly effective, dreamy little acoustic ditty. He also rocks for the first time on I’m Yours. It isn’t a patch on anything he would do over the next decade, but he’s just warming up. It’s fun to note that the 18 year old played 26 instruments throughout the LP, not to mention writing and producing himself.
55. HitNRun Phase I [Prince, 2015]
Prince collaborated with Joshua Welton – wife of 3RDEYEGIRL drummer Hannah Welton-Ford – on the production here. It feels like a little too much Josh. A couple of remixes from previous album Art Official Age are extremely unnecessary and don’t really add much to the original tracks. There’s at least an attempt to engage with something new, and the last two tracks (the Vault track 1,000 X’s & O’s and June) are worth the admission price. It feels like towards the end of his life, Prince was more interested in mentoring than ever before, which would explain why he gave so much over for Welton to do his thing.
54. The Chocolate Invasion [Prince, 2004]
Like The Slaughterhouse, a compilation of individual songs from the early 2000s released to the NPG Music Club. Thankfully, there are more highlights here than there were on the former album. There are a number of neo soul jams on there, most notably the Angie Stone-featuring U Make My Sunshine, which was released as a single in 2001. Like a lot of the material here, it was slated for the aborted High album around that time, which was ultimately replaced by the more spiritual and jazz influenced The Rainbow Children. That makes this one of the rare “What if?” albums that was released during his lifetime. Despite some of the shortcomings of the album he replaced it with, it was still the right choice.
53. Xpectation [Prince, 2003]
More instrumental jazz. This one is a little more varied than N.E.W.S. and the pieces are much shorter so tend not to drag. If you want to sample jazz Prince, the Madhouse project is still the one to go for, but this isn’t a bad second choice.
52. Time Waits For No-One [Mavis Staples, 1989]
Mavis is a true legend, but her collaborations with Prince ever reached their potential. This is the first one. It’s OK. Luckily, Staples is one of the greatest ever soul/gospel singers so she can pull off pretty much anything thrown at her. But there is something of a disconnect. Listening to something like Train or Interesting – which were both very modern tracks for the time – with Mavis’ old school gospel attitude didn’t mesh quite as well as the duo would have hoped. With Prince and Mavis sharing faith and a love of gospel, perhaps it would have worked better to see them go down that route.
51. I Am [Elisa Fiorillo, 1990]
Prince is responsible for about half of this. The title track is probably the best of the bunch – and was later covered by junior bluesman Johnny Lang for some reason – and Oooh This I Need was a fair hit. But none of it matches up to the tracks that Fiorillo recorded with Jellybean Benitez a few years previously (shouts to Who Found Who). Elisa basically ended up as one of the regular backing vocalists with the NPG.
50. MPLSouND [Prince, 2009]
This is quite a self-conscious attempt to reclaim his 80s electronic sound. It doesn’t work consistently, but it is much more successful at it than similar follow-up 20Ten. Some songs – like the Q-Tip featuring Chocolate Box and Ol’ Skool Company – could have used some editing. Others sounded much better on stage. No More Candy 4 U in particular smoked with the NPG playing behind him. It was released simultaneously with the superior LotusFlow3r and Bria Valente’s Elixer – but not in the UK.
49. Musicology [Prince, 2004]
After years in the wilderness, Prince finally returned to the public eye in 2004 with a number of high profile appearances, including that guitar solo at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and the stage was set for his big commercial comeback. The title track was the perfect way for him to reintroduce himself, and A Million Days is truly a lost classic. But all in all it feels a bit Prince by numbers and it quickly runs out of steam. It isn’t great enough to be a classic, not lousy enough to be dismissed. But maybe that was the point; he needed to remind people why they liked Prince in the first place after the damage of the years.
48. Exodus [New Power Generation, 1995]
Probably the best “solo” NPG album. Bass player Sonny T takes most of the vocals, because Prince wasn’t allowed to due to his problems with Warner at the time. But they are unmistakably his lyrics, often seeming to be talking about his problems with the label. Despite the raucous nature of much of the likes of Get Wild and The Exodus Has Begun, it’s the delicate yet foul mouthed Count The Days that stands as the album’s true highlight.
47. PlectrumElectrum [Prince & 3RDEYEGIRL, 2014]
The only 3RDEYEGIRL album, and Prince doesn’t take all the lead vocals or even appear on the cover. The tracks on which drummer Hannah Ford-Welton takes lead definitely lets it down. It was supposed to be a rock album, but Prince can’t be limited. And so on an album called PlectrumElectrum in between hard and psychedelic rock tracks like Pretzelbodylogic, WOW and Alice Smith re-interpretation Anotherlove – not to mention the punk-ish blast of Marz, we also get future superstar Lizzo taking a rap verse on Boytrouble. Sadly, though, after 18 months of hype to fans, the resulting album didn’t quite live up to expectations. Once the album was released, Prince seemed to quickly lose interest in the 3RDEYEGIRL set-up, confessing to Dan Piepenbring – co-author of his recently released (unfinished) memoir The Beautiful Ones – that he was tired of playing guitar.
