The world today mourns the loss of true music royalty.
The artist born Prince Rogers Nelson, but most commonly referred to as the artist formerly known as Prince, died in his Paisley Park compound in Minneapolis overnight, aged 57.
The iconic entertainer leaves a wealth of music that is more than a match for most of his contemporaries. His influence is found not only in the sheer weight of his hit songs (Prince had 44 songs crack the US Billboard 100 between 1980 and 1999), but in his influence on other artists.
He not only wrote and produced his own music but penned songs for other artists. Both “Nothing Compares 2 U” by Sinead O’Connor and “Manic Monday” by the Bangles were original Prince songs.
The “Purple One” set the template for ’80s synthesiser-led dance pop – a guide which the contemporary music scene would find impossible to imagine music without.
The run of exquisitely produced, gloriously funky and absurdly catchy music that Prince conjured in the ’80s set the direction for contemporary artists as varied as Tame Impala, Kendrick Lamar and Neon Indian.
Prince continued to churn out albums at an unrelenting pace (his 40th came out towards the end of last year) that often delighted the fans, but made marginal impact on the wider scene. They came out with such alarming frequency and with such extensive length (triple albums were certainly no stranger to Prince’s output) that it’s only the most devoted who can wade through the entirety of his catalogue.
While reactions to his new music often ranged between a shrug and downright derision, the impact and influence of the body of work at his peak has never been higher.
Prince never stopped putting out good music, it’s just that you have to pick through the excess of tracks to find it. So to celebrate the enduring legacy of one of pop music’s greatest figures, here are five albums to help you party like it’s 1999.
Prince’s sophomore self-titled album was his mainstream breakthrough. Following the relatively disappointing reception to his debut, For You, Prince devoted all of his efforts to finding the elusive formula for success that had previously eluded him.
Heavily influenced by the disco and R&B trends of the time, Prince is a patchy album by the Purple One’s high standards and he was soon to diverge from the mean with his follow-up record, Dirty Mind.
But Prince did produce his first real hit song. “I Wanna Be Your Lover” was a massive hit, reaching #11 on the Billboard chart, and its funky groove and falsetto melody introduced the world to a soon-to-be-familiar refrain.
1999 was not only the first Prince album to crack the top 10 on the charts in America, but the one which made him a superstar.
It’s the album which best represents the “Minneapolis sound” which has gone on to provide decades of pop, house and techno music to the world.
Prince wasn’t the first person to use drum machines and synthesisers in pop music, but none had ever done it to such hip-shakingly good effect.
There were to be more successful (and slightly better) distillations of Prince’s vision for music, but if you’re going to trace his influence on contemporary pop music culture – this is where you begin.
Purple Rain (1984)
Prince’s first record with the backing of his band The Revolution was truly ground-breaking.
A soundtrack to the film of the same name, it catapulted Prince into superstardom and gave him his first two #1 singles – “When Doves Cry” and “Let’s Go Crazy”.
If you believe that retrospective “best of” lists reveal much more about what is considered influential today than what was originally thought, the placement of “Purple Rain” at the pinnacle of the recent “best songs of the ‘80s” list by the influential US music site Pitchfork reveals the ebb and flow of critical revaluation has well and truly reached peak Prince-tide.
With a devastating guitar solo (proving beyond doubt that Prince could shred with the best of them) and synth drenched backing, Purple Rain is a true marvel.
Sign o’ the Times (1987)
Although more tepidly received at the time of release than some of his other work, Sign o’ the Times has gone on to find its place as Prince’s most acclaimed work.
A sprawling, sometimes indulgent but always fascinating double-album, Sign o’ the Times represents Prince at the peak of his powers.
No longer accompanied by The Revolution, he bounded into a wide array of genres touching upon funk, soul, R&B, jazz, rap and much more, all often within the space of a mere few minutes.
While the public at large seemed hesitant to embrace this record, critics instantly adored it and it soon found a place within discussions of “the greatest of all time” debates.
HITnRUN: Phase Two (2015)
HITnRUN: Phase Two may not scale the unimpeachable heights of his greatest works, but it’s certainly the best Prince record in decades. Phase Two marks a return to the sounds Prince is most readily associated with.
“XTRALOVEABLE” has been sitting around the Prince vaults since at least 1982 and has emerged in various bootlegged versions over the years. No doubt there would be countless people willing to take the legendary Lothario up on his offer of: “If ever honey you need someone to take a shower with girl/Call me up”.
As swan songs go, it’s a brilliantly funky example of the man’s prowess.
This article was first published on The Daily Review.