my Prince album recommendations

Feel free to skip down to my discussion of all the albums cuz I do have some exposition to dispense with first.
I have a habit of running long in my blogging- ESPECIALLY when I’m discussing Prince.

To anyone who reads this that is curious about Prince and wants to know more about him,

you have a lot of catching up to do and it’ll be overwhelming. Especially if you take the path that I did and wind up buying dozens of his albums. That wasn’t my plan, but it’s something that’s bound to happen if you’re curious enough and enjoying yourself enough.

I’ll start in saying that, of course, Purple Rain and 1999 are good places to start with his work. As a whole, Purple Rain is still one of the best albums he’s ever made. Maybe it is his best. I’m reluctant to rest on that laurel because everyone who’s at least heard of Prince has heard of this album/song/movie.
I just want to ask that you don’t stop there.

When I started, I asked people who’d listened to him longer than I did. Check out Facebook groups or messageboards and ask around. Everyone has their own opinion and recommendations. I’m certainly not going to dissuade anyone from buying certain albums because all of them have some good somewhere.

It’d also be easy to say start from his very first album and work your way forward chronological and by all means, if you’re into that, go ahead.

I was born in 1986 and developed a love for 80’s music early on. So of course that was the decade I was interested in most. And why 1999 was one of the albums I wanted right away. [I started buying his music in March 2007- I didn’t find 1999 until July- I was in college and didn’t get off campus unless it was going home for a holiday or between semesters].
If you like certain decades of music, by all means, start there. If you liked the Bee Gees and 70’s funk, start with his earlier albums, “For You” and his self-titled second album. The 80’s, of course, 1999 and Purple Rain. But also Sign o’ the times is really good and the Batman album is very 80’s and sums up most of what Prince did with his music throughout the decade.

My personal goal: I wanted a little from every decade. I just wasn’t interested in the 70’s for the first couple years. The decade musically is hit and miss for me. My curiosity came when I heard some of his “For You” tracks on Emancipation radio [google it- it’s online somewhere- it introduced me to some good songs].

So my first wish list was 1999, The Gold Experience, Musicology and 3121, plus a greatest hits album.
Greatest hits is a good way to go, also. While you can’t judge albums completely by what the singles are, it can be a good starting point. I bought “The Very Best of…” to cut corners, honestly. I knew he had a lot of albums and I only wanted to spend my money on the best.
In some form, I now own all the albums that have songs in that compilation set.
It just happened… and I’m glad it did.

So… not counting The Very Best of… or Crystal Ball [which is an album with 3 discs that contains 30 songs Prince compiled from what he had in his famed “vault”- he wrote and recorded so much music that he wasn’t able to release it all on albums]…

I own 35 Prince albums.

According to Wikipedia, [his final album] Hit n Run Phase 2 was his 39th studio album… but it should be noted that two of the albums I own, they’re credited to his bands- the NPG and 3rd Eye Girl respectively. But I personally consider them Prince albums because he sings and performs on them.

Basically, everything that I don’t own- they’re NPG albums [he wrote them, but they’re sung and/or rapped by members of his band, the New Power Generation] or they were albums released through his NPG Music Club website [which stopped operation in 2006].
Chaos & Disorder is the one album I don’t own that is neither of these things. He released it somewhere between The Gold Experience and Emancipation and I never found any interest in it. It has fans but also detractors. Considering how pivotal that period was in his life between the two albums, I’m okay with having that small gap between them.

And I’ll be honest- I don’t own physical copies of ALL of these albums.
8 are gifts from people I befriended on a messageboard site. And a number of them, I’d never physically seen in stores.
But there are at least two that I have seen and eventually will replace.

I don’t just want to own the physical albums to be legit and to be respectable of Prince… he made fall in love with cover art. Before him, I’d gone through album inserts for lyrics and to find songwriters.
I started a tradition with Prince (and now that I think about it, I don’t think I really extended this tradition to anyone else) that when I buy a new album, I’d go through the cover art. It gives me a first impression of what I can expect from his music.
Trust me, Prince takes EVERYTHING into account. Even the order the songs are listed on the albums. Most of which, they are worth listening to all the way through because it’s just as much about the whole product as the individual parts.

