It’s been two years since the music world lost Prince. An artist who fully believed in creative control over his music, Prince did what he wanted, and his attitude was met with great respect and influenced many other musicians such as André 3000 and Frank Ocean. Rather than mourning his loss, let’s celebrate his music by presenting ten of his greatest songs.
“Let’s Go Crazy” from “Purple Rain” (1984)
You cannot kick off this list without including one of the most exciting and explosive openings to an album ever. An organ opens and Prince delivers a sermon about letting go of the stresses in life and losing yourself in the madness; we’re all going to die at some point so we might as well live while we can.
This track feels like Prince is hypnotizing you with his sermon and his presence, making it hard for you to resist. And then the thudding and dry drums pull further and further until the crunchin’ guitars and bombastic synths provoke you to get on the dance floor and sing along with him.
“Let’s Go Crazy” also displays how incredible of a guitarist Prince was. He often improvised with fire and passion, playing as if was the very last thing he would ever play, and destroying the competition around him.
Not a bad way to kick off this list eh?
“When Doves Cry” from “Purple Rain” (1984)
One of the greatest hit singles of the 1980s, “When Doves Cry,” is so recognizable because of its drum beat and synthesizer melody. Even if you didn’t know it was Prince, you have heard that synth melody somewhere at some point in your life.
This is one of Prince’s finest vocal performances; the passion is spine-chilling and it shows the presence Prince makes when he is at the microphone. The lyrics also take a peek into his background–his father was abusive and controlling over his mother–and how it seems to have an effect on him as he is doing the same thing to his lover.
That’s backed up by his tense vocals and intimidating drum beat that give you the same emotions when you sit down and analyze the song itself. That’s a great twist in my opinion; I love it when you have pop songs like this.
The 1980’s were a decade filled with twisted but great pop songs that leave you surprised when analyzed closely (See The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” or Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”). “When Doves Cry” is no exception.
“Purple Rain” from “Purple Rain” (1984)
To complete the trio of songs from the “Purple Rain” album, the epic title track that closes the album comes into play. “Purple Rain” has everything a power ballad needs: a soulful voice, love-related lyrics, an epic guitar solo, arena-sounding drums and the infectious chorus, all of which is done in the best way possible.
There is no holding back in this performance; this track gives the album a grand finale. It was created to have lighters held up and fireworks setting off at the end, giving listeners a bittersweet feeling as the song winds down to the very last note.
This song was the perfect way to end Prince’s appearance during halftime show of Super Bowl XLI. The lighting and atmosphere, his performance and the context behind it is testament to how amazing of a musician and performer he was.
How much more could I say about this iconic track? This is a song that speaks for itself when you listen to it.
“1999” from “1999” (1982)
“Don’t worry. I won’t hurt you. I only want you to have some fun,” says the robotic voice before the grand party of “1999” begins. Much like “Let’s Go Crazy,” “1999” encourages people to live their lives while nuclear war prompts the apocalypse and destroys everything–don’t be all doom and gloom about it; enjoy your life.
In an interview with Larry King, Prince said he wrote this after he and his band (the Revolution) watched a TV special about the year 1999 and what it could bring. He found it ironic that they were dreading that year despite their usual positive outlook. “I just wanted to write something that gave hope,” Prince said, “and what I find is people listen to it. And no matter where we are in the world, I always get the same type of response from them.”
The meaning of the lyrics is provided by the blaring synths, the grooving drum beat and the backing vocals from the others in the band. Thus creating the party atmosphere in a more controlled manner. It is more disco-like than rock-infused “Let Go Crazy.” Another classic from Prince that would become a breakout hit.
“Little Red Corvette” from “1999” (1982)
From one hit to another. “Little Red Corvette” received heavy rotation on MTV and made to the Billboard Top Ten. At the time this was a major success for Prince, and it brought him public attention.
Musically, what makes this song work is the great build up to the chorus, with soft vocals and synths that explode once you get there, making it exciting to listen to. On top of that, it’s hard to resist the adlibs in the backing vocals that make you feel like you’re part of the show.
