Prince Career Retrospective (Plus a Super Bowl Pick)

Most of the time, Super Bowl Halftime shows are as dismal of a television event as can be produced. With such illustrious performers as New Kids on the Block to the Miami Sound Machine, most of these halftime shows have as much to do with the spike in domestic violence (highest day of the year), as does the game itself.

If you think that maybe they are better in person, I would argue against your point. I was at the most famous Super Bowl of all-time, which took place in Houston’s Reliant Stadium. Why it was the most famous was this was the SB Halftime when Janet Jackson let fly her star-spangled nipple. I didn’t meet one person who was at the game who actually saw the unveiling, as between the smoke still covering the field from Kid Rock’s pyrotechnics and all the fake enthusiasm being provided by the hired crowd next to the stage, it was hard to tell what was going on.

It took the NFL 37 years to have a performance that wasn’t a joke. The first Super Bowl after 9/11 featured U-2 and they were so great that no one will ever match their magnetism. The NFL has finally figured out that considering how huge the spotlight is for whoever performs in this spot, they can get pretty much anyone they want. Thus, we have had Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones the past 2 years. Both had decent performances, but they are so old that instead of putting in earplugs and cranking up their guitars, the only cranking up they did is to the miracle ear’s they installed in their heads.

This year seems like an inspired choice, as Prince is truly one of the greatest live entertainers this world has ever seen. While not in his prime, Prince has put out his most vibrant album in a decade. I can’t think of an artist who appeals to more groups of people than him, as the purple freak mixes funk, rock, soul, rap, and pop in a blend that Sly Stone only hinted at.

If you are interested in my thoughts on the game, I think the Colts will win by 10, but it’s just a small 2-star play. Instead of previewing the game, I thought I would use this space to give my rankings of the Top 15 Prince albums and the Top 40 Prince songs.

1. Sign of the Times
2. Purple Rain
3. Parade
4. Around the World in a Day
5. 1999

Sign is one of the top 20 records in rock history. It is Prince at his peak, melding every musical genre, while including biting social commentary.
Purple Rain made Prince a household name, which is pretty amazing considering how eclectic the movie and especially the album were.
Parade was the soundtrack to the horrible Under the Cherry Moon film, but the music shouldn’t be penalized, as it is a great companion piece to Purple Rain.
The follow-up to Purple Rain was a disappointment to many, but ATWIAD shows him at his most psychedelic. Somewhere between the Beatles and Hendrix, if they recorded in 1985 is how I describe it.
While many would place 1999 higher, I just don’t think the record holds up as well. Don’t get me wrong, it’s excellent, but the synth-heavy hooks sounded genuis in 1982, but now not so much.
One thing that should be mentioned is that Prince produced my Top 5 over just a 5 year period. This amazing production during a 5 year period can only be matched by The Beatles and the Stones (68-73).

6. Diamonds and Pearls
7. Love Symbol Album
8. The Gold Experience
9. Dirty Mind
10. Controversy

If Prince would have released Diamonds after Sign of the Times, he might never have lost momentum on his world-wide domination. Instead Lovesexy came out in 1988 and despite being an interesting song-cycle, it lacked more than a couple stand-out tracks.
Number 7 on my list is when Prince started going by the symbol, which became a bit of joke, taking away from the rawest funk album he has ever made.
By 1995, he had started to be more of a fringe figure, as the best songs he produced on Gold were not radio-friendly.
Note that my 6-8 selections all came out over a 4 year period that is very underrated by critics.
Back in the 80’s, both Dirty Mind and Controversy were appearing in critics Top 100 albums of all-time. I know many will slam me for putting them down this low, but the music just doesn’t hold-up very well and both were short on songs. Put the best of them together and they are better than 1999, but as individual entities, they are classics during their timeframe, but not something I seek out much of today.

11. Graffiti Bridge
12. 3121
13. Batman
14. Lovesexy
15. Musicology

Truth be told, if I was listing complete records that had Prince’s name on them, Graffiti Bridge would be number 7 on my list, as the contributions by the Time and Tevin Cambell are really top-notch. Bridge is a really great piece of music.
3121 is Prince’s best work in the past 10 years, as it’s the comeback that number 15 Musicology hinted at. 3121 is like a James Brown record, if the Godfather would have let his early sidemen, Jimi Hendrix, really let loose.
Batman catches a lot of flack for being kind of silly, but it’s a fun record that holds up surprisingly well.