46. Graffiti Bridge [Prince, 1990]
This is the soundtrack to an awful movie – so bad that Madonna even turned it down, and her filmography includes such stinkers as The Next Best Thing, Shanghai Surprise and Swept Away. Like PlectrumElectrum, Prince didn’t take all the lead vocals, which makes this a bit of a strange and singular release. Protégés like The Time (who reunited for the project) and Tevin Campbell step in, as do legends like George Clinton and Mavis Staples, both of whom were signed to his Paisley Park label at the time. There are some truly great songs, especially Joy In Repetition, Thieves In The Temple and The Question of U. But it heavily relies on songs from the much-mytholigised Vault, and feels more like a clearing house to satisfy contractual obligations. If it were shorter, that might have worked OK. But, like a lot of albums in the CD age, it is far too long.
45. Times Squared [Eric Leeds, 1991]
This started out as the third album by Prince‘s jazz side project Madhouse, but somewhere along the way morphed into a solo album for long-time saxophonist Eric Leeds. It’s still more or less what you would imagine the third Madhouse album would sound like. Leeds had been playing with Prince for at least half a decade by that point, so it is no surprise that he decided to release it under his name, especially considering he is the brother of Alan Leeds, the President of Paisley Park Records, and former tour manager not only to Prince, but his hero James Brown. Thankfully, it is not quite as Kenny G as it could have been – but it still would have been the weakest Madhouse album.
44. The Vault: Old Friends 4 Sale [Prince, 1999]
Towards the end of his relationship with Warner, gave them a couple of odds and sods collections to fill up his contract. He literally didn’t care at that point, and each came with a disclaimer; “intended for private use only”, as if scolding the fans for buying it. For whatever reason, the label held this release back a few years, and confusingly released it as “Prince”, which probably shows his lack of involvement. But there are still some real gems on there. Most of the material here seems to date from the early 90s, and things get a bit jazzier – check the likes of It’s About That Walk. The highlight comes at the end with the ballad Extraordinary. Prince’s knack of dusting off obscurities once in a while saw it being played during his latter day Welcome 2… Tours between 2010 and 2012.
43. Come [Prince, 1994]
This is the last album before he became . It wasn’t very well liked at the time, but age has been kind to Come. There is some real cool P-Funk–esque stuff on there, and you could easily hear George Clinton growling over it if it wasn’t so damn sexy. Last track Orgasm is clearly a joke, as it literally consists of less than two minutes of waves, random guitar sounds and former girlfriend Vanity doing a Meg Ryan – but it mainly just makes us roll our eyes at the juvenile exercise. This is a shame, because the preceding Letitgo is a marvelous summer jam. Despite being a sex album, there is an unexpected and jarring digression with Papa, a pretty explicit depiction of child abuse, in which Prince says “Don’t abuse children, or they’ll end up like me” – which keeps a question lingering that we may never truly know the answer to.
42. 16 [Madhouse, 1987]
Prince’s second album with instrumental jazz group Madhouse (basically him and Eric Leeds). It’s a case of “more of the same, but not quite as good”.
41. One Nite Alone… [Prince, 2002]
Extremely rare album; just Prince on a piano. The title track, U’re Gonna C Me and a version of Joni Mitchell’s A Case of U particular highlights – in fact the latter has been somewhat rediscovered since his death, and it really does highlight his skills as an interpreter rather than a songwriter. It would be preposterous to suggest that he bettered Mitchell’s original, but he undeniably made it his own, far more soulful that her stark performance. It’s a nice record to chill to, and probably inspired the Piano and a Microphone Tour that was interrupted by his untimely death. It was never commercially released, only through his NPG Music Club.
40. Batman [Prince, 1989]
According to Prince, this soundtrack was supposed to be a collaboration between him and Michael Jackson; MJ on Batman’s songs, P on The Joker’s. For whatever reason, it ended up just being Prince. At the time, he was riding high in Europe but his career was faltering in America, with 1988’s Lovesexy failing to even go Top 10. So, Batman was a moment of genius marketing for Warner – they had a star in need of a hit, a film in need of blockbuster promotion, and all the tie-ins that go with it. And it worked; the album sold 11 million copies. For his part, much like Graffiti Bridge, Prince himself mainly seemed to use it as a clearing house, with some tracks like Electric Chair getting a bit of a New Jack Swing makeover. But despite its bad reputation (e.g. it is one of the records they’re happy to throw at the zombies in Shaun of the Dead), there are some great jams on there; Partyman, Trust, The Future, Scandalous. Lead single (and baffling hit) Batdance isn’t a great song, but it is impressive production. It can be hard to come by due to contracts regarding the Batman licensing, and none of the songs appeared on a hits compilation until after his death. It is hardly a masterpiece, but it does the job well enough.
39. HitNRun Phase II [Prince, 2015]
This was the final album released in Prince’s lifetime, and his last words on the closing Big City are “That’s it”. Coincidence? (Yes.) It is far more organic than HitNRun Phase I and, despite coming across like another house cleaner of recent songs (Black Muse had been performed years earlier, Rocknroll Love Affair had been released as a standalone single sans horns in 2012, ditto Xtraloveable which dated back to the 80s). It’s much more enjoyable than Phase I, and there are glimpses of things that could have been. Take Baltimore, a passionate plea for Black Lives Matter movement, that goes as far as to name victims Freddie Gray and Michael Brown, and supports Gun Control. The heavy lyric is juxtaposed with a breezy backing that is somewhat reminiscent of Take Me With U or Raspberry Beret, and really makes us wish he had made a What’s Goin’ On-type album. Elsewhere, Screwdriver was released as a single nearly three years earlier with 3RDEYEGIRL and is one of the most alert songs he’d come out with in years, whereas the epic Groovy Potential could have formed the pivotal part of his live show.
