Prince albums: The 80s in review

Prince should be in any man cave music collection. His music will elevate the status of your man cave ten fold. It will show your tastes to be especially refined and your ability to spot the genius of man as exceptional. But with so many albums to choose from, where do you start? As a fan I found writing these mini reviews a lot of fun. But I did have to draw a line as this site is not a homage to Prince. So I stuck to the albums that were clearly Prince albums and stayed away from band collaborations where Prince’s name did not appear on the artwork (of which there are several). I have also steered clear of albums he wrote for other artists (of which there are many) even if he did play all of the instruments on said albums, essentially making them Prince albums in all but name. So without further ado, let us begin the rundown of Prince albums starting at the very beginning

Prince albums to get you started – On the 7th day he created me.

Single minded and, up until this point, Prince had never worked an ordinary job in his life (and never would either). After finishing college and getting frustrated with the lack of success of his band, Prince decided he may as well try and make it as a solo artist. Surely it will only end in tears? Let’s find out.

Lesson 1) How to be a one-man band, producer, writer and composer.

For You (1978)
At 19 years old Prince wrote all the songs with only one song, Soft and Wet, being co-authored. He played all the instruments and produced the album on his own, practically blowing his entire three album budget on this record alone. If you are just starting your Prince journey I wouldn’t start your Prince albums collection here. It is a bit of 70’s soul devoid of anything too remarkable. There is nothing bad on here but there isn’t much to indicate what was to come. It is a pretty little record with pretty little love songs and the only really stand out feature is the fact it is a one man show. 5/10

Prince (1979)
This is a much more confident record compared to the previous release. Prince was obviously aiming for a more commercial sounding album and by and large, he hit his mark. If you are new to Prince you may well find yourself saying “I didn’t realise Prince wrote that” quite a lot. There will be familiar songs on here to most listeners over 40 even if you didn’t realise it was a Prince song. I Wanna Be Your Lover will probably sound familiar and I Feel For You will probably resurrect a memory of someone else singing it. That someone would have been Chaka khan and yes, Prince wrote and released it before she covered it. There is also a glimpse in what was to come on this record with the guitar heavy rocker Bambi and the new wave funk of Sexy Dancer. All in all, this is a very good album and were it not for the greatness that followed, this album would the crowning glory for many a artist. 6/10

Dirty Mind (1980)
With his third and final album of his current deal, Prince had something to prove after mediocre sales of the previous Prince albums. In order to secure another deal with his record company Prince had to push the boat out. So what did he do? Turned in an album barely over 30 minutes long consisting of demos. Even back then Prince was doing it his way. Dirty Mind is the first great Prince album to rock our world. Prince had finally stumbled upon his muse and carved an identity which would stay with him for the rest of his career. This album is short and to the point. This is a politics, sex, incest and party album that combines deep funky bass lines with raw guitar and, for the first time, keyboards and backing vocals by other musicians. Dirty Mind is almost punk in its attitude and by leaving the songs in their original demo format, there is no prettying up and layering of unneeded extras on top. This makes the album raw, unforgettable and a must have in any fans collection of Prince albums. New to Prince? Get it now, ’nuff said. 9/10

Controversy (1981)
Moving forward, Controversy builds on what Dirty Mind gave us. It also gives us glimpses of the sounds that were brewing and formulating to become what would be known as the Minneapolis Sound. Stylistically Prince is keeping the raw punk-funk sound of Dirty Mind but is also expanding into a more experimental territory. Thematically he is also growing and expanding upon his subject matter. Keeping in line with the album’s title, controversy is never far away in any of the songs. From the playful nastiness of Jack U Off to the Lord’s Prayer in the title song. There is a song about the anti Christ and child murderers in Annie Christian which also goes on to mock gun control laws in America. Sounds odd? Well it is, brilliantly. This album also brings us the first songs sung by Prince that are not in the high register. Songs such as Annie Christian, Jack U Off and the satirical, dooms day professing Ronnie Talk To Russia. Let’s Work has one of the best bass lines he has ever come up with and is a true funk jam. All in all, this is another great album. But it doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor only because the diversity of style and theme make it feel a little less coherent. New to Prince? This is another must have album. 7.5/10