Top 40 Prince singles

1. When Doves Cry
2. Sign of the Times
3. Gett Off
4. Raspberry Beret
5. Kiss
6. Alphabet Street
7. Kiss/Anotherloverholeinthehead
8. Purple Rain
9. Thieves in the Temple
10. Pop Life (fresh dance mix)
11. Cream
12. Controversy
13. Take Me With U
14. Peach
15. 1999
16. Money Don’t Matter Tonight
17. If I Was Your Girlfriend
18. When You Were Mine
19. D.M.S.R.
20. Head
21. Sexy M.F.
22. Pussy Control
23. Black Sweat
24. Erotic City
25. Batdance
26. Mountains
27. The Cross
28. I Wanna Be Your Lover
29. Ballad of Dorothy Parker
30. 7
31. Pink Cashmere
32. Hot Thing
33. My Name is Prince
34. I Would Die for You
35. The Jam of the Year
36. The Morning Papers
37. The Beautiful Ones
38. Sometimes it Snows in April
39. International Lover
40. The Fury

Not going to go through all of these, so just let me mention a couple of things. I’m tired of Little Red Corvette and Let’s Go Crazy, which is why they aren’t here. When Doves Cry and Sign of the Times are in my top 100 singles of all-time. Prince has come out with a few different best of collections. These 40 would make up my 2 CD-set.

I haven’t heard anything from Crystal Ball, N.E.W.S, or the Rainbow Children, but I have listened to pretty much everything else ever recorded by the most talented single performer in rock music history. His mastery of so many different instruments and genres of music is amazing in its own right. When you add to this his incredible dancing ability and spectacular showmanship, well it’s hard to put anyone in his class. This is one halftime show where you won’t want to miss the entertainment.

32 thoughts on “Prince Career Retrospective (Plus a Super Bowl Pick)

  1. 1.  Dead on, Scott – I mean, all lists can be quibbled with among fans, I’d place Diamonds and Pearls and the Symbol album lower and Gold Experience and Prince higher (if only for the naked-on-horse inside album cover alone, the music’s briliant as well), but the creative juices in this man’s brain are staggering.

    Prince stories:

    a.) Having tickets at 15 to see the Purple Rain Tour and being unable to go because I got picked to sing in an all-state choir. I will regret that in my last hour as much as I did then.

    b.) I 1987 I attended the small east-coast manhattan-heavy liberal arts college I was going to attend as a senior for a visit. While in the campus basement bar I watched freshman girl after girl after girl walk by while “Hot Thing” shook the floor and thinking I might actually be dead and in some afterlife paradise of sexual atmospheric perfection. That album has to rank among the best ever made, period.

    c.) In 1993 while working at Tower Classics on Sunset someone came in and told us that Prince was at Book Soup next door (the day after my other idol of the period, Douglass Adams, was signing ‘Mostly Harmless’). I walked over and when I got to the glass door, I was shocked to find that we ended up there at the same moment, me going in, and him coming out. He actually stepped aside to let me come in, and I managed a very eloquent “um…” as he breezed by into his limo and zoomed away.

    d.) Catching a concert aftershow in San Francisco at tiny tiny Slim’s in 1998, where I at least made up somewhat for a.).

  2. 3.  Kudos for putting Sign of the Times at the top; that is a fantastic album. PLAY LOUD. I am actually looking forward to the halftime show.

    I will add that Prince is also an underappreciated guitarist who has laid down some tasty licks in his time.

  3. 4.  “I will add that Prince is also an underappreciated guitarist who has laid down some tasty licks in his time.”

    -Not to mention his perfect rhythm section (also woefully underestimated) across all the recordings it’s gotta be one of the greatest aspects of his music.
    -FP

  4. 5.  4 re: rhythm section: A lot of which is either a) programmed or b) him.

    I am (or at least have been) a huge Prince fan, but it’s telling that Scott’s lists combine an almost equal amounts of brilliance, treacly crap, and boring professionalism. I fear it’s the latter two that will be primarily on display on Sunday, though I’d love for Mr. Nelson to bust out “Darling Nikki” and “Head” and make the network sensors long for Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction.

    For what it’s worth, with the exception of Sign of the Times, I generally prefer his early synth-heavy work (Purple Rain and prior). To my mind, his top-four albums are almost indisputibly Purple Rain, Sign O’ the Times, Dirty Mind, and 1999, in that order.

  5. 6.  Facing a team with Dwight Freeny and Bob Sanders, this’ll be the week that the Rex Grossman smoke and mirrors show comes to an end. Colts win in a route. The NFC is weak sauce.

  6. 7.  40 Prince songs and no mention at all of “Never Take the Place of Your Man”? That’s just wrong…

  7. 8.  Man, I guess you nailed my choice for the next “Please Explain” segment.

    I like Price somewhat, and acknowledge his immense talent. But he only rates slightly better than Dave Matthews on my iPod list. (though, like I said, I acknowledge he IS far more talented — and Dave is no slouch.)