38. The Voice [Mavis Staples, 1993]
The second – and final – album with Mavis Staples is a marginal improvement on the first. You Will Be Moved might be the best “original” song on there, but she does some songs that are also known as Prince songs (Positivity, The Undertaker). Melody Cool also appears on Graffiti Bridge, but we’re not sure the persona needed ever really suited Mavis. Like the first one, it’s Mavis‘ voice that makes it truly worthwhile, which makes the title endlessly appropriate.
37. Piano and a Microphone, 1983 [Prince, 2018]
A curious first posthumous release from the Estate, Piano and a Microphone was the title of Prince’s final tour in 2016. But it’s perfectly utilised here. There are some tracks that are clear works in progress that were released during the Purple Rain era, most notably Purple Rain itself and the fan favourite b-side 17 Days. Other tracks are recognisable from either earlier in his career (1999’s International Lover) or later (Sign “O” The Times’ Strange Relationship, his cover of Joni Mitchell’s A Case of U). The rest are completely unreleased, most notably Wednesday in truncated form, which appeared on an early configuration of Purple Rain but has never been leaked in bootleg form or even on the 2017 Purple Rain Deluxe. This is Prince totally bare, and it strips him away to his pure essence. It may not be an essential purchase, but it is a revealing document of a truly great artist.
36. Come 2 My House [Chaka Khan, 1998]
had been connected with Chaka Khan since she scored an international hit with a cover of I Feel For You in 1984. But Khan was a known influence on him. In fact, there are home recordings of a teenaged Prince playing Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan‘s Sweet Thing, and the song remained a regular cover for him to play over the years. Although he had written further songs for her in the years since (Eternity, Sticky Wicked), it took until 1998 for a proper collaboration. At her best, Khan is a vocalist who can elevate mundane material, and she certainly does this here. This is far from Prince‘s best collection of songs, but it’s high up for the . But had he recorded them himself the album may be listed lower. Chaka soars, and adds new dimensions to tracks like Don’t Talk 2 Strangers and Spoon. It may not be the finest album by either artist, but it is still a criminally overlooked release.
35. Lotusflow3r [Prince, 2009]
The best of triple disc released in 2009 with MPLSounD and Bria Valente’s Elixer. This was the surprise of the set; a mainly psych rock-based set of tunes, where, as you might expect, he really shows his guitar chops. The Hendrix-esque Dreamer may be his heaviest ever song, or is at least up there. It also taps into more politics than you would expect, particularly with the aforementioned Dreamer, Colonized Mind and $ – the only true funk jam present. For an idea of the general direction of the record, consider that the lead single was a cover of Tommy James and the Shondells’ Crimson and Clover. Unless you paid $77 to join his then-website (an unsuccessful experiment that soured fan/artist relationships quite significantly) there was no way to get this album in the UK at the time.
34. Chaos & Disorder [, 1996]
A bit of a kiss-off to Warner Bros., and another one that stated the material was “intended 4 private use only”. Like Lotusflower it is a guitar heavy release, but clearly recorded during the struggle as you can hear the bile he is playing with. He’s actually mixing it up with hip hop culture too, as in the record scratching throughout the title track and the jams Dig U Better Dead and I Rock, Therefore I Am. And it can’t be a coincidence they his first LP on Warner started with a short track called For You, and his last ends with a similar track called Had U. It may be a throwaway, but it is a passionate throwaway and not a side of Prince that we saw very often. It was not liked much at the time, but one that could use revisiting.
33. Sheila E [Sheila E, 1987]
Sheila was one of Prince‘s closest long-time comrades. This is her final album with Prince and has the least amount of input from him. To be fair, he also released two Madhouse albums, a Jill Jones album, wrote several hits for other people, composed The Black Album, released Sign “O” The Times, toured Europe and made a movie in that year, so can forgive a little less of a hand in this one. Koo Koo remains a bit of a favourite, whilst Hold Me might be her most effective ballad. Of note, the New Jack Swing group Tony, Toni, Toné – featuring a young Raphael Saadiq – made their first recorded appearance on this LP.
32. Planet Earth [Prince, 2007]
Free giveaway with The Mail On Sunday – the first time ever that a new album was a covermount (though he had wanted to do it with a guitar magazine in the 90s before Warner put a stop to it). This was just before his 21 nights at the O2 Arena, and the album was really promoting the shows rather than vice-versa. It is still a decent collection of songs, though, even if it lacks cohesion. Looked at like that and it’s a fairly strong effort. The One U Wanna C is one of the catchiest power pop songs ever, whereas Guitar was a mainstay in his setlist for his final years. Meanwhile, backing vocalist Shelby J takes the lead on the retro funk jam Chelsea Rodgers, and the gorgeous ballad Somewhere Here On Earth is perfect for a winters night. There are clunkers though – All The Midnights In The World sounds like it comes from a children’s film and the opening title track seems oddly placed, and descends into a melody line so similar to Could It Be Magic? that it’s surprising there was never a lawsuit.
