My favorite Prince albums and singles
By Ron Wynn
Two words I strive to avoid at all times in reviews, commentaries, or analysis are best and greatest. In my view they are death traps, because they assume things that cannot be objectively proven nor verified. One person’s choice for an artist’s greatest record is just that: one person’s choice. Even if an excellent case can be made that it is a good selection, you can always find someone able to offer an alternative and make an equally compelling case, particularly if it’s an artist with an impressive and lengthy musical or literary or otherwise artistic legacy.
So I always use the word favorite in my choices, letting folks know right up front that I don’t claim these to be the end all, be all of anything. One of the reasons why I consider myself much more of an advocate than a critic these days is because I truly don’t approach music, film, or television the way a genuine critic does, which is listen or view everything and rate it up or down. I have no interest for example in seeing “The Hangover 10,” or listening to 10 records by 10 people I’ve never heard of and saying they all stink. Nothing wrong with anyone who wants to do that, and I read a lot of things from all sorts of people who do just that. I did it myself for many years. Just don’t want to do it now.
So that’s the long way of saying that whenever you’ll see on of these surveys, know ahead of time that it is strictly my selections, and I’m not arguing for anything except my own preference for the selected material, and while hoping that others will enjoy my views and/or even purchase some of the items if they don’t have them, I make no claims to them ever being the best or greatest of anything, except in some very rare occasions.
My 5 favorite Prince LPS in order:
(1) “Dirty Mind” (1980)
Equal parts erotic and rock-influenced, this came at a time when folks had prematurely decided he was mainly a funk/R&B act because “I Want To Be Your Lover” had risen to the top of that chart. He blew that notion to shreds, while tunes like “Head” and “Uptown” revealed his flair with bass lines and keyboard parts, as well as that always enticing falsetto and tendency to softly murmur X-rated invitations. Also included some spry rebellious sentiment, plus a little anti-war rhetoric, propelled by a great band that included Andre Cymone on bass, Dez Dickerson on guitar, Bobby Z on drums and twin keyboardists Matt Fink and Gayle Chapman.
(2) “Purple Rain” (1984)
The key to whether a soundtrack can stand alone is whether folks are willing to not only listen to it sans the film, but return to it after seeing it. With the LP eventually selling 13 million copies, and tons of folks walking around singing “Purple Rain” without even knowing what that meant, it’s pretty clear this one passed that test. It was also a stroke of genius to issue “When Doves Cry,” as haunting and evocative a piece as he’s ever done before or since, as a single to fuel radio play and support for the forthcoming LP. By the time “Purple Rain” hit the streets, it was already must have due to “When Doves Cry.” Incidentally, Prince did zippo pre-promotion for the film, yet it had already earned its complete budget by the end of the first weekend. Incidentally, it’s also a fine movie that still holds up reasonably well.
(3) “1999” (1982)
A double-LP with only a couple ( maximum three) songs per side, this was Prince in peak frenzy Heavily fortified with synths, this also included a classic car song in “Little Red Corvette,” a slicing denunciation of pompous writers titled “All The Critics Love You In New York,” and more salacious material (notably “Lady Cab Driver”) that only buttressed the naughty mastermind reputation he’d later strive to make folks forget he’d ever earned. The title cut was a personal favorite. It was supposedly slated to be the first single, then held back out of fear audiences wouldn’t accept it. But while rock radio wouldn’t play it, MTV aired the video a zillion times, and even some of the hipper black stations (they still had a lot of them back then) aired it.
(4) “The Black Album” (1987 original release date; later re-released in 1994 limited edition)
As absurd and stupid as this seems now, many of the cuts on this record were supposedly recorded at various points from the mid-’80s on in response to the notion that because Prince had enjoyed rock success, he’d somehow lost connections with his blackness. So he just put together a host of high-octane, super funky and also heavily sensual (sometimes borderline vulgar) cuts simply to prove to those out there who didn’t think he could write this music that he could. Side note: I spent about $100 on this one, and had to search high and low for it before finding it. If you like edgy, erotic stuff, this is Prince at his peak in that mode.
(5) “Sign O’ The Times” (1987)
A tapestry culled from numerous other Prince projects, many of which never ultimately saw the light of production, this represents the best efforts from another incredibly fertile creative period when Prince was experimenting with jazz-funk, rock, dance music, new wave, R&B, synth pop, dancehall reggae, and whatever else was out there. All the experimenting also led to some creative dissonance though, which eventually saw such ambitious projects as an instrumental LP and three-record opus shelved, and the dissolution of the Revolution band that had been backing Prince during that time (except for keyboardist Matt Fink). Still, this has some superb singles, especially “U Got The Look,” which would be Sheena Easton’s moment of pop glory.
“Diamonds & Pearls” (1991)
“The Gold Experience” (1995)
“The Love Symbol” (1992)
“HitnRun: Phase Two” (2015)
(1) “When Doves Cry”
(3) “Diamonds and Pearls”
(4) “I Wanna Be Your Lover”
(5) “Little Red Corvette”
(7) “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man”
(10) “Raspberry Beret”