50 Prince Songs You Better Have…Or Else

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Posted May 27, 2016 by J Matthew Cobb in Features
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“Alphabet St”
(1988, #8 pop)
Writer: Prince
Producer: Prince
from the album Lovesexy

 

Combing together the family fun and the genderfluidity of Sly & the Family Stone’s “Everyday People” aesthetic, “Alphabet St,” the only smash hit off of Lovesexy, integrates hip urban sounds with trendy dance while celebrating the sounds of his past musical influences.  It’s also the first public indicator of the forthcoming band change of retiring The Revolution for the New Power Generation. Before Cat Glover comes into rap, Prince’s unapologetic detour into the growing district of hip-hop, they rave her on: “Cat, we need U 2 rap/Don’t give us slow ‘cause we know u know/New Power soul/gotta gotta gotta go!.” New Power Generation comes into play on Graffiti Bridge, Prince’s sequel to Purple Rain. Prince was ready to take his music to a whole ‘notha level.


 

“Musicology”
(2004)
Writer: Prince
Producer: Prince
from the album Musicology

 

Showcasing James Brown’s “Get on the good foot” funk and a swinging Toni! Tony! Tone! hip-hop rhythm, Prince pulls off an infectious anthem decked out with sax solos, throwback synths and elongated church organ chords. Signaling the comeback Prince needed for the new millennium, this title track from Musicology won Prince a Grammy for Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance.



“Partyman”

(1989, #18 pop)
Writer: Prince
Producer: Prince
from the album Batman

 

The unforgettable entrance song for Jack Nicholson’s Joker character in the 1989 Batman film proves to be the prominent highlight off of the Batman soundtrack. It’s brilliantly funky, dancey and shows off Prince’s newfound love of vocal pitch experimenting. It’s a slight bit higher than his regular voice, but not as androgynous as the vocal heard on “If I Were Your Girlfriend.”



“Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?”

(1979)
Writer: Prince
Producer: Prince
from the album Prince

 

Blessed with a soft rock glow and a made-for-radio R&B rhythm, “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?” was tailor-made for a crossover into rock territory. Towards the back of the track, Prince revs up a stellar guitar solo topped off with an insurmountable number of runs.  But the follow-up to “I Wanna Be Your Lover” failed to reach that audience, even missing the pop chart. It still managed to find a comfy spot on the R&B singles charts, reaching number 13.



“Pop Life”

(1985, #7 pop)
Writer: Prince
Producer: Prince
from the album Around the World in a Day

 

There’s a dreamy luminescence that comes with “Pop Life,” the second off of Around the World in a Day. Thanks to Shelia E’s out-front drums (doubled by drum machine claps), thumping bass lines and breezy girl backing vocals, the song was both a R&B and pop favorite. Its lyrics also grabbed the attention of listeners seeking for easy access to fame and fortune. “Everybody can’t be on top/But life it ain’t real funky unless it’s got that pop,” he sings. He continued the blunt conversation on “The Glamorous Life,” Shelia E’s first hit single.


“Sometimes It Snows in April”
(1986)
Producer: Prince
Writer: Prince, Wendy & Lisa
from the album Under the Cherry Moon

 

With its minimalist production, lullaby-like girl harmonies and an acoustic piano fluttering in the background, there’s something trance-like, mournful and motionless about the closing track off of Parade. It’s poignantly written, poetically describing the fragility of life (“Sometimes I wish life was never ending, and all good things, they say, never last”). It’s a solemn goodbye to a departed Tracy (a character in the film Under the Cherry Moon), but it would be used as a farewell to Prince after his own passing. D’Angelo, a Prince acolyte, could hardly get through the emotional ballad when performing it on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.


“Dance 4 Me”
(2009)
Writer: Prince
Producer: Prince
from the album MPLSound

 

If one needed proof that Prince still could get a hard on for reduplicating his signature old-school ‘80’s funk, “Dance 4 Me” was the perfect boner. It sounds as if it was abstracted from 1999 and classic The Time recording sessions. Once again featuring vocal-altered engineering and throwback Linn drum beats, Prince pulls off a monumental dance-funk track worthy of standing against anything from his golden era. Sadly, the mass packaging of the MPLSound disc with two other discs (Elixer, Lotusflower) in a digital age forced the single to fall through the cracks.


“Cool”
(1981, #90 pop)
Writer: Prince, Dez Dickerson
Producer: Morris Day, Prince (Jaime Starr)
from the album The Time

 

A slinky dancey party jam, “Cool” epitomized the world of Morris Day and The Time. They were probably Prince’s best studio experiment, becoming in essence what Prince could not be completely. Prince was best for being erratic, controversial, opinionated and musically diverse. The Time was always cool. Still, it’s so obvious that Prince’s hands are all over this. Even his voice is there. So are the contributions of The Revolution: Dez Dickerson and Lisa Coleman are present. The song goes on for ten long minutes on the album and was condensed to three for its single release. It stalled at number 90 on the pop charts, but managed to secure a Top Ten spot on both the R&B and dance charts.


“Darling Nikki”
(1984)
Producer: Prince
Writer: Prince
from the album Purple Rain

 

A rock-edged, synth-heavy ode to masturbation. And a creative mindbender for incorporating encoded messages on its closing seconds when done in backwards play (“Hello, how are you? Fine…’cause I know that the Lord is coming soon”). At the time, the sloppy racy track was a bold album track, one that grabbed the attention of Parents Music Resource Center founder Tipper Gore. She placed the song, along with fourteen other songs, on her Filthy Fifteen list. According to her group, these songs were the most risqué song selections on wax at the time; Prince’s “Darling Nikki” was the most profane. From the matter came the infamous Parental Advisory stickers. Although “Darling Nikki” never was released as a single, it proved to be a draw for rock and pop audiences. Beyonce, The Foo Fighters, Love Is All, Chum and other bands have all covered the track in subsequent years.


“The One U Wanna C”
(2007)
Writer: Prince
Producer: Prince
from the album Planet Earth

 

Dressed up in Rolling Stones fun, Prince returns to what always works inside his songwriting universe. Like a simmered down “1999” in a grown man’s world, this rock funk cut is peppered with ballsy guitar and fiery drumming by New Power Generation alum Michael Bland. It’s also proven to be the golden highlight off of Planet Earth.

NEXT: #40-31

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About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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