Prince’s Legacy: His 57 Greatest Songs from the Classic Years (1978 – 1996)

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Prince's Legacy: His 57 Greatest Songs - the Classic Years!

The April 21st death of rock, soul and funk legend Prince at age 57 has left the music world in utter sadness, shock and disbelief. The suddenness of it and his young age makes it as hard or harder a pill to swallow as the losses of fellow icons like David Bowie, Whitney Houston or Michael Jackson.

The outpouring of love for The Purple One in the three days since his death has been nothing short of phenomenal, whether it's been via social media, in dance-offs performed in city streets across the world, or on radio station (land, satellite and Internet-based) marathons of His Purple Highness' vast playlist of classic jams.

You may even be listening to your own favorite Prince tunes as you read this, while trying to decide which ones you really liked better than the others.

Tough choices, aren't they?

Considering that the legacy Prince left behind is about as prolific a catalog of hits (and non-hits) as any artist's in modern history, on any given day your favorite Prince tune might change.

In an era when artists, especially superstar ones, recorded an album every two or three years and then slowly milked it dry with lengthy singles promotional campaigns, the Purple One recorded an average of at least one album a year for a total of 39 between 1978 and 2015.

You'd have hundreds of Prince jams from which to choose when deciding that favorite.

By comparison, Michael Jackson only released six albums (not counting greatest hits compilations or the EP record, Blood on The Dance Floor) between 1979 and 2009 when he died, with two more released posthumously.

In terms of sheer volume, no other contemporary pop artist can claim such an accomplishment as Prince's.

Make no mistake though, Prince was able to flex his extensive creative muscle largely because of his immense popularity and success in the 1980s. Selling nearly 100 million records worldwide in that decade alone was enough to land him the large recording complex he called Paisley Park Studios, where much of his creative genius occurred.

The artistic freedom he must have experienced in that studio - without the constraints of schedule pressure, booking fees and A&R people/record execs breathing down his neck - likely served as further inspiration for the man who crafted his art without boundaries.

Prince's death comes at a time when we've hardly had time to grieve the others who've left us in this year of artists' reckoning. Preceding him in 2016 were fellow 20th-century legends like Glenn Frey, David Bowie, Maurice White and Merle Haggard.

But remember him we will. And for me it continues with this third tribute djrobblog article: a special djroblist of the greatest Prince songs of the classic era, 1978 - 1996.

To me there are basically three types of Prince fans: 1) ones that only know the popular singles or think his career began with 1999 (or worse, Purple Rain!); 2) those that know everything from his heyday (1978 - 1996), including album cuts, B-sides, etc.; and 3) those that know and appreciate everything, all the way up to 2015's HITnRUN albums.

The djroblist that follows caters to those in the middle category - a sort of compromise if you will. It's a list of 57 songs - one for every full year that the man lived.

I realize that only considering the first half of his nearly 40-year career is blasphemous to the truest Prince fans (the third type) out there, and this may leave some of you a bit dissatisfied. I even believe that some of those later songs are possibly better - from a quality standpoint - than what's included here.

But I'll leave it to the Type 3s to create a countdown that includes stuff from his last 20 or so albums (post-1996's Emancipation), or provide comments and convince me to add them to this list.

For now, the focus is the classic years and the songs that "brung 'em"...the ones for which we'll remember him most.

So here they are, the 57 Best Songs by Prince - the Classic Years: 1978 - 1996.

Source: http://djrobblog.com

Apr 25, 2016 - youtube.com - 982
57. She's Always In My Hair

I struggled deciding which song to fill this first slot with, because it meant that several other worthy candidates wouldn't make it. I decided to go with this B-side to the "Raspberry Beret" single. So other good songs like "Pink Cashmere," "Scandalous," "When You Were Mine" and "Irresistible Bitch" ultimately became casualties, but they're worthy of honorable mention, nonetheless.

To see a special DJRob tribute to Prince, click here.

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16 thoughts on “Prince’s Legacy: His 57 Greatest Songs from the Classic Years (1978 – 1996)”

  1. Prince always provided a sexual gate with his music. A listener could decide if they wanted to expose or express their sexual subconscious. Prince made it okay to do so. Erotic City, Sexy Motherfucker, Darling Nikki, Irresistible Bitch, and my favorite Head allowed me to vicariously explore a sexual consciousness. These are thoughts most of us have, but repress because of what society says is appropriate. Think about it, Prince paved the way for rappers to do the same within his career time span. Thanks Prince! Thanks DjRob!

