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In the summer of 1984, I remember hearing “When Doves Cry” for the first time, and being absolutely blown away. It was one of those rare moments when a piece of art affects you to the point where you don’t just want to, but need to, find out more about it because you are moved to the point of deliriousness. No bass line, that haunting voice, that very cool keyboard riff – wow, it was really like nothing I had heard ever before. So, I ran out and purchased the album Purple Rain and proceeded to see the film seven times at the theater.
I had been familiar with Prince peripherally and had heard and enjoyed “1999,” “Delirious” and “Little Red Corvette”. Those songs were excellent, but didn’t strike me like the material on Purple Rain. So, as I often do, when an artist enters my consciousness, I obsess and go backwards to collect their previous material, and then grab the new stuff as it comes along. Prince is an artist whose work has mesmerized me to the point that, if he recorded himself farting, I would probably purchase it.
That said, the following is a collection of music that does not feature the purple one farting, but are songs from his prolific output that you might not be as familiar with, but are absolutely worth seeking. The list was compiled by eliminating any songs that were included on the three-disc greatest hits package released in 1993 as Hits/B-Sides, informally recognized as Clean, Dirty and B-Sides. His first two records, 1978’s For You, and 1979’s Prince, are decent efforts, but the best material are the songs from those releases that were included on the Hits package. As challenging as it is to sift through his catalogue, this list of deep cuts is a three disc collection containing slightly less than 80 minutes of music on each. They are arranged chronologically by release date. I know this is a lot, but an artist with this large of a catalogue needs this many tracks to fully discover the depth of his work. Maybe you can fire up that old reel- to-reel which could hold a ton of music. For you young kids out there, the reel-to-reel predates the 8-track, cassette and LP (you probably need to look those up too).
Disc 1: In through the Out Door
“Party Up” – Dirty Mind
Four of the eight tracks on this 30+ minute release ended up on Hits. This album closer is a good old fashioned funk romp that will get your ass off the couch and dancing. An ode to having a good time, Prince establishes a funky bass line with plenty of funky guitar and keyboard fills. Hand claps, harmonies and a song-closing chant of “You’re going to have to fight your own damn war, cuz we don’t wanna fight no more,” are also included at absolutely no extra cost.
“Ronnie, Talk to Russia” – Controversy
Who said all Prince writes about is sex and God? Well, he pretty much does, but this song, highlighting his concerns during the Reagan era, is a fun ‘60s style pop ditty with some distorted guitar work thrown in for good measure. Apparently the cold war issues were scaring the little purple fella. Clocking in at 1:58, it is short, sweet and to the point.
“Jack U Off” – Controversy
A fun little ditty about heavy petting and orgasms. This is similar in sound and structure to “Ronnie, Talk to Russia” but delivered in a gleefully unashamed manner. The very cool guitar work in the middle section sounds like a cross between Hendrix and Chuck Berry, which really makes the track special.
“Automatic” – 1999
This nine-minute track features some fantastic slap bass work, accompanied by the robotic harmonization by Wendy Coleman and Jill Jones of “A-U-T-O-matic”. The drum machine is signature 1999-era work, and the keyboards are richly seductive. The lyrics and delivery border on creepy, in that it sounds a lot like obsession and less like love.
“Lady Cab Driver” – 1999
This eight minute-plus song captures the essence of Prince. There is a great danceable drum machine beat (which is accented by some live drum work), a great funky bass line, some terrific harmonized vocals and, of course, his obsession with sex, in which the singer of the song has sex with the subject and narrates as to what each and every thrust represents. The song has a nasty guitar solo, synthesizers disguised as woodwinds, and some great quick guitar riffing a la Chic.
“Free” – 1999
Next to a delightfully mellow but perky piano riff, Prince boldly proclaims, “Don’t cry unless you’re happy, don’t smile unless you’re blue / Don’t ever let that lonely monster take control of U.” As ridiculous as that sounds, it is absolutely perfect within the context of the music.
“Computer Blue” – Purple Rain
That entire album ended up in the consciousness of all high school and college students from that era. Nearly the entire album got play on the radio but “Computer Blue” is a cool little track that didn’t get the attention that all the other cuts did.
“Is the water warm enough?”
“Shall we begin?”
I’m not exactly sure what was going on, but my 17-year-old mind had an idea.
“America” – Around the World in a Day
After blasting through to icon status with Purple Rain, Prince follows his own muse and creates an album of songs that are almost anti-pop. Sure, “Raspberry Beret” and “Pop Life” were hits, but everything else on it probably pissed off those looking for another “Let’s Go Crazy.” On this track, which false-starts four or five times, is another blast on the political status of the country.
“The Ladder” – Around the World in a Day
Prince examines spirituality through a fairy tale. The track features some pretty intense and impassioned singing and some outstanding saxophone work. Can I get an “Amen” from somebody?
