The Essential: Prince
His tragic passing in 2016 left behind a rich, enormously complex canon of material and releases to sift through. Rik Flynn presents a guide to Prince’s rarest and greatest moments…
His sales may have waxed and waned a little over the years, but during his 57 years spent on this Earth, Prince never stopped striving to outdo himself and everyone around him. Compulsive and entirely unafraid to do exactly as he pleased, he lived constantly on the edge, with his songwriting and production, often at the risk of losing our attention. As his trusted engineer Susan Rogers once opined, he was someone “who was willing to completely offend his core audience” for the sake of his art. Few others could make that claim.
Prince put himself through the mill in other ways, too, cutting songs on a daily basis, while often fasting and with very little sleep. Such was his grand vision that he squandered his entire three-album advance on his first record and almost burnt himself out in the process, after months of writing, producing and performing everything himself. Right through to his final hurried burst of activity gigging and recording live with 3rdEyeGirl, his two HitnRun albums, storming London with those unexpected guerilla shows, and on to his poignant stripped-back Piano & A Microphone tour, Prince never stopped. Preferring his chosen artistic medium to anything else life had to offer, here was a man truly possessed. “I am music,” he told Rolling Stone in 2014.
Across his vast, multifarious catalogue, exist numerous studio albums, enigmatic releases under several different guises, plus a dizzying array of incredible singles – many of which have been issued in an equally disorientating number of variances and formats. Add to that the various compilations, collectable promos, picture discs and rarities, and it amounts to a mountainous tip of an even more colossal iceberg, much of which remains boxed up within the walls of Prince’s infamous ‘vault’.
Prince Rogers Nelson, perhaps above all artists, is the slipperiest of quarries for a feature such as this. Such is the admiration for the Purple Prophet, that there are superfans willing to lance their replica ‘love symbol’ guitars deep into your soft tissue should a discrepancy occur. Hip devotees Hot Chip even wrote a song about the dangers of feigning fandom for the man. As a result, we’ve enlisted those very fanatics for guidance, as well as record-store owners, musicians and anyone in earshot who had an intimate relationship with the many works of the late, great Lord Of Paisley Park.
The result – in reverse chronological order – is an ambrosial mix of genuinely essential albums everyone should own in some form or other; a handful of equally crucial singles; our pick of his many jawdropping extended mixes (many of which feature prominently here); some vinyl-only UK releases and a smaller proportion of rarities to get any collector’s juices flowing… For vinyl fans, Prince’s alternative reality is a fine place to be.
40 Nothing Compares 2 U
(Ltd 7″ 2018)
While Sinéad O’Connor’s ubiquitous rendition still stands up, Prince’s duet with Rosie Gaines never quite fired, while the version cut with The Family is almost entirely overlooked. Finally, we all get to witness this grand opus as it was originally intended. Penned during a burst of creativity at his Flying Cloud Drive Warehouse, Prince’s engineer Susan Rogers places it in her Top 10. Out on limited 7″ picture disc and standard 7″.
39 Chelsea Rodgers
(US Promo 12″ 2007)
Fierce disco magnificence featuring NPG newbie Shelby J on vocals, this is a hidden gem from Planet Earth, available only as a vinyl promo. Written about a mystery model, Sheila E sits in on percussion here and one-time James Brown cohort Maceo Parker is on horns. This one may be a little rare, but decent copies regularly appear on online auction sites. B-side Mr. Goodnight is worth a mention, too.
From the octave-shifted everything of the title track and the salsa scatsof lead single Te Amo Corazón, to the robotic, eroticised funk of Black Sweat and the (slightly) more familiar territory of third and final single, Fury, experimentation was still high on the agenda. New protegée Támar Davis added her tender pipes to Beautiful, Loved & Blessed and duet, The Dance. For vinyl lovers, there was only this – hotly debated – ‘promo’…
Rarest N/A no vinyl, bar promo
While the debate rages as to the legitimacy of this rare promo, it’s worth digging deep. R&B is the focus, although its trio of singles operate in all quarters. The sizzling title track spits the history of funk set to syncopated cadency and plenty of James Brown-isms; Call My Name is luscious soul, while Cinnamon Girl rides a propellant groove. Deep in the pocket, Illusion, Coma, Pimp & Circumstance slips out of line to bring the funk.
