op-ed: advanced prince studies: revisiting 10 overlooked prince masterpieces #soundcheck

April 22, 2016

Dearly beloved We are gathered here today 2 get through this thing called life

I didn’t cry when Bowie died. I’d heard rumors that he’d been sick for a while. So his late-career victory lap always seemed like it was on borrowed time. I didn’t even tear up when I first got the news that Prince had died. It wasn’t until I was standing in line getting coffee a few hours later, and the opening strains of “Purple Rain” came over the system that I realized one of the people who shaped me, who taught me that it was OK to defy gender stereotypes and that there was a place in the world for people like me, was gone. That there would be no more boundary-pushing, genre-defying, guitar-smashing music from the Purple One. Now who would tell the boys who would rather be pretty than macho that they could be strong in their own way? Who will make sure our sexy slow jams have the most epic guitar solos? Seriously, fuck 2016. And that’s about when I lost it: standing in line for coffee.

Electric word life It means forever and that’s a mighty long time But I’m here 2 tell u There’s something else The afterworld A world of never ending happiness U can always see the sun, day or night

Though Prince Rogers Nelson may have transcended this world to teach other planes of existence to be sexy, he left behind an almost insurmountable legacy of music. Over 39 studio albums, countless singles, EPs, producing, and songwriting credits, you could easily devote weeks of your life to exploring the official discography (and that’s not even getting in to the bootlegs…). And while it would be understandable to just throw Purple Rain on repeat and mourn His transcendence the traditional way, it felt like the best way to honor Prince’s vast impact on music is by paying tribute to some of his overlooked gems.

“Albums still matter. Like books and Black Lives. Albums still matter.”

By Nathan Leigh, AFROPUNK contributor

For You (1978)

Though it spawned Prince’s first radio hit in “Soft and Wet,” his debut album was so quickly overshadowed by the long run of classics that followed it, that it’s sometimes assumed that his self-titled second record was actually his first. The record finds a 19 year old Prince playing all instruments. The sound bridges gap between 70’s funk and disco and the robotic funk he would spend the next decade exploring. In a more just world “Just As Long As We’re Together” would be considered a classic equal to anything else in Prince’s catalog.

Around the World in a Day (1985)

Frequently overlooked in the pantheon of Prince’s 80’s hits, Around the World in a Day, stands as one of the strangest and most interesting albums Prince actually managed to release during his invincible period. Incorporating a more psychedelic sound, the album spawned two hits “Raspberry Beret” and “Pop Life,” but the album was always intended to be heard as one entity. Prince refused to release a single until a full month after the album’s release so fans could hear it in its entirety first. Critics initially panned Around the World in a Day, but in hindsight, the only possible way to follow up Purple Rain was to veer left.

Camille (1986)

In 1986 and 1987, Prince was recording music at a preposterous rate. His penchant for taking on proteges reached its logical extreme in 1986, when he began experimenting with speeding up his own voice and gave birth to a new protege: Camille. Prince intended for the album to be released under Camille’s name rather than his own. It was 8 tracks of gloriously genderqueer robotic funk, but the release was scrapped, and the songs eventually found their way on to other projects. 3 ended up on Prince’s magnum opus Sign “☮” the Times, while many others wound up as B-sides. The character of Camille continued to pop up on Prince’s albums, most notably on Lovesexy and the belated release of The Black Album. The album has never been released in any official capacity, but it’s easy to assemble yourself from the track list and the officially available tracks released elsewhere.

Love Symbol Album (1992)

Marking the emergence of Prince’s Lovesymbol era, the album has long divided fans. The fantasy rock soap opera is one of Prince’s most conceptual albums. It’s a bold entrance into the sounds of the 90’s from the artist who essentially defined the sound of the 80’s. Clocking in at near 75 minutes, the album definitely has room for trimming (many of Tony M’s verses are among the least essential of Prince’s discography), but the heights are among his highest. Any list of Prince’s best songs that doesn’t include “Sexy MF” and “7” is incomplete.

The Black Album (1994)

Rumors have circulated for years as to the real reason that The Black Album was shelved. Ranging from a bad experience on ecstasy to fear of demonic possession to just cold feet at the album’s violent and over-the-top sexual imagery. For whatever reason, Prince pulled the release at the 11th hour, when 100 promotional copies had already begun to circulate. Prince hastily recorded Lovesexy as its replacement, keeping only “When 2 R in Love.” The album was eventually officially released in 1994 in the middle of Prince’s contract dispute with Warner Bros. It’s often viewed as a strange, dark footnote in Prince’s career, but The Black Album is unquestionably one of the funkiest records he ever recorded.

The Gold Experience (1995)

Objectivity break! I don’t know if The Gold Experience holds up on its own merits, but it was the first Prince album I ever bought and therefore it’s perfect. Every single note is exactly where it’s supposed to be according to the laws of nostalgia. I have no time in my life for anyone who doesn’t think “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” is a pop masterpiece.

The Truth (1998)

Released as a bonus disc to the overstuffed Crystal Ball box set, The Truth is a stripped down acoustic affair. It finds Prince exploring an organic side of his musicality that’s often masked under waves of synths and flamboyant guitar work. It’s one of his more surprising and unique records, but the very definition of a diamond in the rough.

Musicology (2004)

Musicology marked a return to form after Prince’s lost decade. Featuring his tightest songwriting in years, the album was the first time in forever that it sounded like Prince was actually having fun making music rather than veering wildly between trying to meet or defy expectations. There’s a playfulness to “On The Couch” that’s absolutely irresistible. The set features absolute classics like the title track, “Illusion, Coma, Pimp & Circumstance,” and “Life ‘o’ the Party.”

3121 (2006)

If 3121 had been released in 1986 instead of 2006, nearly every track would be considered a classic equal to just about anything off of Sign “☮” the Times. The album was Prince’s first to debut at #1, and though none of the singles charted well in the US, “Te Amo Corazón” and “Fury” are Prince at his best.

Art Official Age (2014)

With guest spots from both Andy Allo and Lianne La Havas, Art Official Age is hard not to love. The album finds Prince embracing modern digital production techniques to mixed results, but when it hits, it hits. The gorgeous “Way Back Home” is worth the price of admission alone. The manipulated drums and mournful synths sound like Prince if Prince had been born in the 90’s and raised on a musical diet of exclusively Prince. The album’s self-referentially meta-conceptual nature is just thin enough to keep it all fun, and “Funknroll” features the welcome and unexpected return of Camille to the mic.

So when u call up that shrink in Beverly Hills U know the one – Dr Everything’ll Be Alright Instead of asking him how much of your time is left Ask him how much of your mind, baby ‘Cuz in this life Things are much harder than in the afterworld In this life You’re on your own And if de-elevator tries 2 bring u down Go crazy – punch a higher floor