Friday, 22 April 2016

My Top Ten Prince Songs

U turn on the telly and every other story
Is tellin' U somebody died
I don't know what's going on now, but it's got to stop.

His name was Prince, and he was funky. He was also amazing at rock, soul, rap... hell, he never recorded a country album to my knowledge, but I'm sure he could have turned his hand to it. (Considering there are more unreleased Prince albums than ones that actually saw the light of day - and there's 40+ of those, chances are there was a country record in there somewhere.*) We may have just lost the most versatile and prolific musical artist not just of his generation, but of any generation... and after Bowie, that's a real kick in the balls.

I've been a Prince fan since the early 80s, so 30+ years of listening to his music... and while I won't claim to have followed his 21st Century output as slavishly as I did his earlier work, there had definitely been signs over the last few years of a return to greatness, with some excellent tracks to be found on albums like Planet Earth, Lotusflow3r and last year's Art Official Age.

So I knew this was going to be a hard post to compile. Because when you start to think about all the great songs in Prince's back catalogue - hits, misses and obscure album gems - it becomes impossible to narrow a list of favourites down to just 10. But we do what we can in difficult times.

In respect to his Purpleness, and taking into account his intense dislike of the way his music was shared online, I'm not linking to any of the songs as I usually do. You'll know most of them anyway.

Bowie and Prince in the same year? I'm getting really worried about Morrissey now...

(*Oh, wait, go check out You're My Love by Kenny Rogers... turns out Prince wrote it under the pseudonym Joey Coco... and it wasn't the only country song written under that moniker.)

10. 1999

He stole the tune (a bit) from Monday Monday by The Mamas & The Papas... and then used it again in writing Manic Monday for The Bangles. He even gave Phil Collins the inspiration for Sussudio. But he was dreaming when he wrote it, so sue him if he goes too fast...
Life is just a party
And party's weren't meant to last...
9. Alphabet St.
That was my first reaction when I heard the news too. 

What makes this song unique amongst Prince's prodigious repertoire is that it must surely be one of the only songs he ever wrote where he wasn't up for it...
Excuuuuuuuuse me.
I don't mean to be rude.
I guess tonight, I'm just not...
I'm just not in the mood.
So if you don't mind...
I would like to... 
Then again, I don't think he's talking about Eastenders.

8. Bob George

One of the first to respond to Prince's death was Spike Lee, who said, "Prince Was A Funny Cat. Great Sense Of Humour", and Bob George proves that more than any other song I can think of. Here, Prince takes on the identity of a foul-mouthed, gun-toting asshole who murders a woman and slags Prince off for being "that skinny mother-fucker with the high voice" while also mocking his former manager Bob Cavallo. Many believe it was Prince's reaction to the violence and misogyny prevalent in much rap music at the time, but it's also hilarious, from the slowed down vocal which gives his voice real comedy-menace to the bit where he calls up one of Prince's most critics of the time, author Nelson George, and threatens to "kick your ass... twice!"

7. Purple Rain

Eight minutes and 40 seconds of pure Hendrix-tinged soul. Guns 'n' Roses would base two whole albums on this song, and yet they called that hard rock. (If you don't believe me, listen to this, then pick a random track from Use Your Illusion Volumes 1 or 2.) And you know what? For all the 80s synths and echoey drum machines - unlike so many other songs of that era, this doesn't sound at all dated. Plus, the version released on record was actually recorded live at a benefit concert for the Minnesota Dance Theatre. He chucked a few overdubs onto the recording and cleaned it up a bit... but you'd never know.

6. Raspberry Beret

Arguably the greatest pure pop song Prince ever wrote, this is surely his Summertime Blues. Although it's hard to imagine a teenage Prince working part-time in the 5 'n' Dime, the rest of the lyrics could well be the true story of young Prince's sexual awakening. Plus, this is the song that gave Ian Broudie his band name when he misheard the lyrics "the thunder drowns out what the lightning sees". What else do you need?

5. Gett Off

My favourite Prince album - against stiff competition from Sign 'O' The Times and Purple Rain - is 1991's Diamonds & Pearls. I think one of the reasons I loved it so much at the time was that the charts were dying in the early 90s. There was so much over-produced dross out there (this was before grunge, Britpop, anything else of import that happened in that decade) and I was 19, for god's sake! I wanted something to get down to! And then I heard Gett Off. From that opening scream, followed by the bit where he says "club mix" so it sounds like "fuck me", he had me. And then he went on to deliver his muckiest single to date...
Something about a little box
With a mirror and a tongue inside...
...what can I say, I was 19 and gagging for it. Prince understood that. Sadly, this was the most action I got that year: but, damn, it was better than nothing.

4. When Doves Cry

Listen to that intro - Jimi would be proud. On top of everything else he did so well, Prince played the guitar like a maniac. I wasn't a big fan of the latest Mad Max film, but I did love the guy with the flaming guitar. Because that, surely, was based on Prince...

Why do we scream at each other? 
This is what it sounds like when doves cry...
3. U Got The Look

The first Prince song I ever bought was the 7 inch of this storming duet (with Sheena f-king Easton... who else in the world could have made Sheena Easton cool?) from Sign 'O' The Times. I was 15, and I thought Prince must surely be the king of chat-up lines...
Your face is jamming
Your body's heck-a-slamming
If love is good
Let's get to ramming
And they played that on the radio, and nobody batted an eyelid. Because it was Prince.

