The world is still in mourning after the loss of one of music’s greatest stars, Prince. At the time of writing this, still little is known as to the cause of his death. But to his fans it seems unimportant. He is gone, and regardless of why it happened, nothing will bring him back. Prince was a prolific writer, and there is said to be hundreds of unreleased songs in his vaults. No doubt there will be some brilliant moments in there. But the beginning and end is, they weren’t good enough for him. There is a lot of speculation as to whether they will ever see the light of day. But in death he seems to have the same control of his career as he did in life. My personal thoughts are that they will never be heard. But if there is any constellation in his passing, it’s that we will always have his music to remember him by. He released an astonishing thirty-nine albums since his self-titled debut in 1977. With so much to choose from, it would be difficult to pick one favourite; but that’s what we’ve tried to do. He meant so much to so many of us here at Backseat Mafia. Here our writers choose the songs that meant most to them.
Purple Rain – Jon Bryan
Talented to the point of being semi-deranged, funky and oozing with so much star-quality that he became slippery, Prince was an example of one of those recording artists for whom I have all the respect in the world. He dedicated his career to relentless creativity, and I simply wouldn’t trust anyone who attempts to claim otherwise.
As great as his prior hits had been, it was the epic title track to Purple Rain which proved to be his cross-over hit, searing him indelibly into our collective memory. With “Purple Rain”, Prince proved once and for all that the epic rock sound did not belong to be-denimed long hairs alone, but all of us.
As a fan of rock music, “Purple Rain” is my favourite Prince number, as it was the point where he went out of his way to demonstrate what an amazing guitar player he was compared to the ever-growing ranks of stunt guitar players that stadium rock was producing. It was an adaptable number too, as The Waterboys turned their cover of it into a live tour-de-force of celtic rock with minimum tweaks to the arrangements, and in more recent years adopting a more folky arrangement, without losing any of its passion.
While Prince admittedly dispensed his usual funky sound to create his version of the power ballad to top all other power ballad, you can’t argue with the resulting song and the fact that it established him as an act of rare significance. While Prince had been a big star before, “Purple Rain” was the point where he convinced even the unbelievers that, at that moment, there was no bigger star in the universe.
PLAY IN THE SUNSHINE – Briandroid
When I think of Prince I instantly get a mental picture of him bombing ‘round the stage like a blue-arsed fly (or should that be purple?), and that’s the energy I get from ‘Play in the Sunshine’, the second track on ‘Sign ‘O the Times’.
The distant urban noise of sirens and car-horns gives way to a piano driven riff and an incessant beat grooving along, tight yet there’s something engagingly loose about it, like a street corner-jam, where somebody’s gonna unscrew the fire hydrant soon and drench the scorched sidewalks.
Various instruments jockey for position in an ‘Aristocats’ funky boogie-woogie workout, with breakdowns, whoops, call and response chants, and squealing solos. It’s the sound of a man totally in control of the orchestral chaos he conducts, the kind of thing only Zappa had hitherto mastered; and there’s a hugely massive nod to dear Frank towards the end with a musically gymnastic break that is textbook Zappa, all frantic vibes and cartoon precision.
Then at Prince’s behest the drummer “does his thing”, the whole shebang takes off and his guitar lets rip heroically. And then suddenly the party’s over, Prince whisper’s “Let’s get out of here” to his insanely hot female companion, and the song disintegrates and dissipates into floaty la-la vocals. Damn that boy could party.
Gett Off – Kevin Paterson
did we do we love Prince so much? He is funky, filthy, original and one hell of an all round musician. ‘Gett Off’ for me epitomises all these things on one track. It was the track that first drew my attention to him, all those years ago when I first started getting into music. It was the first track from his 1991 album ‘Diamonds and Pearls’ and was unlike anything else I’d ever heard before. Lyrically it is complete filth from beginning to end, and as a young teenager, I was truly obsessed with this song and the album that followed. Whilst it was the first of his songs that I truly loved, through the many years I have loved him as an artist, it is still my personal favourite. It features one of the greatest raps sections of all time, and if you get to see the video (which is often hard as most of them have been removed from YouTube) it features an extended version of this.