“Mountains” – Parade
“Under the Cherry Moon”was a dreadful film, but this album, like its predecessor, is full of some really interesting stuff if you are looking for something other than a traditional “hit.” “Mountains” is fully produced with orchestration, tons of harmony vocals, horns and a great rolling melody (that sounds a bit like a friendly locomotive rolling at you). It was released as a single, but didn’t chart nearly as well as the monster hit “Kiss.” The campy version by Tom Jones with the Art of Noise is also a gem.
“Sometimes It Snows in April” – Parade
Absolutely beautiful and eloquently arranged. A piano and acoustic guitar and Prince’s fantastic vocal carry the majority of this haunting six minute-plus track. By stripping out the sheen, this ballad is one of his best.
“Starfish and Coffee” – Sign of the Times
It’s a nursery rhyme, Prince style. “Starfish and coffee / Maple syrup and jam / Butterscotch clouds/a tangerine / And a side order of ham / If U set your mind free, honey / Maybe you'd understand / Starfish and coffee / Maple syrup and jam.” It’s one of those songs that is simple, fun and will stay in your head for days after, even when you want it out.
“Slow Love” – Sign of the Times
A wonderful string arrangement accompanies some perfectly restrained smooth vocals. It is beautifully laid back and an absolutely stellar slow jam. Signature saxophone work by Eric Leeds is showcased throughout.
“Strange Relationship” – Sign of The Times
Camille, one of Prince’s many aliases and alter egos, sings this song, which perfectly describes when you and a significant other can’t be together anymore, but you can’t let it go. The Camille voice is the Prince-on-helium voice.
“It’s Gonna Be a Beautiful Night” – Sign of the Times
About nine minutes that truly captures the magic of the Prince live performance. This song is credited as “Recorded Live in Paris by Prince & the Revolution.” I believe that the “Transmississippirap” (as it is credited on the record) by Sheila E. is an overdub, but I could never find confirmation of that fact.
Disc 2 - Now move your big ass 'round this way/So I can work on that zipper, baby
“Anna Stasia” – Lovesexy
Everyone knows that Prince was going to release the “Black Album” but changed his mind, feeling it was too vulgar and mean-spirited, and instead released this record. One of the problems with the initial release on compact disc is that it was one giant track, with the songs running right into each other without any ability to simply forward to the track. This song has such an easy feel even though it builds to a joyously funky gospel conclusion.
“I Wish You Heaven” – Lovesexy
Much like “Anna Stasia”, there is a lush ‘80s production sheen on this track. Again, his spiritual rapture is shining through. There is a tiny touch of psychedelica in the arrangement. You can find it at the 35:04 mark on the original compact disc release.
“The Arms of Orion” – Batman
This entire album is absolutely tremendous, as the Purple One uses the Dark Knight to ignite his muse. Prince just gets down to writing really hooky funky pop songs and there is no experimentation to be found on the record. “Arms” is a deliciously schmaltzy ballad with Ms. Sugar Walls, Sheena Easton. The arrangement is a simple but elegant one featuring keyboards and some percussion, with the emphasis placed on those two voices.
“Viki Waiting” – Batman
During “Viki Waiting,” Prince lets his inner comic out: “I told the joke about the woman who asked her lover, ‘Why is your organ so small? He replied, ‘I didn’t know I was playin’ in a cathedral.’” Oh, that Prince is such a card.
“Can’t Stop This Feeling I Got” – Graffiti Bridge
Holy horrible cinema, Batman! This is one of the worst movies ever made (giving “Under the Cherry Moon” and “Biodome” a run for their money), but the soundtrack is excellent. This opening track is a nod to that simple ‘50s keyboard riff that he funks up and brings into the ‘90s.
“Release It” – The Time, Graffiti Bridge
Because the film did so badly, I think this album of gems gets ignored. One of the great mysteries to me is why Morris Day didn’t become a bigger star. The Time did well for a while, but I thought after his breakthrough performance in Purple Rain he would have been a huge star. This funky track features some very busy and excellent drum work.
“Joy in Repetition” – Graffiti Bridge
There is a strange beatnik rhythm in which he delivers the lyrics to this brooding song, where the words “Soul Psychodelicide” are uttered. I’m not sure what they mean, but it sounds awfully cool. There is some inspired axe work throughout the track, reminding you that he is one badass little guitar player when he wants to be.
“Love Machine” – The Time featuring co-lead voice by Ellsa, Graffiti Bridge
This raunchy 3:34 minute track is an audio seduction performed by the two lead voices. Essentially, they are trying to figure out how to do each other, accompanied by a contagious little funky beat.
“The Latest Fashion” – The Time with Prince, Graffiti Bridge
In addition to the trade-off in vocals in a battle-of-the-bands kind of format between Morris and Prince, Candy Dulfer delivers some delicious saxophone.
“Live 4 Love” – Diamonds and Pearls
Prince really concentrated on making a record with a big sounding bottom end. The true find from this recording is the booming live drum sound of Michael Bland, who hits heavy and often. This gem is the last track on the disc, and Bland’s drums are the star.
