Hot Things, Xtraloveables and the Purple Hotness Index

purple_hotness_index

Hot Things

The Purple Hotness Index is an album-centric study of Prince’s artistic output. Almost every album he released delivered at least one great track, with an infrequent exception like Planet Earth, but hunting for the good in a pile of bad isn’t a lot of fun. This Index is a means for mapping the location of buried treasure. It consists of a dumb-as-dirt pseudo-formula for first, of course, rating all of Prince’s albums by awarding “good” songs a point (1), “meh” songs a half point (.5), and “bad” songs nada (0). Albums containing all great songs like Purple Rain get an averaged, perfect Hot Things base score of 10 (9/9 x 10), whereas Planet Earth, yielding just two sort of okay songs, results in a Hot Things base score of 1 (1/10 x 10). In this unapologetically personal exercise and methodology, sales figures and singles that charted are irrelevant. Rather, musical achievements categorized as “good” or “great” — the ear candy of strong melodies and rewarding experiments in genre — are championed.

Xtraloveables

To separate the albums from each other a little more, to make a wider value scale, a few modifiers are added to the base score. The first modifier, and the most powerful, is the sum of all the Xtraloveables. At Prince’s artistic peak there were way more songs produced than could fit on a vinyl or cd disc or that the record company would agree to release. Many never progressed beyond a demo. Many were hidden away in an infamous vault. But many were officially released as B-sides, songs that maybe didn’t fit within the concept of a particular album, perhaps sounded a touch too different, but still received some extra love from the Artist. From “Irresistible Bitch” to “Erotic City” to “Staxowax”, these essential Xtraloveables, original songs and remixes of album tracks arguably better than anything on the album they’re associated with, hint even more at an artistic fever that gripped Prince and held him in sway for close to two decades. The disappearance of B-sides beginning in the late 90s was due in part to record label battles and an Internet sales model, but also corresponds to a general decline in his output or, at least, his output of excellence. To some degree, there was a noticeable decline in his ear for great, inventive melodies, which this particular modifier is intended to deal with.

Let’s Work

By the same token, a la core D&D mechanics, a second modifier gives the albums that represent innovative phases (Dirty Mind), interesting experiments (Parade) and more personal explorations (Lovesexy) another little bump. It’s either a small Let’s Work +1 or -1 modifier; -1 for those albums that exhibit a more conventional commercial attempt, like the otherwise pretty-good The Vault… Old Friends 4 Sale, or are characterized by an overwhelming preachiness or know-it-all pretention of which Prince was no stranger, especially later in life. In other words, the modifier values the inventive Prince, the guy who mashed up ’60s and ’70s R&B, Soul, Funk and Rock inspirations with race and gender mind-fucks, the guy who showed musicians what they could do with the LM-1 Drum Computer, over the imitative Prince, the guy apparently backwards engineering the hit-makers of the day, the Bobbie Browns, Bell Biv Devoes, Heavy D & The Boyz, Bonnie Raitts or Sheryl Crows, to compete for chart success, or baldly use his music as a tool for evangelism.

Girls & Boys

And, finally, the Girls & Boys +1 modifier goes to albums containing special, course-changing contributions from collaborators (Clare Fischer) and band members (Wendy & Lisa) as well as all the live recordings where the band interplay is crucial to the final product.

So the formula goes (((Hot Things/Total Songs)*10)+(Xtraloveables+Let’s Work+Girls & Boys))/10.

It’s clearly an infallible and unquestionably sound methodology.

The List

  1. Purple Rain (1.6 / 1984 / the 6th release)
    This is the early artistic pinnacle, in some ways indistinguishable from the movie. When the inevitable biopic is released, starring some desperate actor with a passing resemblance and a fraction of the humor, charisma, virtuosity, narcissism, soulfulness and humanity, doomed to intense career-ending criticism, here are three obvious ways it could go sideways: 1) the biopic’s screenwriter equates artistic success with money and groupies and failure with declining album and movie sales post-Purple Rain; 2) the biopic follows clichéd rise-and-fall-and-rise-again plot points in a nonlinear progression towards an entirely obvious ending — “Extry, Extry, Purple Rain is a hit!”; or 3) the biopic focuses on a musician who’s triumph was a movie instead of on a musician who’s many many triumphs were albums. Of all of those albums, however, Purple Rain is his best collection of songs written during his most daring year or two of inventive creation and those songs provide the structure for his best movie with his best script and his best acting turn. A smart film about Prince might entirely skip or montage 1982-1984 and deal with the effort that got him to that point and the fallout from the extreme wealth he was granted.


    The Hot Things, songs worthy of a mixtape: 9 out of 9 (that’s a base score of 10 ya’ll)
    Songs to skip: None
    What to get Joy in Repetition from: “The Beautiful Ones”
    The Xtraloveables (the B-sides were almost always dope): +4. “17 Days”, “God”, “Erotic City”, and “Another Lonely Christmas”. Really, “Erotic City” should count for two.
    The Let’s Work factor for innovation: +1
    The Girls & Boys factor: +1
    Total modifier score: 6
    The Purple Hotness Score ((10+6)÷10): 1.6

  2. 1999 (1.4 / 1982 / 5th)
    An album obsessed with The Machine. Whether cars, politics, the music industry, or computers, Prince was captivated by the theme. And if not for the specific release dates of specific technology to retailers of high-end musical instruments, Prince’s career would have gone in a completely different direction. No doubt his multi-instrument adeptness would have simply forced different experiments in funk, dance, disco, pop, jazz and blues idioms. But on a lonely hot Summer night at Sunset Studio in Los Angeles during the 1981 Controversy recording sessions he punched some random buttons on the LM-1 Drum Computer, the drum machine conceived and designed by Roger Linn, introduced in 1980, listed at US$4,995, discounted to $3,995 in 1982, of which only 500-725 units were even built. Without that curiosity with this new toy for making artificial sounds there would be no 1999 or Purple Rain.

    Almost each track on 1999 relies on a different drum pattern from the LM-1, which he squeezed dry like juice from a fruit. Exhibit A: the simple, celebratory, apocalyptic funk pop opening track and title song laden with a renowned drum pattern and hand claps, smartly written last to summarize the other tracks that follow. From the steampunk disco of “Little Red Corvette” to his trademark knocking sound on “Delirious” to the slow vamp “International Lover”, the patterns come in at different pitches and time signatures and are all foundational, even when surrounded by piano and synths. Even “Free”, a more traditional slow burn, includes a pattern where it’s not even needed. The whole thing is bravura production. And an aside on the lyrics: the notable focus on mortality and Armageddon may have come from his upbringing. As described in a Billboard article, “Prince was raised in a chaotic home, but his parents were members of the Seventh Day Adventists, another socially conservative Christian group.” Seventh Day Adventists believe that we “are working toward the end of time, that salvation is the key effort for every human being, and that bringing souls to God is the most important thing.” At this early stage he was way more concerned with sexual conquest than religious conversion, of course, but it’s a theme that runs through his whole career.


    The Hot Things, songs worthy of a mixtape: 11 out of 11
    Songs to skip: None
    The JiR-worthy: “Automatic”, another steampunk disco offering with the coolest pattern. It’s the one that makes the Machine breath heavy, that makes the Machine sexy.
    The Xtraloveables (the B-sides): +3. “How Come U Don’t Call Me”, “Horny Toad”, and “Irresistible Bitch”.
    The Let’s Work factor for innovation: +1
    The Girls & Boys factor: 0, ’cause this here is the purest solo Prince sound.
    Our Modifier total: 4
    The Purple Hotness Score ((10+4)÷10): 1.4

  3. Around the World in a Day (1.39 / 1985 / 7th)
    The 3rd, 4th and 5th albums on this list were released in a span of three years, but their genesis were typically a year earlier in each case, and it’s this post-Purple Rain period, from 1984 to 1988 or so, that would be fruitful for a decent biopic. Purple Rain was a two year project encompassing a record, a movie, countless interviews, award shows and a world tour. During it all Prince was somehow also in studios recording, and although in interviews he talked about avoiding Purple Rain 2.0, in retrospect the follow-up album sounds like a sequel. The Eastern-influenced opening track is a clear challenge to his new, sizable crossover audience, screwing with expectations, song structure and melody. Once it’s over, however, the album settles into stronger, catchier tracks throughout, beginning with “Paisley Park”, one of his most happy, idealistic offerings. The construction of his mansion / recording studio / concert hall by the same name must have been a euphoric dream. This is still a period of financial success, positivity, and adulation, which the album clearly reproduces.


    The Hot Things, songs worthy of a mixtape: 8 of 9 (8 ÷ 9 x 10, base score 8.89)
    Songs to skip: “Around the World in a Day” is a pretty mess and kind of a dud, with an un-corralled zither and plodding drum track.
    The JiR-worthy: “Paisley Park”
    The Xtraloveables (the B-sides): +3. “She’s Always In My Hair”, “Hello”, and “Girl” are all great.
    The Let’s Work factor for innovation: +1
    The Girls & Boys factor: +1. Plenty of contributions from the Revolution.
    Our Modifier total: 5
    The Purple Hotness Score ((8.89+5)÷10): 1.39

  4. Sign o’ the Times (1.37 / 1987 / 9th)
    Another masterpiece that dives deep into drum tracks and synths to generate the structure for songs concerning his favorite subjects: love, sex, God, etc. This is a party album, heavy on hooks, clever lyrics and dance-oriented fun, benefiting from a sumptuous, kinetic companion concert film of the same name. Prince employed a $35,000 Fairlight CMI “sampler instrumenter and digital audio workstation” for a lot of the tracks. Here’s a video (with a short audio dropout) from a London-based music school where the sparse “Sign o’ The Times” gets deconstructed using an Ableton Live plugin recreation:

    The presenter Ski Oakenfull starts with the beat, moves to the memorable “popcorning” sound used for the main riff, then adds the bluesy, worried bass line and a lush keyboard to faithfully reproduce the instrumental portion of the song. Between 1985’s Around the World in a Day and 1987’s Sign o’ the Times there was not only Parade in 1986 but also Dream Factory, Crystal Ball, and Camille, all 1986, plus a later collection titled Roadhouse Garden containing what might be considered B-sides from the same periodAll of these scrapped albums contain many of the same tracks, many recorded with The Revolution, that eventually ended up on SotT but with The Revolution’s contributions removed and rerecorded after the band was dissolved. It sounds like this was a period of Prince being a big dick, believing his own hype, putting down and pushing away his colleagues and surrounding himself with yes men. It’s a bit of shock how thoroughly dynamic and cohesive SotT is once you know some of the back story.