Rarest N/A no vinyl, bar promo
(New Power Generation Album 1995)
In the middle of his battle with Warners, Prince made this album cast as alter-ego Tora Tora (named after a Japanese war cry). Prince is omnipresent, but offers only two vocals: new power-soul jam The Exodus Has Begun features a heavily slowed down vocal, foiled by NPG bassist Sonny T. (who sings the rest of the LP) and atop the watertight P-Funk grooves of The Return Of The Bump Squad.
Rarest 1995 sealed/mint £200+
35 The Gold Experience
Infamously painting ‘SLAVE’ on his cheek at the BRITs in 1995 in protest against a dictatorial label, Prince still produced another stormer. His final big hit, The Most Beautiful Girl In The World, seduced many into parting with the cash here, but The Gold Experience is more besides. P-Control distilled his rap credentials, Billy Jack Bitch is pointed at the party and Gold is a 24-carat curtain-closer.
Rarest 2LP first pressing £250+
Translucent 2LP numbered promo £250
34 Love Symbol
Borne out of frustration with his label and brazenly displayed on the sleeve came The Artist Formerly Known As Prince’s new moniker. The public may have been confused, but this sizzling blend of R&B, jazz, hip-hop and even reggae fared well. This cryptic rock soap opera starring a princess, a rock star and seven assassins housed 7, one of his most extraordinary creations, plus Sexy MF and the then-confusing My Name Is Prince.
Rarest Sealed first pressing £150
Latest 1992 £15
33 Gett Off
Housing two slamming remixes of Prince and the NPG’s untameable first smash hit, this track was met with such positivity when he wrote it, Prince ditched rap-funk cut, Horny Pony, and stuck it on Diamonds And Pearls instead. Its tough groove jam-packed hip-hop, brass – some of James Brown’s lyrics – and Eric Leeds’ footloose flute into one mighty noise.
Rarest Ltd Ed ‘Birthday’ 12″ (Damn Near 10 Minutes Mix) £400
Latest 12” Warners/Rhino, 12 Inches Of Prince 2007 £15
32 Diamonds And Pearls
An entirely fresh set of tracks and an equally new band, Prince & The New Power Generation’s Diamonds And Pearls brought back the funk. Most will know (and love) the thunderous Gett Off, dig the lustful snap of Cream and sing along to the lilting title track – a duet with NPG alumnus Rosie Gaines: but there’s plenty more here, not least Tony M’s plentiful raps, which reframed Prince’s sound nicely.
Rarest Sealed first pressing £100
Commissioned to soundtrack Tim Burton’s original noir Batman remake, Prince entwined himself deep within the psyches of his comic-book quarries. Choice film samples coalesce with lyrics, loops and rigid grooves to remarkable effect. The Future, Electric Chair, Trust and Lemon Crush are Prince in full stride, while sky-seeking denouement, the stuttering funk-rock instrumental Batdance, strikes the killer blow.
Rarest European test pressing £1,500 Picture disc £40 to £50
With virtually all of the 500,000 copies of The Black Album destroyed, Prince returned to pop-funk. It was intended to be heard as a whole, and Lovesexy’s polychromatic funk-fest arrived as a single track of just over 45 minutes. Sheila E sat at the drum kit for half of it, but this was almost entirely Prince. From lust and carnal pleasure, through to God and racism, the opposing themes continued into this, the last in a run of pure genius.
Rarest First pressing sealed with sticker £250
(madhouse album 1987)
Hours of improvised noodlings became The Flesh – an unreleased album made primarily with flautist/saxophonist Eric Leeds – and eventually evolved into Madhouse. Eight cosmic jazz-funk instrumentals serve as vindication of both Prince and Leeds’ spectacular musicianship. A fictitious backstory spoke of founder member ‘Austra Chanel’, and the infamous ’Madhouse cover girl’ Maneca Lightner is pictured on the sleeve with a terrier dog.
Rarest Mint US copy up to £200
28 The Black Album
Intended as a follow-up to Sign ‘O’ The Times, this is the ‘lost’ album that was never actually lost. Supposedly a reaction to criticism from black fans that he had sold out to pop, this is a man in the throes of flexing his funk muscle. Prince may have pulled the plug mere days before release, but most fans had bootlegs by the time of its eventual release as a limited-edition CD in 1994. The ‘Funk Bible’ is to be reissued on vinyl later this year.