Whilst so many artists shout him out as being the biggest the biggest influence on their career, ‘Gett Off’ shows off his love for James Brown, taking that huge funk sound, and even name checking him. But it’s easy to see why so many people have been inspired by him, and will be for many generations to come.
Purple Rain (album) – J Hubner
I was 10 years old when Purple Rain was released onto the world. June 25, 1984. I hadn’t committed that date to memory, mind you. I had to look it up. But I knew I was 10 years old because Purple Rain dominated the radio and my head when I was a fifth grader at Leesburg Elementary 1984-1985. That album was everywhere; radio, TV, the cinema, and of course record stores. I didn’t recognize the genius of that record when it came out. I was 1o. I was still playing with Star Wars and GI Joe action figures, but it did grab me in the gut. First it was “Let’s Go Crazy”. As a kid getting interested in the guitar hearing that guitar freakout on the way to school on the bus was something to behold. Prince may have been a freaky looking dude that sometimes dressed rather provocatively, but man could he play the guitar. Then when I saw the “When Doves Cry” video I was like a deer in headlights. This guy is naked in a tub singing about animals striking curious poses and the heat between two people. It was unlike any song or video I’d ever seen before. It was exotic and oddly sensual, even to the ears of a greasy little 5th grader in the Midwest. But then he starts talking about which parent he’s more like. His mother was never satisfied, and his dad was too bold. I could relate to that. As bizarre of a character he may have been, he still was just some guy trying to live up to his parent’s expectations.
Pretty much song after song on Purple Rain there was something I could connect with. “The Beautiful Ones”, “Computer Blue”, “Purple Rain”, and “I Would Die For U” stayed in my brain after all these years. I never was what I would call a super fan. I never owned any Prince albums except for Purple Rain on cassette back in the 5th grade. But hearing of his passing hit me much harder than I ever thought it would. It was like that feeling of taking something for granted and it just up and disappearing out of the blue. You always just assumed it would be there, and for it to just be gone you kind of regret not appreciating it when it was still here. I’m not going to pretend I have much interest in his music past 1992, but everything before that was pretty phenomenal. He broke boundaries, taboos, racial lines, sexual lines, and was the definition of genre breaker. Funk, rock, disco, R&B, soul, and dance were just the tip of the Prince iceberg. There was even some hip hop thrown in for good measure(“My name is Prince, and I am funky”.) He wasn’t in competition with anyone but himself.
After all these years, the song that hits me the most is the one I paid the least attention to 30 years ago. “Take Me With U” is in my mind one of the great pop songs to come out of the decade of Reagan, Thatcher, and parachute pants. It’s simplicity may turn some off, but to me it showed that vulnerable side of Prince that wasn’t visible behind the controversy, the sexual connotations, and the sweat-covered provocations. In it is the simple pleading of a lover to another that they don’t care where they go or what they do, just “take me with you.”
It’s safe to say I will take Prince with me wherever I go, and whatever I do.
And then of course there is the great songs he wrote for others. As well as being an amazing musician, he was also a huge music fan, and often tried to cultivate new talent.
Manic Monday – Jon Bryan
The Bangles had sprung up from the Paisley Underground movement of the early 80s, signed to Columbia records and toured to support Cyndi Lauper. However, despite their debut album displaying their power-pop roots, it hadn’t sold in the quantities expected, however it had caught the attention of Prince, who offered them a couple of songs he had written under the pseudonym ‘Christopher’. Rumour has it he did this to get physically closer to Bangle Susanna Hoffs, but whatever the case, it resulted in one of the 80’s great pop numbers.
If the opening bars of “Manic Monday” didn’t give away the fact that this is a Prince penned song, then the fact that the second line contains references to kissing Valentino seals the deal. The Bangles bring their best to the table too, nailing the upbeat melodic arrangement to just the right side of twee, without it sounding like a disposable pop song. The result was their breakthrough hit single, leading to a career which would see them continue to have hit singles until the end of the 80s.