  2. DJ Rob thanks for taking down a musical memory lane. This list is awesome and although it represents only a fraction of Prince’s work, it shows just how creative and prolific he was as an artist. I do have one correction however. In that awkward Dick Clark interview that you mentioned in your 21st selection Prince held up 4 fingers to indicate how many years he’d been trying to get a recording deal. He was 19 y/o at the time of the interview. When asked how many instruments he played he gave a coy, bashful look and a long awkward pause before saying “thousands”.

    Keep up the great work. I love this blog!

    1. Thanks, Dean. I’ll make that correction. I knew there was a four finger response to something, and I was going on my memory (I still remember when it first aired). But he was actually 21 in January 1980, not nineteen. Thanks for the feedback!

  3. The CD Musicology & Prince’s Greatest hits stand out to me! He was a true Funk Soldier that can do it all Pop,Rock that man was gifted!

    1. How ironic is it that I’m listening to Computer Blue as I read this comment? I was just thinking that I should’ve placed it higher. Thanks for commenting.

  4. Prince had so many song! And honestly I love them all. This man had God given talent that we probably won’t see again .So we must enjoy the music.one of his CD where he is wearing those cool sunglasses those tracks are sweet bumping I was damn! For those real Prince fans y’all know what it is peace.

  5. Classic tunes are missing, although I know it’s a matter of personal taste. When You Were Mine and 17 Days would be in my choices as well as Bambi, Le Grind and Condition of the Heart

    1. Thanks and I agree. I had “17 Days” on the list until about a week ago, when I added “Housequake” by popular demand. The bottom line is, one cannot do Prince justice with a list of just 57 songs.

  6. Djrob:

    I was inspired to read your blog after we talked about the passing of Prince. Certainly a musical figure that is a big part of my life and that he, as well as Michael Jackson, were two musicians with whom I grew up and came of age following and listening to.

    As I reviewed your list of Prince’s top 57 songs, it brought back lots of memories. I thought about a lot of the songs which were either so in sync with the times or so cleverly penned that they would deserve recognition on such a list. It’s difficult to get agreement across a broad spectrum of people on what truly were the best 57 songs by Prince. There might be some debate about what his classic period might have been but the years of demarcation (1978 -1996) make sense. For fun, I thought I would politely, respectfully and slightly tongue-in-cheek submit this retort for general consideration.

    “Alphabet St” did well for Prince but was probably not even in the top four tracks on that LP. “Positivity” and “Anna Stesia” are certainly more of interesting rhythmically and vocally but depart from Prince’s inclusion of crossover tracks for popular consumption on an LP.

    I would nominate “Forever In My Life” for a spot in the top 57. It’s a practical example of the clever things that Prince loved to do with vocals. Instead of using the classic “call and response” from the backing vocals, he put the backing vocal in front of the verse which he then sung, again pointing to the creativity and playfulness of Prince’s composing.

    There is without question a glaring omission from this 57 last and that is “I’m Yours” from the first LP “For You.” Not only did Prince compose, perform and arrange all the tunes on his first two LPs, but “I’m yours” is probably one of the most simple, yet interesting tunes he ever wrote, with a pop vocal and a rock platform featuring trading 4s between Prince on electric guitar and electric bass in a way in which we very rarely heard in any type of pop, funk or R&B tune of the time or since. You might have to go back to Graham Central Station, Mother’s Finest or Betty (Mabry) Davis to hear something similar. Other notable mentions from that album would, of course, include “Soft and Wet” and Crazy You” but “I’m Yours is a definite nominee for this list.

    I noticed that “Emancipation” really didn’t get very much love on this list and are so many tunes from that album which I think deserve recognition. It makes the cut for his “classic years” and is a three-disc set so there is a lot of material from which to choose. “In This Bed I Scream” and “The Holy River” are probably the two which, besides the covers, are notables from the set.

    Omitted from the list is the “Batman” soundtrack which I think was one of the most creative soundtracks of its time. Others soundtracks that come to mind are Herbie Hancock’s soundtrack to the original “Death Wish” starring Charles Bronson and Stanley Clarke’s “Passenger 57” soundtrack starring Wesley Snipes. Absolutely phenomenal soundtracks that you can listen to from beginning to end and easily “Batman” is one of those soundtracks that fits that bill. Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly and Isaac Hayes’ Shaft fit the bill as well. My nominee from this recording would be “Electric chair.” In the chorus, Prince offers:

    “If a man is considered guilty
    For what goes on in his mind
    Then give me the electric chair
    For all my future crimes…”

    Once again never to be outdone by a clever vocal.