Rarest 1987 withdrawn copy £10,000
Latest 1994 Ltd Ed vinyl £200
27 U Got The Look
Cut in Hollywood, Sign ‘O’ The Times’ classic third single also introduced Prince protégée Sheena Easton, whose initial backing vocals were expanded into a duet (Easton and Prince would also duet on co-write The Arms Of Orion from the Batman soundtrack). Added treats on this 12″ include the ‘Long Look’ extended version of U Got The Look and ‘MoQuake’ remix of Housequake.
Rarest European/UK picture disc £70
Latest 2017 Paisley Park reissue £10 to £15
26 Sign ‘O’ The Times
Spread across four flawless sides, Prince’s prismatic centrepiece delivered a much-needed fix for Purple Rain lovers, after the indulgent, semi-psychedelia of Around The World In A Day and Parade’s filmic diversion. In an already erudite and fascinating world came yet more luscious vistas: the wondrous title track, Housequake, Hot Thing, U Got The Look… Prince’s vision is distilled to perfection.
Rarest Sealed first pressings up to around £200
Latest Paisley Park 2016 reissue £20
25 Girls & Boys
Otherworldly synth hooks, Marie France’s spoken-word French, the first appearance of Eric Leeds’ wandering sax and a killer chorus make this a highlight of the Parade (Under The Cherry Moon) soundtrack, and a Prince essential. Relatively easy to track down, this limited UK 12″ is collectible, thanks in part to its companion ‘personality poster’. Flipsides are Under The Cherry Moon and another appearance of the incredible Erotic City.
Rarest Shaped UK picture disc £50
Near-mint with poster £200
(12″ extended version 1986)
Clocking in at just shy of 10 minutes, the protracted version of Prince’s celestial Parade single contains one of his most exorbitant, unmissable outro jams. Everyone gets a shift: Eric Leeds on sax and Atlanta Bliss on trumpet, while synth, flute and drums are supplied by Sheila E. Arriving after the measured pop of Kiss, and with cult instrumental Alexa De Paris on the B-side, this vindicated The Revolution’s enviable synergy.
Rarest White Ltd Ed 10″ UK version £20
From the jubilant chorus of opener Christopher Tracy’s Parade via a multitude of disorientating samples, and on to the intimate, plaintive beauty of curtain call Sometimes It Snows In April, this is mesmerising stuff. Potent sideways funk arrives with I Wonder U, while both Kiss and – highlight – Mountains revealed Prince was still a master of hooks. Up the aesthetic with the monochrome picture disc and pay more.
Rarest European promo gatefold £350
Warners weren’t keen, but Parade’s pacemaker was No. 1 worldwide. Initially handed over to Mazarati – who added the funk – then promptly reclaimed, this has since become a modern classic. Tom Jones bellowed it out over Art Of Noise’s backing like a priapic Tarzan, but it became his best-known song. This 12″ mix offers a fuller experience than the original, with bass, organ and horns – and comedic spoken-word ending.
Rarest Philippines Ltd Ed 12″ £60
Shaped picture disc £130
21 Pop Life UK
The US issue of Pop Life featuring Sheila E’s ‘Fresh Dance Mix’ has it charms, but we favour the bolder approach of its nine-minute cousin featured on the UK 12″. Some suggest that the booing crowd heard on the track was taken from Prince’s ill-fated 1981 support slot with The Rolling Stones, but the less glamorous truth is that it was nabbed from a sample library. An extended version of Girl is on the B-side. Find a UK promo and pay double.
Latest 1985 £30
20 Paisley Park
While Raspberry Beret was favoured in the US, it was this Beatles-esque slice of psychedelia that was elected to lead off Around The World In A Day’s UK campaign. It was also a fitting debut single for Prince’s Paisley Park imprint. The 12″ features two versions: the edited single, plus an extended take with Prince blasting out guitar heroics. Those partial to a picture disc should seek out the rarer 7″, with shaped ‘balloon boy’ graphic.
Rarest UK 12″ with white lettering £70
(12″ 21-minute version 1985)
This uncompromising director’s cut of his mid-80s single is Prince and band at their funkiest. Borne from a five-hour groove that fired until the tape ran out, Prince does little to hide his barbed, yet considered, critique on his country of residence. For The New York Times, it was “a patriotic protest song”, for Revolution guitarist Wendy Melvoin, it was a “fucking freight train”. Without a CD release, and unissued in the UK, this is gold dust.