31. Art Official Age [Prince, 2014]
His last stab at a record with some real scope. Something about being in suspended animation for 45 years? Who knows? It’s Prince. But it was certainly welcome after four years of relative silence (for him). As unpredictable as ever, this saw him return to Warner Bros for the first time since 1996’s Chaos and Disorder and was probably his most inventive album in quite a long time, though still a little patchy towards the end. Clouds was a perfect snapshot of what Prince could have been doing all this time; accessible yet mysterious and eccentric thanks to the spoken word verse from Lianne LaHavas which mapped out the basic plot of the album. But it is the ballads – Breakdown and This Could Be Us – that reign supreme. It might not be a true masterpiece, but it was cool seeing him working with big concepts again.
30. May 19, 1992 [Ingrid Chavez, 1991]
This is a pretty bizarre release. A spoken word album, with most of the music by Prince and verse by poet Ingrid Chavez. Chavez is probably best known for writing the words for Madonna’s Justify My Love, and that is probably a good place to start when approaching this LP. The music is warmer than on Justify My Love – and if it wasn’t for that, most listeners might have a hard time keeping tuned in. The abnormality of this project frees him up, and allows Prince to go in directions he may not have in any other context. Musically, you could imagine some of it coming from Madonna (particularly on Sad Puppet Dance, where Chavez even interjects with a very Madge sounding refrain), but a lot of it is pretty singular for him. You can’t help but wish he would have expanded further on this collaboration.
29. Originals [Prince, 2019]
This is one of the great “What if?” releases – the question being what if Prince kept all of those songs he gave to other people. Sure, this is essentially a collection of demos, but Prince demos weren’t like everyone else’s. It’s pretty impressive how many of these songs were genuine hits, and it’s a thrill to hear the likes of The Bangles’ Manic Monday and Nothing Compares 2 U in Prince’s voice. Most of Prince’s protégés ended up using his original backing tracks, so there isn’t really much difference in a lot of the recordings. But it strips away another layer of the artist, and we hear him mimicking Morris Day on the likes of Jungle Love, and his first stab at rap on Sheila E’s funky Holly Rock. The highlight though is the song that Jay-Z insisted appear when he agreed to release it through Tidal; Martika’s gorgeous Love…Thy Will Be Done.
28. Crystal Ball [, 1998]
This was three discs of outtakes dating from as far back as the mid-80s. It was sequenced a bit weirdly, but there is a lot of great stuff in there (of course). It ranges from awe-inspiring 10 minute epics (the title track) and frothy pop (Good Love), to studio jams(Cloreen Bacon Skin) and a few pointless remixes that we could live without in lieu of much fabled “Vault” items such as Moonbeam Levels, Wally, Wednesday etc. Of note, this was the first album ever to be distributed on the internet with a system that seems like the precursor to Kickstarter. This proved problematic when the means to actually deliver on what was promised proved insufficient. As outtakes collections go, it is a little disappointing for an artist with such a fabled vault of material, especially when compared to Bruce Springsteen’s similar Tracks collection released in the same year. It is almost essential for a diehard, but for a casual fan it might be a little too much, and occasionally not strong enough to hold the attention of anyone other than the devoted.
27. Emancipation [, 1996]
Having been held back from doing what he wanted, when he wanted by Warner, predictably released a mammoth, three-hour album as soon as he was free. It’s a lot to take at once, even as a diehard. Perhaps it would have been better all-around for each disc to be released as a separate album, rather than one. Disc one is full of mid-paced pop/R&B jams, with the likes of Jam of the Year and Get Yo Groove On perfect for the summertime, sadly betraying the November release date. Disc two appears to be a song cycle about his recent marriage to Mayte Garcia, with opening track Sex In The Summer going as far as to sample Garcia’s sonogram for then-unborn son Amiir (who would sadly pass away of Pfeiffer Syndrome a week after his birth, which gives the song a bittersweet feel in retrospect). Finally, disc three is mainly dance songs, with the exception of a baffling cover of Joan Osborne’s ghastly One of Us and a surprising guest spot from Kate Bush. It is far more consistent than you would expect a three disc album from to be in the mid-90s, but it is still a lot to take at once. As such, it was a regular in CEX shops until his Estate reissued the album earlier this year. It may not have been the huge success that might have hoped for, but having cut out the record company’s slice of the pie, it was far more profitable to him than most of his Warner releases.
26. Diamonds & Pearls [Prince & The New Power Generation, 1991]
With the exception of the commercial tie-in Batman, Prince hadn’t scored a truly successful album in the US since 1987, with Sign “O” The Times being his last platinum success. He was in need of a hit album without attaching himself to a franchise, and this appears to be his mission with Diamonds & Pearls. After being down on hip hop on the then-unreleased The Black Album, he engages with the form fully here, with mixed results. Tony M takes the lead on Jughead, which may be the worst song in his entire Warner catalogue, but Gett Off more than makes up for it, announcing that Prince was edgy again. But the project paid off, proving that if he really wanted a hit, he could get it easily. The horny, T. Rex-ish Cream (he would often tell audiences: “I wrote this while I was looking in the mirror”) was his first US number one single not to come from a soundtrack album. What really makes it work though are the ballads, which rank among some of his best. The title track may have been the hit, and Spike Lee might have directed the high profile video for the socially conscious Philly soul of Money Don’t Matter 2Nite, but Insatiable is the masterpiece. As sexy and playful as any slow jam he ever wrote.
