The 8 Ball 4.19.14: Top 8 Prince Singles
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 04.19.2014
From "Little Red Corvette" and "1999" to "Purple Rain," "Let's Go Crazy" and more, 411's Jeremy Thomas counts down the top 8 Prince singles of all-time!
Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Music Zone! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, I will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You're free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is "wrong" is just silly. With that in mind, let's get right in to it!
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Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen, to the Music Zone 8-Ball! For those who may not have seen, Prince announced on Friday that he had reconciled with his former label Warner Bros., with whom he had a deeply acrimonious dispute to the point that he changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol. This new agreement grants the icon of pop music ownership of his master recordings, and allows Warners to digitally remaster and reissue Prince's albums from 1978 through the 1990s. It also means that a new Prince album is on the way. With this fairly big news in mind, we're going to look at the best of Prince's music this week, focusing on his singles. So get in your bathtub and rev up your Corvette, because it's time to go!
Caveat: As the title implies, I was looking only at Prince's tracks which were released as singles. This could be in physical form, promotional singles, internet downloads or the like; the point is that it's not just album tracks. Frankly, there is just too much music to look at all of his songs, so instead we'll focus on the ones that were released for radio play (of which there are still an astounding ninety-seven). As long as it was one of those songs, it was eligible.
Just Missing The Cut
• "Cream" (1991)
• "Black Sweat" (2006)
• "Sexy M.F." (1992)
• "I Would Die 4 You" (1984)
• "Raspberry Beret" (1985)
#8: "1999" (1982)
First off on our list is one of the most well-known songs in Prince's discography. "1999" was the first single off the album of the same name and helped push Prince fully into the public consciousness. The song was pretty much the first in which music listeners got to hear the Revolution and features vocal work from Dez Dickerson, Lisa Coleman and Jill Jones, all of whom fit really well into the wonderfully upbeat groove. It was created by Prince around the riff for the Mamas and Papas song "Monday Monday" and consequently inspired Phil Collins' hit "Sussudio," which Collins has admitted to. I love how subversive this number is; it's got to one of be the cheeriest songs about the end of the world ever recorded. The Purple One became almost synonymous with this song, especially when we grew closer to the turn of the millennium. He performed the song at a special concert on New Year's Eve heading into the year 2000 and vowed never to play it again, though he finally brought it back in 2007. This is a great party song that tells you just to make the most of life because, as the line goes, "Life is just a party and parties weren't meant to last." It's difficult to imagine a list of his best singles without mentioning this one.
#7: "Gett Off" (1991)
If there's one place that Prince truly can't be topped, it is his ability to mix elements of funk and pop into a single cohesive sound. "Gett Off," the lead single from his 1991 LP Diamonds and Pearls, is a sterling example of that. It's also one of Prince's best examples of turning eroticism into sound as he kicks it off with the fantastic line "How can I put this in a way so as not to offend or unnerve/But there's a rumor going around that you ain't been gettin' served" and just goes from there. The Purple One-produced sound takes not only his familiar elements of funk, pop and rock, but also adds a little bit of hip-hop in there as well which gives him the opportunity to do a little rapping later into the song. This number didn't have the chart impact of some of his other tracks; it was overshadowed by "Cream," the title track and "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World" from that album. But it was a superior song to each of those, a fantastic merging of his funkier days and his newer pop mentality while still staying relevant.
#6: "Thieves in the Temple" (1990)
"Thieves in the Temple" is one of Prince's most underrated songs. The song has a poor pedigree, coming from the lesser Graffiti Bridge album, but it is a standout from his early 1990s material regardless. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the song stands out even more for me because of the lesser quality of the rest of Graffiti Bridge. This is a very moody song, with the echoed keyboard tones that kick off the song before Prince's voice comes in. The song has a vaguely Middle Eastern sound to it that adds to the spirituality theme implied in the temple metaphor. Prince has always loved mixing heavy themes of religion into his music whether he's talking about sex, relationships or even just inspiring an overall mood and this one is great in how it gets the point across without hammering it home. It's one of his most seductive-sounding songs and deserves a lot more credit than it gets.
#5: "Purple Rain" (1984)
"Purple Rain" is one of the greatest pop epics ever laid down. It is pop balladry distilled down to its purest form, with elements of rock, pop and even orchestral music thrown in for this tale of the film's lead character trying to reconcile strained relationships with his father, girlfriend and even his bandmates. It is lyrically the kind of track that pop music achieves when it is at its best; emotion and passion wrapped up in a musical package. And the vocal range that Prince delivers is amazing here, going from mid-baritone all the way to the highest male soprano ranges. And the guitar solo is arguably one of the greatest in rock ballad history. Interestingly enough the 8:43 cut is actually short compared to original plans, which would have put it at over eleven minutes long before another verse was cut out. This is the song that is sure to get the crowd flaring up their lighters in concert; it's the big ballad crowd-pleaser and with good reason. With "Purple Rain," the icon proved that it is indeed possible to not only craft a good epic-length pop song, but a truly great one.
