Prince’s discography can be daunting for the uninitiated, and that’s before you’ve delved into the side projects, movie soundtracks and collaborations. Chal Ravens picks 10 of his best deep cuts.
Picking the best songs from the fringes of Prince’s catalog is a bit like asking an astronomer to choose their favourite stars. It’s an enormous and entirely frivolous undertaking, and we don’t suggest for a moment that this miniature round-up offers a comprehensive, once-and-for-all judgment on the high points of the Minneapolis funk maestro’s lesser-known material.
But for anyone whose Prince fandom encompasses his ‘80s run of classic albums (itself a hefty selection) and not a lot further, this list is intended as a signpost towards the darker corners of his labyrinthine back catalog. Included you’ll find bossy hip-hop, orchestral bombast, proper punk-funk, juvenile peacocking, caped crusaders and fuckloads of swearing across a ton of unreleased, unofficial or almost-forgotten tunes that deserve to be dug out.
A funky time awaits U.
‘Just Another Sucker’
(from Minneapolis Genius, recorded 1978, released 1986)
The beginning is as good a place to start as any, so here’s Prince at the tail-end of his teens in his first proper band, 94 East. ‘Just Another Sucker’ is the only song Prince wrote, or at least co-wrote, with the Minneapolis funk crew, and here he’s taking care of synthesisers, keyboards, drums and that wailing guitar. Kristie Lazenberry and Marcy Ingvoldstad provide vocals while Prince’s childhood friend André Cymone, who later joined Prince’s touring band, can be heard on that filthy funky bass.
(unreleased, recorded 1982)
A fine example of Prince’s unstoppable brain-splurge of great ideas, this 1982 minimalist gem wasn’t even up to Prince’s ridiculously high standards around the recording of 1999 and remains in the vaults. Scratchy disco guitar licks coast over a tentative scrap of funky bass while Prince explains that he doesn’t need cocaine ‘cos he’s high off that purple music – and to demonstrate his altered state of mind, his manipulated vocal gradually fades and degenerates over the course of 10 of the punk-funkiest minutes he’s ever recorded. It’s practically ESG, and it’s amazing.
(from Crystal Ball, recorded 1986, released 1998)
Prince’s official discography, vast though it may be, is just the tip of the enormous iceberg that is his actual recorded material (well, that’s what happens when a workaholic builds a studio in his own house). ‘Crystal Ball’ was recorded in 1986 and originally intended for a triple album (!) of the same name, which eventually evolved into Sign O’ The Times.
The track was left on the shelf until 1998 when it appeared on a triple album of outtakes and unreleased bits, also titled Crystal Ball. You have to sympathise with the Prince die-hards. Anyway, this cut is Prince at his most bombastic, with orchestral arrangements by regular collaborator Clare Fischer. It all absolutely kicks off in the seventh minute, travelling beyond pop, beyond funk, beyond any sort of reasonable description.
(from Mazarati, 1986)
One of a handful of offshoots and side projects from the Prince stable, Mazarati were formed around 1985 by Brown Mark, the bassist in The Revolution, Prince’s backing band of that era. This is their only hit – and yes, it was a minor hit in the U.S., so not technically the deepest of cuts – and the only one written by Prince, who also played all the instruments on the recording. It was a two-way street though – Mazarati’s funked-up version of Prince’s ‘Kiss’, originally written as a country-tinged number, was so good that Prince took it back and scored a number one with it.
‘Rebirth Of The Flesh’
Although a rehearsal version appeared in 2001 via Prince’s NPG Music Club, this gem is the only track from the Camille project (an aborted album that he recorded under a female pseudonym using manipulated androgynous vocals) that is still under lock and key, at least officially. The blazing saxophone and booming, hip hop-influenced drums make ‘Rebirth Of The Flesh’ the Prince partystarter that never was.
‘Dance With The Devil’
Written for his soundtrack to Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman (and whoever suggested that collaboration deserves a shiny medal), ‘Dance With The Devil’ is an absolute stunner – creepy, proggy, brooding and dark. Too dark for Prince, though, who decided to replace it on the soundtrack with the peppier ‘Batdance’. The lyrics are based on the phrase uttered by Jack Nicholson’s Joker, “You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?”
‘Thieves In The Temple (Thieves In The House Mix)’
(from ‘Thieves In The Temple’ single, 1990)
What a gem! New York DJ boss Junior Vasquez, whose career was cresting at the turn of the ’90s, delivers a boss house remix of a track from Prince’s soundtrack to Graffiti Bridge, the decidedly awful sequel to his rock musical Purple Rain. Fortunately the tunes were much better than the movie, and though the original version of ‘Thieves In The Temple’ was a big hit, it’s this hands-in-the-air version you really need in your life.
Prince and the New Power Generation
‘Clockin’ The Jizz (Instrumental)’
(from ‘Gett Off’ 12″, 1991)
We’re really getting into the nooks and crannies now. This powerfully named track was included on the 12″ version of ‘Gett Off’, a promo single from Diamonds And Pearls that was sent out to DJs but never got a proper release. Basically an instrumental version of ‘Gett Off’, here we find New Power Generation’s Tony M. delivering that unforgettable line over a bossy hip-hop beat while Prince noodles about on guitar, synth and piano. It’s bloody weird, actually. If you’re into it, may we also recommend the ‘Flutestramental’ version and the superb video.
New Power Generation
‘Black M.F. In The House’
(from Gold Nigga, 1993)
A sweaty, sweary rarity from the New Power Generation’s 1993 debut album Gold Nigga, which was only sold on tour and is now long out of print. Ostensibly an NPG solo album, Prince naturally had a hand in the writing, recording and producing of it, and this ace Public Enemy-gone-funk number is one of only two tracks to feature his vocals. That’s Tony M. delivering the essential line, once again. The original plan was to release it as the B-side to Prince’s ‘Sexy MF’, but obviously it wouldn’t have got any airplay, so it was replaced.
(from Rocksteady, 2001)
Prince remains as prolific as ever – currently preparing to release his 36th studio album as part of 3RDEYEGIRL – but his discography has been patchy at best over the past 15 years, a matter not aided by his insistence on doing things like releasing albums with copies of the Daily Mail. Fail!
There are plenty of gems buried in late-period Prince, though, like this oddity from No Doubt’s ultra-polished Rocksteady, which ties his and Gwen Stefani’s vocals up in weird jazzy knots over a bed of pumped-up, stripped-back, drum-heavy millennial pop (he also had a hand in the writing and production). And it’s far superior to their previous collaboration, ‘So Far So Pleased’, a horror from Prince’s 1999 album Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic.
Chal Ravens is on Twitter