You don't release 39 studio albums without having a track or two fall to the wayside.
Prince was a prolific artist throughout his forty year reign, and the stories of his mythical vault promise even more fully-finished projects in the future. He spent his years recording his own projects, writing for his friends and coordinating a series of unsuccessful groups, most notably Apollonia 6, Vanity 6 and The Family. Entering the world of Prince is a daunting task, especially given his swathe of hits and the scarcity of some projects.
Though I've yet to sift through the entirety of Prince's extensive discography, I've found myself becoming more and more familiar with his work over the last few years. I figure that an article encompassing what I consider to be his lesser known standouts might help shed light on his versatility. These are, in no particular order, some of Prince's best kept secrets: gems from deep within his imposing catalogue.
"Anotherloverholenyohead" - Parade (1986)
That reads "another lover hole in your head," if it wasn't immediately clear.
"Anotherloverholenyohead" is a choice cut off Parade, the soundtrack album that gave us all-time great sex jam "Kiss" and mournful ballad "Sometimes It Snows In April." Though it served as the companion to the Prince-directed feature Under The Cherry Moon, which doubled as his second foray into acting, the album itself has become something of a landmark release within his catalogue. The film, critically eviscerated and financially unsuccessful, is now little more than an obscure piece of pub trivia.
The soundtrack was largely seen as a triumph following 1985's derided effort, Around The World In A Day, an album burdened with succeeding Purple Rain. As the third single, "Anotherloverholenyohead" peaked at #63 on the Billboard 100. Overshadowed by "Kiss," an international number one, it became just another exceptional single by an already-prolific artist.
In a contemporaneous review, The New York Times flagged "Anotherloverholenyohead" as one of two "clear highlights," alongside "Girls and Boys." They especially praised the "irresistible chorus, as sexy and kinetic and ingratiating as anything in ''Purple Rain.'" In a glowing retrospective, Pitchfork called the album "raw, spare, and unflaggingly eccentric," but failed to even mention "Anotherloverholenyohead."
Parade was the third and final album featuring The Revolution, who were succeeded by the New Power Generation in 1990. Though NPG served as Prince's band for far longer, The Revolution, immortalised by their roles in Purple Rain - both the film and the album - remain Prince's most famous outfit.
"Come" - Come (1994)
"If you're eighteen and over, come here /
I've got something for your mind..."
So opens "Come," the eleven-minute album opener to the album of the same name. The last record released by Prince before he became an unpronounceable symbol, Come is a collection of more experimental tracks jettisoned to make way for The Gold Experience, an album comprised of more commercial material from the same period.
Despite Prince's lack of enthusiasm for the project upon release, Come features some of Prince's most intriguing musical ideas. "Come" is one of Prince's longest tracks, an saxophone-laced celebration of sexuality and pleasure. It's as explicit as one would expect, built around a suggestive sample that punctuates the more straightforward lyrics.
Not only does Prince intellectualise sex, he makes the mind an essential part of the act. Even a cursory glance at Prince's catalogue shows a man enraptured with the emotion of sex. His role as a generous and empathetic lover is often coated in humour and theatrics, but the essence of his role is enduring and earnest.
"Electric Chair" - Batman (1989)
One of the best things about Prince's Batman soundtrack is how little the tracks are anchored to their source material. The enduring hit, "Batdance," does much of the heavy lifting in regards to story, but beyond that dance-ready single lies rock riffs, funk inklings and tender ballads. Called in to write "an original song or two" for Burton's ambitious superhero film, Prince wrote an entire album of material after having watched a mere thirty minute preview of the film.
"Electric Chair" finds Prince grappling with a guitar, underwriting his predictably sexual content with some effective rock n' roll grunt. Key to the delivery is Prince's sense of humour. There's something entertainingly convoluted about the refrain, a simple statement coated in an impressive-yet-uncommon poetry:
"If a man is considered guilty for what goes on in his mind /
Give me the electric chair for all my future crimes..."
In the album's liner notes, "Electric Chair" is credited to The Joker alongside "Partyman" and "Trust." Prince invented his own alter-ago, the Two-Face-esque 'Gemini,' and is credited as such on "Batdance." He can be seen dressed as Gemini in the crazy music video.
"WOW" - PLECTRUMELECTRUM (2014)
PLECTRUMELECTRUM finds an older Prince indulging his rock sensibilities.
His first and only album that credits 3RDEYEGIRL, his final backing group, is a full-on band experience. Prince sidelines himself on tracks such as "WHITECAPS," allowing the spotlight to fall squarely on his session-musician bandmates. On "FIXURLIFEUP," Prince explains his choice of bandmates:
"Girl with a guitar is twelve times better than another crazy band of boys..."
"WOW" finds Prince leading the charge, ambling through spoken verses that burst into huge guitar-driven crescendoes. 3RDEYEGIRL's influence on the record is abundantly clear: though Prince immortalised himself as a rock legend with Purple Rain, he largely ignored the genre in his later years. It's no surprise that he released PLECTRUMELECTRUM alongside ART OFFICIAL AGE, a solo record focused on modern R&B and funk.
"Nothing Compares 2 U" - The Hits/The B-Sides (1993)
Prince's rendition of "Nothing Compares 2 U," a song he wrote for failed side-project The Family, is both a gorgeous arrangement and an impressive live performance. Performed as a duet alongside Rosie Gaines, Prince released this version three years after Sinead O'Connor's cover brought her international fame.