    The Hot Things, songs worthy of a mixtape: 15 1/2 out of 16
    Songs to skip: None, really, although either “Play In the Sunshine” or “It’s Gonna Be a Beautiful Night” can feel monotonous at times, although the latter has Sheila E. rapping about a table and a chair which is pretty great.
    The JiR-worthy: “Hot Thing”
    The Xtraloveables: “La, La, La, He, He, Hee” and “Shockadelica” so only +2 here. Other great tracks recorded within the same year include “Big Tall Wall”, “Good Love”, “In a Large Room With No Light”, “Junk Music”, “Movie Star” but were held back.
    The following 2:42:38 mix by CanEyePlayWithU posted on Mixcloud includes great alternate or early versions of SotT songs, tracks for the unreleased albums Dream Factory and the original Crystal Ball, and all of the Black Album:

    The Let’s Work factor for innovation: +1
    The Girls & Boys factor: +1 for the new “Counter-Revolution” ensemble featuring Boni Boyer (“I said Boni Boyer!”), Sheila E. (“Pretty good… for a girl…”) and Cat (“I need you to rap”) Glover.
    Our modifier total: 4
    The Purple Hotness Score ((9.69+4)÷10): 1.37

  5. Lovesexy (1.34 / 1988 / 10th)
    An atmospheric, synth-heavy, ecstatic bacchanal where every nook and cranny is intensely designed; a hastily-produced, perhaps MDMA-fueled, replacement to the Black Album which it also conceptually plays against (summarized in many places including blog posts like “Hundalasiliah!”: The Story of Lovesexy); an introduction to the candy-colored universe eventually seen on screen in Grafitti Bridge where, in both, Purple Rain‘s First Avenue is turned into a Wizard of Oz-style battleground for artists struggling with the choice between temptation and “spiritual noise”, where demonic club-goers decide winners and losers in a constant musical party that gets infiltrated by a hippy-dippy angel spouting bad poetry. It’s all very simple AND complicated simultaneously. The simplicity of muse-of-the-moment Ingrid Chavez’ line “rain is wet and sugar is sweet” on “Eye No” opens the album, but it’s a simplicity that quickly gives way to a knotty theatrical battle between goodness and sin, innocence and Spooky Electric. Characters and scenarios come at you fast. The comic-book-ness of the enterprise is provocative. “Eye No” also contains the faintly audible line “Near the bridge of graffiti there lives a band whose soul belongs to god.” According to princevault.com, “although the song ‘Graffiti Bridge’ had already been recorded in July 1987, this is the first mention of ‘Graffiti Bridge’ on a Prince release.” So Lovesexy and Grafitti Bridge, which share Chavez in a similar role, are spiritual relations. In fact, here’s a mix highlighting a handful of unreleased tracks featuring Chavez (including Parts 1, 2 and 3 of “Cross the Line” and the cute Prince/Chavez dialogue “Standing In The Rain”) that could have fit on both projects:

    The ambient elements, club noise, incidental dialogue, preset samples from the Fairlight synthesizer, interludes and segues, help to alleviate the intense programmed percussion which also make the album feel mean and brittle. For instance, the big hit “Alphabet Street”, a catchy, weird, rhythm guitar-driven song, includes a protracted drum and distorted snare track that almost overwhelms the melody. It’s a blues/pop/rock/gospel synthesis, or perhaps better described as genre-less and just Absolutely Prince. “Alphabet Street”, the less fun “Glam Slam” (the name of Prince’s club in real life and the Kid’s club in Graffiti Bridge, which he inherited from “Billy” from Purple Rain) that closes with a standout groove, the confessional “Anna Stesia”, militaristic “Dance On”, the title track, and “I Wish You Heaven” are all new variations on 1999‘s ethos: how many different ways can you bend sounds from a drum machine and a synthesizer to provide a foundation for explorations of our machine-like culture in The Garden (life, love, lust, God, dreams, transcendence). “Anna Stesia” — i.e. “anesthesia” or maybe a return of “Annie Christian” from 1982 or a play on “Aura”, Ingrid Chavez’ character in GB — grounds the storyline in an operatic search for Jesus, God, Love, religious epiphany and redemption, a Prince-blender of Christianity through a personification of painkillers. (For more wild guesses see the blog post: Anna Stesia Lovesexy 1988). The events that led to the making of this, his most idiosyncratic album, would make a great narrative for a good biopic. From the heights of Purple Rain to the lows of Under the Cherry Moon, the dissolution of many professional and personal relationships, the creation of a new band, the moveable feast of touring shows, backstage passes, groupies, et. al., the experiments with pharmaceuticals, the cancellation of The Black Album, wars with his record label and the making of this bizarre, danceable and highly joyful project with its trippy mythology seem worthy of a unique dramatization. Despite the behind-the-scenes drama, though, professionalism and showmanship were always at the forefront, as is evident from footage from 1988:

    Lovesexy, this representation of a hallucinatory mind palace, is also Prince’s last great album for many years to come.


    The Hot Things: 8 1/2 out of 9, although picking one to drop would be difficult.
    Songs to skip: Well, you can’t, since it’s one long song, but if you get a version with separate tracks, the less melodic “Glam Slam” may or may not be to your liking.
    The JiR-worthy: “Positivity”
    The Xtraloveables: 3 great ones… ‘Alphabet St. part II”, “Escape”, and “Scarlet Pussy”.
    The Let’s Work factor: +1. Maybe the second most experimental album after Parade?
    The Girls & Boys factor: 0. This sound like a completely insulated and personalized universe where little outside influence was invited.
    Our modifier total: 4
    The Purple Hotness Score: 1.34

  6. One Nite Alone… Live! (1.20 / 2002)
    One Nite Alone… The Aftershow: It Ain’t Over (1.14 / 2002)
    Indigo Nights (1.20 / 2008)
    The Undertaker (1.06 / 1993 / unreleased)
    Xpectation (1.20 / 2003 / 26th)
    N.E.W.S. (1.20 / 2003 / 27th)
    C-Note (1.20 / 2004), along with the similar, earlier collaborations with Eric Leeds, Madhouse 8 (1.20 / 1987) and Madhouse 16 (1.20 / 1987) and the unreleased The Flesh (1986).
    This big group of albums, pretty much impossible to separate in terms of quality, include both the standard concert recording and the instrumental jam, where the common denominator is the elusive Prince captured live in his element, performing with enthusiasm, leading a band through its paces. The first set of albums contains beloved tracks played to adoring audiences in clubs and arenas, basically the greatest hits with rearrangements, medleys and soloing. There are a few overdone or difficult songs, but on the whole these are magnificent packages. The Undertaker is a live studio recording of originals and covers that was nixed by Warner Bros. Hunt that thing down! The version of “Joy in Repetition” with it’s two epic guitar solos on The Aftershow gives chills. Indigo Nights is fire.

    The second set of albums contains improvisational jams constructed to provide larger spaces for instrumental soloing, in some cases performed in an arena, in other cases built in a studio, but both anchored by live material. There’s not really a dud in the bunch, depending on your tolerance for certain specific instruments or jazz improvisation in general. Violinist Vanessa Mae is featured on many Xpectation tracks, for instance. Xpectation covers the same soundscapes that back The Rainbow Children, a cool, smooth jazz direction that recalls the title sequence to the tv show Taxi. The tracks swing from funk to smooth jazz to Dixieland to the indefinable in genre, but they all seem to find a central melody line, beat and/or concept that keeps them on solid ground, and Prince’s all-encompassing virtuosity is on display throughout. Madhouse 16 contains tracks worthy of The Cotton Club-era Bigband and Swing Jazz era.


    The Hot Things: almost all
    Songs to skip: maybe “We Do This” for George Clinton’s rough lead vocals although then you’re missing out on a great Maceo Parker solo, and “Dolphin” sucks in all variations, “Xemplify” is too cheesy, etc.
    The JiR-worthy: “Satisfied” is gonna be a Blues standard someday, “Beggin’ Woman Blues” is a brilliant mashup of Cousin Joe and Louis Jordan covers, “The Ride”, “Bambi”, “Ten”… The list is endless.
    The Xtraloveables: 0
    The Let’s Work factor: +1
    The Girls & Boys factor: +1
    Our modifier total: 2
    The most common Purple Hotness Score: 1.20

