Originally published 11/1/10

When dealing with someone whose released approximately 600 albums during his lifetime, it’s best to go piece by piece. When it comes to Prince, we’re gonna go five at a time. When we last left the Purple Yoda, he was on the verge of megastardom. “1999” was his biggest pop success, and set the stage for…

Purple Rain“Purple Rain” (1984)– By the time “1999” hit, Prince was feeling himself so much, he convinced his label (and film studio execs) that he wanted to make a movie. Then, when it came time for the soundtrack, he insisted that the first single have abstract lyrics about “animals strike(ing) curious poses”…and then he took out the bass. That first single, “When Doves Cry”, was the last song to spend more than four weeks at #1 on the pop charts until 1992…and that was just the tip of the iceberg. Whether exploring his hard-rocking side with “Let’s Go Crazy”, going abstract with “Computer Blue”, or going apeshit crazy with desire on “The Beautiful Ones”, Prince and the officially-christened Revolution covered every conceivable base with “Purple Rain”, and we haven’t even covered the lighter-waving title track yet. Grade: A

Prince's Around The World In A Day“Around the World in a Day” (1985)-Maybe Prince knew he wasn’t going to come up with another blockbuster when he and The Revolution started recording “Around the World in a Day”. Maybe Prince was so stoked on his success that he figured he could now record anything he wanted and it would be a smash. Either way, “Around the World” found Prince exploring his own muse. The trippy “Paisley Park” offered up a much different mission statement than Prince’s anti-establishment attitude of just a half decade before, and “America” found him in an explicitly right-wing kind of mood. “America” was also one of his hard-rocking efforts thus far, a bit of a departure from the rest of the album, which was light and whimsical and…overindulgent in spots. Aside from “Paisley”, “America”, and the album’s two Top Ten hits (“Raspberry Beret” and “Pop Life”), there’s not a hell of a lot to recommend here. “World” was his least essential album since his debut. (2016 edit: I’ve grown significantly fonder of this album, and fallen in love with “Tamborine” and, to a lesser extent, “Condition Of The Heart”.) Grade: B- (2016 upgrade: B)

Prince Parade“Parade: Music from Under the Cherry Moon” (1986)-I’ve never seen “Under the Cherry Moon”, the film (2016 edit: I’ve now seen it…more than once.). I hear it’s a hoot (and not all the laughs are intentional), and who knows? Maybe someday I’ll pop onto Amazon and bite that particular bullet. You definitely don’t have to have seen “Under the Cherry Moon” to enjoy “Parade”, however. It’s Prince at his most lighthearted and whimsical-possibly influenced by the film being set on the French Riviera. This typically eclectic work runs the gamut from the psychedelic pop of “Christopher Tracy’s Parade” to the guitar-centric “Mountains”, before concluding with the genuinely touching “Sometimes it Snows in April”. The couple of less-than-stellar tracks (the dramatic title tune and the flouncy “Do U Lie”) are more than made up for by the minimalist funk of “Kiss”, one of the best of Prince’s many definitive singles during this period. Grade: B+

Prince's "Sign o' The Times" album cover.“Sign o’ the Times” (1987)
-Whenever anyone asks me what my favorite album of all time is, I get stuck. Attempting to take 30+ years of active music listening and drill that down to one definitive album is an almost-impossible task. On days when I feel like answering the question, though, the answer is more often than not “Sign o’ the Times”. Smarting from tensions that led him to fire The Revolution, invested in an emotionally resonant relationship with Revolution member Wendy Melvoin’s twin sister Susannah, and disturbed by current events, Prince went into the studio and came out with 80 minutes of the best popfunkrocksoul ever made by anyone. Incredibly sober (“The Cross”) as well as delightfully flimsy (“U Got the Look”), painfully erotic (“Slow Love”), whimsically trippy (“Starfish & Coffee”), “Sign” is a master class in music making that is unlikely to be topped again in our lifetime. Grade: A+
“The Black Album” (recorded 1987-withdrawn from release, officially released in 1994)– Was “The Black Album” Prince’s attempt to reconnect with the black audience he allegedly lost with “Sign o’ the Times”? Not sure if the rap-bashing “Dead on It” would’ve helped matters in that regard (and not also sure how much of his black audience he’d legitimately lost), but I guess we’ll never know. Prince has never really publicly spoken about why he decided to pull the album after it had been mixed, mastered and pressed and was ready to ship. The rumor is that an ecstasy trip caused a spiritual epiphany that led him to cancel “The Black Album”, making the unreleased project one of the most heavily bootlegged titles in history. As an album? It’s OK. Not much going on in terms of melody-songcraft takes a backseat to the groove here. “When 2 R in Love”, the ballad that he actually carried over to “Lovesexy” (his next official release) is the key track here, but my guilty pleasure is the incredibly bizarre “Bob George”-a song that proves a) Prince actually has a sense of humor and b) it’s more than a little sick and twisted. Grade: B-

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