Starting XI - Prince's greatest rock tracks
Today should have been another happy birthday to Minneapolis's miniature rock god, Prince. Sadly, it wasn't to be, but if reports of his vaults are true, even in death he could still put out an album of brand new recordings every year from now until the next ice age and still not be done. But here, we are dealing with the Purple One's rock sensibilities, so here goes... and as always, let us know what you think is missing
'The Cross' (1987)
In the studio, Prince frequently juggled his two obsessions: sex and God. Prince pays tribute to a higher entity with a spiritual that begins with simply a softly strummed guitar and his vocals on this epic piece from 1987's excellent 'Sign O' the Times' album. The song begins to rage with a guitar solo that sounds like it was sent up from the devil himself by the time it reaches its last minute.
'Let's Go Crazy' (1984)
The first track on Prince's career-launching 'Purple Rain' album begins with a sermon and finishes with a guitar solo – played in real time while all the instruments take a breather – that pretty well proclaims Prince as a massive star. His musicianship is rarely given enough credit by casual admirers. The entire 'Purple Rain' album – particularly "Let's Go Crazy" – is a testimonial to his legend.
Prince's second album was the first time he completely let loose his harder rock influences. He wails, takes out the cowbell, and fires off a great guitar riff that sounds like it came straight out of any '70s rock record on the raw, nasty, and sleazy "Bambi."
Prince was experimenting with his own brand of rock, pop, and R&B songs by 1991. "Cream," from the album "Diamonds and Pearls," was Prince's last No. 1 single, and it's essentially a slow-burning dance piece with some subtle shredding tucked in within one of his slinkiest beats.
Prince followed up his massive commercial breakthrough 'Purple Rain' with 'Around the World in a Day,' a psychedelia-shaded album that was started before 'Purple Rain' even came out. The album is best known for "Raspberry Beret," but "America" is its toughest cut, a Sly & the Family Stone-style funk jam that gloriously falls into one of Prince's sweatiest instrumental workouts.
"7," from Prince's 1992 album Love Symbol (named after the unpronounceable squiggle on the album's cover), is driven by one of the artist's most straightforward rhythms and evokes the psychedelic pop music that was popular on the radio in the late 1960s - another of the decade's influences on Prince's sound.
Prince's funk and R&B roots are evident in the playful, fast-paced keyboard, but his feverish pace and joyful delivery are straight out of Little Richard's playbook. If you hadn't noticed, Prince also adopted the rock 'n' roll pioneer's razor-thin moustache, androgyny, and flamboyancy.
'When You Were Mine' (1980)
Prince's original version – from 1980's excellent 'Dirty Mind' LP – is more primal, cutting closer to the lyric's bitter recollections. Cyndi Lauper covered "When You Were Mine" on her hit 'She's So Unusual' album, but Prince's original version – from 1980's excellent 'Dirty Mind' LP – is more primal, cutting closer to the lyric's The sparse guitar notes Prince introduces elevate the song to a new level.
'U Got the Look' (1987)
Although the club beats and Sheena Easton's co-vocal label it as a pop song, "U Got the Look" has one of Prince's most piercing guitar solos — string-bending knife stabs that highlight how restless he felt when confined to one genre. This one flutters about a lot.
'I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man' (1987)
Another cut from Sign O The Times, I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man had a bouncy pop goes punk vibe to it that would have made it a great fit for Ramones. As it turned out, loads of artists felt the same and it's been covered a heap of times, including great versions by pre-teen-angst-pop-heartthrob Goo Goo Dolls and Prince's Minneapolis neighbours, The Replacements.
'Purple Rain' (1984)
On the album of the same name, "Purple Rain" covers nearly nine minutes and features one of rock's best-ever guitar solos. The entire song – a slow-burning ballad recorded live – reminds me of Jimi Hendrix's 'Electric Ladyland.' The heartfelt solo ties everything together. It's difficult not to get caught up in the moment's emotion. Prince accomplished it, giving one of his finest performances on an album that catapulted him to fame.