1999 (1982)
This is the album that put Prince in the spotlight. A commercial success, 1999 found Prince not only writing great songs, but also writing great songs that became hits. Whilst stylistically the essence of the album features a new wave funk that the previous two albums showed hints of, there are also some songs that were clearly designed to cross over and become big hits. And crossover they did. The title song and Little Red Corvette are two of his best known songs to this day. But underlying everything is a musician coming into his own. Listen carefully to this album and you will hear a lot more complexity to the compositions. You will also hear the guitar playing a much more pivotal role and blending in to create what can only be described as the Prince sound. Originally released a sa double album, fortunately today technology allows it all to fit on a single CD. If you are new to Prince, it would be remiss of you not to purchase this album right now. Go on, off you go, we’ll be right here when you get back. Crucial for any Prince albums collection9/10

Prince albums to die for – And then the Rain Came Down

You would think that after hitting the big time with 1999 and successfully blending his new wave funk sounds, great ballads and cross over hits, that Prince would stick to the formula for a while and capitalise on what he had. Well, you would think. But no. Prince thought a couple of movies would be nice and multiple changes in musical direction would be just fine. Let’s see how that turned out then.

Lesson 2) How to become a megastar.

Purple Rain (1984)
Actually, as Prince albums go, this isn’t entirely a Prince album. This album is by Prince and the Revolution. Yes, that’s right, Prince put a band together. Although many of the players in the Revolution were part of 1999, they didn’t have too much to do in the recording studio as Prince did a lot of it himself. But with Purple Rain, he brought them into the studio to play on the actual recording. Well, I say that but some of the songs on Purple Rain, including the title track were actually recorded during a live performance at Minneapolis club First Avenue in 1993. With a few overdubs, what was played live is what appears on the album. And what an album it is. If you haven’t heard it you are either under 40 or you lived in a cave back in ’84. The soundtrack to the extremely successful movie, Purple Rain is a mix of rock, funk and pop. And it was this album that put Prince onto every radio station and stereo in the land. When Doves Cry, the first hit from the album has no bass line. There you go, nothing is straight forward with Prince. But what a catchy song it is that still stands up to this day. Let’s go Crazy is a rocker most of us are familiar with and opens the album with those famous words “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to get through this thing called life”. And then of course, we have Prince’s most well known anthem in the title track. Darling Nikki helped Tippa Gore start the PMRC resulting in the first “contains explicit lyrics” stickers. Tame by today’s standards, admittedly. The only low point to me, and this is minor, is I Would Die 4 U which is not a song I ever really took to. New to Prince? Well, if you don’t have this album, go out and get it. But not right now, wait until June 26th for the Deluxe remastered version. If I have forgotten to amend that sentence after June 26th 2017, then go now. Quick! 9/10

Around The World In A Day (1985)
So now Prince is a megastar, movie star, multiple Grammy winner and proud owner of an Oscar. What better time to allow the stardom to stew in its own greatness and let the Purple fever brew for a while? Nope, time to move on quickly to something else. Prince hasn’t got time to stew. So with Purple Rain the movie still in the cinemas, the album still riding high in the charts and singles still being played to death on the radio, Prince releases Around the World in a Day to no fanfare whatsoever. I have heard some call it Prince’s Sgt. Pepper. A new age, hippy venture sprinkled with a little rock and a little funk. Actually, I think sonically it isn’t that different to Purple Rain. Linn Drum, check. Guitar solos, check. Anthemic ballad, check. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t Purple Rain II. Tambourine, a funky drum driven tune is nothing like anything on Purple Rain. And for the first time we have saxophone on a couple of tracks – Temptation (a song of two halves of which the first half is great) and the Ladder (co-penned with his father). Then we have the more accessible, guitar driven Paisley Park which is more akin to a Purple Rain type song. Raspberry Beret became the only hit and is probably familiar to most people over 40. America is a socially conscious song with a funk driven underbelly that could have been lifted straight from Baby I’m a Star. New to Prince? You should definitely add this to your Prince albums collection, but if money is tight, perhaps get the next two albums first. 7/10

