Rate The Albums is a new series in which we line up a band's album output in descending order of quality, from top to bottom. Then you tell us how you think their CVs should be arranged. Banter ensues.
Here Priya Elan runs through Prince’s discography in his order of preference, starting with his top album ’Purple Rain’. As Prince released about a million we've stuck with a top ten - what are yours?
Despite ‘Sign ‘O’ The Times’ getting the most love, for me ‘Purple Rain’ edges into the pole position by a nose. Historically it’s the one that turned him from a prolific, r’n’b chart mainstay to a ginormous, global icon. Musically it’s an album bursting with ideas and overflowing with concepts. From the opening church sermon on ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ through to the Beatles-like orchestra on the dreamy ‘Take Me With U’, the backwards message on ‘Darling Nikki’ and the country-rock riffage on the epic title track, it's never short on left turns and sonic surprises. But mostly, 'Purple Rain' was the sound of things coming together. In a big way. After five albums he’d distilled his musical recipe into perfect bite-size shapes and found a musical alchemy with his band The Revolution. This is his classic, although approach the accompanying feature film with caution.
'Sign ‘O’The Times’
After shedding his skin by firing his collaborators The Revolution, Prince’s first solo album for half a decade was also his boldest: a career defining expression of artistic intent. The minimalism of tracks like ‘Hot Thing’ and ‘Ballad Of Dorothy Parker’ offset the epic Hendrix-musings of ‘The Cross’, the psycho-sexual funk of ‘If I Was Your Girlfriend’ and the playful psychedelica of ‘Starfish and Coffee'. Lyrically it was as soul-bearing as we would get from this eternal enigma, encompassing religion, AIDS and the battle of the sexes, and found him toying, for the first (and probably last) time, with the question of matrimony.
'Parade' sprawled and lept about in the most errant fashion, but this sense of things dropping off a cliff at any moment made the album absolutely compelling. The big singles (‘Kiss’,’Girls & Boys’, ‘Mountains’, ‘Anotherloverholenyohead’) were the most sturdy of the lot. Elsewhere, we got fabulously lost in cocktail jazz (‘Venus De Milo’), New Wave funk (‘New Position’), Joni Mitchell style confessionals (‘Sometimes It Snows In April’) and even 40s French baroque pop (‘Do U Lie?’). A thrilling, wild ride of an album. Again, a viewing of the accompanying film (the self-directed, black and white, not all intentional LOL-fest Under The Cherry Moon) should be approached with caution.
Eschewing the eclecticism of his earlier albums, Prince strips things back to just him and a batch of pervy synths. There’s pop magic here (the timeless title track and ‘Delirious’) but at the heart of this double album there’s also something darker: a cold sadness in the Kraftwerk-by-S&M of ‘Automatic’ and the robotic anti-funk of ‘Something In The Water (Does Not Compute)’ which make for wonderfully odd bedfellows.
After the nascent ‘For You’ and the genre plundering of his self-titled debut, ‘Dirty Mind’ was a bold left turn. Clearly influenced by New Wave, Prince re-invented himself as a dirty mac wearing rockabilly motherfunker with some very naughty proclivities. There was the Buddy-Holly-does-incest-vibe of ‘Sister’ to the 3-in-a-bed-Elvis-tribute ‘When You Were Mine’. This was the first sign that Prince was to transform, butterfly-like, into the superstar he would later become.
‘Around The World In A Day’
At the time, in a famously rare interview he said : “You know how easy it would have been to open 'Around The World In A Day' with the guitar solo that's on the end of "Let's Go Crazy"? You know how easy it would have been to just put it in a different key?” ‘Purple Rain’’s follow up was nothing of the sort. A Beatles-esque odyssey, with a vast cast of bizarre and boldly drawn characters, it confused and confounded but ultimately was the bridge to the next phase in his career.
As industrious as he was, his albums just couldn't contain all his creativity. His b-sides were just as important as the rest of his career output. This collection, tagged onto ‘The Hits’ compilation, was an essential piece of the PRN jigsaw. From the x-rated duet with Sheila E ‘Erotic City’ to the reflective balladry of ‘How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore’ and the propulsive Apollonia 6 cast off ’17 Days’, this was a fascinating insight into his genius pop brain gone feral.
Prince albums in all but name, he wrote and produced every number on these albums but in all instances hid behind the (usually) lace-based outfits filled by ex-girlfriends. The one man pop factory went onto write songs for The Bangles, Cyndi Lauper and Martika but it started with Vanity 6. Silly, scantily clad and imbued with an independent spirit this one and only album was incredibly fun in an early B-52s kind of way. Meanwhile, Sheila E’s ‘The Glamorous Life’ was a cut glass piece of sculptured 80s pop and ‘The Family’s’ self titled debut merged seamlessly with ‘Parade’’s funky psychedelics.
Only a blip because we were so used to Prince pushing things forward with every album post-‘Dirty Mind’. There were lots of highlight on this (the cold war glitz of ‘Ronnie, Talk To Russia’, decades-later-to-be-covered-by- Robyn on ‘Jack U Off’ , the pop finery of ‘Private Joy’ and the catwalk strut of the title track) but, as a whole album, it saw the quality control dipping ever so slightly. By anyone elses standards however, this was a stone cold classic.
Kudos to Prince for attempting to write an entire soundtrack around Tim Burton’s ‘Batman’ flick, however, the results were largely unmemorable. Whilst ‘Batdance’ presciently caught the trend for sampling dialogue, the rest of the album was largely forgettable, from the shallow funk of ‘Partyman’ to the rather standard duo of ballads (‘Scandalous’ and ‘the Arms Of Orion’).
How would you rate the Prince' discography?
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