You know, listening back now, I think this is Prince's answer to Paradise By The Dashboard Light. (Maybe it's just the baseball metaphors.) The only difference being that Prince, unlike Meat 'n' Jim, didn't have to promise the earth to get his end away. Because he was Prince.

2. Sign 'O' The Times

It's easy to forget that Prince could - and did - write many songs that weren't just about getting off. I've studied the lyrics to Sign 'O' The Times with my GCSE English students as a lesson in the use of emotive language in pop songs, and it's no wonder that it's the song people automatically reach for when they're trying to prove his worth as a serious artist. But as with Bowie, immediately after his death, these lyrics take on a whole new significance... 
It's silly, no?
When a rocket blows
And everybody still wants 2 fly
Some say a man ain't happy, truly
Until a man truly dies
Oh why? Oh why?

Sign O the Times
1. Let's Go Crazy

Is it possible to choose a favourite Prince song? Probably not. But today, under these circumstances, this is the one I came up with. And here's why...
Dearly beloved
We are gathered here today
2 get through this thing called life

Electric word life:
It means forever and that's a mighty long time
But I'm here 2 tell u
There's something else:
The afterworld

A world of never ending happiness
U can always see the sun, day or night

So when u call up that shrink in Beverly Hills
U know the one - Dr Everything'll Be Alright
Instead of asking him how much of your time is left
Ask him how much of your mind, baby

'Cuz in this life
Things are much harder than in the afterworld
In this life
You're on your own

And if de-elevator tries 2 bring u down
Go crazy - punch a higher floor!

OK, so I put together a list... and now I'm going to hit 'Publish' and walk away. Because this was truly an impossible task, and if I start thinking about it anymore I'm going to want to include Diamonds & Pearls, Kiss, Peach, Batdance, Pope, Girls and Boys, Anotherloverholeinthehead, Little Red Corvette, Come, I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man, Gold, 7, Guitar, Partyman, New Power Generation, Controversry and three dozen others.

You think you can do better? Be my guest.

Good night, sweet Prince...


  1. Please please don't even think of morrissey not being here. This is a brilliant list. Well done.

    1. Thanks, Mark. Moz is the last person I want to see join Prince & Bowie... but I guess all those years as a Morrissey fan have conditioned me towards pessimism.

  2. Nicely done Rol. What a catalogue to choose from. I really don't know where I'd start.

    1. Thanks, Swede. If I did it again tomorrow, the list would probably be different.

  3. That came out quick, are you like the press and hold a obituary type list ready just in case?! If you do will you delete them NOW, you could actually be the root cause of this!

    Anyhoo, When Doves Cry has always been my favourite. His death actually lead me to doing a facebook stalk of an old boyfriend that introduced me to Prince. I feel positively ashamed of myself.

    So who is the money on for the next 1980s best loved? Blondie?

    1. No! Not Blondie! Why take Blondie when Elton John and Rod Stewart still walk the Earth unscathed?

    2. I'm really not here to start a deadpool... unlike a lot of the internet at this moment!

      And no, K, I don't have these prepared in advance. I just happened to have a rare free couple of hours today. Normally it would have taken me longer to respond.

    3. I have tickets to see both Rob Stewart and Elton John this year, I was sort of hoping I might get to see them (I have a sordid addiction to waving lighters (mobile phone light) at ballads)

    4. In that case, I'll have a chat with God and see if I can talk him into sparing Elton John, as he has at least made some good records, even if he does act like a giant baby having a temper tantrum. Unfortunately, Rod Stewart has no redeeming qualities and has to go. Sorry.

    5. Maggie May was all right. Plus, Rod just recorded a song called Batman Superman Spider-Man (although obviously he got the order wrong) so let's give him credit for that.

  4. Good list (although, being a couple of years older than you, I remember Sheena Easton's pop career a bit too well, which has always made me think 'U Got the Look' is worse than it probably is). Like you, I was a teenager in the '80s and a Prince fan, so this loss seems bigger to me than the death of Bowie, but it's hard to think of two more important, genuinely great artists. What a horrible annus it's been so far!

    Anyway, since you asked and since I don't have a blog of my own, here's my top 10:

    1. Take Me With U
    2. Alphabet St
    3. 1999
    4. When Doves Cry
    5. Kiss
    6. Raspberry Beret
    7. Purple Rain
    8. I Feel for You
    9. Let's Go Crazy
    10. When You Were Mine

    1. Just listening to Take Me With You now. Another classic!

    2. Not sure why I like that one so much but it's always been my favourite Prince song.

  5. Top ten list. I'm going to add Nothing Compares To You...Sinead 'owns' it now, but...

    1. I considered doing another list of the great songs he "gave away", and that would be pretty high up.

  6. Would have coloured this purple, but Blogger won't let me use the necessary HTML tags...

    You've made a good fist of this, Rol, as usual. I agree with your 1 and 2, would have had Gett Off at 3 and probably would have found space somewhere for Cream. But what to omit?

    And Reaper - don't even think about Moz...

    1. Glad to hear you appreciate Gett Off as much as me, Martin. It's not an obvious contender when lined up against some of the more famous songs, but it still sounds amazing to me.

  7. Nice tribute. Let's Go Crazy will never be quite the same for me again, since he actually died in an elevator.
    One of my favorites is the haunting Prince ballad Sometimes It Snows In April ( and that song has taken on a whole other meaning too after his death.

    1. Indeed... and it snowed today where I live - perhaps in tribute.


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