25. Romance 1600 [Sheila E, 1985]
It is difficult to tell if this is a concept album, or if Sheila just adopted a particular aesthetic. Sister Fate opens the album with a jazz salvo that acts as a nod to Sheila’s roots, before switching to Latin based 80s pop (with a vocal melody that sometimes sounds like Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam’s Head To Toe), but the stand out is the song that Prince is actually on. It probably isn’t a coincidence that he decided to attach his name to A Love Bizarre. The 12 minute funk jam might just be the best song he never released under his own name, and remains an 80s classic (even showing up on the soundtrack for Pose recently).
24. The Truth [, 1998]
This is a little solo acoustic album that hardly anyone knows about, as it was tacked on as a bonus disc with 1998’s Crystal Ball set. Even some reference sites barely recognise it. But they should. If you can track it down, it’s a real treat. Some people have gone a bit too nuts on it, and if it was widely available, it probably wouldn’t be considered quite the masterpiece some fans do. But its intimacy is compelling, and rare for him on record – especially at that time. Perhaps most notable, after two decades of printing “May u live 2 c the dawn” on his album sleeves, The Truth ends with a track called Welcome 2 The Dawn, which may have signaled a further shift in his identity.
23. 8 [Madhouse, 1987]
Prince’s first foray into instrumental jazz is by far his best. It is far less self-conscious than some of his later attempts, and it is probably the one which is most listenable all the way through. It also feels like a natural extension of what he began with some of his work on The Family’s album (see below). By far the best track is Six, which is something of a 60s soul jazz throwback and plays to Prince’s strengths.
22. Pandemonium! [The Time, 1990]
The Time were Prince’s first protégés and gave the world superstar producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Despite being at the top of their game with Janet Jackson at the time, Prince still takes the reigns for a lot of this reunion album, but the band get a bigger say than in the past – about 50% more say. Lead single Jerk Out was a #1 on the R&B chart, Donald Trump (Black Version) proves that the titular character was always a joke and My Summertime Thang is way better than its counterpart, Graffiti Bridge’s The Latest Fashion. Despite all of this, like most reunion albums it isn’t as strong as efforts from their original run. Thankfully, this wouldn’t be a swansong and the whole band reconvened sans Prince for the much better Condensate in 2011 (though they had to use the name The Original 7Ven).
21. (Love Symbol) [Prince & The New Power Generation, 1992]
…and you thought R. Kelly’s Trapped In The Closet was odd! is obviously what he ended up changing his name to a year or so later (making opener My Name Is Prince somewhat ironic), and the lack of available pronunciation led it to be referred to as Love Symbol. Prince described it as a “funky rock soap opera”, which is clearer on an early configuration with more segues. Like most concept albums though, the bonkers story is a bit too unfollow-able as a listener, and it is a bit meandering in the middle. Still, it is far more consistent than Diamonds & Pearls, and his attempts to engage with hip hop are more accessible. In fact, he seems to hit on his own version of the form, like on the self-parody My Name Is Prince, the funky Sexy MF and the second half of Love 2 The 9s. The rest of the album includes experiments with reggae on the romantic Blue Light, the almost prog rock 3 Chains O’ Gold and the absolute high point of the LP, 7. If you need a good laugh, track down the accompanying “video album” 3 Chains O’ Gold – which ironically doesn’t feature the song 3 Chains O’ Gold, and decides to just stop after 7.
20. The Black Album [Prince, 1987/1994]
Famously pulled in late-1987 and finally given limited release during ‘s beef with Warner Bros in 1994. The legend of The Black Album looms large. It is unquestionably one of – if not THE – most bootlegged albums ever. But it probably has too much legend to be able to back it up. Yet it still likely stands as his ultimate statement in funk. After gradually losing touch with his black fan base following the success of Purple Rain, it’s hard to see the entire package, from the heavy funk on the LP to its title, as anything but a concerted effort to reconnect with this audience, even if his rapper bashing in the likes of Dead On It (“The only good rapper is one that’s dead”) has aged horribly. Still, the tracks are unquestionably funky, and 10 seconds into opener Le Grind and you should be sold.
19. Jill Jones [Jill Jones, 1987]
Jill had been hanging around for a few years – sang backing vocals on 1999 (she’s the blonde at the keyboards in the video), played a waitress in the Purple Rain movie. A solo album had been mooted for a while, when it arrived it was a funky piece of 80s pop. Great stuff. Though the first line in Mia Bocca always troubled me; “I’ve only had one lover since I was 12 years old”. Erm…OK? Social services, please. It’s actually a surprising gem, with a feeling of Teena Marie as much as Prince. She covers With You from his second album, but other than that closer Baby You’re a Trip is the most obvious Prince-sounding song on here. He easily could have released it himself.
18. The Rainbow Children [Prince, 2001]
Sometimes you need to switch the lyrics off in your head when listening to The Rainbow Children; the dogmatic Jehovah’s Witness message is hard to swallow unless you are a devout believer yourself. It can be a bit balk-able. There have also been accusations of antisemitism in the otherwise brilliant Muse 2 The Pharaoh, but although the lyrics may need a bit of clarification it is hard to believe that this was intentional, just that Prince (as he became once again on this album, leaving behind for good) wasn’t very good at articulating himself at times. The funk jams predictably come out top, especially The Work, Pt 1 and 1 + 1 + 1 = 3. Last December closes the album and acts as a sort of epic jazz meets Nu-Gospel Purple Rain. But what really stops the LP becoming a truly rich experience is the weird, low pitched narration that is a bit annoying and spoils the flow. Musically, it is incredible. Probably his last truly daring album.