Now time to go through what I do have and say a few words about each:

FOR YOU
– Prince’s first album ever
– it sounds very 70’s in a lot of places, relying on long instrumentals in some tracks, lots of keyboards and falsetto
– he is a bit of a perfectionist in this first attempt so you get some good music but maybe not enough of who he is as a person and artist

PRINCE
-I think this would be a good album for newbies to start with. The songwriting is a little more personal, but also more accessible than most of his works.
-“Bambi” is his first strong use of guitar and also the first time he pushed the envelope with subject matter. The main hook goes something like “Bambi, can’t you understand… it’s better with a man”
-for his female following, I’d recommend “When we’re dancing close and slow” and “It’s gonna be lonely.”
-the last new Prince album I ever bought 😦 someone sent it to me digitally, but I really wanted to play this in my car so I got the CD.

DIRTY MIND
-very funk-driven
-The music has a very raw quality to it because he recorded it in a studio he built in his house. And they weren’t exactly recorded with the goal of making a new album. And I’m not saying this to be negative- I found kinda refreshing since I’d listened to his more polished works a lot.
-this was the beginning of Prince’s reputation for explicit sexy subject matter and lyrics so if you have a slightly weaker constitution (like I did in the beginning… yeah, you’d think I picked the worst possible artist to check out, but if you like someone enough, you adapt and you’re a better person for it)
-notable songs: “Head” and “Sister”- the latter entertains the idea of incest- much of this album, I think he said he wrote during an angry time in his young life. He was 21-22 at the time.

CONTROVERSY
-The overall sound of the music is like Dirty Mind- except a little more polished.
-Prince gets political in certain tracks and they’re very topical of 1981
-“Do me baby” is his first great “bedroom ballad”- it gets a little hot and goes long, but if you enjoy it, it goes by so quickly.

1999
-of course one of his best albums
-while the title track and “little red corvette” are staples of 80’s music, not all of the songs are what you’d think the 80’s would sound like
-certain songs run long, most on music alone, just fair warning
-the subject matter of “Automatic” and “Let’s pretend we’re married” in particular are pretty racy
-Dance Music Sex Romance is one of his quintessential dance anthems.

PURPLE RAIN
-every song is a good song on this 9-track album
-“When Doves Cry” is unique to Prince. “The Beautiful Ones” one of his best ballads. “Darling Nikki”- the pinnacle of Prince as a controversial sexy artist
-“I would die 4 U” was the first song I heard from Prince ever… and there’s no thrill like seeing him perform it in the movie. That plus “Baby I’m a star”… from that moment on, I was in love because I never forget the way he made me feel watching him.

AROUND THE WORLD IN A DAY
-fair warning: if you’re looking for music that sounds like the 80’s or Purple Rain, you’re not going to find it here
-some of the music is an acquired taste- Prince’s personal brand of strange- particularly “Condition of the Heart,” “Temptation” and “Tambourine”
-some have made comparisons between it and The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper” album- based on the album cover and certain tracks that recall the 60’s sound
-but “Raspberry Beret” is very poppy and “Pop Life” is social commentary makes you think- one of my favorite collaborations between him and Wendy & Lisa- his bandmates from The Revolution

PARADE [soundtrack for “Under the Cherry Moon”]
-as was the case with Purple Rain, I saw the movie before I owned the album so it was through said movie I heard all these songs for the first time
-Prince insisted this be listened to as a whole and for good reason. It’s a very strong cohesive effort where every song has a purpose and none I’d consider terrible.
-it has a little more of a classical black & white feel to it. Lots of beautiful string arrangements. With Prince starring in and directing this movie, he gave a lot of the base tracks to Wendy & Lisa to finish. So in a way, I guess you could say “If you liked ‘Take Me with You’ on the Purple Rain soundtrack, you’ll like this album”
-I actually didn’t want this album for some time because I didn’t like “Kiss” as much as his other 80’s songs. But it is actually very different from the rest of the album. Other fun catchy songs worth getting this album for: “Girls and Boys” and “Anotherloverholenyohead”
-not sure if you can tell, but it’s one of my personal favorites 😛

SIGN O’ THE TIMES
-Sums up a lot of what Prince did in the 80’s between 1999 and Parade. Lots of Linn-drum machines. Many contributions between him, Wendy & Lisa. Kind of a final nod to his time with The Revolution- he broke the band up a year before this album, which went through many stages, was released.
-Two discs for a total of 16 songs: the first is more serious and political in places. For music lovers who are more “square,” they might like this disc better. the 2nd is a little more experimental and various. Featured in 3 songs [and one in disc I] is Prince’s alter ego Camille- notable for his/her [I think I recall reading that this was a female alter ego but I’m not positive] sped-up vocals. A lot of die-hard fans love the Camille tracks, which were originally planned for their own album.
-there really is something on here for everybody

THE BLACK ALBUM
-one of Prince’s more notorious albums because he stopped it from being released last minute without explanation [there are plenty of theories and legend about this, none he’d ever confirmed]. He eventually released it officially- but it was in part to break his contract with his record label
-I’d never seen it in stores… so this was another gift
-if you liked the Dirty Mind and Controversy albums, you’ll probably like this one. Prince wrote the music to counterbalance the seriousness of Sign o’ the times. The music is funky and also features Prince attempting/parodying hip-hop, a genre he had a lot of anger towards because it legitimizes people in the music industry that can’t sing a note or play an instrument. It also can be explicit and very strange in places.

