As most of you know–Prince Rogers Nelson is the ultimate rock and soul Renaissance man.
Singer, multi-instrumentalist, bandleader, producer-there is nothing the little man from Minneapolis can’t do.
One thing that always blows my mind is that during his most creatively fertile period (roughly 1980-1988,) he was not only recording and releasing his own albums at an almost yearly rate, but he was writing and producing for other artists at a rate that would tire mere mortals. While in some cases, the writing/producing was a one-off, Prince also had a sizable stable of proteges for whom he wrote, produced, played and damn near sang everything for. Those credits on The Time, Vanity 6, Sheila E and Appolonia 6 albums? False.
Because most of us Popblerdians love all things Prince, we decided to use him as the base for our latest list. We went through a list of songs that Prince has written and/or produced (I think in all cases here, both apply) and voted for the top 20. We are leaving out cover versions, so you won’t see “I Feel for You” or “When You Were Mine” here. Prince recorded and performed those songs (as Prince) first, and had no input on the cover versions by Chaka Khan and Cyndi Lauper (or Mitch Ryder) respectively.
No surprise that many of the songs are unavailable on YouTube or similar services. We’ve made do with Spotify and live performances, but…you know…that’s Prince!
20. “Gigolos Get Lonely Too” (released 1982 by The Time)
Prince has always had a knack for writing killer ballads. From “Adore” to “Scandalous” to “Do Me, Baby”, the list is beyond impressive. But in 1982, one of his classics went to The Time for their second album What Time Is It? Never mind what the credits tell you, this track was written and performed by Prince, with Morris Day just contributing his vocals. “Gigolos Get Lonely Too” has a tongue in cheek lyric, perfectly suited for Morris Day and his reputation as a ladies’ man. To this day, the song remains a staple of Day and The Time’s live set and a fan favorite, but surprisingly it didn’t fare all that well on the charts when released as a single. “Gigolos Get Lonely Too” only reached number 77 on the Billboard Black Singles Chart and failed to dent the pop chart at all. -Mike A.
19. “Love Song” (released 1989 by Madonna)
Like A Prayer is universally recognized as Madonna’s first great album, spawning five singles that went Top 10 somewhere in the world and selling 15 million copies worldwide. In the MTV era, new music from the Material Girl was eagerly awaited, but Prayer contained something that previous albums hadn’t: a superstar collaboration.
Madonna and Prince briefly dated in 1985, although the extent of that relationship is strictly speculation based on third-party commentary. While their initial pairing only lasted about two months, they did reunite in 1988 to record “Love Song,” which according to PrinceVault was recorded between March and November of that year. In fact, some reports have said that Prince also contributed to several other songs on Prayer without credit, including “Act of Contrition”, which sounds like an interlude Prince would place on his own records with guitar solo and all. To this day, the spoken line “I have a reservation” from “Contrition” sticks with me for some unknown reason. But I digress…
Whether or not Prince had sway over multiple songs on Like a Prayer, “Love Song” fits the album rather well despite the drastic tempo change from track two “Express Yourself” and the next cut “Til Death Do Us Part.” Lyrically, “Love Song” is stripped down compared to Madonna’s typical pop fare, but the ad libs and harmonies that Prince adds in the background make the record the a playful jaunt that some fans ate up while others dismissed as high-profile filler. Based on the reports of their dating in 1985, the lyric “are you wasting my time/are you just being kind” make a lot of sense. Even the way they harmonize, with Madonna taking the lower parts, juxtapose the quirky nature of their relationship.
There will be (and there has been) debate over whether “Love Song” should be considered a duet or a Madonna track with a LOT of Prince influence, production and vocalizing. To my ear, it’s still a Madonna song, mainly because I’ve become immune to the uber-presence of Prince on other artists’ music when he’s involved. You could also argue that “A Love Bizarre” is a duet, but if that’s not, then “Love Song” isn’t either.-John H.
18. “The Bird” (released 1984 by The Time)
So as we move down the list, we finally find a recording that doesn’t actually feature His Royal Badness in any capacity outside of the producer’s chair. That’s right kids, this is 100% certified, grade-A funk courtesy of Morris Day (the only) and The Motherfuckin’ Time. While not as raucous as it’s close cousin “Jungle Love,” it holds its own as a JB-styled workout.-Michael Parr
17. “My Drawers” (released 1984 by The Time)
Now, we’re not talking about the chest in your mamma’s boudoir; no, we’re talking about the possession of one particular sexy Stella. P actually allows Jessie to pick up the guitar duties this time around. The groove is dope, but lyrically this is elementary (even for Prince.)-Michael Parr
16. “The Walk” (released 1982 by The Time)
The Time’s second album (1982’s What Time Is It?) is often regarded as the group’s best, despite there being little “group” to speak of on record. As with much of The Time material, “The Walk” is primarily a Prince recording. Unique to the this track however, is the fact that “The Walk” showcases Morris Day, Prince, and Vanity, the latter two portraying characters in the skit portion of the song.