Rarest Philippines Ltd 12″ (single edit) £100
18 The Family
(The Family Album 1985)
It’s a curio within his catalogue for sure, partly as Prince wasn’t technically in the band, but nonetheless, this one-off project was a novel conduit through which to experience his songs. The storming Minneapolis funk sound is all over opener High Fashion, and single The Screams Of Passion is a creeping sexualised duet. The oft-neglected version of Nothing Compares To U is unmissable. The inaugural release on Prince’s Paisley Park Records.
Rarest Mint first pressing £40
17 Around The World In A Day
After his commercial zenith, Purple Rain, Prince wrong-footed the newcomers with an LP with a personal pilgrimage at its heart. From Paisley Park’s Beatles-esque leanings to the excitable rhythm jam of Tamborine, via failsafe funk (America) and flawless pop (Raspberry Beret), this was psychedelic and wide open. Doug Henders’ artwork was stunning, too.
Rarest Specialty Records pressing
£200 to £500 Sealed first pressing £50
16 Raspberry Beret
One more Prince mainstay that’s truly rewarding in its extended form. Just shy of seven minutes, this lusciously romantic pop gem was first recorded in 1982 and finished off two years later. Ever subversive, Prince can be heard audibly clearing his throat in this version, included as it was “something no one else would do”. It also has a dynamite backing chorus from the Revolution’s Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman, plus equally alluring artwork.
Rarest UK promo £65
15 I Would Die 4 U
Of the manifold examples of this Purple Rain highlight, the unabbreviated ‘US Remix’ still remains our principal version. Written as far back as 1983, and first aired at a Controversy tour soundcheck, it was likely that flighty jam – or something similar – that found its way onto the grooves of this 12″. An initial 30-minute marathon was recorded in October 1984, then dramatically edited for the 12″. 10 minutes well spent.
Rarest US 12″ with custom oversized label £100
14 When Doves Cry
(12″ Extended Version 1984)
Most settle for the mass-produced 7″ of this No. 1 single, but being suckers for more, this full-length version is the one for us. When Doves Cry epitomises everything that is Prince: gated drum machine, cryptic lyrics, layered vocals and mighty guitar. Add his daredevil production tricks – he decided to mute the bass track at the last minute – and this is one of his golden moments. 17 Days… is one of his finest B-sides, too.
Rarest 12″, UK first pressing £60 to £70
13 Purple Rain
The record that felled jaws the world over. Held within its iconic sleeve was kaleidoscopic brilliance sprawled out across innumerable genres. Beguiling and smart, this majestic freakout is Prince’s grand enterprise. The Revolution display their talents on opener Let’s Go Crazy, When Doves Cry and I Would Die 4 U – as well as throughout the ever-unsolvable, Delphian title track.
Rarest Purple promo w/ poster £700
Latest Warners, 2017 reissue £20
12 Purple Rain
(UK 12″ 1984)
Surely his crowning achievement, Purple Rain needs no introduction. It will forever remain the artist’s anthem – and is in its delicious extended form here. What’s more, turn the masterpiece over for the expansive God, the instrumental of all Prince instrumentals (and its vocal-included version). Whichever format you choose, this is a must.
Rarest Purple promo £100
Latest Warners, 2017 reissue £20
11 Let’s Go Crazy/Erotic City
With church organ in support, Prince’s infamous carpe diem eulogy is one of the finest intros in existence. Released in the UK on equal billing with duet Take Me With U, Purple Rain’s second single was a clash of fizzing guitars and febrile synths – a LLV favourite.
A defining moment in Prince’s career, the release of 1999 turned the world purple. Its status as party song of the millennium aside, snap it up immediately for its stunning B-side – the stuttering piano-led ballad How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore finds Prince slipping seamlessly from falsetto to baritone, and deserved a higher billing. Appreciated by all fans (including Alicia Keys, who covered it), this was a live regular.
Rarest French test pressing £100
Latest 1998 Warners 12″ reissue £15
With heavy MTV rotation for streamlined creations1999 and Little Red Corvette, Prince reached omnipresence via this towering piece of work. His fifth LP captured a glossier, commercial guise. With audacious, blazing synths to the fore and with both pop hook and funk opus sharing equal billing, armageddon never sounded like so much fun.