LOVESEXY
-Prince considers this his gospel album because it deal a lot with spirituality. It’s also very theatrical- something that lent it well to live performances.
-It should be noted that this album was recorded as one long track, although versions do exist where the album is broken into its 9 tracks. The one I own is one long track
-“Anna Stesia” is chill-inducing and very poignant. One of his greatest masterpieces.

BATMAN
-a soundtrack he wrote for the 1989 film wit Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson
-like I said before, sums up a lot of what Prince used in his 80’s catalogue
-also interesting to note that he credited certain songs as Batman songs and others as Joker songs. As if he’s stating these characters would be two sides of the same coin. It’s no wonder he gave the name Gemini to the alter ego he played in his “Partyman” and “Batdance” music videos.

GRAFFITI BRIDGE
-considering this was noted as one of Prince’s biggest flops [the movie- touted as a sequel to Purple Rain- more than its respective soundtrack], I wasn’t interested in it. one of my friends I met on the messageboards offered to send me all the songs Prince performed and I accepted. Interestingly, fans clamored for Prince to have songs from other artists on the Purple Rain soundtrack and he never did… yet he put songs from other artists featured in the Graffiti Bridge film on the soundtrack, and their songs weren’t anywhere near as good.
-the best songs on the album that worth getting it for- “We are the new Power Generation- part 1” (I don’t have part 2, but I’d only heard it once- it’s considered one of his worst songs cuz it featured rap), “The ? of U” and “Joy in Repetition”… and also “Thieves in the Temple”- I love that one.

DIAMONDS & PEARLS
-This album was composed to be a commercial hit and it succeeds. Lots of great pop songs. Some include the element of rap, but most of the time, it is used tactfully as to not take away from the rest of the song. “Jughead” may be the one exception because the whole song is rapped.
-“Gett Off” and “Insatiable” are a little explicit, but both are also brilliant in what they do. The latter is one of Prince’s great ballads- if you liked “Adore” from Sign o’ the times or “Scandulous” from Batman, you’ll love it.

O(+> [aka LOVE SYMBOL]
-the album cover has Prince’s unpronounceable symbol on it.
-Features some rap and hip-hop, but on this 16 song album (2 of the tracks feature dialogue- this was designed to be a rock opera, but it doesn’t entirely succeed in that regard), there are SO MANY good songs. They are very catchy and poppy. Some great ballads too- “The Morning Papers” and “Damn U” especially.

COME
-very explicit and provocative, particularly the opening song (has a 11-minute run time- in one part you can hear Prince making out with the microphone as to simulate oral sex) and final track (aptly titled “Orgasm”- combines a suggestive guitar solo, him seducing his partner and her cries of pleasure). “Pheromone” hints at fetishes, bondage and rape- where Prince plays the observer while the woman is subjected to all this by her partner.
-if you go in with an open mind and can appreciate Prince’s experiment side and his artistry, I’d recommend this one a lot.

THE GOLD EXPERIENCE
-Prince’s original plan was to release this album and “Come” at the same time- Come being his older material and this one reflecting the new direction he was going in- he wrote the songs from both albums around the same time so if you like one, you’ll like the other. I guess you could say Come is like “Dirty Mind” and this one is like “Sign o’ the times”- one is more experimental and one is more polished
-this album has some of the best songs Prince ever wrote. “Shh” is one of his best “bedroom ballads” with amazingly beautiful instruments. “Endorphinmachine” literally rocks. “Dolphin” and “Eye Hate U” are emotional and with some angry guitar work. “Gold” is my all-time favorite Prince song. It’s a power ballad like “Purple Rain” (follows the same structure also), but it’s very special to me personally.

EMANCIPATION
-Reading up on Prince’s biography, I was very interested in this time in his life where he was in love with Mayte, his first wife. She inspired a lot of his music- some of my favorites. This album is a culmination of that- many great love songs here. It also signifies freedom- the first album he recorded after escaping his record contract after fighting for 3-4 years.
-It’s three discs, each disc has 12 songs. And each disc is an album onto itself. Disc I is about freedom, but also the beginnings of a relationship. Disc II is a love letter to Mayte and his marriage to her- it’s also a little sad in places because it contains reminders of the baby they lost. Disc III is very political and experimental- in that you should come in with an open mind because songs like “The Human Body” are a little strange.