  7. Parade (1.13 / 1986 / 8th)
    Parade is an unusual soundtrack to an unusual film. Under the Cherry Moon, with pretty, black-and-white cinematography by Scorcese regular Michael Ballhaus, a beautiful location and anachronistic fashion design, mixes Marx Brothers-style vaudevillian sketches and a white, Parisian, Jazz scene with the class warfare of con men crashing snooty, upper crust parties. At its center, UtCM is an excuse for Prince to preen for his fans for 90 minutes. The best bits are Prince and Jerome Benton’s homoerotic comedy, toeing a line between funny and self-indulgent. Otherwise, as with Graffiti BridgeUnder the Cherry Moon‘s script is totally undercooked, failing to argue for its own existence, building to the flimsiest of finales.
    tumblr_m0n4x5kch71qcvaxho1_500
    Paradoxically, Parade begins with four near throwaway tracks, depending on your mood, almost as another “eff u” to all the new fannish lookyloos from Purple Rain, before kicking into high gear and closing with one of his most beautiful, saddest songs. Parade contains poem-like fragments, experimental lyrical passages, tinkling piano passes, orchestration by composer Clare Fischer and some indelible pop classics. According to princevault.com, Prince wrote and produced about 66 songs in 1985, including all the tracks for Parade as well as for The Family album and the second Sheila E. album. A lot of these tracks were not released, of course, and most are very different than the ones found on Parade, which has a specific thematic sensibility. He stuck to a very particular vision. The drum parts for the first four songs were apparently recorded in one sitting on the 17th of April, 1985, at Sunset Sound in Hollywood, so the phonic theme is defined by the eclectic choices for beats he made on that day. He later contracted composer Clare Fischer to design completely separate orchestration. Prince added these to his early mixes (and may have reused them for the next 30 years), which led the arrangements into unusual areas. At some point, whether before or after Fischer’s contributions, he added horns, reeds, steel drums, zills and other uncommon instrumentation and in the end mixed Fischer’s orchestration way down so that one of the sources of the songs was hidden away. With the remaining odd structures and weird time signatures we’ve got a soundtrack to a much more bizarre film than Under the Cherry Moon. Parade could accompany a feature about a tripping, gender neutral Alice-like innocent (Camille?) lurching through a psychedelic Wonderland, weaving from one adventure to another, leaning this way and that, a junkie with tweaker goggles looking for love from talking caterpillars and smiling pussy cats. The fourth track “Under The Cherry Moon”, whose first line is “How can I stand…”, sounds like a crackhead at a street corner or a drunk leaving a bar. So these four songs may not make your playlist despite their seductive characteristics.
    By May 1st, 1985, Parade looked incredibly different than the final release in 1986, containing “Others Here With Us”, “Life Can Be So Nice”, “Sometimes It Snows In April”, “Old Friends 4 Sale” and “All My Dreams” instead of any of the pop hits it’s actually known for, pop hits which hadn’t even been recorded yet. He created “Kiss” on April 28th but did not include it (and famously gave it to protégé band Mazarati but took it back when he liked what they did with it). He didn’t begin recording more until July, starting with “Girls & Boys”. When “Girls & Boys” hits on the album, we reenter the land of classic Prince funk. A little faster as the previous tracks, but not as fast as usual, more sparse than ever before but decidedly groovy, as if the instrumental sketches of the first batch of songs (the zills, the specific synth passages rather than washes, etc.) as well as the minimalist choices he and Mazarati had made on “Kiss”, informed this new set. The album swings from catchy tracks, the distinct pop of “Mountains”, “Kiss” and “Anotherloverholenyohead”, to palate cleansers like “Venus de Milo”, the one dedicated Clare Fischer piece, instrumental and cinematic, and the Frenchified, childlike “Do U Lie?”, our stoned Alice’s (or Madeline’s or Camille’s…) possible theme song. Bookending all of these, both “Life Can Be So Nice” and “Sometimes It Snows In April” are more haunting than pleasurable in different ways, with the now classic, prophetic and self-eulogic latter number containing the saddest final line he ever wrote. In his oeuvre, Prince didn’t learn enough from this strange, fertile period. He rarely returned to this level of experimentation, likely and sadly because low sales and negative film reviews didn’t inspire him to do so.


    The Hot Things: “Girls & Boys”, “Life Can Be So Nice”, “Venus de Milo”, “Mountains”, “Do U Lie?”, “Kiss”, “Anotherloverholenyohead”, “Sometimes It Snows In April”
    The Hot Things: 9 or 10 out of 12
    Songs to skip: “I Wonder U” and maybe all four leading off the album
    JiR-time: “Mountains”
    The Xtraloveables: +1, not for “Love Or $”, a nervous Camille jam, but for “Alexa De Paris”, another lovely instrumental with a series of searching guitar solos.
    The Let’s Work factor: +1
    The Girls & Boys factor: +1
    Our modifier total: 3
    The Purple Hotness Score (base score + modifiers / 10): 1.13

  8. Dirty Mind (1.10 / 1980 / 3rd)
    A quick, tinny, pre-drum machine, funk hootenanny for New Wave and Disco aficionados with the sparse production values of a raw demo, a mosaic of sexy scenarios (virgins, sisters, and waylaid brides), US politics and punkish cultural and sexual norm busting, all presented in a girly falsetto.


    The Hot Things: 8 out of 8
    The JiR-worthy: “Head”
    The Xtraloveables: None although there would be a definite +1 for the “Tick, Tick, Bang” demo recorded during the time period but left unreleased.

    The Let’s Work factor: +1
    The Girls & Boys factor: 0
    Our modifier total: 1
    The Purple Hotness Score: 1.10

  9. Controversy (1.10 / 1981 / 4th)
    Sometime in 1981 Prince became a shockingly good live performer. Did it happen before or after bottles and food were thrown at him and he was booed off the stage opening for the Rolling Stones in October of 1981?

    According to Matt Fink:

    That scared the bejeezus out of him and three songs into his set he walked off stage in a bit of a panic, some fear going on there… Prince said… ‘Just look at me in my high heels and thigh-high stockings, bikini briefs, no shirt and a trench coat. This is enraging them and I’m not going to put up with it.'” ~ I Would Die 4 U: Why Prince Became an Icon

    But check out a concert at New Jersey’s Capitol Theatre in January 1982 just three and a half months later:

    There’s a new, frilly wardrobe, for one. But also he’s in total control and fearless. He’s soloing, then improvising, then licking and jacking off his guitar during an incredible five minute interlude within “Head” that reads as a proof of concept for the “Darling Nikki” performance in Purple Rain. He’s stripping and invoking audience participation during “Do Me, Baby”. He uses “Controversy” to build to an emotional crescendo, riling up the crowd. As opposed to the Dirty Mind-era band member, he’s now a bandleader with a heightened and commanding stage presence. Controversy, released in the same month as that infamous Rolling Stone concert, is an ostensibly better album than Dirty Mind, more carefully constructed, with a fuller, warmer, more layered soundscape, with the transitions between songs more massaged. But it’s not better by enough to warrant one being rated over the other. The punk thought process in the lyrics remains intact from the year before. But there’s a lot of firsts, including more of an emphasis on a cohesive beat-synth-rhythm guitar foundation and sounds treated thematically, reminiscent of 1999. There’s an appreciation of feedback in the transition from “Private Joy” to “Ronnie Talk to Russia”. There’s his first drum machine use on “Private Joy” but it’s not everywhere yet like it is on 1999. We get his first epic, cinematic ballad, with “Do Me, Baby”, where you’re forced into the bedroom with him, and perhaps his first reference to himself in the third person on “Private Joy”. There’s an interesting band-centric lean to “Let’s Work”, sounding built for synchronized dance moves. And the first weirdo track “Annie Christian”, a spoken word jam with tinny backing drum machine, synth and rock guitar, something easy to imagine being performed alone at a Poetry Slam. Also see Such a Pretty Toy: Prince’s ‘Controversy’ (Alfred Soto). If Dirty Mind was the tryout of a singular idea, Controversy was the flowering of many concepts from that seed of an idea.


    The Hot Things: 8 out of 8, even “Annie Christian”
    The JiR-worthy: “Sexuality”
    The Xtraloveables: None
    The Let’s Work factor: +1
    Our modifier total: 1
    The Purple Hotness Score: 1.10

  10. Art Official Age (1.08 / 2014 / 37th)
    Except for live sets (and very arguably The Rainbow Children) Prince didn’t produce a great album for 26 freaking years after LovesexyArt Official Age appeared kind of out of nowhere, an almost complete return to the art form of the album. The concept is the changing definition of mortality in a digital age. Perhaps inspired by Janelle Monáe’s time-traveling android Cindi Mayweather, and certainly influenced by an acceptance of his own “official age” he spent most of his life ignoring, Mr. Nelson wakes from suspended animation 50 years into the future where people are free of time and use telepathy, as you do. He also returns to front-loading the weakest song, “Art Official Cage”, where compelling political lyrics are subsumed by a grandiose, forced, multi-genre, multi-sound effect mess, but that quickly gives way to a highly enjoyable set of new songs beginning with the pretty, soft funk number “Clouds” and Lianne La Havas’ “Charlotte Anne Telepathy” character as a guide. We stray from the established storyline numerous times — most of the lyrics on most of the tracks don’t actually seem related to the album concept in any meaningful way — but Charlotte reappears now and then to remind us of this utopian “brand new age”. Unpredictable inclusions abound: a carnal, super funky “The Gold Standard” introduces an older Svengali type reminiscent of Jamie Starr or Bob George smoking… something… and entertained by a grinding young lady; Camille’s return; the proto-rap chant of “U Know”; the joyful, roomy pop of “This Could Be Us”; Andy Allo on all her tracks, especially “Time”. The “Funknroll” remix here is way more catchy than the original. Also read Prince Left Us an Instruction Manual. Biopic-wise, this period could be incorporated as a preface or coda, but the precision production and carefully constructed mixes hint at enough material for a much longer story. For instance, a little nugget such as the one discussed by the Peach & Black Podcast here, about the creation and lack of credits on “U Know”, broach a hypocritical stance towards other artists. It certainly seems like a biopic should focus on the darker side of Prince, the mistreatment and abandonment of band members, the missed and partial payments, the disses, the self-absorption, the excess, etc. Or, perhaps, an examination could focus on how two people might experience two different Princes; the multiplicity of personality and roles. A few facts are obvious… from 2010 to 2014 he produced or wrote songs for a number of artists and toured extensively but didn’t release anything of his own, and then after decades of formless music released this particular album, a personal, relevant and sophisticated piece of art. How and why did that happen? Whatever the series of events that led to the album are, there’s a good bet they were life altering. And since this release came towards the end of his life, perhaps during a time of declining health and pharmaceutical help, Art Official Age marks a potentially profound era of change.


    The Hot Things: 10 or 11 out of 12, not counting “Affirmation I & II”. (10.5÷12 x 10, base score 8.75)
    Songs to skip: “Art Official Cage”, maybe “What it Feels Like”
    JiR-time: “Time”
    The Xtraloveables: None
    The Let’s Work factor: +1 for rediscovering the art of the album
    The Girls & Boys factor: +1 for stellar contributions from Joshua Welton, Andy Allo, Stringenius and Lianne La Havas
    Our modifier total: 2
    The Purple Hotness Score: 1.08

  11. The Black Album (1.07 / 1987 (1994) / 9th (16th))
    “So Camille found a new color. The color black: strongest hue of them all. He painted a picture called Le Grind — hittin’ so tall. And then Cindy C — THE vogue fantasy. Horns & vocals 2 die 4. Lollipops — in yours! Stroke after stroke callin’ all others a joke. Superfunkycalifragisexi. Camille rocked hard in a funky place. Stuck his long
    funk in competition’s face.” This mythical, much bootlegged collection of propulsive funk technically began in the studio, like all of his 92 new tracks in 1986, with an idea for a riff or a beat, but it was also strongly influenced by three personal concerns: the premiere and critical lambasting of Under the Cherry Moon in July 1986, pressure from himself and his record label after continued low album sales, and the insurgence of Hip Hop on the music charts, which he viewed as a direct competitor. And Prince was nothing if not competitive, even with inchoate forces like public taste. So we have a mindset of disapproval and recrimination not only from his film bombing but also from his opinion of Rap.