    When I think about prolific vocalists and singer-songwriters, the three that come to mind are Prince, Stevie Wonder and Joni Mitchell: Stevie Wonder because of being a multi-instrumentalist, a strong composer and ability to provide diverse messages whether they be about love, politics or religion all at the same time if need be (i.e. “Songs in the Key of Life” and “Conversation Peace”) and Joni Mitchell for many of the same reasons except her not being a mufti-instrumentalist but a sophisticated composer (i.e. “Mingus,” “Turbulent Indigo” and “Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm”). Prince absolutely stands with these three for this musical idiom.

    Glad to see “Anotherloverholenyohead” on this list; “Girls and Boys” deserves an honorable mention. Since “Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic,” “Musicology” and “3121” fall outside the defined period, those tracks will have to wait for another list.

    I do think however that there is another glaring omission and that is “The Black Album,” one of the classics of its time because of its underground release. “Bob George” and “Movie Star” are two of the most entertaining songs that you might never listen to by Prince but certainly deserve honorable mention (check them out!)

    No love for “Chaos and Disorder?” It makes the classic years cut and features a series of tracks in successions that should be listened to in order:

    3. “Dinner with Delores”
    4. “The Same December”
    5. “Right the Wrong”
    6. “Zannalee”

    My favorite and a top 57 nominee is track 10 “Dig U Better Dead,” another display of his ability to integrate sexuality, spirituality and politics.

    In an interview with Arsenio Hall, Miles Davis referred to Prince as “a genius.” Davis said, “he can do anything [musically].” And I would consider Prince one of the all-time great rock guitarist of his time. The creativity, virtuosity and risks he took deserve mention here. There were several great rock/blues style guitarists of the latter 20th century but six stand out to me for their contributions to musicians and performance art as a whole: they include the too-soon departed Jimi Hendrix, the eclectic Eric Clapton and George Benson, the versatile Mahavishnu John McLaughlin, the scintillating clarity of Eddie Van Halen and the late Hendrix disciple Pete Cosey. This list certainly takes a pretty diverse view of the instrument and its virtuosos. My point is that Prince was a guitarist of significant note.

    One of the things that prompted me to even response the blog was my going through it and having it bring back so many great memories about this musician which whom I came of age and also a conversation with DJRob about a Prince tune we were listening to, “Strollin’,” that I remarked is a favorite of mine but would not crack my top 16 Prince songs. So to go through this list of 57, I guess I proved to myself that it is not even in my top 57. It’s a memorable track because back in the day when I would trade mix tapes with a good friend of mine (whom I will call B, the biggest Prince fan I’ve ever met or known), I would for some reason begin half a dozen of them with “Strollin’.” B would pop in the cassette (see Wikipedia for a definition if you must), turn to me and say, Really??, Strollin’?” Each time, I would be surprised by not remembering that I’d recorded it for him before. The bottom line is that it didn’t crack my “top 16” and it appears I doesn’t crack my top 57 either but if you’re not familiar with it, maybe throw it on and just listen to it. There’s nothing particularly special about it but a walking baseline with a very simple vocal setting and a very simple sentiment about a couple enjoying being together.

    I hope this was fun and contributory to the blog. There many things about which I am passionate: music is one of them. Farewell, Prince; gone but never to be forgotten.

    ddw

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    1. Wow! Thanks, Daryl, for this contribution! I also noted your comments under the individual entries on the list. I would have to create a Top 100 (or more) list to truly do Prince justice. I chose 57 to keep it manageable and to represent his number of full years with us. You’ve certainly provided some food for thought as I rebook at the list, but in the interest of time, I’ll just comment on The Black Album. I personally did not think it reflected his best work, certainly didn’t live up to its cult classic status, nor do I think its tracks withstood the test of time over the years. Several of the other songs you mentioned were considered as I was putting this together. But, as you can imagine, keeping it at 57 meant there would be some casualties – as many others have also pointed out.

      Thanks again, and hopefully you’ll keep reading (and maybe even contribute some of your impressive musical knowledge) down the road.

  7. Great chart! Of course, it would have been completely different if I wrote it, but I guess nobody’s chart would be the same as anybody’s. If you can, try to get hold of 1985’s version of Old Friends 4 Sale, without the orchestra. It’s unreleased, so it couldn’t make this chart, but to me that’s top Prince, his best song ever. The released version pales in comparison.

Your thoughts?