NEWPOWER SOUL
-like I said before, it’s more of an NPG album than a Prince album so the feel is a little different
-the music is funk with some R&B and a little hip-hop. Chaka Khan is featured on some tracks.
-“The One” is one of his most beautiful ballads. “Come on” is also really well-done.
-it should be noted: there is a hidden track on this album after 30+ blank tracks that last mere seconds. some fans like it. me personally, it’s a little eerie… especially the final moments that feature sound effects from a hospital.

THE TRUTH
-Somewhat of a hidden gem, it was included as a 4th disc with some releases of Crystal Ball
-It’s labeled an acoustic album where most (not all) of the songs are solo efforts with Prince and his guitar. I guess you could say it’s his coffee shop album, but it has more layers to it than what Jason Mraz, Colbie Calliat and Ed Sheeran (all artists I like, Ed Sheeran especially) have done.

RAVE UN2 THE JOY FANTASTIC
-I wanted this one because Prince did A LOT of promotion for it, which he rarely did for his albums. You usually don’t do that unless you really believe in something. It was considered one of his greatest failures…
-while it isn’t perfect, there are some good songs on it. “The Greatest Romance” is another beautiful ballad. Many songs feature him dueting with other artists like Chuck D., Eve, Gwen Stefani and Sheryl Crow. “So far so pleased” (with Gwen) and “Baby Knows” (Sheryl Crow) are a lot of fun. “Strange but True” is unique and Prince uses all his technical prowess to the best of his ability.

RAVE IN2 THE JOY FANTASTIC
-I’d actually only heard this album through twice, but I recently put it on my iPod to change that
-it’s basically a remix album of the previous one. Two songs were removed (“Strange but true” being one of them and I do miss it) and replaced with a brand new one (some have told me this album is worth getting instead of Rave Un2 for “Beautiful Strange” alone). Certain songs are remixed or changed. Others are kept the same, but more instruments are added and they are a couple minutes longer.

THE RAINBOW CHILDREN
-Put plainly, this album is polarizing. You either love it or hate it. Fans have dubbed it as “Jehovah’s Witness propaganda”- because it refers back to the origin story of the religion (or cult, depending on your point of view) Prince joined in the late 90’s. Religion aspect, the most polarizing aspect is Prince doing a narrative throughout in a slowed down “Dark Vadar” type voice. The music is grounded in jazz, but also very experimental.
-Again, check it out if you have an open mind and want something unique. It and The Black Album are probably my bottom 2 Prince albums. I have to be in a certain mood to listen to them. One of my friends bought the album for me when he sent me Lovesexy and Emancipation- there was only one time where I legitimately understood it and I do have a blog post about it somewhere.

MUSICOLOGY
-the first Prince album I ever bought and at first it was kind of a disappointment… what he considers a pop album [the way he promoted this one] and what I consider a pop album are two very different things
-it has a very old-school/throwback vibe to artists like James Brown, Earth Wind and Fire and Sly & The Family Stone that inspired him. So at first “glance,” it doesn’t sound how you think a Prince album would sound- especially if you only have his 80’s music to go by.
-With one exception (I believe), he played and sung everything on this album himself- something he hadn’t done in several years. You can hear and feel all the instruments he uses, so if you’re a musician’s musician, this is your jam. [And when everyone on my college campus was blasting terrible rap and hip-hop, I used this album to escape and I own it a lot for that]
-it’s topical of 2004 and political in places. Maybe a tad preachy in places.

3121
-THIS is a pop album! Probably the best album Prince released in the 21st century until his final 4 releases
-great variety of songs, most very upbeat and fun. Some are very serious, but overall, very enjoyable

PLANET EARTH
-this album was released the year I became a fan- so it was a thrill to run out and buy this brand new when everyone else was doing the same thing
-for whatever reason, it doesn’t get a lot of love from his fans. [maybe because they find the first and final tracks kinda preachy. also have heard them say the R&B tracks aren’t terribly unique TO Prince- meaning any other artist could do it… I’ll have to disagree on one of those] I’m hoping that with him gone that they’ll look back on it and find moments to enjoy.
-features mostly pop and R&B. “Somewhere here on Earth” is another great ballad- very beautiful. “Mr. Goodnight” paints a dream case scenario for anyone who’d ever been in love with Prince. I didn’t like “Fury” on 3121 (live or recorded- most fans prefer the live version he did on Saturday Night Live) until I heard “Guitar”- they have their similarities

LOTUSFLOW3R
-it was released alongside MPLSsound and Bria Valente’s (his newest protégé) “Elixir” in a 3-disc package, but each is a unique album.
-a little more experimental in sound and political in theme. mixes some pop, funk and R&B, and one track brings back the Camille vocal.