17. Controversy [Prince, 1981]
Controversy feels like a bit of a stop-gap between Dirty Mind and 1999. It isn’t as strong as either of them, but bridges the gap and does its job brilliantly. It is fun, sexy and, actually, political (Ronnie Talk To Russia, aimed squarely at President Reagan, which also dates it a bit and the bizarre Annie Christian, which invokes the murder of John Lennon, an assassination attempt on Reagan and the murder of African-American children in Atlanta). Of course, the title track became one of Prince‘s most enduring anthems and Do Me, Baby is one of the all-time great sex jams. Taken as a whole, then, and it’s a bit disjointed. He did, however, solidify his image with this record; it was his first record to be associated with the colour purple and his first to use sensationalist spelling (i.e. Jack U Off), which became his trademark.
16. Vanity 6 [Vanity 6, 1982]
Prince’s first female protégé, Vanity was born Denise Matthews and the two were dating at the time. She and her groupmates were hardly great vocalists, but this is brilliant all the same. You can actually weirdly hear the beginnings of Janet Jackson in flashes of this, particularly the classic filthy and funky Nasty Girl. He’s So Dull is great girl group pop, and If A Girl Answers (Don’t Hang Up) is a Yo Mama-type series of put downs that probably influenced Daphne and Celeste (remember them? Just us?). Vanity later became a born again Christian, renouncing this part of her life, and died just two months before Prince.
15. Prince [Prince, 1979]
Maybe the last great R&B album of the 70s? It’s a pretty typical R&B/soul/funk album of the era (despite the rock & roll in Bambi and Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?), and doesn’t really hint the genius to come, but is a wonderful collection of songs all the same. I Wanna Be Your Lover is probably his first true dash of genius, an enduring soul classic that remains one of his greatest singles, and if I Feel For You sounds like a demo for Chaka Khan’s smash hit cover five years later, it still proves how far he had come as a songwriter in such a short space of time. The back cover features a naked Prince riding a unicorn. Because, you know, it was the 70s.
14. The Time [The Time, 1981]
The first non-Prince, Prince album. Written, recorded and produced entirely by him, other than Morris Day’s drums and vocals (though, initially, the vocals were supposed to be sung by Alexander O’ Neal). As good as some of the songs are – even the ones that go on a bit too long, its Morris Day’s charisma that makes this work. He really sells this, especially on lead single Get It Up and Cool, the most enduring song, and was even regularly performed live by Prince himself. C-O-O-L; what’s that spell? It would be enough to set Day up for one of the longer careers afforded to Prince-related artists, even scoring some solo hits in his own right after he left the purple camp.
13. 3121 [Prince, 2006]
This might be the time last he sounded truly inspired on record, or at least the last one where he sounded inspired to get a hit. Hot off the heels of 2004’s massive Musicology comeback, he buckled down and made an album that sounded both like classic Prince and contemporary for the time. It has a bit of a Latin flavour, especially on Te Amo Corazon and Get On The Boat, whilst Lolita utilises some The Time-esque shout outs. The best tracks are undeniably Black Sweat, which recalls a Kiss-type minimalism and Love is a great lost hit. It would have fit easily on the radio in 2006 and blows the Timberlakes who were clogging up the airwaves out of the water. It was both his final US #1, and his first since 1989. Had he toured it properly, it may have been even bigger.
12. Around The World in a Day [Prince & The Revolution, 1985]
How do you follow up Purple Rain? With a neo-psychedelic album, full of wholly uncommercial material, of course! Strucutrally, the album is actually pretty close to Purple Rain, and you can find an equivalent for most of the tracks (e.g. Condition of the Heart = The Beautiful Ones, America = Baby I’m a Star etc), the difference really lies in the accessibility of the tracks, which meant that it torpedoed his momentum. It did, however, make a profound statement about his artistry. Truth be told, it isn’t fully psychedelic, but it is extremely experimental and not the album his fans both new and old expected, and that is clear within the first few seconds of the opening title track. It also received no promotion on release, at Prince‘s request. Eventually, the only obvious single, the baroque Raspberry Beret, was released and became an all-time favourite. There is a weird foreboding atmosphere that runs throughout the record, no doubt his new blockbuster success was a big part of the reason for this. Looked at it from that point of view, you could probably argue that Pop Life, in which Prince seems explicitly unhappy with the intrusion into his life, is the key track. Overall, you need to put a lot into it the LP, but if you do, you will be greatly rewarded.
11. Ice Cream Castle [The Time, 1984]
The Time played antagonists to Prince’s character The Kid in the Purple Rain movie, and this is their tie-in to the movie. The film’s mega success means that The Time’s two biggest hits are here; Jungle Love and The Bird. The title track is unusually serious for them too, detailing a bi-racial love affair. It’s all good fun, but maybe one more great song like those in the place of Chilli Sauce would have pushed it over the edge. What’s more, it is just all-around less funky than you would expect from The Time.
10. The Glamorous Life [Sheila E, 1984]
A brilliant 80s pop album, and Sheila E is a bloody star in her own right. The title track became a bit of an 80s anthem in the States, but for some reason The Belle of St Mark became a bigger hit in the UK. Most of it was supposed to be for a second Apollonia 6 album, which thankfully never happened (it’s all about Sheila!), and despite her limited vocal range, she puts her stamp on it. Before coming to Prince, she was a jazz drummer, and this aspect of her musical life is actually peppered throughout the record, most notably on the instrumental Strawberry Shortcake and in her drum tracks on The Glamorous Life itself. An essential part of the Prince-less Prince oeuvre.
