This week marks the first anniversary of Prince’s death.
He was the greatest musician of my lifetime, definitely one of the most prolific songwriters of my lifetime and arguably one of the best. He was, unarguably, the greatest showman.
It still saddens me to know that he’s gone, that he passed alone like a junkie in an elevator, albeit an elevator at his home studio, Paisley Park. And of course, it saddens me that there’ll be no more new music written and no more shows.
But this isn’t a time for sadness. A life like Prince’s should be shared and celebrated, which is what I’d like to do here.
Prince would often punctuate his shows with medleys from his catalogue – an intro from this, a verse from that – stopping mid-song and saying (with his trademark mischevious smile) “I got too many hits”.
This post isn’t about the hits, though . This post is about those songs that never got played on the radio; songs that reach out to you because of a riff, a lyric, a memory or an attitude. These are some of my favourite Prince songs of all time. If you know them, kudos. If you don’t, you might just be in for a treat.
I’ve put the mp3’s into this article. Hopefully, the files all work OK.
Note to the sensitive: Prince was known for being, shall we say…. suggestive. You have been warned.
The whole song is a shining example of Prince’s trademark humour “They all hate me cause I’m beautiful” before moving into a super-funky, James Brown-esque jam. Prince provided all the vocals and 90% of the instruments, with just a drummer and saxophonist Maceo Parker adding parts to the song.
Play it with a smile.
“When it comes to perfume, if it’s on the shelf – I get it down, if there ain’t nobody around, I….. I smell myself”
Joy in Repetition
But it has a great soundtrack.
Joy in Repetition features a narrative, both spoken and sung, that builds and builds before a magnificently loose and dirty guitar solo over some grinding backing vocals. This song is a favourite of mine, aside from the building drama, because it’s a great example of both Prince’s creamy vocal arrangements, as well his rather amazing guitar chops.
This one’s great in the dark.
“These two words, a little bit behind the beat, I mean just enough to turn you on”
The Exodus Has Begun
This is the final song on an album by Prince’s band, the NPG. The album is called Exodus. Prince isn’t credited by name on the album but, naturally, he’s all over it.
You’ll hate this song on first listen. You’ll just think it’s weird with its modulated vocals and odd rhythms. Feel free to go over it a couple of times, though, and let it stick.
This is a protest song about artists’ rights, recorded under The NPG name with Prince going un-credited and on his own label, NPG Records. Prince’s contribution to the album is officially credited under the name Tora Tora. Whatever. Eccentric is as eccentric does.
This was recorded and released at the beginning of his dispute with Warner Brothers (the label with the rights to release music under his own name at that time). Prince subsequently quick-released four albums in two years with Warner Brothers in an attempt to get out of his contract quicker.
“Long live the new power! Generation after generation, soul will never die”
It’s nearly 7 minutes long and sounds best on a sofa with the curtains drawn.
“I think it’s ’bout time, that I got time, alone with you”
Violet The Organ Grinder
Dance like nobody’s watching. And laugh.
“I am Violet, the organ grinder, and I grind all the live-long day”
This is an outlier on this list in that it isn’t Prince singing and it isn’t even a Prince song. It’s a live recording from a Prince concert, however, with lead vocals performed by one of Prince’s support singers, Shelby Johnson.
This recording was captured on his Indigo Nights album, a special live release that came as an accompaniment to a book called 21 Nights. The recordings were taken from two of Prince’s after-shows in London.
Note: Prince and his band performed Love Is A Losing Game with Amy Winehouse at the same show that this recording is taken from.
Baby Love was originally recorded by a funk rock band called Mother’s Finest. Dance to it in your kitchen and get goosebumps when Shelby J reaches for it in the last verse.
“Sing it, mother!”
Released in 2007, Chelsea Rodgers goes back to that early feel but adds a lot more sound. It’s a duet with Shelby J sharing the lead vocals.
This is a great morning motivator. Play it loud.
“Chelsea Rodgers was a model, but she really rock n rolled”
Get on the Boat
Prince had a bit of a spiritual revival in his later years. He was a Jehova’s Witness and while he didn’t completely remove the relationship overtones from his songwriting, he did try to sanitise his work a little. He stopped performing fan favourites such as Gett Off and Darling Nikki in live shows, for example. Our loss.
Get On The Boat is a funk-spiritual dance song. It’s all energy, driven by a great drum track and some wicked horns. It also features his long-time collaborator, Shiela E, on percussion.
The song was released on an album that was seen by many as his return to commercial form, 2006’s “3121”.
“Everything in the darkness must come out into the light”
Those who have just a passing knowledge of Prince’s catalogue might think him to be an exploiter of women. Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, Prince was openly sexual in his art and wrote plenty of suggestive songs but he exalted women, celebrated them, and always portrayed them as empowered people.
Prince demanded the best from his bands and from Wendy and Lisa in The Revolution to the all-female 3rd Eye Girl that he recorded some of his final works with, Prince consistently relied on his female co-creators in the making of his art. His albums and production credits include work with Sheila E, Vanity 6, Sheena Easton, Rosie Gains, Sheryl Crow, Shelby J and many more. He wrote hit songs for Martika, Chaka Khan, The Bangles and Sinead O’Connor.
Call it the conviction of a shorter-than-most black man from America, full of confidence in his belief that everyone should make good music, regardless of colour, size or gender.
P Control is a song about Prince’s type of woman – educated, powerful and in control. It’s cheeky, funky and damn good.
“You need a brother that respects your name, now say it – Pussy Control”
The Sacrifice of Victor
The Sacrifice of Victor is a cryptic tale about Prince’s life and the heady times he grew up in. Victor is the name of the central character in the song, but it’s more of an outcome than an actual name. He’s been challenged by life and circumstance, he’s sacrificed and he’s come through everything as a victor. Joy is around the corner.
For those who don’t want to engage in the lyrical content, it’s also one hell of a funky jam that builds and builds and builds.
“When I reach my destination my name will be Victor”
Bonus Track – The Morning Papers
They could contemplate the entire universe or just one star