It was included on his 1993 compilation album, The Hits/The B-Sides, released by Warner without the strict endorsement of Prince. His biographer, Per Nilsen, claims that Warner Brothers paid Prince to stay out of the release, one of many issues that eventually led to his infamous Love Symbol designation.
Despite his reluctance, Prince's cover breathes passion into the song through both the chemistry of the duet and the vigour of the performance. It's sung, mixed and mastered so clearly that it's easy to forget that the duo are sparring through a single take, their confidence deceptive and ad-libs energetic.
"Glam Slam" - Lovesexy (1988)
Whilst released as the second single off Prince's forty-five minute one-track album, "Glam Slam" achieved little success in the United States, where it failed to chart on the Billboard 100. Eclipsed by the also-excellent first single, "Alphabet St.," "Glam Slam" has faded into Prince's ludicrously extensive discography.
Segueing seamlessly out of "Alphabet St.," "Glam Slam" is an upbeat celebration of companionship told through loving lyrics and an incredible catchy chorus. The bridge goes places you'd never have expected, and before long the song's back to the carefree refrain that holds it down. Soaring guitars flicker atop the verses, complementary instead of overpowering.
The chaotic synth outro feels like a different track, more experimental and bizarre than anything put forward in elsewhere in "Glam Slam." Luckily, it proves a fitting pathway to "Anna Stesia," a more subdued and morose reflection on loneliness.
NOTE: Lovesexy is presented as a single track. "Glam Slam" starts at 11:23.
"Baltimore" - HITnRUN Phase Two (2016)
"Baltimore," the opening track on Prince's last album before his death, is a product of a reinvigorated civil rights movement. Following the death of 23-year old Freddie Gray in custody, Baltimore erupted into a flurry of protests, riots, condemnations and deflections. Emboldened by Gray's death, a symptom of the issues plaguing the African-American community, groups such as Black Lives Matter took a defiant stand against systematic police brutality and ingrained racism. Though Kendrick Lamar's "Alright" has become an unlikely protest song, "Baltimore" is custom built around the common mantras and chants that you'd hear at a rally.
The track was debuted at Prince's Rally 4 Peace, held in Baltimore a month after Gray's death. Featuring Chicago-native Eryn Allen Kane on backing vocals, it's a testament to both Prince's social activism and his eye for untapped, marginalised talented.
"Baltimore" is only streaming on Tidal, though Eryn Allen Kane has a music video on her YouTube channel.
"Starfish and Coffee" - Sign 'O' The Times (1987)
It's easy to go overlooked when you're surrounded by greatness.
Such is the story of "Starfish and Coffee," a fantastically nonsensical track about 'freeing your mind' and eating starfish for breakfast. Cropping up right in the middle of Sign 'O' The Times, one of Prince's most influential and critically revered albums, "Starfish and Coffee" fades into the general excellence of its surrounds.
The track combines Prince's love of surreal imagery with his passion for self-expression. It's a musically satisfying affirmation of oddballs, eccentrics and otherwise maligned personalities. Running at just under three minutes long, it's one of Prince's more conventional pop-funk hybrids. In a word, it's 'easygoing.'
"Starfish and Coffee" is best remembered from Prince's 1997 performance on Muppets Tonight, a high point for the two-season variety show that allowed Prince to flex his under appreciated comedic chops.
"Paisley Park" - Around The World In A Day (1985)
1985's Around The World In A Day was The Revolution's second outing alongside Prince, following 1984's phenomenally successful Purple Rain. Whilst the record provided an important stylistic stepping stone to Parade, it was an ill-received effort that nonetheless spawned the hit singles "Raspberry Beret" and "Pop Life."
Despite this reception, Around The World In A Day earns a place in history as the first record produced at Prince's Paisley Park complex. Though it was then little more than an indulgent venue for an eccentric artist, Paisley Park would eventually become a world-renowned musical mecca. Being invited to Paisley Park was one of the highest honours Prince bestowed upon artists he admired. Sometimes he'd play a show alongside them, sometime he'd record with them, and sometimes he'd simply share with them his passion for music.
"Paisley Park" colours Prince's residence as a psychedelic dreamscape of creativity and non-sequiturs. It's the inception of the mythos surrounding the studio-residence, the composition predating the construction of his studio by three whole years. Though he'd written the track prior to the release of Purple Rain, it bears little resemblance to the rock-heavy grandeur of that period.
Prince lived in the complex from 1985 until his death. Paisley Park Records folded in 1994, having released seven Prince projects over seven years. It also released records from George Clinton, Mavis Staples and The Time, amongst others. Prior to his death, Prince reportedly planned to turn Paisley Park into a public venue a la Graceland.
"It's Gonna Be Lonely" - Prince (1979)
The closer on Prince's sophomore album, "It's Gonna Be Lonely" finds Prince before the sexual awakening that would define his career. Whilst Prince contained hit singles "I Wanna Be Your Lover" and "Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?," much of the album is a more placid, ballad-fuelled experience. "It's Gonna Be Lonely" falls into this category, a pleasant love song rendered in the album's unmistakable sound.
Prince would be Prince's first true critical success - whilst his debut, For You, proved him a great talent, the album itself received lukewarm reception on release. Prince showed him as an adept songwriter with a strong, distinctive style. It showed off his romantic aspirations and reiterated the strength of his powerful falsetto, a sound that would help set him apart throughout the next four decades.
Though it's mainly remembered on the strength of the singles, Prince is worth a visit if not purely for hearing a pre-horny Prince. His follow up, 1981's Dirty Mind, would find Prince immersing himself in sexuality, a topic which became essential to both his music and his greater artistic vision.