  8. 9.  First off, great entry. I’m in the middle of a project to rip all my cds to my hard drive and as part of that process, I’ve been spending a lot of time on allmusic, looking up artists and albums i need to round out and complete my library. Prince was somebody I’d forgotten that I desperately needed to add to my music collection. Thanks for an interesting perspective and overview.

    One little quibble, Hendrix played as a hired gun for a bunch of different acts before he was signed by Chas Chandler, Little Richard, The Isley Brothers, Curtis Knight and King Curtis come to mind. But, as best as I can recall, he never played for James Brown. Pity.

  9. 10.  98 DMB was already the topic of a “Please Explain”, but I still don’t get it. I don’t dislike them (him), I just have an incredibly blasé reaction to them (him).

    I can’t even type that in the same paragraph with a Prince mention!

  10. 11.  9 Have they buried poor James Brown yet? Honestly, getting off of life’s stage is more drawn out than getting him off of the concert stage. He deserves as much spotlight time as he can get.

  11. 13.  I suppose somewhere around 17 for the Black Album.

    Sorry, but “Never Take the Place of Your Man” is one of my least favorite Prince hits. To each his own.

    Thanks for the correction on the Hendrix/James Brown connection. You are right, it was Little Richard’s band that he was with for the longest time.

    Since Cliff threw me under the bus on my reviews, let me just say that Cliff has kept his New York music critic street cred by exalting Prince’s early work, while listing his later stuff as “treacly crap and boring professionalism.” I liked his guitar driven stuff better. Hey I’m no Robert Christgau.

    I listened to all of Prince’s stuff over the past week to feel like I had a handle on it. I figured I would rate Controversy a lot higher, but the synths sound really cheesy. Really worked then, but like most synth driven music, it doesn’t hold up as well.

  12. 14.  13 Hey I’m no Robert Christgau One is more than enough.
    Mr. Corcoran didn’t throw you that far under, maybe just enough for you to get a good look at the muffler. You both had the same top two albums, albeit in opposite order.

  13. 15.  13 Didn’t mean to dis you there, Scott, I was just trying to comment on Prince’s body of work. He’s one of my favorite artists, but thus has also been the one that’s disappointed me the most. I absolutely love Prince’s guitar playing, but there’s a good bit of guitar playing on those early records as well. Controversy, meanwhile, is just not that good an album. It’s not the synths its the songs.

    And, yeah, I might be a New York-based music critic, but I’ve been a Prince fan since before I knew what criticism was. My opinions are my own, and genuine.

  14. 16.  Kind of liked the spirit of it, Cliff. Maybe what the Toaster needs is a good throw-down between blogs? We need to consult Vince McMahon on a storyline.

    No problem here. At least you are paying attention. The 2 biggest Prince fans I know are former contributors Will Carroll and TFD. Where are their thoughts? I’m sure your reaction was mild compared to what they would think of my choices.

  15. 17.  3 “I will add that Prince is also an underappreciated guitarist who has laid down some tasty licks in his time.”

    If any of you have not seen the video of Prince at the Rock ‘n Roll HOF blowing everyone off the stage during “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, please do. It’s an example of someone practicing his craft at a level beyond even the best of his day, and toying with the competition, like Michael Jordan in 1996.

    He starts soloing at about the 3:25 mark. You can see George’s son gaping in awe, and at the end Prince… well, you’ll see:)

    –David A.

  16. 18.  rhythm section: A lot of which is either a) programmed or b) him.

    I agree the preprogrammed stuff is reprehensible, especially the ubiquitous handclap sample blasted at every backbeat, but I was talking about seeing the man live. He just always has a crack (in the good sense!) band. Very tight rhythm section.

  17. 19.  18 I didn’t say it was bad. In fact, I like that Prince’s programmed beats. There is no sound-producing device that can’t be used well by a talented musician.

  18. 20.  While I appreciate a lot of Prince’s music, I’ll always hold a grudge against him. He prevented one of my favorite artists, “Weird Al” Yankovic, from writing parodies of his songs. I sometimes wonder what great comedy could have been if only “The Artist Formerly Known as the Artist Formerly Known as Prince” took himself a little less seriously…

  19. 22.  Can’t say I’ve ever particularly liked Prince nor have I had the desire to explore his music. “1999” was a fun song to play when 1999 finally came along, but besides that I’ve never been a fan of the radio hits.

    17 Sorry, but I don’t see anything very impressive about that soloing. Just because he makes it look cool by sliding his hand up and down the neck between licks doesn’t make it better. Then again, I grew up watching the technical expertise of guys like Marty Friedman, Alex Skolnick, and Yngwie Malmsteen, so unless someone writes a truly memorable and affecting solo (like in “Comfortably Numb”) I’m not going to get too excited unless there is some fancy fretboard action going on.

