The 10 greatest Prince albums, from 1999 to Purple Rain

The 10 greatest Prince albums, from 1999 to Purple Rain
As the Purple One’s posthumous album ‘Welcome 2 America’ is released, Graeme Ross takes a look at the best works by a staggeringly prolific artist

On 30 July, Welcome 2 America, the so-called “lost” album Prince recorded in 2010, is released. Whether you believe that the album represents the next stage in a lovingly curated archive of the pop genius’s unreleased music – following on from two previously released posthumous albums – or is an example of the exploitation of Prince’s legacy, Welcome 2 America is of intense interest to completists and casual fans alike.

The late artist, who virtually reinvented funk, soul, pop and rock with a string of touchstone albums in the 1980s, made up his own rules. His sexually explicit lyrics and flamboyant image shattered taboos, with the best of his work reflecting one of rock music’s classic tropes – the battle between the carnal and the spiritual. Five years on from his death, he remains one of the most influential musicians of all time. Unbelievably prolific, Prince released 39 studio records while he was alive. Let’s relive some of his greatest music in this countdown of Prince’s 10 best albums.

10. Around the World in a Day (1985)

A leftfield turn into introspective psychedelia, Prince’s first album on his own Paisley Park record label initially seemed somewhat underwhelming after the critical and commercial triumph of Purple Rain. However, it’s an album that over the ensuing decades has slowly revealed its treasures, and as befits a Prince record, contains some terrific singles – the stately “Paisley Park”, a gorgeous, uplifting “Raspberry Beret” and “Pop Life”, Prince’s caustic comment on his travails in the music industry.

9. The Gold Experience (1995)

Prince’s first album under the Symbol moniker was an eclectic affair, its commercial sheen recalling the previous decade’s triumphs. The opulent “Shhh” and “Gold” successfully mirrored the epic guitar balladry of “Purple Rain”, while the gentle “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” topped the UK singles charts. The usual preoccupations with sex were present and correct on “319”, and the remarkable “Eye Hate U”, is a match for anything in the Marvin Gaye/Millie Jackson spurned-lover canon.

8. Prince (1979)

Building on the promise shown by debut album For You, the follow up was all 21-year-old Prince’s own work right down to the production. Prince is a beguiling mix of post-disco floor fillers (“Sexy Dancer” and “I Wanna Be Your Lover”), coy ballads and funky rock ‘n’ roll, with Prince’s electrifying guitar solo on “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad” presaging further glories. One other notable track on Prince was “I Feel for You” which attracted a definitive Chaka Khan cover.

7. Lovesexy (1988)

A gospel album according to the man himself, replete with Prince’s enduring themes of God and sex, Lovesexy was hastily released after Prince shelved the legendary Black Album. As a consequence, Lovesexy hasn’t always received its due praise, but is a stellar entry in the Prince pantheon. Sequenced as one continuous suite of songs, the bawdy “Alphabet Street” with its distinctive chucka-chucka guitar was the big UK hit single. “I Wish You Heaven” features his glorious falsetto, while the mantra-like “Anna Stesia” is eerily effective.

6. Diamonds and Pearls (1991)

After a couple of patchy movie soundtracks, Prince formed The New Power Generation and immediately found his mojo again on an album that yielded many jewels. The title track with vocalist Rosie Gaines soars majestically and there’s evidence of some of Prince’s influences past and present on two typically salacious hit singles – “Cream” and “Gett Off”, while the thoughtful socially conscious “Money Don’t Matter 2 Night” enters “What’s Going On” territory.

5. Parade (1986)

The soundtrack to the disastrous Under the Cherry Moon movie is one of Prince’s most widely polarising albums, but there’s much to love on his last album with The Revolution. From the peerless funk of “Girls and Boys” and that arresting “duck” keyboard motif, to the sublime beauty of “Sometimes it Snows in April”, to the falsetto highs on the impossibly funky “Kiss”, this is Prince at his most eclectic and innovative.

4. Dirty Mind (1980)

On his self-produced third album Prince delivered on his mandate of “portraying pure sex” and garnered universal acclaim in the process. Gloriously funky, heavy on the synthesizers and clearly influenced by new wave, Dirty Mind broke new ground with its almost exclusive emphasis on sex and hedonism. “When You Were Mine”, “Partyup”, “Head”, “Sister” – the early keynote songs that made Prince’s reputation are all here in their lascivious glory on this taboo-challenging, wonderfully danceable album.

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3. 1999 (1982)

With a little judicious pruning Prince’s first double album could have been a classic two-side all killer, no filler record. That was never Prince’s way however, and besides what tracks could you possibly leave out? Few 1980s albums opened so memorably with the almost unbeatable triptych of the apocalyptic dance-anthem title track, followed by the sublime “Little Red Corvette”, and “Delirious”. More of a cult artist up to this point, Prince had his big commercial breakthrough with 1999, although the UK remained largely impervious to the Minneapolis Marvel’s charms. This situation would change dramatically with his next record.

2. Sign O’ the Times (1987)

A kaleidoscopic treasure chest of Prince’s bountiful gifts demonstrating his mastery of just about genre imaginable. The stunning title song is a piece of social commentary, “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man” is bouncy dance-pop, and the androgynous envelope-pusher “If I was Your Girlfriend” features Prince’s speeded up voice for alter-ego Camille. Prince’s sitar lends gospel-tinged “The Cross” a mystical sheen, and “Slow Love” is swooningly gorgeous and erotic. Prince even manages to the remarkable feat of making Sheena Easton sound edgy on “U Got the Look”, but these are just a few of the highlights of an almost perfect, visionary and influential masterpiece.

Prince performing in 2011

1. Purple Rain (1984)

Many fans and critics would cite Sign ‘O the Times as Prince’s greatest album, and it is of course a masterpiece, but Purple Rain just edges it for me. It’s perfectly sequenced, his most cohesive and consistent work, and unlike every other Prince record, there’s no throwaway filler. It contains his two greatest songs, the starkly autobiographical “When Doves Cry” and the immortal title track. Of course, it has another half-dozen classics, including “Let’s Go Crazy” and “I Would Die 4 U”. If you can’t dance to the pumping, prophetic “Baby, I’m a Star”, you really need to check your pulse. And it’s the album where he established his guitar-hero chops. Case closed.

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