This highly stimulating song brings metaphors of cars and lovemaking, showing Prince’s sensuality in his vocals and lyrics: “I guess I should’ve closed my eyes when you drove me to the place. Where your horses run free.”
It’s quite surprising how sexual the song is when you read and consider the metaphors being used. A clever move from Prince.
“Kiss” from “Parade” (1986)
One of the funkiest tracks on this list, “Kiss” begins with a guitar riff and moves into the foot-to-the-floor drum beat. This is certainly one the catchiest tracks in Prince’s catalog. I love the falsetto chorus that will be drilled into your head and the funk chords makes it a staple on the “Parade” album.
The song is about Prince wanting someone regardless of their appearance, someone who doesn’t follow the cliché love tropes, and someone who lets him to the work. “Kiss” is no stranger to showing the artist’s desire for love.
This was a third number one hit for Prince at the time (following “When Doves Cry” and “Let’s Go Crazy”) after his record label, Warner Bros. didn’t think this would be a hit single. This was crucial for Prince because the material after “Purple Rain” was not as successful. So this took some pressure off of the record company.
“Sometimes It Snows in April” from “Parade” (1986)
One of the best closing tracks in Prince’s catalog, “Sometimes It Snows in April” is a soft and inward looking ballad featured in the film “Under the Cherry Moon” (1986). The song tackles the idea of death and how it affects a person who lost someone.
“I used to cry for Tracy cause I want to see him again. But sometimes, sometimes life ain’t always the way” is very poignant because it shows that, despite our wanting for things to last forever, it never happens because life isn’t set up that way.
But there’s a bit of hope at the end the feeling that you’ll see them once more in the afterlife; you know that they’re now in a good place and you still have your memories of them.
To top it all off, this is a very minimalistic track musically. The fingerpicked guitars and the sparse piano melodies add to the introspection that the lyrics provide to the listeners. The song is a pleasant surprise when you think of other closing tracks in Prince’s discography, which are usually very grand (nothing wrong with those, by the way).
“If I Was Your Girlfriend” from “Sign O’ the Times” (1987)
A single off of “Sign O’ the Times,” “If I Was Your Girlfriend” sees Prince experiment with his alter ego, Camille. Camille was created by pitch shifting Prince’s voice up high to make it sound as though a female were singing. The voice is backed up by the heavy funky bass that drives the song forward.
The song is an intense narrative about a male asking his significant other if she would be willing to tell him things she tells her friends. There’s a sense of jealously and suspicion in the male lover as he considers that, despite his being male, he still might understand what his girlfriend goes through.
It’s worth noting that Prince played, wrote and produced all of the music for “Sign O’ the Times.” The Revolution disbanded and Prince decided to combine material from both his Camille project and the work of The Revolution written before their split.
This led to him creating probably his best album, and this track highlights how amazing “Sign O’ the Times” is. The multi-instrumental talents Prince had is shown proudly on this album.
“The Cross” from “Sign O’ the Times” (1987)
And here comes a deep cut from “Sign O’ the Times.” “The Cross” is a track with religiously imagery. The idea that despite our circumstances, good or bad, there is a greater being that will come down to save us in time.
That presence is built by a silent guitar riff that slowly erupts into an anthemic rock anthem. Every instrument is trying to make the Earth shatter, and Prince’s vocals get gruffer as the song progress. It climaxes with a choir-like refrain of “The Cross” as if you are ascending to the higher Heaven.
Prince always had this spiritual side of him, and “The Cross” is part of a long list of songs that tackle the ideas of spirituality and religion. Later in his life Prince was a Jehovah’s Witness and was often active in the faith.
But Prince created a sort of deity persona to the public. His style, attitude, musical taste and image gave people the impression that he saw himself as a God. And now after his passing, the presence is still felt and will continue to do so for generations.
Honorable Mentions: “Adore,” “I Could Never Take the Place Of Your Man,” “Sign O’ the Times,” “Take Me With U,” “Delirious,” “Sexy M.F.,” “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” “Mountains,” “Diamonds and Pearls,” and “Batdance”