    The Black Album was at a time where there was talk in the black community that he had sold out post-Purple Rain. There were some black music fans that thought he wasn’t being black enough because some of his hits like “I Never Could Never Take the Place of Your Man” was pretty much straight-up rock & roll. He wasn’t really making R&B records to satisfy the black audience or black radio. It was also the beginning of the real rise of hip-hop to commercial success. Hip-hop was stretching its boundaries and going mainstream… I was looking at The Black Album as his answer to that; that was his way of answering those people who said, “You ain’t funky no more.” It’s like, “Motherfuckers, I can do this in my sleep!” ~ Alan Leeds, Rolling Stone, April 26, 2016

    The first session for “Superfunkycalifragisexy” took place in Chanhassen, Minnesota, in September 1986, perhaps after watching Mary Poppins the night before (who knows), and was finished in January 1987. During the Fall and Winter of ’86 many of the other tracks also got their first workouts, including “Le Grind”, “Bob George” and “2 Nigs United 4 West Compton” around December 9th, 1986 at Sunset Sound in Hollywood, reportedly as something to play during Sheila E.’s 29th birthday party on December 11th. The song titles obliquely reference the French locations of UtCM and ideas of Blackness. “Dead On It”, recorded a few months later in March of 1987, is comedic and groovy, his first out-and-out rap, kind of on the level of The Fresh Prince, and what sounds like a challenge rap to the whole community: “The rapper’s problem usually stems from being tone deaf. Pack the house, and try to sing, there won’t be no one left.” Almost a year after the first “2 Nigs United 4 West Compton” recording session, on Tuesday, December 1st, 1987, which he later dubbed “Blue Tuesday”, Prince may or may not have played the finished album for Minnesota club goers and watched their responses, or drunken lack of response. Here’s the hearsay:

    This part has been confirmed by several people surrounding Prince but he only hinted at it so parts can be or just are speculative. Some years later stories started to emerge about Tuesday December 1st, 1987 and the preceding evening when Prince went to the club Rupert’s. He asked the DJ to play the new album and observed the responses of the people in the club. The same night he met Ingrid Chavez. She is a poet, singer, songwriter and nowadays wife of singer David Sylvian. The two went to Paisley Park and had an intense conversation. Apparently Prince already had some doubts about releasing the album. Somewhere that night he decided against it’s release. The decision appeared to be made after experiencing some heavy hallucinations when using the drug Ecstasy. In what he has called a vision the letter G O D were hovering over a field. It made him realize that it was his responsibility not to release this dark and negative album to kids. He also didn’t want this album to be his legacy in case he died after the release. ~ the-black-album.info

    That is too good to not go into a biopic if true, and a fictionalized account if indeterminate. Despite the album being pressed, packaged and ready to ship on the 8th, Prince called up Warner Bros. on the 1st, probably at some insane hour like 3:30 in the morning, and requested its cancellation. And then after probably promising an executive that he would replace it within a very short few months, on the 11th of December, 1987, exactly a year after Sheila E’s birthday party and 9 or 10 days after meeting Ingrid Chavez and receiving messages from the beyond, Prince, with Chavez credited as “spirit child” and providing intro vocals and lyrical ideas (and maybe the drugs, too), began the initial tracking of the first and last songs on the trippier-than-Parade Lovesexy: “Eye No” (which builds on two other previously recorded and unreleased songs, “The Ball” and “Joy In Repetition”) and “Positivity”, with the temperament of the latter track standing in stark contrast to The Black Album.

    Lovesexy was released on May 6th, 1988, in France first (he was lovin’ France at the time), and the related tour began in France on the 8th of July 1988, with an elaborate stage set that must have taken an immense number of hours during the year to design and build. A whole design language was established. Costumes were produced.

    LoveSexyTour

    Even though 500,000 copies of The Black Album were destroyed, 100 promotional copies had already been distributed so bootlegs abounded in the spring of 1988, and Prince certainly acknowledged its existence during the tour. Three tracks, “Dead On It”, “Bob George” and “Superfunkycalifragisexy”, were included in the set list, and the album itself was referenced in the Lovesexy Tour Book. A portion of it goes:

    “Camille rocked hard in a funky place. Stuck his long
    funk in competition’s face. Tuesday came. Blue Tuesday.
    His canvas full, and lying on the table, Camille mustered
    all the hate that he was able. Hate 4 the ones who ever
    doubted his game. Hate 4 the ones who ever doubted his name.
    “Tis nobody funkier — let the Black Album fly.” Spooky
    Electric was talking, Camille started 2 cry. Tricked.
    A fool he had been. In the lowest utmostest. He had allowed
    the dark side of him 2 create something evil. 2 Nigs United
    4 West Compton. Camille and his ego. Bob George. Why?
    Spooky Electric must die. Die in the hearts of all who
    want love. Die in the hearts of men who want change.
    Die in the bodies of women who want babies that will grow up
    with a New Power Soul.”

    Fact and fiction, intertwined, along with a playful Mad Maxish language. As Alan Leeds recounted, “I don’t think he ever looked at The Black Album as one of his albums. I think he looked at it as an offshoot. Like a side project. Almost in the same way he looked at the Madhouse albums, for example, which was his way of making a jazz instrumental album. And much like The Time was his way of doing a purely R&B and funk album, these were alter-egos for him. This was a guy who didn’t want to be categorized, didn’t want to be stuck in the R&B ghetto.” (Rolling Stone, April 26, 2016)


    The Hot Things, songs worthy of a mixtape: 7 out of 8
    Songs to skip: “Rockhard In A Funky Place”, a turgid, erection-centric Camille track
    The JiR-worthy: “Le Grind”
    The Xtraloveables: None
    The Let’s Work factor for innovation: +1
    The Girls & Boys factor: +1 for all the little bits from Eric Leeds, Atlanta Bliss, Boni Boyer, Cat, Sheila E., Greg Brooks, Wally Safford and Susannah Melvoin, the “Counter-Revolution”.
    Our Modifier total: 2
    The Purple Hotness Score: 1.07

  12. The Rainbow Children (1.02 / 2001 / 24th)
    “Would you like to talk about Jesus?”
    What if a group of Jehovah’s Witness members knocked on your door? Would you let them in? What if Prince was among them? Would that change your mind? Would you listen to him because of his fame? Would you consider converting to his religion?
    Prince felt at times like God’s cypher, that his talents were the product of nature rather than nurture, that he was chosen. Prince’s lyrics and statements in interviews were often vainglorious. In 2016’s Minneapolis Star Tribune “Oral History” article, an interviewer says:

    I don’t know how it popped into the conversation, but I looked down at his feet and said, ‘Man, what size shoe do you wear? A size 3?’ He was quick. He said, ‘Come here and put your foot on this wah-wah pedal [a guitar effects box]. You see? It’s too big. But when I put my foot on the pedal, it fits. It fits, because God made it fit that way.’

    Prince grew up around religion and his mother in particular was either a Seventh Day Adventist or a Jehovah’s Witness. While his earlier album cosmologies included religion, many other concerns, such as how to get into someone’s pants, were just as pressing. However, sometime in the mid ’90s Prince, perhaps influenced in part by his first wife Mayte Garcia losing one child to a genetic defect and another to miscarriage, considered Scientology and, after moving away from that, struck up a friendship with former Sly and The Family Stone bassist and Jehovah’s Witness Larry Graham. Their first documented performance together, joined on stage by Stevie Wonder, went down on a late night in Detroit in October 1997. Prince and Graham bonded over Graham’s faith. Prince told The New Yorker, “The more he said, the more I realized the truth.” As part of the faith, Prince was “willing to do The Work”, to proselytize, and became a “Doorstep Bible Basher“. As described in Billboard:

    For Prince, the emphasis on evangelizing forced him to open up to a degree that he hadn’t before. He went door to door in Los Angeles and Minneapolis, handing out pamphlets on ­salvation. ‘Sometimes people act surprised,’ he told me. ‘But mostly they’re really cool.’

    As listed on the wikiHow step-by-step for How to Become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Step 8 is to become an “unbaptized publisher”. In addition to the door-to-door approach, Prince reportedly had a stack of bibles to give guests departing get-togethers, as well.

    2000 and 2001 were years of personal upheaval. In 2000 he changed his stage name from Symbolpurple.png back to Prince. In 2000, when prepping for what would become the Hit N Run 00-01 Tour, he insisted that Wendy & Lisa convert and denounce homosexuality as a condition for touring with him as the Revolution. They declined. In 2000 he divorced from Mayte, who wrote:

    I…refused to embrace the Gospel According to Graham. I was the enemy now, the opposer, who wanted to drag him back to the sinful ways of Babylon.

    In August of 2001 his father John L. Nelson, immortalized in Purple Rain, died. And in 2001 he remarried, to Manuela Testolini, who was open to his new faith and eventually they completed Step 9 together with a “public declaration of dedication to Jehovah” through baptism. In November of 2001 he released The Rainbow Children, a musically impressive, aurally rich album of New Age “rainbow psychedelia”, but also an operatic, phantasmagorical reflection of the people in his life and a tool for evangelism. The fourth track, “The Work Part 1”, describes the Rainbow Children going door to door. Like Lovesexy‘s Spooky Electric, this album has good guys and bad guys. The opening title track introduces our hero The Wise One, a villain called The Resistor and his band of sinners called the Banished Ones. This time two women are involved. The Wise One’s first wife is tempted by the Resistor (she’s likely resisting the truth, not resisting “reproduction” by “the new breed leader”, although the second interpretation sure seems possible, too) and she is banished from the rainbow. But The Wise One “[ho]lds fast in his belief that the Lord would bring him another one who loved him so.”

    Enjoyment of the album is predicated on the ability to disregard at least four major elements. First, to provide some of the backstory and plot points, Prince absurdly includes a highly manipulated, very deep, demonically-pitched voice for his narrator, in the opposite register of Camille, that almost ruins all the songs it’s included on. The apparent voice of knowledge here sounds either drugged up to the gills or absolutely evil, which makes very little sense unless it’s supposed to represent the devil because “Dem devil come dressed as light”, a position that would lead to too many more contradictions. Second, on “Muse 2 The Pharaoh”, Prince as The Wise One not only tempts his new wife with queenhood in exchange for baby making but also argues that slavery is worse than the Holocaust, which led critics to deem it anti-Semitic. Third, in “1+1+1=3” The Wise One advocates a theocratic system of governance “in which priests rule in the name of God or a god”, basically arguing that The Wise One should have the last say in all matters. Fourth, on the whole, the album exudes a rarefied air of exclusivity, aimed only at those who agree to follow him, and perhaps really only at the few with whom he had intimate relationships. This new faith of his, along with an apparent need to compare and contrast his two real life, overlapping wives, sounds like the kind of angry thinking, tinged in self-admiration and patriarchal misogyny, for which he canceled The Black Album.