  20. 23.  22 Well, then, we have different ideas of what turns us on about music. I’m much more interested in how music plays with emotions and “speaks” than how difficult something is to do. To me, the best soloing is when the guitar is talking and actually conveys a message. The example I always bring up as the “song that’s so ubiquitous it’s become a cliche, but I’ll never get tired of it” is “November Rain”. Slash’s solo isn’t technically complex, but it’s as mournful as can be and sounds like someone wailing. In the video I linked, Prince makes his guitar weep, then sob, then heave and, finally, gather itself back together with heavy breathing.

  21. 24.  22 23 Dexterity for dexterity’s sake (mostly by keyboardists) is (part of) what killed progressive rock. It’s one thing roll off a bunch of notes, it’s a whole different thing to make that ax really sing. Then again, I grew listening to (not watching) the expressive sounds of Duane Allman, Jimi Hendrix, Mick Taylor and so on.

    I think Mike Campbell of the Heartbreakers is very underrated also.

  22. 25.  “One thing that should be mentioned is that Prince produced my Top 5 over just a 5 year period. This amazing production during a 5 year period can only be matched by The Beatles and the Stones (68-73).”

    Dylan released “Bringing It All Back Home,” “Blonde on Blonde,” and “Highway 61 Revisited” in a little over ONE year. These were preceded by “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan,” “The Times They Are A-Changing,” and “Another Side of Bob Dylan.” They were followed by “John Wesley Harding.”

    That’s seven outstanding albums from 1963-1967, with three masterpieces in a row in 65-66.

  23. 26.  I’m not even giving Dylan enough credit. “The Basement Tapes” was made in 1968, even if it wasn’t released until 1975 and “Nashville Skyline” was released in 1969. The latter is not to everyone’s taste, but it’s an excellent and influential foray into country, as good or better than much of the countrified stuff the Stones did (and the Stones country-tinged stuff is excellent).

    So that’s NINE excellent albums from 1963-1969.

  24. 27.  I’ve mentioned it before, so I won’t belabor the point, but I really appreciate Dylan’s lyrical genius. Does the music and singing voice complement these great pieces of work? Not for me. Dylan is something I have to be in the mood for. With the Beatles, Stones, or Prince I can listen to them anytime. I know this will bring hatred among many Dylan fans towards me, but it’s the way I feel. Lyrically this 63-68 period will never be touched. Having said that the Stones country rock sounds blow away Dylan’s Nashville Skyline. I actually like Dylan’s influence for this style change, Johnny Cash, a lot better.

  25. 29.  Thanks messrsjohn. I’m guilty here of doing something I hate in others. I will try to elminate such mistakes in the future. My main motivation is that the crack staff of editors (readers) at the Toaster will make sure I’m shackled and put in the townsquare for public humiliation, if I do F-up.

    This also wrecks a joke I used to do about Super Bowl sunday being the biggest day of domestic abuse in the country. In a related story there is a group trying to have the super bowl become a weekly event. “The super bowl creates the kind of passion among couples that should happen a lot more often,” group spokesman Ike Turner said.

  26. 30.  Scott: Thanks for the shout-out. Sure I’ve got opinions, but let’s just say I’m tearing up just reading all this Prince-talk. sniff Seeing Prince relevant again, after the dreadful dark years, is just plain fun.

    There are a few quibbles here-and-there, such as Musicology #15 (should be much higher), Parade #3 (eh? take-it-or-leave-it), and Purple Rain #8 (you’re kidding right?…Umm…#2 or #3, followed by Raspberry Beret).

    Now if you could just have a Radiohead thread I’d seriously consider it to be a life…

    And what’s with the disdain (or lack of love) for TV on Radio?

    BTW, don’t think I didn’t notice no comments to my Top10….knew you’d love the Knopfler, Costello, & Dylan choices.

  27. 31.  I thought Musicology was a good record, but 3121 was the revival I was looking for.

    After watching the halftime show, I am rethinking Purple Rain. I should have put it 3 or 4 as a single. Oops.

    Radiohead thread ends for me at OK Computer, as the rest of their releases are incomplete works to my ears. Actually, Thom Yorke’s Eraser is my favorite work he’s been involved in since OK Computer.

    TV on the Radio just doesn’t connect with me. Listen to The Hold Steady, if you want to check out a critically acclaimed release that lives up to its rep. And you should like this…they are big Minnesota sports fans. (most of the band is originally from TC.)

    I’m a Costello freak, but I haven’t been really enthused about anything he has done since Brutal Youth. Knopfler I liked in college, but don’t really follow him anymore. Dylan…..well Prince did a nice riff on his “All Along the Watchtower” at halftime.

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