Parade (1986)
So, without further ado, let’s move to France and shoot a noi-classic in the form of a musical-comedic-tragedy. And whilst we are at it, let’s film it in black and white. Under the Cherry Moon bombed in the cinemas and there is no getting away from the fact that it got what it deserved. Prince just wasn’t meant to be an actor. He carried it off (barely) in Purple Rain because the at the heart of the movie was the music and the performances of the music. Under the Cherry Moon had the music, but it acted as a film score playing in the background. And anyway, the film was rubbish. Thankfully, the album that accompanied it was a tour-de-force. An immense album that has divided fans for decades. It’s one of those Prince albums that you either love or hate it seems. A real departure musically for Prince and the Revolution. This album is full of sound. Don’t get me wrong, there is a return to funk in many ways in songs like Anotherloverholenyohead, Girls & Boys and New Position. Even Mountains, the second single is laced with funk. But layered over the top of it all is a kaleidoscope of strings, percussion and vocal layering. Many of the songs sound like full band compositions and the band are certainly working their socks off. Yet, to the other extreme we have the minimal first single Kiss, a song even aliens would be familiar with. There are also some very touching moments such as the closer Sometimes it Snows in April and Under the Cherry Moon. New to Prince? Parade is a masterpiece so off you go, open your wallet and join in Christopher Tracey’s Parade. A must have. 10/10

Shock-a-lock-a boom! what was that? Aftershock.

With sales on decline and Prince under pressure to deliver he decided to fire the awesome Revolution. Not to worry though, Prince was at his most prolific. So much so that he decided to scrap the album Dream Factory, his last with the Revolution and start again with the triple album Crystal Ball and single album Camille. Prince albums were coming out of his ears. It is at this point I think that cracks started to appear in the relationship with Prince and Warner Bros. Warner Bros. said no to a triple album. Too much Prince, too much! So now what?

Lesson 3) How to take Marketing 101 and throw it out of the window.

Sign O The Times (1987)
With Warner Bros. putting the breaks on Crystal Ball Prince decided to pare it down and, along with raiding the Camille album, come up with the double album Sign O The Times. At this point in his career many fans were starting to wonder whether Prince had lost the plot. His previous two Prince albums were such a departure from his punk-funk, new wave days and not as commercial as Purple Rain, that they had started to lose touch. Not to worry, this double album release stopped everyone in their tracks. This album was a return to a more minimal sound. Almost demo sounding in most parts, Sign O The Times covered everything from AIDS to what it would be like to be a girl. There is an awesome rock anthem in the form of the Cross, heavy funk in Hot Thing and the James Brownesq Housequake. Minimal drum machine driven songs like It and Forever in My Life and some fantastic ballads with Adore being one of the greatest songs Prince has ever released. There are guitar driven songs like I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man and U Got The Look, and a great song performed live thrown in there too. This album is everything that sums up Prince to this point. Hailed as probably his crowning glory and the album everything released afterwards would be compared to. Unfortunately, Prince decided not to tour this album in America and instead make a concert movie to be shown in cinemas across the country. Whilst that is great in that we got an awesome concert movie out of it, it really scuppered the promotion of the album and sales suffered as a result. Warner Bros. were not best pleased. New to Prince? Well, if you only buy one Prince album, make sure this is the one. 10/10

The Black Album (1987 almost. 1994 actual release)
So how do you follow your crowning glory and at the same time get over the disappointment of the sales figures? Oh, that’s easy. You create a party album full of funk, cussing, attempted murder and bondage and make sure there is nothing worthy of a single anywhere to be seen. Add a song that disses rap and rappers just as hip hop is gaining traction in the market place, and you are sure to have a winner on your hands. After several thousand copies of the Black Album had been pressed, Prince decided to scrap it. The album was to be released with no credits, no name, no artists name, just a black cover. It is rumoured that Prince took an ecstasy pill that went a bit south on him. It is said that he had some sort of epiphany and that he didn’t want to be remembered for such dark material as his last album should he die before his next release. Whatever the reasons, and to Warner Bros. frustration, the album was pulled mid pressing resulting in being one of the most bootlegged albums of its time. It actually isn’t a bad album at all. It really is a funk fest and the songs contain a lot of humour throughout revealing it isn’t as dark as it was portrayed. Even the anti rap song has the tongue firmly in cheek. The guitar driven Bob George is a pure gem. His voice is electronically altered to sound like Darth Vader on acid and the subject matter is both a dig at his former manager and a tongue in cheek tale of a misogynist gangster with a gun. Rock hard in a Funky Place is a clever use of rocking guitar and funky horns musically spelling out the sexual metaphor. The album was finally released in 1994 as part of Prince’s contractual dispute with Warner Bros. Somewhat tamed by time, this is still an essential part of Prince’s discography and should be listened in the context of being the follow up to Sign O The Times and not a 1994 contract filler. New to Prince? You should definitely get it but perhaps wait until you have absorbed the more crucial Prince albums first. 7/10