    And yet… The Rainbow Children is effing catchy as hell. The album’s dexterous melding of smooth jazz, funk, melodic pop and wonderful ambient sound effects creates a very mellow, mature, cohesive and quite beautiful Sade-type soundscape. It favors real instruments over programmed drums and synths. If it’s truly another one-person production, where he built each song up from individual tracks he performed himself, it’s a phenomenal tour de force.  It’s carefully written and sequenced, with lyrical and musical transitions between songs, that elusive art of the concept album. It includes playful word choice and phrasing and welcome comedy relief. Maybe The Rainbow Children is brilliant because the excellence of the songs crushes the preachiness and dubious narrative statements. Your mileage may vary.


    The Hot Things: 12 of 13, not counting the segues and the hidden track.
    Songs to skip: “Wedding Feast” is too ridiculous.
    The JiR-worthy: “1+1+1 Is 3″… so funky…
    The Xtraloveables: Can’t give a point for “U Make My Sun Shine”. It’s a fine, straight-ahead R&B joint with Angie Stone, used as the B-side to The Work Part 1″, but it was originally released separately and eventually included on 2004’s The Chocolate Invasion. He really liked it.
    The Let’s Work factor: +1. The strength of the improvisatory jazz vibe suggests a strong ensemble and rehearsal structure, although none is credited. It sounds like Madhouse or N.E.W.S. with lyrics and a story. It has a firm grasp to and a respectful approach of a new genre.
    The Girls & Boys factor: It’s an interesting mix of players, including The Hornheads, but this seems to be largely another solo effort with little input until additional overdubs. “All other instruments – digital or otherwise, lead and co-lead vox, percussion and sound FX per4med by Prince.” There are apparently four White Sisters who sang the shining backup vocals…
    1200x630bf
    Our Modifier total: 1
    The Purple Hotness Score: 1.02

  13. Hitnrun Phase One (1.02 / 2015 / 39th)
    Soon after the somewhat deep Art Official Age came a straightforward party album, Hitnrun Phase One, with it’s Trap-heavy set of songs… if this is what you think of when you hear Trap. Maybe it’s EDM. Not sure. Typically when Prince emulated trendy musical forms of the hour he sucked at it. This time he pulls it off. The album did mark a return to rapping but he’s better in this regard, too, and guest Curly Fryz is pretty great. The production is crisp, clear and rather beautiful. The album contains references and straight remixes of older songs, even two released just the year before, with solid, somewhat World Music percussion choices, and the treatments of these tracks are respectful, melodic, catchy and interesting, instead of throwaway in nature. Judith Hill’s guest vocals on the opening track are gorgeous. Still trying to figure out what “X’s Face”, with the “Jungle Love” bit, is supposed to say about Morris Day, but it sounds kinda mean. Is Prince still mad about Day quitting in the ’80s? Dude, let it go.


    The Hot Things: 8 of 11
    Songs to skip: “Shut this Down” definitely. “Ain’t About to Stop” and “Fallinlove2nite” are an on-the-fence type no’s.
    The JiR-worthy: “X’s Face” or “Like a Mack” or “1000 X’s & O’s” or “June”. One of those. So far “X’s Face”. The awesome Aussies of the Peach and Black Podcast get it mostly wrong here:

    The Xtraloveables: None
    The Let’s Work factor: 1
    The Girls & Boys factor: +1 for ample contributions from co-producer Joshua Welton
    Our modifier total: 2
    The Purple Hotness Score: 1.02

  14. Prince (0.99 / 1979 / 2nd)
    The familiar disco beat of “I Wanna Be Your Lover” kicks off the album, then a catchy bass and guitar riff, followed by the famous falsetto running distinctive, playful pickup lines: “I want to be your brother, I want to be your mother and your sister, too” and the double entendre “I want to be the only one that makes you come, running.” And then at 2:50 in, only halfway through the full track, he transitions to a full-on instrumental jam, where he invites his listeners to experience the utter joy of exploring variations on the groove. In some ways “I Wanna Be Your Lover” is the ultimate Prince track as it’s the first with all the Princely elements in place. This second album contains fully-formed examples of Prince staples: a ballad designed for those special after-prom moments, “When We’re Dancing Close And Slow”, a cowbell-infused, guitar-shredding rocker “Bambi”, and the happy pop of “I Feel For You”.


    The Hot Things: “I Wanna Be Your Lover”, “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?”, “Sexy Dancer”, “When We’re Dancing Close And Slow”, “Bambi”, “Still Waiting”, “I Feel For You”, “It’s Gonna Be Lonely”
    Songs to skip: “With You”
    The JiR-worthy: “It’s Gonna Be Lonely”
    The Xtraloveables: 0
    The Let’s Work factor: +1
    The Girls & Boys factor: 0
    Our modifier total: 1
    The Purple Hotness Score: 0.99

  15. Emancipation (0.91 / 1996 / 19th)
    In the ’90s, amidst the appearance of a decline of fame from uneven sales and probably an equal fear of a decline in fortune, as well as heightened micromanagement from Warner Bros. (slow releases, non-releases, et. al.), Prince did the “Slave” face-paint thing and announced his squiggly “42px-symbolpurple” name change to test a supposed contract loophole. The press releases and interviews of the period established a new, direct relationship with the media and with art and commerce and American history. He released the Symbol album in 1992, Come and The Black Album in 1994, The Gold Experience in 1995, and Chaos And Disorder in mid-1996 to fulfill the contract he grew to consider a form of enslavement, and then celebrated his independence with this first triple CD package Emancipation. The main statement the album makes is excess (“double everything” as he sings on the title track); he didn’t want to be told how much music he could or couldn’t release. In some respects that’s a failing. This many songs lead to a sameness, a lessened ability to differentiate one song from another, and even here and there a more unfinished quality than usual. Emancipation contains thirty-six tracks with a total runtime of exactly ninety minutes, to numerically align somehow with Egyptian pyramids? This time the album, despite its title, is disengaged from the fascinating politics of the times. It’s a catalog of mostly carefully produced, predominantly-R&B jams, with covers of songs by The Stylistics and The Delfonics, and with an upbeat mood aligning with some of his interviews (“The album I was born to make”, “The whole process of this record was different. I’m a free man, I’m a happy man, I’m a married man and I’m a clear man.”). While the first track “Jam of the Year” hints at the jazzy inflections of The Rainbow Children and the weaker third CD contains computer-aided tracks reminiscent of Graffiti Bridge, we’re generally in more conventional, but not unwelcome, territory, with a softer feel throughout. He’s a decade removed from Parade and Lovesexy and has adopted a completely different approach to music, one having less to do with experimentation, synths and drum programming, and instead more focused on solid genre craftsmanship, and real instruments. It’s a pretty great album.


    The Hot Things: “Jam Of The Year”, “Right Back Here In My Arms”, “Somebody’s Somebody”, “Get Yo Groove On”, “Courtin’ Time”, “Betcha By Golly Wow!”, “White Mansion”, the gorgeous “Eye Can’t Make U Love Me”, “Sex In The Summer”, “One Kiss At A Time”, “Emale”, “Curious Child”, “Joint 2 Joint”, the John Mellancamp-sounding “The Holy River”, “Let’s Have A Baby”, “Saviour”, “The Plan”, the massively romantic “Friend, Lover, Sister, Mother/Wife”, “New World”, the House-infused “The Human Body”, the pretty great rap track “Face Down”, “La, La, La Means Eye Love U”, “Sleep Around”, and “The Love We Make”. Not sure about “We Gets Up”, the-trying-too-hard-to-be-funny “Style” and the solid but unexceptional “Da, Da, Da”.
    Songs to skip: All the ones not listed above… “Damned If Eye Do”, “Mr. Happy” with its breadth of rap clichés, the unfinished “In This Bed Eye Scream”, the cheesy “Soul Sanctuary” and “Dreamin’ About U”, “Slave”, the ode to AOL “My Computer”, the un-Prince-like cover of “One Of Us”, and “Emancipation” despite some cool bass work.
    The JiR-worthy: “Friend, Lover, Sister, Mother/Wife”
    The Xtraloveables: All the potential B-sides ended up on the actual album.
    The Let’s Work factor: +1 not for innovation in a larger sense but for hewing to the R&B sound so tenaciously. It sounds like he’s trying to define a commercial, contemporary “Prince” R&B sound rather than bending too far towards other artists’ successes.
    The Girls & Boys factor: +1. There’s a massive list of personnel. They must have had an influence on the album’s creation.
    Our modifier total: 2
    The Purple Hotness Score: 0.91

  16. Come (0.90 / 1994 / 15th)
    Come is apparently the fallout from a final battle between Prince and record execs at Warner Bros. Fed up with interference, he intended it to be the last in his contractual obligation to the company (although he still had a few albums to go) and changed his name to Symbolpurple.png afterwards to distance himself from it. According to princevault.com, “Prince declined to use the NPG Records label for this release. Prince talked about material on the album as ‘old’ and recorded before the name change, instead hyping The Gold Experience as his ‘new’ material.” Oddly, Come is one of his best albums, and it probably says a lot about his mindset in the ’90s that he preferred the inferior, Symbolpurple.png-branded, New Jack Swing-heavy The Gold Experience over this. It all comes out in the wash, though. Come is crude, funky and great. The title track is a very welcome mid-tempo funk number with an extra 11 minute rated R scenario, the bluesy “Dark” slowly lays it down for 6 minutes, and the fun groove of “Letitgo” goes on past the normal length of a single. Prince’s extended jams, going back to 1978’s “I Wanna Be Your Lover”, are always vigorous artistic statements of audacity and pure pleasure. The album is sonically cohesive, another ingredient of great Prince albums. An oceanic soundscape backs a number of tracks, including “Orgasm” which is basically just Prince, the feedback from his guitar, and Vanity doin’ it. “Orgasm”, the last track, effectively wraps back around to the first track using the ocean sounds, making for an uninterrupted replay. Come includes lots of variations on the commercial, pop song construction of Diamonds and Pearls, with clean, mechanical “Gett Off”-like beats, scratching, and decent rapping for once (on “Race”), but all a marked improvement on that earlier album. If you gave up on Prince after 1992’s Symbolpurple.png Symbol album, you missed out on some great stuff. Narrative-wise, one possible interesting direction could be the Vanity recordings. Were these from the early ’80s or did they have a reunion? Was it a breach of privacy?