“The Walk” fires on all cylinders, showcasing a dance lyric, a funk groove, Morris Day cool, and Prince’s goofy sense of humor (which tends only to come out on his protege work; see also: “Vibrator,” “If the Kid Can’t Make You Come,” “If a Girl Answers (Don’t Hang Up),” etc.). Despite not breaking the pop charts, “The Walk” is classic Jamie Starr. By this point however, tensions resulting from Prince’s total control of the group ran high; Jam and Lewis would hit the skids by mid 1983.-Dr. Gonzo
15. “Manic Monday” (released 1986 by The Bangles)
Originally written for the ’84 Apollonia 6 album that accompanied Purple Rain, “Manic Monday” was likely a song that Prince took an extra moment and said to himself, “you know, I think I’ll hold on to this one.” The right moment came soon after when The Bangles crossed Prince’s radar. Their ’83 debut album All Over Place had caught his attention, and he offered the band “Manic Monday” for their next record, ’85’s hit album A Different Light (it’s also rumored that he was just trying to get singer/guitarist Susanna Hoffs under the purple sheets, and hell, who could blame him?). The summery pop of “Manic Monday” was their breakout hit, reaching #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 Charts, stopped only by Prince’s own “Kiss.”-Pete Icke
14. “Sex Shooter” (released 1984 by Apollonia 6)
When Patricia “Apollonia” Kotero replaced the recently departed Denise “Vanity” Matthews in Prince’s notorious girl-group trio in 1984, many people in Prince’s camp dismissed Apollonia as a pretty face who had little to bring to the table other than the ability to look really, really good in a camisole and some acting experience for the Purple Rain film. Upon the release of Apollonia 6’s eponymous debut album in 1984, those detractors were proven right – Apollonia was an abhorrent singer. One memorable track from the album, however, was the delightfully bawdy “Sex Shooter,” which was also featured in the Purple Rain movie and subsequently released as a single. Despite Apollonia’s less-than-stellar performance on the lead vocal, the track is built upon an infectious walking synth line and a flange-y rhythm track that cause involuntary outbreaks of mid-tempo body-moving to this day. And the lyrics to “Sex Shooter” are among the most hilarious, sexually explicit, and, given to Apollonia to sing, androgynous of Prince’s songwriting career.-Michael Cunningham
13. “Love…Thy Will Be Done” (released 1990 by Martika)
One of Prince’s more somber compositions, this song was to be the bridge that took Martika from “Toy Soldiers”-singing teen idol to serious adult performer. The spare track (little more than a drum machine pulse and some atmospheric synthesizers) complements Martika’s trembling vox, and then everything explodes in a gospel-esque coda. Think “Nothing Compares 2 U” with a little of MJ’s “Man in the Mirror” spliced in Little wonder, then, that the song catapulted into the Billboard Top Ten in late 1991. One of my personal favorite Prince tunes, the backing track gained a new life when sampled on Prince’s cover of the Joan Osborne smash “One of Us.”-Big Money
12. “Round & Round” (released 1990 by Tevin Campbell)
Like every other track on Graffiti Bridge (let alone the majority of the songs on this list) this is a fine bit of Princely Karaoke. Much to Campbell’s credit he manages to completely own the cut, despite the hook been very obviously sung by a choir of Prince. Oh, and here’s a fun little bit of trivia: the final mix—as it appears on the soundtrack—is actually a remix courtesy of super-producer Junior Vasquez. The original is said to be a bit more drum-heavy, and features <strong>even more</strong> record scratching.-Michael Parr
11. “Sugar Walls” (released 1984 by Sheena Easton)
If the production of “Sugar Walls” wasn’t enough indication of Prince’s involvement, surely the lyrics were a dead giveaway. As Alexander Nevermind, Prince crafted a sexy, seductive track with not-too-thinly veiled lyrical entendre. In fact, in 1985 “Sugar Walls” received the dubious distinction of being included on the Parents Music Resource Center’s “Filthy Fifteen” list of the most offensive pop songs of the day (topping the list was Prince’s own “Darling Nikki”). Jimmy Swaggart also frequently cited the song as an example of the rampant sexualization leading to our moral decay. Although the track’s vaginally-centric lyrics remain provocative, cultural standards have shifted enough to allow the song’s display in public without raising any ire (I once heard it played in an Applebee’s or some other horrible chain “bar and grille”).
“Sugar Walls” began a relationship (professional and perhaps romantic) that would persist throughout the decade. The most notable example is 1987’s “U Got the Look,” although the pair further collaborated on “Eternity” in the same year, “101” and “Cool Love” in 1988, and “The Arms of Orion” in 1989. While Prince stole the show in “U Got the Look,” none of Sheena’s Prince-penned singles fared nearly as well as “Sugar Walls,” and she has been unable to replicate its chart success in the United States.-Dr. Gonzo
Stay tuned for the Top Ten. Have we left off any of your favorites yet?
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