#4: "Little Red Corvette" (1983)
Chills right from the opening beat and gently-pulsing synths. That's what happens to me when "Little Red Corvette" plays. This is one of Prince's most radio-played songs in history, a midtempo joy about a late-night rendezvous in a dark, out of the way place with a girl moving much too fast. It's kind of amazing that this song got as much airplay as it did, to be honest; when you get down to the lyrics it's remarkably explicit for the era. Lyrics like "I guess I must be dumb, she had a pocket full of horses/Trojans and some of them used" don't exactly make a case for subtlety, after all. But it's also not "slam you over the head" obvious, as the car/girl metaphor works really well. Prince loves to sing about sex; this is no secret of course. But when he comes across an inspired concept like this there are few who can beat him on the topic. I think my favorite part of the song is breakdown after the short solo at the middle of the song that leads into the final repetition of the verses. Prince's speaking of the lyrics layered over his own singing creates a strange sort of juxtaposition but it works and fires off into the back end of the song nicely. This song further facilitated Prince's rise, a move that would end with him being a true icon just a year later.
#3: "Let's Go Crazy" (1984)
And here's when that move into icon happened. Not just with "Let's Go Crazy" specifically, but with the entire Purple Rain album. The LP is still one of the best-selling albums of all time and this was a huge part of that album's success. Just about everyone knows the choir-like opening with the soaring organ and Prince's eulogy to life. And then it switches into the movement-inducing beat and the pop-rock sound. It plays out almost more like an uptempo celebratory jam session with Prince acting as master of ceremonies and primary instigator, extolling people to "live now before the grim reaper come knockin' on your door." It fits in with the idea of "1999" but is less (excuse the pun) dated. This is one of the songs that shaped the direction of pop music in the mid-1980s, which was an absolutely crucial time for the genre. And how can you not love the brief but electrifying solo at the end of the song? It's a Prince stable among an entire discography of greatness for a very, very good reason.
#2: "Kiss" (1986)
For a guy who was in love with excess, you have to admire what he did when he stripped things down for "Kiss." This track, from his fist post-Purple Rain album Parade, is a minimalist slice of pop-funk heaven. This is the kind of thing that James Brown was the master of, at least until Prince came along and showed that he could do it even better. It's a perfect example of how pop music used to be able to combine catchy hooks and melodies with creative lyrics, something that often seems lost among the majority of dance-pop singers today. The production on this is just fantastic, with the pounding rhythm, the staccato rhythm work and the Purple One's pitch-perfect falsetto work and very little else. It's all you need and throws some serious shade at the "wall of sound" philosophy that was (and is) so popular. And despite the seductive tones, it's a surprisingly chaste song, at least overtly. I mean come on; we know that he doesn't just want your kiss, but he only hints at anything else. It's just another way that he proves in this song, sometimes less is more.
#1: "When Doves Cry" (1984)
Sometimes on this lists it is very hard for me to figure out the #1 spot. This is not one of those times. "When Doves Cry" was the automatic #1 for me because to me it is, without exaggeration, one of the greatest pop songs every recorded. It's certainly one of the very, very few at the pinnacle of 1980s pop, and yet it's such a strange song musically. It's one of those very rare synthpop songs without a bass line, instead relying on a simple drum machine rhythm as it blends pop and rock into one moody, atmospheric blend. The guitar work in this is absolutely stunning, and Prince's untouchable vocals resonate with passion and pain. And there's the lyrics, too; vaguely Oedipal, certainly sexual and entirely brilliant. This song smashed genre boundaries and began Purple Rain's propulsion toward the top of the all-time sales records. This song, as an interesting footnote, was the last album to be certified platinum for selling two million copies; afterward the RIAA lowered that threshold to one million. It's an absolute triumph of pop music and among Prince's singles, his absolute best in my book.
MUSIC VIDEO A-GO-GO
Sadly, Prince is very protective of his music and none of his music videos are available just about anywhere (and I don't want to get his people angry at me for posting a bootlegged one). So instead for this week's Music Video A-Go-Go, check out this vintage 1940s-style jazz cover of Lady Gaga's "Just Dance" that I fell in love with recently:
And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don't forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.