Graphic courtesy Paisley Park
EDITOR’S NOTE – While Victor would stop and correct me regarding his status and the title of this piece; never have I met an individual so perfectly qualified to speak and give advice on Prince and his body of work. To say that Vic is a ‘big fan’ of Prince would be akin to saying Leonardo DaVinci ‘sorta liked to draw.’ With that in mind, please enjoy the following tour through Prince’s Music.
The recent news of Prince’s entire Warner Bros discography finally being released to music streaming sites was huge to say the least. So many people can now go back and discover (and REdiscover) the musical genius of the iconic musician. But the next question to ask is…WHICH songs should I listen to?
Oh, sure…one can cheat and just log on and listen to any of the greatest hits compilations and hit repeat on ‘Kiss” “let’s Go Crazy” “Raspberry Beret” or even…dare I say it “Purple Rain?” And yes, they ARE probably his best known HITS. But I’ve often said, if you’re listening to only the hits, then you’re doing yourself an injustice.
Let me see if I can steer you in the direction of musical gems that you may NOT have heard, or at least give you a different perspective of listening to them. And of course we will start with the most obvious choice would be Purple Rain, but not just the song, the entire album.
While it may not be his “best” release in this reviewers opinion, it IS probably his best compiled.
The soundtrack to his debut semi-autographical movie flows along the path as the movie does. From the opening track of “Let’s Go Crazy’s” almost church-like feel…to closing strings of “Purple Rain,” it’s an emotional journey that places you (as best as he allows it) into the life of Prince, and his musical rise to super stardom.
Each track laid out masterfully. One doesn’t pick and choose the songs on this album…it’s worth starting from beginning and listening the whole way through, and then repeating the process.
One of Prince’s more underrated releases was another soundtrack, the alleged sequel to Purple Rain, called Graffiti Bridge. The movie was – to say the least – not very good. But the music is absolutely genius.
He performed half the songs on the album, and wrote songs from some of the co-stars that reads like a legendary concert in the making: Mavis Staples, The Time, Tevin Campbell and George Clinton.
The recommended track from this release are “The Question of U,” a song that asks what is the answer to the question of you; a mix of blues and middle eastern accents in a slow, sexy burning tune. The other would be “Joy in Repetition,” a song that paints a picture of a lonely man, meeting his soul mate in a smoky jazz club, and the sublime ideal of finding something you were never even really looking for. Nirvana in a song.
We move on to Prince’s second release for Warner Brothers and add the tracks “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad” and “ I Wanna Be Your Lover” to our playlist. Both songs are a mix of disco, rock, funk and souls, something we would hear a lot of from Prince thru out his career…and expect.
They sound as fresh today as they did back in 1978. Even more remarkable is the fact that, early on, Prince plays all his instruments. Just knowing this as you take a listen to these tracks (including the blistering solo at the end of “Why You Wanna treat Me So Bad”) is mind blowing in-and-of itself.
Now, lets journey to the year 1980 and Prince’s most “grown up” album at this point, Dirty Mind. Here we can see more adult themes emerging. Not adult in the sense of naught or dirty – although “Head” and “sister” have no problems claiming those labels – but more in the sense of grown up, with Prince exploring a new level of writing and presentation.
Recommended are “When you Were Mine” and “Uptown.” The first about a lover who misses a past romance, but realizing that things are better off, and he in fact loves her MORE now that she’s gone.
Cyndi Lauper cover this song on her debut album She’s So Unusual and did it much justice. The second song is a simple in-yer-face rock/funk track about growing up in Minneapolis and hanging out uptown. The night life, the music, the party scene…this is why Prince is who he is…
If you added any and all tracks from his 1985 release Around the World in a Day release, you would be giving yourself a treat. This is the follow up to Purple Rain and is so much more different in its musical style than the previous rock-styling.
In fact, most fan compare it to *gasp* the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper album. And to be fair, it is in a sense. Prince took a very experimental risk in releasing this immediately after “Purple Rain’s” success.
Each track different than the other…and the entire release so unique in its own right. “Pop Life” in its double echo effect, “Tambourine” an ode to a woman’s…musical instrument. “Paisley Park” an ode to finding happiness and joy from within.
To go further, with “Pop Life’s” double-time echo vocals and easy groove is achieved with a smooth bass guitar and piano embellishments. A drum machine provides handclaps to make the song danceable. The lyrics offering a a personal reflection for the listener as as to what exactly makes one happy.
If one feels the need to delve deep into true hidden gems on what’s available on the streaming sites, (Remember, most of what out now is roughly his Warner Brothers catalog and most of his later releases are NOT yet available…c’mon…Gold Experience!) then take a listen to The Hits and the B Sides and avoid the hits, and listen to the b-sides.
It’s hard to imagine why most of THESE tracks were never really given a proper release…the most highly agreed about song on the list is 17 DAYS. Many fans would argue it is quite possibly his best song ever written.
Other tracks worth a listen are “Hello” a sly response to critics of his NOT appearing on the “We Are The World” single, even though he DID give a song “For The Tears In UR Eyes”, which is also on this list. “Erotic City,” a P-Funk throwback, “She’s Always In My Hair”, an ode to the one that, no matter the situation Prince is in SHE is always there, in his hair as it would be.
One of the last suggestions would be, coincidentally enough, one of Prince’s last releases: Art Official Age. And here, I will offer that one should listen to the album in its entirety.
Because Prince passed shortly after its release, it almost seems prophetic in what he was saying…transcending into a new and different life, a higher level of existence. The stand out favorite here is a song called “This Could Be Us.”
In many ways finally having Prince’s music available online will spark new interest into the icon, and hopefully will make much of the rumored VAULT available, so new generations of fans can appreciate him, and his writing.