The world is set a reel with Thursday’s sad news of the untimely passing of Prince. Already a living legend, his death has forced the world to review his far reaching impact. Here was an artist or as he was call for a time “The Artist” who had 30 studio albums to his credit, every musical award and accolade you could imagine and was still breaking ground in his fourth decade in the music business. He produced such a wide array of music that there is something out there for every listener, from gospel tinged confessions to some of the most titillating erotica ever put on tape.
He was always a force of nature who simply refused to be ignored. He created the “Minneapolis Sound” and has ever been the innovator in fusing the genres of R&B, Rock, Soul, Funk, Hip-hop, Disco, Psychedelic, Jazz and Pop. Considering the sheer number of albums he released it is probably a forlorn hope to get a top ten list of his albums correct but without further ado I give you my take on his top ten albums.
10: Lovesexy (1989)
The provocative cover of Prince once again tastefully naked sent some retailers to a brown covering but the album was a reflection of Prince’s current ruminations with themes that dealt with positivity, self improvement, spirituality and God. It was his least commercially successful but most insightful album. It provided the most clear cut view of Prince’s mindspace during this period. The album featured songs such as “Alphabet St., Glam Slam and I Wish U Heaven”.
9: Hit and Run; Phase I (2015)
His penultimate release produced with Joshua Welton. A co production at this stage in his career was a departure from the usual and made it all the more interesting. The album in many ways was noteworthy for its marked return to sounds reminiscent to the “Purple Rain” and “1999” Prince sonic eras. In contrast to those releases “Hit and Run” had a more universal outlook with an edgy bite. The album featured such stand out songs as “Million $ Show”, “This Could B Us”, “HardrockLover” and the bittersweet “June”. Knowing that this release represents some of the final songs released during his lifetime gives the album a special weight.
8: Diamonds and Pearls (1991)
This was the first album that featured Prince’s new back up band The New Power Generation. This release displayed a hybrid styling which was saying a lot for a songwriter known for his mastery at amalgamating genres. It was an album with delectable combinations of Funk, Pop, and Rock presented as only Prince could deliver. Some of the memorable songs off this disc were, “Diamonds and Pearls”, the unforgettable “Cream”, the leave it all on the floor funk of “Gett Off: and “Money Don’t Matter Tonight”.
7: Controversy (1981)
Controversy was everything the title suggested. Prince on the album attempted to use propulsive funk to accompany his thoughts on religion, work, nuclear war and the political controversy at the time Abscam. He married New Wave with Funk all the while indicating what he had in store for his next albums. He was still better at describing bedroom antics than at explaining politics but the album was arresting in many ways. It was leaving clues as to the greatness that was just around the corner and features great cuts such as ; “Sexuality, Controversy, Do Me Baby, Private Joy, and Jack U Off”.
6: Dirty Minds” (1980)
The album cover alone made the album memorable for its ability to make a brothel madam blush. “Dirty Minds” was one of the first times Prince would audacious interweave Funk, New Wave, R&B and Pop. It was fueled by smirking smoky sexuality and Prince’s ever present desire for attention. It was equal parts breathtaking and visionary. Just some of the stellar songs on the disc were “Uptown, Dirty Minds, Head and When You Were Mine.”
5: Sign of the Times (1987)
The double album was the first release after the departure of The Revolution. On the release Prince stepped back into funk after his journey through psychedelic infused tunes. He did not abandon the pop, electronica and rock he utilized in the past but presented another refreshing aspect of those genres on this outing. Standouts on this release are; the gritty “Sign of the Times”, “If I Was Your Girlfriend”, his collaboration with Sheena Easton “U Got the Look”, the moving “The Cross” and “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man”.
4: Prince (1979)
His eponymous second release was more diverse than his debut “For You” and was well received both critically and commercially. The album is noteworthy for displaying the development he had attained with his sophomore release. The songs showed a distinct growth and maturity from the debut. There are also some already legendary songs on this album; “ I Wanna be Your Lover”, “Why do You Treat Me So Bad”, “Sexy Dancer” and the outstanding “ I Feel for You” which Chaka Khan would later cover in 1984 attaining serious chart success and Prince would win a 1985 Grammy Award for Best R&B as songwriter.
3: Around the World In a Day (1985)
This album lists high for me because of Prince having the stones to turn from unforgettable sounds of his blockbuster album “Purple Rain”. He instead of taking the easy way out embraced Psychedelica not only in his music but in the visuals. A brave move when he could have simply turned out “Purple Rain” version 2.0. It was a highwire feat that only continued to solidify his popularity and household recognition. It is almost impossible to rid oneself of the musical earworm that is “Raspberry Beret”, other memorable songs on the release were “Poplife, Paisley Park and America”.
2: 1999 (1982)
In a brash move Prince released “1999” as a double album. It is his second best selling album of all time. It is the first album to feature The Revolution and was the forerunner to “Purple Rain”, sending out the signals that something pretty special was going on at Paisley Park Studios. It is without a doubt Prince’s most influential album and where we see the first true revelation of his still then evolving “Minneapolis Sound”. It was the first incarnation of his successful blend of R&B, Pop, New Wave, Rock and Funk. This sound would go on to influence Electro, House, Techno and various other genres over the next 20 years if not into the uncharted future. The entire album is a marvel considering the vast selection of remarkable songs on four sides. Standouts are the timeless, “1999”, “Little Red Corvette”, “Delirious”, “Automatic”, and “Let’s Pretend We Are Married.”
1: Purple Rain (1984)
As if there could be any doubt, “Purple Rain” not only deserves number one because of its commercial success but it truly is the culmination of all of Prince’s hard work up to that point. It is a musical masterwork. The album was the soundtrack to 1984 with Prince grabbing the Zeitgeist of the time making it musically and stylistically his own, and in the process made himself a legend. It is filled throughout with ballads and rockers that never put a foot wrong. The “Soundtrack” album with the loosely biographical movie rocketed Prince out of quasi underground fame and into the music industry stratosphere. It is a blockbuster filled with hits from beginning to end; “When Doves Cry, Let Go Crazy, Baby I’m a Star, I Would Die for You, and Purple Rain” were married to visuals that ran on MTV 24/7 imprinting themselves into the brains of youth throughout the world.
Sadly the height challenged man from Minnesota with the incandescent musical mind has left us, but what a discography he has left behind. He is gone too soon and there is the lingering question of what he could have created given more time. Surely the vaults at Paisley Park will divulge copious posthumous content that will bring comfort to fans for a long time to come. As what we have truly lost sinks in we know Prince’s race is run, safe home to his royal purple majesty, all hail and sweet dreams dear Prince.