Growing up in the digital age has completely changed our generation’s listening habits.
Instead of buying albums and experiencing a complete artistic statement, we download an artists most well-known tracks from iTunes and call it a day. It’s pathetic. How can you call yourself a Prince fan (for example) if you’ve only got “Raspberry Beret,” “Purple Rain,” and “1999” on your iPod shuffle? It’s just not enough.
The following is a list of what music nerds call “deep cuts,” or songs that either weren’t released as singles, or didn’t get a lot of mainstream attention upon their initial release. Obviously you won’t be a Prince historian after listening to these songs (the man has released over 35 albums); this is seriously the tip of the iceberg. But at least you’ll have gained a deeper insight into the many facets of his artistry; perhaps gaining a clearer picture of his genius.
These are the 9 songs every Prince fan should know.
If I Was Your Girlfriend, Sign O’ The Times, 1987
Arguably the highlight of Prince’s 1987 double album Sign O’ The Times, “If I Was Your Girlfriend” is Prince at his most psycho-sexual, gender-bending and bizarre. That is saying a lot. The songs subdued, seductive stomp is the perfect backdrop for lyrics that explore the limits of intimacy between men and women. But his sped-up vocals create a sexual ambiguity that complicates the proceedings. Is this a man pleading with his girlfriend? A gay man yearning for his straight male friend? You decide.
Something In The Water (Does Not Compute), 1999, 1982
“Something In The Water” is special because of the tense mood the song conjures. As with the rest of 1999, Prince dives head first into the future with this track, largely constructing it with electronic elements that would serve as the blueprint for artists as diverse as Nine Inch Nails, M.I.A., and Lady Gaga.
A Million Days, Musicology, 2004
It’s easy to write-off Prince’s more recent output considering the legendary run of classic albums he had through the 1980’s, but there are plenty of gems to be found in his 90’s and 2000’s work. “A Million Days” is one of them; a truly epic, heartfelt and criminally overlooked ballad from an artist that has a ton of them.
Sister, Dirty Mind, 1980
I’ll let the lyrics do the talking for this one. Over a punk-inspired musical backdrop, and over the course of just 90 seconds, Prince falsettos the following lines; “I was only 16 but I guess that’s no excuse/My sister was 32, lovely, and loose/She don’t wear no underwear/She says it only gets in her hair/And it’s got a funny way of stoppin’ the juice/My sister never made love to anyone else but me/She’s the reason for my, uh, sexuality/She showed me where it’s supposed to go/A blow job doesn’t mean blow/Incest is everything it’s said to be/Oh, sister/Don’t put me on the street again/Oh, sister/I just want to be your friend.”
Starfish and Coffee, Sign O’ The Times, 1987
It is impossible not to fall in love with “Starfish and Coffee”. One of Prince’s more folk-inspired numbers, it tells a whimsical little story of self-expression over uplifting piano. This is one of Prince’s lightest and most carefree moments. And it’s one of my personal favorites.
When 2 R In Love, Lovesexy, 1988
Released on both the insanely fucked up, and at one time unreleased, Black Album and the absurdly lighthearted Lovesexy, “When 2 R In Love” usually gets written off by many as Prince at his sappiest and most heavy handed. And that’s exactly why I love it. This is the “sex song” to end all sex songs. The verses are pensive and dripping with desire. And the chorus is one of Prince’s most sublime moments on any record.
Bob George, The Black Album, 1988 (bootleg)/1994 (official)
Legend has it that Prince was all set to release The Black Album as his follow-up to the sprawling Sign O’ The Times. But after taking a hit of ecstasy before listening to it in its entirety for the first time (and having what must have been a pretty horrible trip), he decided that the album was “evil” and refused to release it. “Bob George” was probably that the heart of that decision. This is the scariest, darkest, most puzzling track Prince has ever released, telling the story of a horrifyingly deep-voiced asshole, infuriated that his girlfriend has slept with “that skinny motherfucker with the high-ass voice” (i.e. Prince). Creepy shit.
It, Sign O’ The Times, 1987
“It” is a deceptively complicated song. Over a jagged electronic backdrop, Prince goes on and on about his love of sex. He wants to do it all the time. He can’t eat. He can’t sleep. Prince is positively insane with frustration over his obsession with sex. And it is fascinating; the dark side of the sexual revolution Prince led throughout the 1980’s. In an era that saw the onset of HIV and AIDS, “It” is a sobering look in the mirror at the horror of sexual exploration that has perhaps gone too far.
Sometimes It Snows In April, Parade, 1986
Sparse and haunting, “Sometimes It Snows In April” is one of the best ballads Prince has ever written. Closing out his 1986 classic Parade, the song takes its time reeling you in, powered by a subtle-yet-powerful chorus and a truly heartbroken vocal performance.