9. The Gold Experience [, 1995]
Hailed by critics as a surprising return to form, The Gold Experience didn’t do much commercially. Maybe it was a fall out from the negative press surrounding the name change, which nobody understood at the time, but has become clearer in subsequent years. It is hard to find, even with the slew of reissues in the years since his death. The reason appears to be the inclusion of The Most Beautiful Girl In The World, which – unfortunate for his biggest UK hit – is at the centre of an ongoing plagiarism case in Italy (the Estate instead released the baffling sampler from the period The Versace Experience: Prelude 2 Gold). Despite the annoying segues, it constitutes his strongest set in years, for fans at the time it seemed that the name change would bring about a renewed energy, but of course that wouldn’t last. If you can find this one somewhere, you won’t be disappointed – the seductive Shhh, political We March, catchy Dolphin and the shredding Endorphinmachine was a regular in the 3RDEYEGIRL live sets. The closing Gold is a pretty obvious attempt at a 90s Purple Rain, but against the odds – it actually works.
8. The Family [The Family, 1985]
Prince put The Family together out of the ashes of The Time when they split, and the result is one of the best albums Prince ever released under any name, and a brilliant mix of new wave, pop, soul, funk, jazz and balladry. Aside from the funky Mutiny, the fun instrumental Susannah’s Pyjamas and the electronic new wave of The Screams of Passion, it also features the original version of Nothing Compares 2 U. This one needs a remaster and rediscovery soon. Had Prince slapped his name on this one it could have been a much more significant release. The fact that he didn’t proves how much it was about the music for him. Like The Time, The Family re-grouped without Prince in 2011 and released another excellent album as fDeluxe; Gaslight.
7. Lovesexy [Prince, 1988]
Prince always mixed up the spiritual and the sexual, and this album is one of the most obvious examples of that. It is a bit of a controversial one – definitely one that has as many detractors as fans. Especially in America, where it didn’t even go Top 10, despite being #1 all over Europe. We can understand why his African American audience had started deserting him so; 1988 saw the release of N.W.A.‘s Straight Outta Compton and Public Enemy‘s It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back. Prince came out with Lovesexy – talk about beat of your own drum. Also, he apparently thought that front cover was a good idea. But there’s two ways to look at Lovesexy during the rise of gangsta rap, and the other is that it is an irresistible slice of positivity. It shares just one track with the aborted Black Album, which it infamously replaced, the sappy ballad When 2 R In Love. Parts of his preceding albums were surprisingly dense LP’s in Prince’s catalogue, so there is something refreshing in the relaxed nature of Lovesexy, whether that’s the breezy I Wish U Heaven, the psychedelic dichotomy in Anna Stesia or the enduring single Alphabet Street. It is a record that this writer never used to rate so highly, and yet it is one I find myself returning to frequently. The original CD was released as one continuous track, which is how the record is represented on streaming platforms.
6. What Time Is It? [The Time, 1982]
Technically speaking, The Family is probably the best Prince protégé album. BUT…this is our favourite. So there. It was recorded in just two recording sessions, and is totally unpretentious – building on the vague promise of The Time’s debut. Morris Day is as hilarious as ever, the sound is fuller, and the songs have improved. In fact, it features some of Prince’s funkiest ever work outs, especially 777-9311, The Walk and Wild and Loose. The ballad, Gigolos Get Lonely Too, is a lost hit. Is it a masterpiece of epic proportions? No. But it’s not trying to be. It’s just pure, unadulterated fun, and it succeeds with everything it tries to do.
5. 1999 [Prince, 1982]
It was audacious for a guy who hadn’t really had a substantial pop hit to demand he make a double album, awash with 10-minute electronic funk jams. Even more audacious that it ended up being his commercial breakthrough, especially with the title track and this writer’s favourite song ever (Little Red Corvette, which also helped break the racial barrier on MTV). Most of the songs on the record have become favourites, especially the futuristic rockabilly of Delirious, the extended funk of DMSR and, later in life, Something In The Water (Does Not Compute). He would stop performing songs like the salacious Let’s Pretend We’re Married (“I sincerely want to fuck the taste out of your mouth“…eww) after he became a Jehovah’s Witness, although he could easily have recast it without the offending lyrics, as he did with many others. Prince started to become a genuine star at this point, and this is probably where the redundant comparisons to Michael Jackson began. But if there is anything that underlines the sheer difference in their artistic outlooks, it is in 1999 itself. When Jackson wrote message songs, they tended to be saccharine and a little bit trite (We Are The World, Heal The World, The Lost Children). The general public at large don’t even seem to realise that 1999 is, in fact, an anti-nuclear message song. He brilliantly turns it into a party jam, complete with “PAAAAARTY!” chants at the end. The big New Year party at the end of the decade is a nuclear apocalypse; “Life is just a party, and parties weren’t meant to last”. It is a skill that his best work is littered with, and a line that is tremendously difficult to walk.
