Prince Rogers Nelson stood only five feet, three inches, but he was a giant. Bigger than life, Prince’s influence on contemporary music is immeasurable. Prince was the new wave R&B fresh breath that changed the direction of of soulful music. Lean and organic, his sound cut a new trail in Black music, but he quickly mixed other influences and extended his audience across cultures and musical genres.
Prince was prolific in the studio, he died leaving dozens of sets of unreleased music. I would compare him to Neil Young in terms of a musical vault. Frank Zappa was possibly a member of this club. The comfort of a home recording studio is convenient for easy and quick exploration of musical ideas. Prince’s music navigated through many genres and styles, not copying, but integrating. Prince was skilled at a variety of instruments so he did not need a band; he was his own mini orchestra.
I enjoyed a lot of Prince’s music, but I am much more familiar with early Prince than later Prince.
How can you pick only 12 of his songs? Prince many more hits and interesting songs that did not make my list. This is not a greatest hits list, just a group of songs that I enjoyed and represents Prince’s musical legacy to me. Reducing the list was challenging, but I am happy with the selections. Maybe there will be a second list of his later material.
“The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” (1994) Released from The Gold Experience album. There are several versions of the song, all of them stunning. My favorite Prince song is was a major hit around the world and his last Top Ten Billboard hit. The song is very seductive in the old soul hit style of the 1970s.
“Pop Life” (1985) From Around the World in a Day, released as a single and reach number seven in America. An easygoing groove, delicious melody and chorus. A bit of irresistible psychedelic pop.
“Raspberry Beret” (1985) Also from Around the World in a Day. A number two single in America, the song has that bouncy sound as Prince uses violin and cello prominently in the arrangement. Prince detours from the funk-rock of Purple Rain into a gentler amalgamation of folkish, psychedelic soul. Instead of the aggressiveness of the past album, this set has more of a gypsy-communal welcome feel, borrowing some of that swirling sound from the Sgt Pepper/Strawberry Fields era.
“1999” (1982) The first single from the album of the same name. This song was released several times and kept charting higher. The song is built on a synthesizer riff that keeps repeating and utilizes four different vocalists. People from all walks of life danced to this song.
“Little Red Corvette” (1983) From 1999, which gave Prince a wider audience. Catchy and visual, this song was hard to resist. Prince was using rock riffs and guitar solos with his funk grooves. His songs were about relationships, casual and serious, emotions that his audience was familiar. A top ten hit, Prince’s highest charting song to that point. MTV helped to propel this song across the charts.
“I Wanna Be Your Lover” (1979) An R&B groove with Prince singing in a falsetto. From his second album, Prince had found his sound. This single reached number 11 on Billboard Hot 100, meaning it was not just a Black hit, it was a mainstream hit.
“Controversy” (1981) From the album of the same name. The lyrics seem to be amused at speculation surrounding him. The sound on this album, spare by later albums, was perfecting his use of synthesized grooves, funk-based snappy hooks.
“Let’s Go Crazy” (1984) Opening track from Purple Rain, a number one hit. Inviting, up-tempo, driving and the kind of song that gets you on your feet. I had to pick between this song and “Delirious” which has similarities to “Let’s Go Crazy.”
“I Would Die 4 U” (1984) Whether this was intended as a deeply religious song or not, it certainly struck a chord with fans. Upbeat and pulsating, the phrasing of the chorus hammers at you. A top ten song on Billboard. Also from Purple Rain.
“The Beautiful Ones” (1984) Also from Purple Rain. A shimmering kaleidoscope of swirling sound, a love theme to Prince’s soon to be girlfriend. He performs all of the instruments on the song.
“Take Me With U” (1985) The final single from Purple Rain. It reached number 25 and features co-lead vocals by Apollonia. Built around a synth riff and driving beat.
“If I Was Your Girlfriend” (1987) A mid-tempo beat, an old school soul shuffle beat. Sign O the Times album. Prince was good at injecting classic soul grooves from yesterday into contemporary music. It is one thing to sample, but another to build a song around a style, giving it character and originality.
“I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man” (1987) From Sign O the Times. A super-fast song, more pop than funk, but it has those throwback R&B horns.