    The Hot Things: All 10 songs are strong, although the plodding beat of “Pheromone” and the loud, turned-up-to-11 “Loose!” may not make a big ass playlist.
    The JiR-worthy: “Dark”, or “Race”, or the groovy, groovy “Space”, or the super fun “Letitgo”
    The Xtraloveables: 0
    The Let’s Work factor: 0
    The Girls & Boys factor: 0
    Our modifier total: 0
    The Purple Hotness Score: 0.90

  17. Crystal Ball (0.87 / 1998 / 20th)
    The schizo Crystal Ball is a triple album jam-packed with great tracks from different eras, like the infamous vault puked. More a compilation album of multiple artists — the ’80s “Prince”, the ’90s “Symbolpurple.png“, plus remix engineers — than a united statement, with demos shoved up against slick productions. The standout “Crystal Ball” from 1986 is a funky, genreless weirdo, a swirled-up Camille-lite Prince, Susannah Melvoin, and Parade-era Clare Fischer piece of brilliance, recorded a few days before “Starfish And Coffee”. “Dream Factory”, “Movie Star”, “Last Heart” and “Sexual Suicide”, refugees from cancelled pre-Sign o’ the Times albums, are charismatic products of collabs with Susannah and/or Jill Jones. “Cloreen Bacon Skin”, a Jamie Starr / Morris Day 15 minute plus improvisation going all the way back to 1982, is messy, funny and hypnotic. If anything sounds like the flow of creative genius, this does.
    ChZUGMeWUAE0Vat
    These older gems are interspersed with 90’s tracks of varying genre and quality encapsulating contributions from a variety of past and, at the time, present band members. The world is slightly better that this album exists.


    The Hot Things: “Crystal Ball”, “Dream Factory”, “Love Sign”, “Hide the Bone”, the super cool “2tomorrow”, “So Dark”, “Movie Star”, “Tell Me How U Wanna B Done” despite some imitative elements, “Calhoun Square”, “What’s My Name”, the falsetto-to-10 “Crucial”, “An Honest Man”, “Sexual Suicide”, “Cloreen Bacon Skin”, “Good Love”, the 10 minute multi-genre workout “Days of Wild”, “Last Heart”, “She Gave Her Angels”, “18 & Over” despite imitating Snoop, “The Ride”.
    Here’s Prince’s naturalistic turn at rapping on “Days of Wild” on the “Jam Of The Year Tour”:

    Songs to skip: Gonna leave the mediocre, rap-centric “Acknowledge Me”, “Interactive”, the erratic Broadway number “Strays Of The World”, and “Poom Poom” off all playlists. Probably also the bogus reggae exercise “Ripopgodazippa”, the maniacal “Da Bang”, “Get Loose”, “P. Control (Remix)”, “Make Your Mama Happy”, and “Goodbye”.
    The JiR-worthy: Highly recommend “Cloreen Bacon Skin” as a soundtrack for shopping groceries.
    The Xtraloveables: 0
    The Let’s Work factor: 0
    The Girls & Boys factor: +1
    Our modifier total: 1
    The Purple Hotness Score: 0.87

  18. Hitnrun Phase Two (0.81 / 2015 / 38th)
    A much more conventional album than HitnRun Phase One. Competent MOR soft rock with references to EWF and Steely Dan but also flaunting the re-emergent funk of “Stare”, the bottom-heavy, dusted-off Disco of “Xtraloveable”, originally written for Vanity 6 thirty-three years earlier, the ’70s Stevie Wonder-worthy “Black Muse”, and another classic, slowmo, sexy ballad in “Revelation”.


    The Hot Things: “Baltimore”, “Rocknroll Loveaffair”, “Look At Me, Look at U”, “Stare”, “Xtraloveable”, “When She Comes”, “Black Muse”, “Revelation”. Most of them are snoozy but solid. “Groovy Potential” is difficult to decide on.
    Songs to skip: The real snoozers are “2 Y. 2 D.”, “Screwdriver”, and “Big City”.
    The JiR-worthy: “Revelation”
    The Xtraloveables: 0
    The Let’s Work factor: 0
    The Girls & Boys factor: +1 for lots of hands on deck, including engineers and arrangers.
    Our modifier total: 1
    The Purple Hotness Score: 0.81

  19. Grafitti Bridge (0.75 / 1990 / 12th)
    The soundtrack and film mirror each other, starting out dicey, building to some strong performances and catchy pop, and trailing off into the pedestrian. “Release It”, “Love Machine” and “Shake!” are first-rate numbers by Prince, Morris Day and The Time, as is Tevin Campbell’s debut “Round And Round”, but the tracks by new-to-Paisley Park icons George Clinton and Mavis Staples are surprisingly unremarkable. Prince’s ten solo songs are hit or miss, too, but the collective elements on “The Question of U” — the hand claps, the guitar solo, and the gospel choir simulacrum — are tremendous, “Tick, Tick, Bang” is “Kiss”-level lewd, Dirty Mind-era funk, and “Joy In Repetition” offers a lovely, poetic, lyrical structure for another stellar guitar solo. The movie basically makes no sense, but Morris Day and Jerome Benton are charismatic bad guys again, the hair is big, the fashion is science fiction, and the cheapo studio sets are lit quite colorfully.
    tumblr_ocdm51hlja1uajyc0o2_400
    “Still Would Stand All Time” is the most interesting, a gospel number in two parts, beginning very slowly, a bit tuneless with an incessant drum track, that changes at 3:23 — when the choir and hand claps kick in — to reach a gorgeous and emotional finale on the level of “The Beautiful Ones”.


    The Hot Things: 10 of 17. “Release It”, “The Question Of U”, “Elephants & Flowers”, “Round And Round”, “Joy In Repetition”, “Love Machine”, “Tick, Tick, Bang”, “Shake!, “Thieves In The Temple”, and “Still Would Stand All Time”.
    Songs to skip: “Can’t Stop This Feeling I Got”, both lame-o “New Power Generation” tracks, “We Can Funk”, “The Latest Fashion”, “Melody Cool”, and the boring, cheesy, bummer “Graffiti Bridge”. “We Can Funk” was eventually redeemed by Andy Allo and Prince as “Oui Can Love”.
    The JiR-worthy: “Joy in Repetition”. Here’s the unreleased song referenced within it:

    The Xtraloveables: 0
    The Let’s Work factor: +1 for the variety of genre work-outs here.
    The Girls & Boys factor: +0. Ingrid Chavez influenced this album highly during the original Lovesexy recordings, but she’s still more of a muse than a collaborator. Most of the guest artists seem to be contractors rather than collaborators, too.
    Our modifier total: 1
    The Purple Hotness Score: 0.75

  20. The Gold Experience (0.75 / 1995 / 17th)
    The first official Symbolpurple.png album, where we discover that “Prince esta muerto”, is very loud. He appears to be trying harder, maybe for bigger album sales? and/or maybe to prove something to someone? and/or who knows what reasons. He’s yelling more. He’s angry. He markets this release over the superior Come. The production is crisper but often sounds over-produced, too, and the songs are less experimental than usual, other than the tambourine and “walk” track over drums and bass choices for “Shy”. Following general inclinations evident in Batman and Diamonds & Pearls, the Artist shoves a few unpleasant attempts at rap, a really cheesy ballad, a callback to an old hit, and a middle of the road rocker around some otherwise strong selections.


    The Hot Things: All but three not counting the NPG Operator segues. “P. Control” (is this rapping?), “Shhh”, “We March”, “Now”, “319”, “Shy”, the raw, retaliatory, Hornheadz-fueled funk of “Billy Jack Bitch”, the clever slow jam of “Eye Hate U” and the no-more-purple-but-colors-seem-to-help-sell-albums “Gold”.
    Songs to skip: “Endorphinmachine”, “Dolphin”, “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World”
    The JiR-worthy: “Now” because of the sing-a-long wordplay in the chorus, despite the imitation accents, flat rap shoved into the middle and the overall replication of Cypress Hill’s 1994 “Insane in the Brain”.
    The Xtraloveables: +1 for “Staxowax” and the other remixes of “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World” which are far better than the original. “Rock ‘N’ Roll Is Alive! (And It Lives In Minneapolis)” is pretty killer, too.
    The Let’s Work factor: -1 for the imitative Prince
    The Girls & Boys factor: 0. Seemingly minor contributions here and there from Nona Gaye and the Hornheadz.
    Our modifier total:  0
    The Purple Hotness Score: 0.75

  21. Musicology (0.67 / 2004 / 28th)
    The first three of four songs rigorously explore the sparse, minimal funk discovered with Dirty Mind and “Kiss”, but the selections that follow on this album sound like more contemporary, and conventional, MOR rock stuff, similar to the tracks on the 2014 Plectrumelectrum record. It’s a shame so many Prince mid-period albums attempt to showcase many multiple genres, coming off as desperate statements of genius or the result of boredom with core strengths. His best artistic expressions retain a more narrow focus. Still, lots of great tracks here.


    The Hot Things: 8 of 12… “Musicology”, “Illusion, Coma, Pimp & Circumstance”, “Life ‘O’ The Party”, “Call My Name”, “What Do U Want Me 2 Do?”,  “On The Couch”, “Dear Mr. Man”, even “Reflection”
    Songs to skip: “A Million Days”, “Cinnamon Girl”, “The Marrying Kind”, “If Eye Was The Man In Ur Life”
    The JiR-worthy: “On The Couch”
    The Xtraloveables: 0. The really obscure, beautiful, bluesy B-side “Silver Tongue” and ’80s sounding funk of “United States Of Division” would have raised this album two or three slots up the index if they were more easily found, but both were attached to limited promos. 
    The Let’s Work factor: 0
    The Girls & Boys factor: A one-man band.
    Our modifier total: 0
    The Purple Hotness Score: 0.67

  22. Lotusflow3r (0.65 / 2009 / 33rd)
    Jazz-inflected instrumentals, a lot of blues, some fun chaos and feedback and weird samples and backwards sound effects and a cool cover of “Crimson and Clover”, which was replaced on the downloadable release by the much lesser “The Morning After” for no official reason. See also My Night with Prince.


