Prince left us too soon – but what he left us with was an impressive body of work, the likes of which we are only beginning to understand. From his 39 studio albums, his protégé albums, his motion pictures, to his mythic live performances, Prince worked tirelessly to create music that celebrated love, confronted injustice, and made people move their bodies. Everyone knows about Prince’s most successful album Purple Rain, but Prince created numerous masterpieces that sometimes get overlooked in Purple Rain’s enormous shadow. Let’s take a look at three of the best.
The album opens with a robotic voice: “Don’t worry. I won’t hurt you.” It’s almost startling. Ominous. Yet, ultimately, reassuring: “I only want you to have some fun.” So begins “1999,” a song about having a good time in the face of nuclear proliferation. 1999 sounds in many ways like an artist pushing himself to his limits. Throughout the album, Prince explored just how far he could take the sound he spearheaded, with crossover hits like “Little Red Corvette,” experimental songs like “Something in the Water (Does Not Compute),” and the straight-up funk of “Lady Cab Driver.” As the album directly preceding Purple Rain, 1999 gives insights into where Prince was coming from, and where he was going – before the superstardom. Yet all the same, the album stands on its own as one of his best. 1999 would go on to be Prince’s first top 10 album on the Billboard 200, peaking at No. 9.
Best known for the No. 1 hit song “Kiss,” Parade is perhaps the most distinct album in Prince’s discography. More eloquently incorporating psychedelic influences than its 1985 predecessor Around the World in a Day, Parade melds a breadth of styles – including baroque pop, soul, and the Purple One’s signature taut funk – Prince created a fresh, exciting album that served as a soundtrack to his film Under the Cherry Moon. And he was only getting started.
Sign o’ the Times (1987)
Prince was firing on all cylinders when he released his magnum opus Sign o’ the Times. Originally conceived as a triple album titled Crystal Ball, Warner Bros. executives were concerned about the sales prospects of such a large collection. Prince trimmed the tracklist, perhaps begrudgingly – Sign o’ the Times’ cover art features a literal crystal ball.
Nevertheless, the album is a marvelous display of Prince’s ability to craft complex yet playful pieces in a dizzying array of genres. From the minimal, social commentary blues of the title track to kaleidoscopic pop songs like “Starfish and Coffee” to bedroom ballads like “Adore” to avant-garde, gender-bending R&B like “If I Was Your Girlfriend,” Sign o’ the Times stands as Prince’s ultimate proclamation of his genius. Until the end of time.
There Is Joy in Repetition
What Prince albums do you listen to over and over? Is it the raunchy, raucous Dirty Mind? The spiritual Lovesexy? The pensive Art Official Age? Whatever you’re into, chances are there’s some Purple Music you’ll enjoy. Be sure to check out our blog for more fun posts and local tips.