While so many hit singles from the 80s have worn the subsequent years badly, “Manic Monday”, with it’s simple narrative, on-point production and infectious chorus remains a curiously sturdy proposition. It’s also a handy reminder that Prince was smart enough to realise that he wasn’t always the best person to get the most out of his songs.
How Come You Don’t Call Me – Kevin Paterson
‘How Come You Don’t Call Me’ was originally the flip side to his huge anthem ‘1999’. Not being old enough to know it from then, I first came aware of it when he released his Hits/B-sides compilation in the early nineties. Whilst Prince’s version is stripped down with a bluesy feel, Alicia Keys took it and gave it a more R&B sound. It was from her debut album ‘Songs in A Minor’, which propelled her into the worldwide star she is today. What makes a good cover version to me is when an artist can take the original, add their own flavour to it, but keep the melody faithful. It wasn’t one of the more obvious Prince songs she could have covered, and like Sinead did with ‘Nothing Compares 2 u’, she took the song and made it the well known song it is today.
Raspberry Beret- Jim F
There’s only been a few people outside my immediate family and friends who’s death has shocked me. After John Peel and, more recently, David Bowie, Prince’s was one that led to an audible ‘oh no’ when I read the news. I’d picked up the glorious technicolour of 1985’s Around the world in a day, mainly because seemingly the whole world was Prince mad. And it was cheap as chips in the Woolworths sale. I spoke to my friend the day after Prince’s death over lunch, in a conversation that began with him claiming he was going to order a raspberry sorbet in the great mans honour. From that point we recited the lyrics of virtually the entire song to and fro in the course of general conversation i.e Him: Where did you say you were this afternoon? Me; Oh, I thought I might go riding down by old man Johnsons farm….etc, you get the idea. And that’s the point, that two men , in the course of conversation, can almost verbatum repeat the lyrics from a song. But not just any song – an engaging, funky, irresistable song. And you know, If I had the chance to do it all again, I wouldn’t change a stroke.
My Name is PrinceSimfelemy
From those first stabbing synths to those funky loops and that sort of aggressive, cocky rant where it’s never quite clear if he’s “funking” or “fucking” around, it’s clear that “My Name is Prince” is something rather special. Comparing onself to God can only be taken remotely seriously by an artist who is either something incredibly unique and ground-breaking, or deluded and whilst Prince may not always have been the most grounded artist, he has always been totally amazing. I first heard “My Name is Prince” when I was only 12 and having been lured into this genre of music by the similarly catchy works of Salt ‘n’ Pepa and Turtles anthem bearers Partners in Kryme, I was suitably blown away by whoever this funky fellow boasting about his successes was. Of course, the memory cheats and time contradicts itself, but somehow I feel certain this was the first time I ever heard Prince, having bypassed his many earlier successes such as “1999” and “Sign O’ the Times” and of course, there’s no way I could have enjoyed “Batman” back in 1989 without having heard his distinctive contributions such as “Batdance”, but it was this track which cements in my mind the impact Prince had on the music industry and my own tastes. What better calling card could there be for one so utterly unique and enigmatic than a track in which he explains this to his eager audience? “I know from righteous, I know from sin/I got 2 sides and they both friends.”
Nothing Compares 2 U Simfelemy
As for a Prince cover version, there’s only one in my opinion. Sinead O’Connor’s 1990 powerhouse chart-topper “Nothing Compares 2 U”. The story goes that the track was written for Prince’s side project band, The Family, but that it was largely overlooked and never really embraced as a huge hit in waiting. Once Sinead’s cover was released and it began topping charts around the world (Australia, the US, Europe and of course the UK), Prince took more notice. Legend has it he summoned Sinead to his mansion and they traded words, if not blows too, but whatever their relationship, the song gave Prince reason to re-evaluate his own relationship with the song and his live performance alongside soul diva Rosie Gaines became part of his hits collection, giving the song a gossipy gospel tinge. Sinead’s version is in my opinion the best Prince cover and one of the best covers of anyone’s music by anyone ever. It’s certainly my favourite #1 of all time and a beautifully poignant way to look back at someone who has left your life. I’ll be listening to it again when those 7 hours and 15 days (13, if you’re Prince) have passed for sure.