    The Hot Things: “From The Lotus…”, “Boom”, “4ever”, “Colonized Mind”, “$”, “Dreamer”, “…Back 2 The Lotus”, “Crimson and Clover”
    Songs to skip: “The Morning After”, “Love Like Jazz”, “77 Beverly Park”, “Wall Of Berlin”, and maybe “”Feel Better, Feel Good, Feel Wonderful”
    The JiR-worthy: “Dreamer”
    The Xtraloveables: 0
    The Let’s Work factor: 0
    The Girls & Boys factor: 0
    Our modifier total: 0
    The Purple Hotness Score: 0.65

  23. The Vault… Old Friends 4 Sale (0.60 / 1999 / 22nd)
    A WB-assembled collection of unreleased tracks seemingly aimed in the same commercial directions as other big hits such as Billy Joel’s An Innocent Man and Bowie’s Let’s Dance, in that the selections share a very safe, throwback, soft pop, blues and jazz sensibility, more tributes to R&B and Doo Wop than eccentric originals.


    The Hot Things: 7 of 10… the traditional pop of “It’s About That Walk” allows Prince’s personality to shine; the four minutes of jazzy instrumentals on “She Spoke 2 Me” are reminiscent of Madhouse and highlighted by Hornheads(z) contributions; the strong, smooth club jam “When the Lights Go Down”; the future jazz standard “There is Lonely”; a really strong, bluesy “Old Friends 4 Sale” with its Clare Fischer cinematic soundscapes originally meant for Parade; the safe, well-constructed “Sarah” directed at the Sheryl Crow crowd; and the most Prince thing on here, the ballad “Extraordinary”, right up there with “Adore” and “Slow Love”.
    Songs to skip: The throwaway piano man-like “The Rest of My Life”, the strange, now prophetic little sketch “My Little Pill”, and the soft blues rock of “5 Women” recalling Bonnie Raitt’s “Nick of Time”.
    The JiR-worthy: “Extraordinary”
    The Xtraloveables: 0
    The Let’s Work factor: -1
    The Girls & Boys factor: 0
    Our modifier total: -1
    The Purple Hotness Score: 0.6

  24. One Nite Alone… (0.60 / 2002 / 25th)
    Along with the excellent One Nite Alone… Live! set, Prince included this solo piano recording. It’s great when he’s covering Joni Mitchell but it unfortunately swerves into some George Winston and Liberace areas to tame payoffs.


    The Hot Things: Definite keepers are “One Nite Alone…”, “U’re Gonna C Me”, “Here On Earth”, “A Case Of U” and “Avalanche”. On the fence with “Have A ♥” and “Objects In The Mirror”.
    Songs to skip: “Pearls B4 The Swine”, “Young And Beautiful”, “Arboretum”
    The JiR-worthy: “One Nite Alone…” has an unforgettable hook.
    The Xtraloveables: 0
    The Let’s Work factor: 0
    The Girls & Boys factor: 0
    Our modifier total: 0
    The Purple Hotness Score: 0.60

  25. Batman (0.59 / 1989 / 11th)
    A bizarre non-soundtrack to the Tim Burton superhero foray. The few songs included in the actual movie seem kind of forced into assigned places while the more famous Danny Elfman orchestration dominates. More a synergistic WB marketing ploy and, also, a shockingly second-rate set of songs following the critical success of Lovesexy. Another missed opportunity… Prince would have made an excellent Joker.


    The Hot Things: “The Future”, “Scandalous” and “Batdance”
    Songs to skip: All the rest. The earwormy “Trust” gets half a point.
    The JiR-worthy: The three-groove mashup “Batdance”, despite its conceptual dumbness, because of that third super hot groove.
    The Xtraloveables: +2 for The Scandalous Sex Suite which has captured infinitely more listens than the product placement which hatched it.
    The Let’s Work factor: 0
    The Girls & Boys factor: 0
    Our modifier total: 2
    The Purple Hotness Score: 0.59

  26. 3121 (0.58 / 2006 / 31st)
    After a decade and a half of lesser material, both Musicology and 3121 teased a return to artistic excellence with promotional imagery recalling James Brown and hits from the ’80s. The official “Black Sweat” video acts as a signifier for a grown-up version of “Kiss”, the song, the famous video, and the album it’s on. Buy me. In actuality 3121 doesn’t put out. The very funky tracks are front-loaded, backed up with a run of unusually tuneless selections, as if Prince were only halfway engaged.
    534c1ff52d68ccb8d7c5616e037f36ad


    The Hot Things: 7 of the 12… “3121”, “Lolita”, the soft ’60s Bossa Nova flavored “Te Amo Corazón” with its brief Parade-like intro, “Black Sweat”, “Incense And Candles” with its strong chorus, the mostly satisfying slow jam “Satisfied”, and “The Word”.
    Songs to skip: “Love”, the lyrically and musically clichéd “Fury”, the generic, tuneless “Beautiful, Loved And Blessed”, the formless, tuneless, overly long “The Dance”, and the tuneless “Get On the Boat”.
    The JiR-worthy: “3121”
    The Xtraloveables: 0
    The Let’s Work factor: 0
    The Girls & Boys factor: 0
    Our modifier total:  0
    The Purple Hotness Score: 0.58

  27. Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic (0.57 / 1999 / 23rd)
    A rather mediocre bunch of songs, but it’s got this one super hot track called “Prettyman”, featuring Maceo Parker, so that makes it a worthy album, so worthy. Whatever was going on (maybe an attempt to distance himself as much as possible from 1999?), the marketing featured a mix of influences and objects — anime, Cirque du Soleil, sheep, reggae, Coolio — so maybe it was a fun, nutso time at Paisley Park. He looked so uncomfortable in the get-up doing interviews, though.f8f5892313df5404c26b63e6ff6ca640


    The Hot Things: Only 9 out of 15… “Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic”, “Undisputed”, “The Greatest Romance Ever Sold”, “Hot Wit U”, “The Sun, The Moon And Stars”, “Baby Knows”, and “Prettyman”.
    Songs to skip: A bunch of really weak numbers, including “Tangerine”, “So Far, So Pleased”, “Man’O’War”, “Silly Game”, and “Strange But True”. In addition probably leave off the unnecessary “Everyday Is A Winding Road”, “Eye Love U, But Eye Don’t Trust U Anymore”, and “Wherever U Go, Whatever U Do” while you’re at it.
    The JiR-worthy: “Prettyman” absolutely, but “Baby Knows” is really catchy, too.
    The Xtraloveables: 0
    The Let’s Work factor: -1. Sounds like an attempt to git that Sheryl Crow money.
    The Girls & Boys factor: +1 for some successful contributions (Maceo Parker! Clare Fischer! Chuck D.!) among other middling ones (Eve, Sheryl Crow, Ani DiFranco).
    Our modifier total: 0
    The Purple Hotness Score: 0.57

  28. For You (0.54 / 1978 / 1st)
    The debut. It’s okay. Prince still hadn’t found his thing, but the opening track is audacious and “Soft And Wet” is a classic.


    The Hot Things: “For You”, “In Love”, “Soft And Wet”, and “My Love Is Forever”.
    Songs to skip: The remaining 5 of 9.
    The JiR-worthy: “Soft And Wet”
    The Xtraloveables: 0
    The Let’s Work factor: 1
    The Girls & Boys factor: 0
    Our modifier total: 1
    The Purple Hotness Score: 0.54

  29. MPLSound (0.51 / 2009 / 34th)
    Released along with Lotusflow3r, he got out the 1999-era drum machine to concoct a bunch of imitation Prince tracks here. Either these are samples or the actual LM-1. He highlights the famous knocking sound on “Better With Time”. “Valentina” seems to sample bits of “When Doves Cry”. The LM-1 is everywhere. It’s kind of cool, but it’s all nostalgia now, so far removed from the original era.


    The Hot Things: 5 of the 9… “(There’ll Never B) Another Like Me”, “Chocolate Box”, “Valentina”, “Better With Time”, “Ol’ Skool Company”. One other, “No More Candy 4 U”, can probably be kicked out of bed, though.
    The JiR-worthy: “Ol’ Skool Company”
    The Xtraloveables: 0
    The Let’s Work factor: -1
    The Girls & Boys factor: 0
    Our modifier total: -1
    The Purple Hotness Score: 0.51

  30. The Truth (0.43 / 1998 / 21th)
    An album of stripped down songs, Prince more or less accompanied only by acoustic guitar. Coming off the strong Emancipation, there’s a sense of authenticity but also a lack of hooks.


    The Hot Things: “The Truth” and “The Other Side Of The Pillow” are great. “Don’t Play Me”,  “Circle Of Amour”, “3rd Eye” and “Comeback” are fine but boring.
    The JiR-worthy: “The Truth”
    The Let’s Work factor: +1
    Our modifier total: 1
    The Purple Hotness Score: 0.43

  31. Symbolpurple.png (0.41 / 1992 / 14th)
    After Batman and Diamonds and Pearls, a string of weak content briefly and confusingly interrupted by the fun Graffiti Bridge, the Symbol album continued the thread of pedestrian output. It’s Prince trying to broaden his reach, challenge himself with new genres, and search for new trademarks, a goal he more or less achieved on ComeEmancipation and, 10 years later, The Rainbow Children, but the sum total here sounds like either a loss of mojo or abandonment of his fan-base.


    The Hot Things: The five definite keepers are “Sexy M.F.”, “Blue Light”, “Damn U”, “7” and “The Sacrifice Of Victor”.
    Songs to skip: The remaining 8 of the total 16 tracks. The immanently forgettable but not entirely bad inclusions: “The Morning Papers”, “Arrogance”, “And God Created Woman”.
    The JiR-worthy: “7”
    The Xtraloveables: +1 for “Sexy Mutha”.
    The Let’s Work factor: -1 for hard work leading to minimal returns.
    The Girls & Boys factor: 0
    Our modifier total:  0
    The Purple Hotness Score: 0.41

  32. 20Ten (0.40 / 2010 / 35th)
    More of that LM-1 nostalgia that laced throughout MPLSound from the year before. All but a couple tracks begin with a variation on a programmed drum track, although a lot of them are very similar this time around. It’s a welcome sound, although the resulting songs are mostly just okay.