“The Morning Papers” –
There is a wonderful smoothness to this track, and Prince sounds like he is having a gas leading the absolutely awesome band he put together to perform it. Prince started assembling the New Power Generation for Graffiti Bridge, but was solidified on Diamonds and Pearls.
“Blue Light” –
Prince flexes his reggae muscles on this track and again, like most of this album, sounds as if he is having the time of his life. Eric Leeds provides some fine, restrained saxophone work.
“The Sacrifice of Victor” –
The record concludes with this very busy track built on the monster drums of Michael Bland. Horns are everywhere. The Steeles, a gospel group from Minnesota, lend their beautiful voices to the song.
“Come” – Come
I find this track fascinating for how vulgar it is. This is an 11:13 celebration of body fluids, fucking and eating pussy. There is a portion of the song where you can hear him performing cunnilingus. The smooth jazzy feel to the horns and swinging drums turn up the bizarre factor.
“Loose” – Come
This has a Depeche Mode-on-steroids kind of feel. The drum track is fast, while the guitar shreds against some pretty bizarre synthesizer sounds.
Disc 3: I got the butter for your muffin
“Bob George” – The Black Album
Although this was recorded in 1988, Prince and Warner Brothers didn’t release it, putting out Lovesexy instead. It was bootlegged quite a bit and he finally released a limited number of copies in 1994. Screwing with his voice through effects and making it deeper, he really enjoys saying motherfucker and it sounds cool on this track. This is a weird album, and this track optimizes the weirdness.
“Rockhard in a Funky Place” – The Black Album
Camille is back on vocals for this one that features some inspired guitar shredding on top of the James Brown-esque horn sections.
“Endorphinmachine” – The Gold Experience
Lots of cowbell accompanies more shredding on the guitar, as this track is one of the most “rock” songs he ever produced.
“Hate U” – The Gold Experience
Prince sings the crap out of this breakup song in the best slow jam he produced since Batman’s “Scandalous,”
“Screams of Passion” – The Family, Girl 6 Soundtrack
This song was recorded for the 1985 self-titled (and only) album by the Family. The frustrating thing about the Family record is that it is impossible to find on compact disc, much like the Jill Jones and Mazarati discs that were produced by Prince. That Family disc also contained the original version of “Nothing Compares 2 U,” which later became a monster hit for Sinead O’Connor.
“I Like It There” – Chaos and Disorder
This whole record could nearly be on the Deep Cuts list because it was virtually ignored as the last of his contractual obligations for Warner Brothers. This album is very different than most everything else because it has such an organic feel. There doesn’t appear to be a lot of additional production involved, other than some layered vocals here and there. As is most of the record, this track is a straight ahead rock and roll song with blazing guitar work.
“Dinner with Delores” – Chaos and Disorder
An utterly smooth pop groove is laid down with that live band. The vocals are relaxed and absolutely on mark. This may be the most pleasant 2:46 that he has ever recorded.
“La La La, Means Love U” – Emancipation
The best cut from the three discs of music is a remake of a 1969 Delfonics song. That is ironic, considering this release was supposed to be his commercial re-birth after finally fulfilling his contract with Warner Brothers. His inspiration at being free (remember he wrote “slave” on his face for awhile) just didn’t translate to this set of music.
“Crystal Ball” – Crystal Ball
He dug back in his vaults and released three discs of music he had lying around, a fourth disc featuring his voice and mostly acoustic guitar called The Truth, and a fifth disc of orchestrated instrumentals. This lead track is funk at its most simple. Camille’s voice, a cool drum track, and some bass form most of this ten-minute track.
“Cloreen Baconskin” – Crystal Ball
Over 15 minutes of an absolutely infectious bass and drum groove that will get your ass moving. Prince tries on the Fred Sanford old man voice to guide that busy bass through to the other side. Absolutely fan-funk-tastic.
“Wasted Kisses” – New Power Soul
Prince hid this song at the end of the disc which is actually track 49. It is immediately preceded by 37 tracks of five-second chunks of silence, with the exception of track 48, which is 43 seconds of silence. This mellow jam is very cool.
“5 Women” – The Vault…Old Friends for Sale
The Vault was a contractual thing in that Prince agreed to let Warner release some unreleased material. Warner did so in 1999, and this track is a blues track with that Prince touch.
“Wherever U Go, Whatever U Do” – Rave On 2 the Joy Fantastic
This track was written, arranged and sung by Prince. A lot of his songs are that way, but again, this track has an ironic twist. Rave was supposed to be like Santana’s Supernatural, with the Purple one collaborating with a bunch of folks. Chuck D., Sheryl Crow, and Ani DiFranco appear on this album, but their contributions are quite reduced. This track is the best one on the album, and it is all Prince.
Note: I included nothing from The Rainbow Children because, almost without exception, it is bad – very bad. Prince celebrates his conversion to Jehovah’s witnesses by putting out a concept record in light jazz form. Yuck! His last two studio records, 2004’s Musicology, and this year’s 3121, are excellent and I recommend both of them. I just ran out of room. This man has a very deep catalogue and it goes much deeper than The Hits. I hope you have a chance to check it out.