Rarest Seven-track initial UK run on single vinyl £100
Latest RSD 2018 Ltd seven-track £20 to £40
8 Little Red Corvette
(Ltd ed 12″ 1982)
In the lengthier format, Little Red Corvette takes on a deep-seated beauty, and the B-sides (Horny Toad/D.M.S.R) aren’t half bad either, but it’s the rare spiral-bound calendar that will have Prince hoarders in palpitations. Only a few of these ‘magazine styled’ six-page calendars were made for the initial pressings, but find one intact and you’re sitting on a goldmine. The rare ‘negative’ sleeve version with poster is also collectable.
Rarest Mint with calendar £350
With compass spinning wildly before commencing this fourth album, Prince got the job done mining past stylistic glories and with a new social awareness added to his erotic manifesto. Squelchy synths, grooved-up pop vibes aplenty – a soupçon of disco – and the usual indefinable voodoo, meant the title track; Sexuality; Do Me, Baby; Let’s Work and the zippy curtain-call Jack U Off united with their supporting cast for vindication that Prince was growing up.
Rarest White-label UK promo £600
Latest Warners 2014 reissue £20
6 Gotta Stop (Messin’ About)
Released just after its carnal mothership, Dirty Mind, this rarity was a standalone UK-only single, hence its uncontrollable draw. There were two 7s and two accompanying 12s as well – all great – but it’s the initial 45 we’re interested in here, with album cut Uptown on the B-side. Potent synth hooks, rawk guitar and lustful lyrics meant that when released to coincide with Prince’s debut UK gigs, they were all rammed.
Rarest First pressing 7” £40 UK 12″ £150
Latest 4Ever (2016) £40 to £50
5 Dirty Mind
With his stripped-back third transmission, the libertine planted his sovereign flag. His contract granted ultimate freedom and, engineering as ‘Jamie Starr’ in his private studio oasis, he set the controls for the sexual stratosphere. Replacing the slushy love vistas of its predecessor was an erotic underworld where XXX-funk clashed with pulsing synth and filthy pop while R&B and New Wave had an illicit, up-against-the-wall dalliance with the listening world.
Rarest Warners test pressing, 1980 £350
Latest Warners/Rhino, 2011 £15
4 Sexy Dancer
For some reason, only island-dwelling fans in the UK and Japan were targeted with Prince’s sixth single. Nonetheless, it received regular attention from hip US club DJs, whose enthusiastic airings helped it to No. 3 in the Billboard Disco chart – all without an official US release. This full-length take reveals Prince’s early mastery of the mid-tempo funk groove. From the corporeal glissando yowl of the intro to the eventual close, this is sheer class.
Latest 1980 £50
Prince’s sophomore LP announced his entry into the pop arena. A concoction of sexually charged funk and silky balladry, hard rock, disco and soul, it spawned a clutch of singles – from first major hit I Wanna Be Your Lover, to the animalistic tear of Bambi, reserved for Belgium and the Netherlands only. I Feel For You was a Top 10 hit for Chaka Khan in 1984.
Rarest Test pressings and import promos £100+
Latest Warners, 2016 reissue £15 to £20
2 I Wanna Be Your Lover
(Ltd ed 12″ 1979)
His first major hit in the US and his debut UK instalment, these were the grooves that introduced that infamous searing falsetto. Only 21, and with mega-stardom still some way off, this disco-baiting side revealed immediately we all had a lot of catching up to do. The 7″ is a worthy addition to any collection, but it’s the full-length UK version on the limited 12” that fits here.
Rarest Mexican 7″ promo (1980) £450 One-sided 12″ picture-disc promo £120
Latest Rhino, 12 Inches Of Prince (2007) £125
1 For You
Prince opened his account while still a teenager. Not only that, he did pretty much everything, from songwriting to production, a fact that didn’t go unnoticed. With his entire three-album budget squandered and rendering himself a ‘physical wreck’, For You tanked, but cuts such as Just As Long As We’re Together and funk closer I’m Yours hinted at the formidable possibilities.
Rarest (US mint, sealed first pressing) £250+
Latest 2016 Warners reissue £20