    The Hot Things: Two definite ones… “Lavaux” and “Laydown”. Not sure what to make of four others… “Compassion”, “Beginning Endlessly”, “Act Of God”, “Sea Of Everything”.
    The JiR-worthy: “Laydown”, a strong, contemporary dance track hinting at stuff on 2014’s Art Official Age, not because of “the purple Yoda” line, although that is pretty cute, too.
    The Let’s Work factor: 0
    The Girls & Boys factor: 0
    Our modifier total: 0
    The Purple Hotness Score: 0.40

  33. Diamonds And Pearls (0.37 / 1991 / 13th)
    The album that introduced a new Prince hinted at on Graffiti Bridge, one who incorporates a lot more conventional genres, more soft rock, more soft pop, New Jack Swing, middle of the road, Heavy D.-type rap. “Cream” might be the first Prince track to expose an alarming obsession with Bonnie Raitt. With a new, more conventional, perhaps more skilled band and a more well rounded sound with a lot of the edges filed down, Prince all of a sudden seemed to be trying to compete with the Tony! Toni! Toné! – Bell Biv Devoe – Bobby Browns of the world, even though they were often actually imitating him. He’s reverse engineering all the hits of the late ’80s and early ’90s and sincerely trying his hand at rap. It’s an ouroboros.


    The Hot Things: The three memorable tracks are “Diamonds And Pearls”, “Cream” and “Gett Off”, with the standard Prince falsetto-driven slow jam “Insatiable” missing the cut. 3 of 13.
    The JiR-worthy: “Gett Off” is magnificent.
    The Xtraloveables: +1. “Horny Pony” is pretty good! “Violet, the Organ Grinder” is great!
    The Let’s Work factor: -1 for being so very derivative.
    The Girls & Boys factor: It’s a new band but it doesn’t sound like they did him any good.
    Our modifier total: 0
    The Purple Hotness Score: 0.37

  34. Plectrumelectrum (0.33 / 2014 / 36th)
    Only disappointing because the band looks cool and can obviously play.
    The Hot Things: 4 of 12, “Wow”, “Pretzelbodylogic”, “Plectrumelectrum”, and “Stopthistrain” are definite keepers.
  35. The Chocolate Invasion (0.30 / 2004 / 29th)
    The Hot Things: “Vavoom” and “U Make My Sun Shine” are really good. Two others, “Sexmesexmenot”, “Gamillah”, are just alright.
  36. Chaos & Disorder (0.18 / 1996 / 18th)
    Released at the height of the “war” with his record label, except for the title track these are phoned-in passes and mashups of various genres, including country and grunge rock this time around. A sense of discontent permeates the work.
    The Hot Things: Just “Chaos and Disorder”. Two others, “Right The Wrong” and “Zannalee”, aren’t bad. “Had U” is an interesting, kind of dark experiment.
  37. Planet Earth (0.10 / 2007 / 32nd)
    The Hot Things: Maybe “Somewhere Here On Earth” or “Future Baby Mama”? Naw. Nothing to hear here. Move along.
  38. The Slaughterhouse (0.05 / 2004 / 30th)
    The Ultimate Prince Playlist doesn’t need a lot of this album’s particular spotlight, the semi-raps.
    The Hot Things: Maybe “S&M Groove” or “Golden Parachute”, but probably not.

The final count for the Ultimate Prince Playlist: about 345 clear-cut winners, NOT counting B-sides. 345 great tracks from 530 total album tracks. 345 songs at an average of 3 minutes is more than 17 hours of music. Who does that? Someone who practiced for 15 years.

Background Notes

Prodigy | Practice

An intensely shy small town kid, a child of divorce and an occasional runaway, Prince’s musical DNA began with working musicians for parents. He grew up surrounded by music and musical instruments and apparently wrote his first song, “Funk Machine“, at seven. John L. Nelson played jazz, and jazz musicians used the term “funk” regularly, and while the radio in 1964 was full of The Beatles and The Beach Boys, Stevie Wonder had had a big hit with “Fingertips” in 1963 and James Brown had already released seven albums. You can hear a bit of Prince in Brown’s “Mashed Potatoes U.S.A.” and Ray Charles’ 1963 “Busted“. And, man, Brown’s “Choo-Choo Locomotion” could blow a kid’s mind.

When he attended his first known piano lesson in the early ’70s he could already play. ‘He Was at the Band Room Door at 8 a.m. Sharp Every Day Waiting to Be Let In’. By the time For You was released in 1978 he was 21 and had been practicing guitar or piano or drums, learning genres, learning popular songs, gigging, or writing songs every day for 12 or 13 years. As with most “prodigies” it was probably particular character traits — competitiveness, determination and intense focus — that made Prince Prince. His hard work was easy to market as genius and, along with great albums, was vaulted to immense fame and fortune. He played the part of rock star to the hilt, emulating Bowie and Hendrix, weaving sexuality, politics, religion, poetry, fashion, soul crooning, guitar solos, new technology, cinematic fictions, et. al. into a idiosyncratic brand that towered over the landscape of Pop during the entirety of the 1980s.

From 1978 to 1984 his creative output steadily increased along with his financial success, culminating in Purple Rain, a seminal record and a hit movie. The film told a small, somewhat convoluted but emotionally satisfying story of personal redemption through the dropping of masks, the reach for authenticity and the acceptance of collaboration. Purple Rain the meta narrative was certainly a youthful climax, along with the completion of Paisley Park in 1985, to Prince’s lifelong dedication to his craft. And he sustained a high level of excellence for another four or five years. While the continued sales of these early albums are some proof, the artistic success of his ’80s work is undeniable.

Reinvention | Redemption

A typical Prince playlist will consist of an enormous number of tracks from the ’80s, no doubt exceeding in proportion selections from the recordings he released in the 26 enigmatic years that followed. During these later periods he swerved, adopting a multitude of new sound directions without allowing for the twelve year gestation period of practice that led to the initial offerings. There is a lot of good content, however. What followed was highly interesting. While the work of the ’90s and on, surprisingly, includes far too many middling attempts at commercial sales, marred by palpable and apparently self-inflicted desperation, or grandiosity, or evangelism, one can find lovely experiments, big, epic constructs and deep genre dives, too. In many cases the sound is more mature, more rooted in historical context, more dexterous or more casual, often softer with the edges filed down. Once you acclimate yourself to the sonic differences, gems emerge.

The Purple Hotness Index (with apologies to paisley, gold and peach & black) is simply an audited listening project identifying all the badass songs for reference by both new fans and lapsed fans who may have stopped following him in the early ’90s. It’s meant to rescue the greatness from a relatively obscure later catalog and to just generally better understand the arc of forty years of Prince’s artistic output. And while it’s also an interesting tool for selecting eras and events to help build either a future, smarter biopic or a quasi-biographical fiction in the vein of Citizen Kane, it’s mostly meant purely to make The Ultimate Prince Playlist.

As is evident in the above graph the first major quality delineation in Prince’s discography is 1989’s Batman and 1991’s Diamonds and Pearls, in retrospect two decidedly bold but artistically awful experiments to improve on the declining sales of 1988’s gorgeous Lovesexy and 1990’s relatively fun but undercooked film-and-album-combo Graffiti Bridge. When this particular film tanked, his next tactic to widen his reach to new markets, to chase new customers, was a very enthusiastic excursion into new genres — rap, New Jack Swing, easy listening and simplistic power rock — all genres outside (or below?) his skillset.

Rap is a phenomenal art form but a Prince rap is usually a less than phenomenal listening experience. Rap’s popularity rose slowly in its early years. Was “White Lines” prototypical or novelty? Are Blondie gentrifying rap with “Rapture”? Run-DMC, Public Enemy and The Beastie Boys represent early forays, relatively speaking. In the late ’80s, however, there was Slick Rick, N.W.A., Paul’s Boutique, De La Soul, Digital Underground, Jungle Brothers, A Tribe Called Quest… Rap was everywhere and diversifying. As a Black kid in the ’60s and ’70s Prince grew up on Pop, Disco and Rock. As mentioned in a Pitchfork review of Dirty Mind, “When he signed to Warner Bros. in 1977, he told A&R head Lenny Waronker: ‘Don’t make me black.'” It’s easy to assume he equated rap with Blackness and whatever that entailed for him. More quantifiably, Rap came along well after his musical education, after he had refined his abilities and established his trademark sound.

I vividly remember a moment sitting in the studio one night. There was a Billboard magazine laying there and he pointed to it and said, “Do you know what it feels like to spend your life learning a craft and see somebody like Vanilla Ice or MC Hammer who can’t sing or play a lick have a Number One record and we’re struggling to get on the Top 10?” He totally didn’t get it. I can agree that if you want to pick on hip-hop, those are the ones to pick on, as opposed to say Public Enemy or other people that are incredible. But he didn’t get Eric B and Rakim either. This was a guy from Minneapolis. He didn’t grow up in the Bronx. He didn’t really get that. It was like, “You’re just talking. You’re a poet and maybe you write some interesting poetry but you’re not a musician. You’re a fucking DJ.” ~ Alan Leeds, Rolling Stone, April 26, 2016

So although there are great little proto-raps on early tracks, Prince was seminal at what he knew. And yet, despite his playful criticisms of Rap on 1987’s The Black Album (“Rapping done let us down (down down)”), he releases Diamonds and Pearls three years later featuring a fairly heavy slew of mediocre rap, sounding forced and derivative. Like Vanilla Ice-level derivative. And instead of emulating the more conceptually complementary style of a group like De La Soul, he chose to incorporate the blandest style of Rap going. As the years went on he got better at it, though, once again due to dedication and practice. There are some great, middle and later day Prince tracks with rap on them, like “Face Down”, “Days of Wild” linked to below and “U Know” off of Art Official Age.

Summary

Prince’s output over four decades is massive. The website princevault.com lists 1292 individual songs on its A-Z Songs page, and this catalog serves as a fascinating narrative for the artistic process, the heartbeat of invention. The peaks and valleys of inspiration are laid bare, with even a redemptive final return to great albums (Art Official Age, HitnRun Phase One & Two). While we know the arc of his time on Earth ended with canceled concerts, redirected flights, and overdoses, all fairly morbid, the graph, superficially at least, reveals a life of constant artistic reinvention and occasional joyful brilliance.

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Hot Things, Xtraloveables and the Purple Hotness Index

Comments are closed.