I Feel For You (Prince, 1979). Prince made a splash by posing in what appears to be a naked fashion, on his album cover. He had the 70s feathered hair, a mustache, and had not yet taken on the effeminate ambiguous sexuality that would later become the hallmark of his fame. No, I Feel For You, is a finger-snapping boogie tune that makes you want to shuck your neck. It was actually popularized by Chaka Kahn but it’s ripe for a modern cover by a hip new band.
Head (Dirty Mind, 1980). By 1980, Prince had achieved sufficient cool to delve fully into a neo-funk style, and was not shy at all about provoking conservatives with his song-titles or lyrics. He wasn’t naked on the cover this time – he wore a strange modern-renaissance style jacket with enormous shoulder pads for which he would become famous, a bare chest, and a pair of briefs. The new album rocked the music scene with songs like Dirty Mind, Do It All Night, and the shocking but irresistible Head. Head is a naughty song; it titillates, makes you narrow your eyes, and eventually sing along.
1999 (1999, 1982). 1999 has come and gone. The millennium has past, and so have the electronic dance sounds of the 1980s when this song was made. Yet, 1999 still remains one of the most popular New Years Eve party songs ever. Explain that. It might have to do with the boisterous ‘put your hands in the air’ quality of the tune. Perhaps it’s the inherent dance-ability. Surely, it’s not the clever lyrics. “I’ve got a lion in my pocket and baby he’s ready to roar” is not exactly the stuff of poems. But there is an abandon to this song that is contagious, no matter what year it is.
Let’s Go Crazy (Purple Rain, 1984). By 1984, Prince was already starting to become a pop culture icon – just when he decided to take shots at pop culture. Let’s Go Crazy slyly mocks religion and psychology, proclaiming, “‘Cuz in this life, Things are much harder than in the afterworld, In this life, You’re on your own.” It even starts out with some church organ music before melding into the driving dance beat. Shake, kick, and flail – this is one of those kinds of songs. It was in this album, which accompanied a semi-biographical movie, that Prince’s fame would start to get ahead of him, and his association with the color purple would cement in the public eye.
When the Doves Cry (Purple Rain, 1984). When this song came out in 1984, there was nothing like it. More than twenty years later, there’s still nothing like it. Sometimes, when you’re listening to Prince, you can say that sounds like James Brown or this sounds like George Clinton. When the Doves Cry sounds like Prince and no one else. A strange stuttering percussion, paired with wild whining guitar riffs and a distorted buzzing effect made for one of the most unusual songs in pop history, not to mention Prince’s repertoire. This song is dated, mostly because when you hear it, it’s hard not to remember what you were doing when it was popular. It’s that distinctive. Much has been made of the lyrics and how they tie into Prince’s troubled upbringing, but they aren’t the most poetic of his career. They are, however, sung with considerably more emotion than his other songs.
Purple Rain (Purple Rain, 1984). The title track, PurpleRain, is more of an anthem than anything else Prince performs. It is perhaps in this song, more than any other, that Prince established himself as a musical maestro, an eccentric genius that could not be boxed into any particular song or genre. The rock guitar riffs in Purple Rain give it the air of a power ballad, but Prince’s personal style makes it all his own. This is a melancholy song, grating and beautiful all at the same time, ending on an orchestral note, of all things. Purple Rain would mark the high point of Prince’s sales records, but it would be his later struggles that would define him as an artist and get him into the Hall of Fame.
Raspberry Beret (Around the World in a Day, 1985). Picking up on the strange orchestral note from Purple Rain, Prince’s next album went in a slightly new direction. Raspberry Beret was pure, bouncy pop. And thus, His Highness seemed to switch from purple to pink. Raspberry Beret is easy to dance to, easier to sing, and had every girl in my high school shopping for French hats in varying shades of red. It didn’t advance Prince’s reputation for mastery, but it did show that he had more versatility than previously understood.
Kiss (Parade, 1986).Kiss represents one of the funkiest modern songs written, and even though it’s simple, it was a smash hit. Listeners bite their lower lips, gyrate their hips, and groove to the funky beat, singing, “U don’t have 2 be rich, 2 be my girl, U don’t have 2 be cool, 2 rule my world, there’s no particular sign I’m more compatible with, I just want your extra time and your . . . kiss.” (That Prince is such a visionary, he spoke AOL before the Internet.)
Sexy M.F. ((Symbol), 1992). Prince has always been a controversial figure, and his dispute with his record label was amongst the biggest controversies of his career. Since he was no longer able to legally use the name ‘Prince’ in performance, he defiantly changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol, a move that seemed crazy. As it turned out, crazy like a fox. Since nobody could pronounce the symbol he chose, or even print it easily in the newspaper, people started simply referring to him as “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince.” This kept his ability to use his stage-name alive and well, and even added to his mystique as he became more respected and known simply as “The Artist.” But before that would happen, he would issue the album that has no name. And one of the best songs on it, is Sexy M.F., which is really an abbreviation for a phrase I can’t print. This song absolutely screams old-school funk, complete with organs and brass. And has lots of words in it that you shouldn’t say.
Musicology (Musicology, 2004). Proving once and for all that he is truly modern funk royalty, Musicology drives forward with a sense of fun and irrepressible style. It’s impossible to sit still through this song, which is highly reminiscent of James Brown. It received critical acclaim, but met with bad timing. In 2004, with American soldiers on foreign soil, the mood wasn’t quite right for feel-good funk. That shouldn’t take away from acknowledging this song as a serious showcase for Prince’s matured talent.