4. Dirty Mind [Prince, 1980]
Pure filth. Not wanting to be stuck labelled as the latest “New Stevie Wonder”, Prince pushed buttons, and undid a few in the process. He (mainly) left the R&B behind and made an extremely minimalist new wave record. The demo-like quality of the songs actually bring out an intimacy and nakedness that mesh well with the themes of the album. It still sounds amazing today. Where the first half of the LP merely titillates with Do It All Night and Dirty Mind itself, the second brings almost a full side of debauchery, particularly with Head (self-explanatory) segueing into Sister (we really wish that wasn’t self-explanatory!). Partyup is an anti-war anthem based on a groove created by Morris Day – Prince apparently said “You can have the money or I’ll help you form a band“. Hence, The Time. The best tracks, though, are the new wave disco of Uptown, which tells of a utopia where people aren’t judged on race, gender, sexuality or the conformity of society and helped shape Prince’s outsider status (“Now where I come from, we don’t let society tell us how it’s supposed to be/Our clothes, our hair, we don’t care/It’s all about being there”) and, of course, When You Were Mine. Later a hit with Cyndi Lauper, When You Were Mine is pure power pop and sees Prince in a threesome with his girlfriend and another guy, only for the girl to leave him for their former shared lover. Perhaps the (for the time) risqué lyric is why it was bafflingly never released as a single, but it has remained an utmost fan favourite.
3. Parade [Prince & The Revolution, 1986]
Another soundtrack to another awful film (his directorial debut Under The Cherry Moon, we think it is supposed to be a comedy), but one of his best records. Most of Prince’s material is quite sparse, but Parade has a dense production with orchestrations by legendary jazz arranger Clare Fischer and a European-influenced sound. It is, in fact, quite a unique record in his 80s oeuvre. Reportedly, even though Around The World In a Day had been completed but not released at the time, Prince put down the drum tracks to the LP’s opening trio (Christopher Tracy’s Parade, New Position, I Wonder U) within days of the Purple Rain Tour’s completion in a single sitting. There is probably a parallel universe where this sits near the top of “Greatest Album” polls with Sgt Pepper and Thriller, and had he followed Purple Rain with this rather than Around The World In a Day he maybe could have maintained the momentum he had in 1984. It has far more hits; Girls and Boys, Mountains, Anotherloverholenyohead and, of course, the ubiquitous Kiss. Sometimes It Snows In April has become a special song in his catalogue. It deals with the death of his character in the film. Astonishingly, Revolution member Wendy Melvoin has said that when they were looking through their archives following Prince’s own death in 2016, they found the tracksheet with the recording date for the songs; 21st April 1985. Eerily, Prince died on 21st April 2016.
2. Purple Rain [Prince & The Revolution, 1984]
An obvious one to be so high, but sometimes they’re obvious for a reason. Often seen as Prince’s big pop album, what is often missed is that it is still far from a safe record; opener Let’s Go Crazy starts with a sermon, When Doves Cry is an R&B smash with no bass, the title track ends on a four minute guitar solo, Darling Nikki is filthy enough to be directly responsible for “Parental Guidance” stickers on album covers (despite Prince performing much more explicit material in the past, especially on Dirty Mind), I Would Die 4 U is far more eccentric than most dance songs were at the time and Computer Blue is, well, on it at all. In a sense, he used his moment to become a superstar to simultaneously be more ambitious, and it catapulted him into the same stratosphere in 1984 that also featured Michael Jackson, Madonna and Bruce Springsteen. For all the comparisons with Jackson, and Prince’s own collaboration with Madonna, it is the latter that this writer finds most interesting. In his posthumously released memoir, Prince stated that “Nobody around here listens to Bruce Springsteen”, though he was on record as naming him as one of his favourite bandleaders, so there was clearly a mutual respect. But what is interesting with both Purple Rain and Springsteen’s own Born In The USA is how both Prince and The Boss had to, in essence, borrow from each other to make it there. Whilst Bruce dabbled in the synths that had long been a part of Prince’s set-up, there is nothing R&B about Purple Rain itself. It is an epic, heartland rock arena ballad that has more in common with Springsteen’s style (generally speaking) than Prince’s own catalogue at that point. It was a shrewd move on his part, and cast him in the guitar hero role that his talent on the instrument suggested he should. And that brilliant instilling of all he could do runs throughout the LP. There is no dud anywhere to be seen, and if you don’t own this one, we don’t know why you have read this far down the list.
1. Sign “O” The Times [Prince, 1987]
The greatest album by the greatest musician in the history of modern popular music. It is astonishing, and probably has to be heard to be believed. Within its two discs, you get to see pretty much every side of Prince. The funk-off? Housequake. The political? Sign “O” The Times. The power pop? I Could Never Take The Place of Your Man. The surefire hits? U Got The Look. The jazz? Slow Love. The balladry? Adore. The psychedelic pop? Play In The Sunshine. The spirituality? The Cross. The rampant sex drive? Hot Thing. Gender bending experimentation? If I Was Your Girlfriend. A WTF moment? Sheena Easton pops up. The explosive live performances? A live cut of It’s Gonna Be a Beautiful Nite. Each performed with tenacity and jaw-dropping musicality. All of which would all be worthless if the songs weren’t so bloody brilliant, both musically and lyrically as Prince dives into apocalyptic imagery ranging from drugs, to war, empty sex, abandonment and AIDS. The conventional wisdom is that the Purple Rain project is where everything Prince was working towards came to a head. But that is a narrow-minded view, based on the idea that everything he was working towards was commercial. Purple Rain was the peak of his popularity, and it allowed him to make grand statements like Sign “O” The Times. This album could punch us repeatedly in the face, and we would still love it. It is, quite simply, a masterpiece.
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