Lovesexy (1988)
Welcome to the new power generation. The reason my voice is so clear? ’cause there’s no smack on my brain. At first listen, you would be forgiven for thinking that it all sounds a bit too busy. We have horns, big synth sounds, screeching guitar, frenzied drumming, layered vocals, scratching, rapping, bleeps, squeals and screeching tyres. This 9 track album certainly doesn’t sound like a sparce demo Prince put together like much of Sign O The Times or Dirty Mind. It feels big… Very BIG! Music was pouring out of Prince in the mid to late 80s so it comes as no surprise that he could scrap The Black Album and replace it in a matter of months. But to create something that is so sonically different and almost the polar opposite of what came only months before is genius. As Prince albums go, this one is literally a masterpiece. There is certainly a fair bit of the traditional Princely sex metaphors, but Lovesexy stays bright and joyous and is his most spiritual album to date. Spooky Electric (the Devil) and god are scattered throughout the album, but there is no preaching so atheists, agnostics and other ‘ists need not worry. From the opening funk of I Eye No to the closing laid back drum-machine-driven Positivity, Prince pulls out every trick he has learned so far. As he says during Alphabet St. “This is not music, this is a trip”. In fact, Prince was so keen for the listener to experience the trip in one sitting that the initial release of Lovesexy on CD was tracked as a single song. You had to either sit through the album from the start or keep your finger pressed on the fast forward button to get to the particular song you wanted to listen to. It was annoying and wasn’t a great marketing ploy. And talking of marketing, a butt naked Prince on the cover during the late 80s was another shot in the foot. Sales were poor and the extravaganza that was the Lovesexy Tour (Beethoven on acid) cost so much money, Prince was almost broke by the end of it. Warner Bros. were not best pleased I imagine. New to Prince? Essential listening and, fortunately, CD’s are now tracked. Get it! 10/10.

Batman (1989)
If the rumours are to be believed, Prince was struggling in terms of cash flow. Now, struggling for cash is probably a relative term as Im sure a superstar’s version of broke is somewhat different to mine. Never the less, If the rumours are to be believed then Batman was a deliberate attempt to cash in on the back of a blockbuster movie. I don’t know that for sure, but whatever the reasons for the Batman album, I’m sure Warner Bros. were happy with the decision. Batman is a good album if not one of those Prince albums that sets the world alight. It has some great songwriting and the minimal sound is refreshing after the sonic trip that was Lovesexy. The Future is a great piece of minimal funk driven by what sounds like a new drum machine Prince has acquired. In fact all over this album are familiar Prince sounds that seem to be recorded on new, updated equipment. Electric Chair doesn’t present us with a new kind of Prince song, but it sounds different in the production of it. Perhaps the New Power Generation referenced in Lovesexy had come to roost and this is the first glimpse of that new power sound. Drums sound fuller and the bass pops out more than it has done before. There is even an EDM type song in Lemon Crush which isn’t something we had heard prior to this album. The Arms of Orion is a skipper though. A smoochy duet with Sheena Easton that is best forgotten yet it shows itself in different guises for many years to come. Batdance is a unique departure for Prince who seems to have taken lessons in sampling and mixing creating a song that cannot be described as anything we have ever heard before. It still sounds quirky and different to this day. All in all, this is a solid album albeit a bit of a slow down from what came previously. Great for the bottom line and Warner Bros. well being, but not too essential for Prince fans. Personally I think it would be better without the movie clips scattered about the album. Maybe that version is in the vault somewhere. New to Prince? A worthy purchase, just make sure you have the essentials listed elsewhere here before you dive in. 7/10.

Want to know more about Prince albums in the decades ahead? Every man cave should have Prince as an option when it comes to choosing your man cave music. Have a read of what we think of the next decade or three.

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Former designer of bar and pub interiors and founder of Man Cave Hideout. Currently living in Africa working on a safari lodge lounge and bar area.

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