Prince was an awesome musician and a superbly interesting person. He was one of my favorite musicians, in fact. Like the rest of the world, I was surprised and saddened to hear of his death last week.
To remember him, I decided to talk about 6 of my favorite Prince songs. Notice that I didn’t title this article “My 6 Favorite Prince Songs,” but instead “6 Of My Favorite Prince Songs.” That’s because it’s very hard to narrow them down to six, and depending on one’s mood, certain songs resonate differently at different times. So for this one, I’ll just make a few comments about why I included each particular song. I hope you enjoy them, and invite you to share your own stories.
Oh, and obviously I’ve included the songs so you can listen to them, but in his final year or so Prince seemed intent on scrubbing the internet of his songs and videos. As a result, I can’t include the wonderful music videos that sometimes accompanied his songs–and in fact, I’m not even sure if I’ll be able to keep these songs up here for long. But if those methods fail, you can always go and buy his CDs. If you don’t know where to start, his three-disc set of The Hits/The B-Sides is actually really complete, especially considering that many Greatest Hits albums often aren’t really so great.
This is actually not one of my favorite Prince songs, but it does have one of my favorite memories related to Prince songs. I put it first in this list because it was first chronologically (for me, at least).
This is from the Batman soundtrack, as you can probably tell by the album art. When I was a kid, my friend Craig (one of them–everyone seemed to be named Craig in 1989) got the cassette single of “Batdance,” and this song was the B-side:
Honestly, I probably didn’t even really process that it was Prince who was singing these songs. I was only 9, and kids don’t really have a developed musical taste at that age. In fact, when I first started hearing more about Prince about a dozen years later, I probably thought, “Oh, he’s that guy who sang ‘200 Balloons’!” And I may have been the only person in the world to do so.
Anyhow, we listened to this song and “Batdance” many, many times, but I don’t think I ever got the full album until years later. And really, that’s not a huge loss, because this particular song isn’t that amazing, and the rest of the soundtrack has more misses than hits. To its credit, “200 Balloons” does start off really strong, but I won’t blame you if you skip to the next song after about 2 minutes. Because man, this song absolutely falls apart after that, and the rest is just about 3 or 4 minutes of crap.
But because of that nice memory of a cassingle that evokes a happy childhood, I’ll include this song on the list.
My Favorite Part: Watching the 1989 Batman movie for the scene where Jack Nicholson throws out money while Prince’s “Trust” plays in the background. Because frankly, that’s a much better song than “200 Balloons.”
After that brief Batman-based diversion, we’re now into the age when I consciously listened to Prince. I’m not sure what my first Prince song of that era was, but I’m pretty sure that the first time I really listened to him was with my friend Josh, who introduced me to Prince’s music, including this song.
This song is so upbeat, and it’s a good introduction to Prince. It also helps that it was repurposed to be the subject of a hilarious “open letter” from Mr. McGee to Prince, which my friend Annie pointed out to me recently.
This Prince song isn’t straight-ahead rock, but instead a weird conglomeration of violins, synthesizer, and falsetto. That, combined with Prince’s physical appearance, opened my mind a bit in terms of what a rock singer could sound and look like.
When a bunch of us were exchange students in Germany we kinda joked a bit about Josh liking Prince, but that’s because we were stupid kids, and that’s what stupid kids do. But now I see that he was way more mature and smart about music than we were. I also think that this song was what made another friend, Justin, come around to Prince’s brilliance. But all of that was a long time ago, so who knows for sure.
My Favorite Part: I like how this song is almost conversational. The best part for me is at 1:27 when he says “So look here, I put her on the back of my bike and we went ridin’ down by Old Man Johnson’s farm.”
This is from Prince’s 2004 album Musicology. I chose this as the third entry because he was touring to support this album when I was lucky enough to go see him in concert.
Everything that you may have read about Prince being amazing in concert is absolutely true. When I saw him, though, I didn’t know any other Prince fans who wanted to go, so I went by myself. I also got nosebleed seats, since his concerts often sold out very quickly. But despite both of those things, I still had a great time, and it still remains one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to.