MPLSOUND
-relies more on R&B and has three ballads
-to be honest, I hadn’t heard this album a lot… so I guess you could say I’m not a huge fan of it. I prefer Lotusflow3r between the two of them, but I also prefer every other album he did between 2001-2007 to the two of them combined.

PLECTRUM ELECTRUM
-Prince recorded this live with his new girl band, 3rd Eye Girl. It has 70’s rock throwback vibe. If you’re a fan of guitar solos, strong female musicians and rock music, this is your album

ART OFFICIAL AGE
-another of those albums that works as a whole as well as in individual parts. almost every song is a good song. there’s a little something of everybody
-“Clouds” and “Breakfast Can Wait” could have done well if they got airplay on the radio. Very commercial and they only need to be given a chance to succeed.
-the album as a whole is tied together by a female narrative you hear in “Clouds” as well as the “Affirmation” tracks- as well as the song “Way Back Home”- which may be Prince addressing the long gap between album releases (his previous one was 20TEN- which was given away in British newspapers and nearly officially released here- I have it, but for whatever reason, I’ve listened to it very little and don’t have a good memory of it). But I’ve had moments listening to “Way Back Home” and “Affirmation III” where I am struck deeply in the heart and when the album ends, I spend a couple minutes in tears. Either because I can feel his loneliness or I feel like I can relate to that loneliness in my own life

HIT N RUN PHASE ONE
-on several tracks, Prince duets with current artists that he supports like Judith Hill (who he later wrote an album for) and Rita Ora.
-the first time Prince left an album to an outside producer, so the feel is different than most of his albums. It feels very current in the vein of the current R&B scene and not like your typical Prince album.
-1000 x’s & o’s is the first love song he’d released in a long time… something I’d missed hearing a lot in his music- as he got more into his newfound religion and older, he started moving away from the methods of seduction he’d become known for.

I said I had 35 album, but there are four I didn’t discuss merely because I hadn’t heard them enough times to really discuss them.

If I were to put together my own “Prince fan starter kit”- it would include:

Prince (self-titled album)
1999
Purple Rain
Sign o’ the times
O(+>
3121
Art Official Age

Parade and The Gold Experience are also really good- but both are a matter of personal taste.

But yeah, I finally did it…
For all those in search of Prince albums, happy hunting. Feel free to leave a comment if you have questions or want to know more. I spent the first couple years I owned this blog discussing Prince’s music and I can include a link to one of my blog posts.
And if you need a second opinion, I can direct you to one of my friends who’d listened to Prince his whole life (although our tastes in his music are very similar, he has some unique opinions as well) or suggest you check into some Facebook groups that are currently talking about Prince and honoring his memory.
And also balking at all the rumors behind his death. I’m not going to believe in anything until the official autopsy results are released.

When I get down about all the rumors, I remember these lyrics and how Prince [and some other people who’d wandered into my life] taught me to be positive and believe the best in people.

POSITIVITY- HAVE YOU HAD YOUR + SIGN TODAY?
POSITIVITY- DO WE MARK YOU PRESENT OR DO WE MARK YOU LATE?
DON’T KISS THE BEAST- BE SUPERIOR, AT LEAST.
HOLD ON TO YOUR SOUL, YOU’VE GOT A LONG WAY TO GO.

[btw, this is from the final track of his “Lovesexy” album]

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2 Responses to my Prince album recommendations

  1. Great tribute post! I too own most of these and received his Hit an Run album on my way out of his final concert. Haven’t had the heart to open it yet. Just wrote about my history with music, with Prince songs and what an emotional experience to attend his last performance, would love it if you would check it out. http://www.spanishmossseries.com

    • Jackie says:

      That must have been really something to see him in concert. When I got the news, I realized I’d never get that opportunity and I was okay with that. The way he scheduled his concerts seemingly last minute and nowhere near where I lived (I tweeted him a couple times to come to NY/NJ/PA- for whatever reason he never did).
      Your write-up made me feel like I was there. So lucky- everyone I’d talked to that’d seen him live said it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
      I’m glad you liked my post. Appreciate your comment very much.

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