This concert was also interesting because when you walked into the door of the venue, you got a free copy of Musicology. I knew that when I bought the ticket, so I hadn’t actually listened to any of the songs from the album before the concert, since I knew I’d be getting a free copy of the CD when I got there. As an album, it’s definitely not that amazing, but I really do like “Cinnamon Girl.”
I guess this was around the time when he became a Jehovah’s Witness and his lyrics changed from sexily mysterious to politically mysterious…and also just plain mysterious. The musical style is also much more guitar-focused. I particularly love the acoustic guitar that kicks in around 0:33 to lead into the bridge.
My Favorite Part: Like I said, I love the acoustic guitar mixed with the electrical guitar, but my favorite part of the lyrics is the way he says “We know how this movie’s ending” around 1:55, which then leads to the song basically pausing for a moment to gather itself again.
For a long time, if you asked me what my favorite Prince song was, I would have said this one. And I’m still pretty sure it’s number one for me. I think one of the reasons I like this song is because I really have/had no idea what it’s about. I’m notoriously bad when it comes to understanding lyrics, but this has always been one of the hardest for me to understand. Just today, I realized that the first word of the song is actually “all,” and not “oh,” which I’d been singing all these years.
And when it comes to interpreting those lyrics, this is a particularly opaque song, even by Prince standards. After looking up the lyrics again, I still don’t really know what the song is about. I’m pretty sure it’s related to the Biblical Revelation?
But I’ve noticed a weird trend: I almost never understand anything about the songs of my favorite bands. I love R.E.M. and Pearl Jam, but I’d honestly be hard-pressed to tell you any of their lyrics without looking them up. But perhaps that helps me focus on the instrumentation, and that’s the case with this Prince song also.
My Favorite Part: I love the finger cymbals, and this also throws in some acoustic guitar, which I’m a sucker for. My favorite part in terms of lyrics is the wavy way in which he sings “There will be a new city with the streets of gold” around 3:30.
“I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man”
This song has a special place in my heart for two reasons.
The first is because the Eels played it as a kind of “secret encore” song when I saw them in Philly with my friend Chris. Here you can hear at least the audio of that, although it was at a different venue:
The second reason has to do with my dear, departed cat. He was known by many names, but my friend Annie dubbed him PussyPie, and that name sorta stuck. On the day that he died, Annie came over to my apartment and played Prince songs to comfort me as I was “crying wery, wery much, like one gigantic wagina” (that was a period of time in which we were making fun of Germans a lot). In any case, she changed the words from “man” to “cat,” and that was exactly what I needed. So thanks, friend.
My Favorite Part: In terms of lyrics, probably the “Mmm!” in “Mmm! She was looking all right, yeah.” In terms of music, I love how the backing guitar chords kick in around 0:35 to start the bridge. So cool.
This song belongs on any list of top Prince songs, of course. I don’t really have too many interesting anecdotes about what this particular song meant to me (although a Belgian friend did include it on a sweet mix tape she made me when I was holding my famous Mix Tape Masterpiece Competition of 2002). But I did want to include it partially because of the costume that Prince wears in the music video for this song and the movie of the same name, since it was the costume I was trying to emulate when I went as Prince for Halloween in 2005:
By now that picture is fairly legendary, at least by the exceptionally lenient standards of Pictures of Me. I must thank my mom for helping me make the blouse/shirt for the costume, since the ruffles were actually just pieces of fabric that she sewed into the purple suit that I found in the women’s section at Savers. And I should also thank my friend Katie for helping me put on the makeup. It helped the costume, but God willing, I’ll never have to wear makeup again in my life.
My Favorite Part: The whole song, basically, in its entire epic scope. I particularly like how Prince’s guitar skills are on display here. And if you are able to see the video or movie somewhere, my favorite part of that is when Billy, the dude in the Detroit Tigers trucker’s hat, slightly sticks his tongue out and then nods his head:
Because when you see Prince perform live, that’s all you really can do: stick out your tongue slightly, then nod you head in acknowledgement of Prince’s musical genius.
What about you? If you had to choose either your 6 favorite Prince songs, or 6 that have been meaningful for you in your life, which ones would you choose?
As usual, thanks for reading.
Rest in Peace, Prince!