Starting V: The Best Prince Songs on the Internet

As you know, Prince Rogers Nelson passed away on Thursday at the young age of 57. I am always loathe to pontificate too much about people I’ve never met, but Prince was a special case.

In my opinion, he was the single most influential and important pop artist/musician of all-time and the second best electric guitar player ever, trailing only Jimi Hendrix. He did more to push culture forward than any other modern pop musician, challenging people to live more freely while making popular culture a safer space for true self-expression. He made people nervous, excited, scared, ecstatic, and uncomfortable (often all at the same time) and challenged damaging norms relating to race, gender, and sexuality more than any other mainstream musician. You can feel his influence in just about every inch of popular music, and many of current music’s most creative artists are direct descendents from his rich musical and stylistic family tree — from Kanye to Rihanna to Young Thug to Frank Ocean to André 3000 and so on.

And then there was the music. Over a 40-year period, he released nearly 40 studio LPs that spawned a litany of unbelievable musical moments. His first album, 1978’s For You, fused classic soulful, R&B (“My Love is Forever,” “Baby”) with nasty 70s funk (“Soft and Wet,” “I’m Yours”). Incredibly, Prince wrote and played every instrument on the disc’s lush, refined arrangements. As great as that record still is, you never would have guessed that it would precede the journey it did. And he spent the next 40 years of his life exploring, mastering, and re-imagining countless genres (rock, R&B, pop, soul, jazz, etc) and writing a diverse array of some of the most beloved pop songs of all time for other artists (example A, B, C, D).

It’s a career that couldn’t be summed up by a thousand think-pieces, but I wanted to pick out a couple favorites to write about. Any Prince fan knows how fervently he protected his copyright and how few of his songs are available to stream, so there’s no “When You Were Mine,” “Erotic City,” “If I Was Your Girlfriend,” or “With You” on this list. That said, there are plenty of looseys that I’ve streamed throughout the years to deal with Prince cravings during work-hours. Here are my five favorites.

Prince
Purple Rain
Live in 1983 in Minneapolis

I had to start with the big one. The first ever performance of the best pop song of all-time, this clip captures every ounce of his greatness — as a performer, as a vocalist, as a guitarist, and most of all, as a songwriter. Featuring an extra verse and an extended solo, this clip captures a legend at the peak of his powers. Supposedly, they sourced a lot of the studio version from this performance, which is one of the reasons that version feels so much more immediate and human than most studio recordings.

There’s this great moment (at about 3:14) when Prince approaches the mic and opens his mouth to sing the first verse, but just steps back at the last second to collect himself, seemingly overcome by the moment. Maybe he just did it for effect, but it’s also a little window into the ocean of emotion (it’s not hyperbole if it’s about “Purple Rain”) that he’s tapping into here. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to this thing over the years, but each time I do, it gives me something new.

Stream it over at Antiquiet.com.

Prince
“Do Me, Baby”
Live at the Capitol Theater, 1982
This is my favorite cut from one of the only legit concert recordings available online, captured at a New Jersey date of the Controversy tour. Many of Prince’s best bedroom jams have a divine, gospel-esque quality to them, almost like the Purple One is laying down and worshiping at the altar of somebody’s mind-blowing (ahem) talent. This performance of “Do Me, Baby” is one of the greatest examples of that. Backed by one of the classic Revolution line-ups, his virile vocals are flawlessly framed by the great Lisa Coleman’s starry-eyed keyboards, Dez Dickerson’s sublime, echo-y guitar filigree and a filthy baseline by Brown Mark. The whole show is more than worth your time, but this is the high point for me.

Prince
“Always in My Hair”
Live at the Arsenio Hall show, 2014
One of the things that makes Prince’s death so sad is that it felt like he had so much more music left in him. Incredibly, 40 years into his career, his level never seemed to really drop. In his 50s, his fingers remained just as nimble and his vocals just as potent as they were in his 20s. In fact, I cannot think of a single musician from his generation aged so gracefully, save possibly Springsteen (maybe). He was never a nostalgia act, consistently putting out work that broke new ground and took real chances.

This ripping performance of the classic B-side turned single, “Always in My Hair,” is perfect evidence that he emphatically still had ‘it’ late in his career. He pays tribute to a loyal lover with effortless swagger and a face-melting guitar solo. His backing band, 3RDEYEGIRL, is also a reminder of his lifelong commitment to empowering female musicians, which will always remain a key element of his lasting legacy.

Prince
“A Case of You”
A Tribute to Joni Mitchell
As people, Prince and I probably don’t have very much in common (as much I’d wish), but one thing we can definitely agree on is Joni Mitchell. And because she’s likely my favorite artist ever, Joni covers are always a dicey proposition to me. However, Prince handles “A Case of You” with trademark grace and subtle virtuosity. From the lovely, sprightly piano playing to his easy falsetto, he treads the line between putting his own stamp on it and staying true to the perfect original.

Prince
“Sometimes it Snows in April”
Parade
OK, so this one is kind of cheating, but I found it on YouTube today, so I’ll say it passes the copyright test. I’ve been coming back to Prince’s devastating rumination on the loss a friend a lot recently, as I’ve had to say goodbye to three of my own in the last 12 months. They happened in quick succession, hitting me hard and leaving me with endless questions. As the months have passed, I’ve gained some perspective and understanding on what Prince eloquently sings about here, namely to do your god-damnedest to appreciate the time you’ve got with the people you love. It’s a simple lesson, but it’s the biggest one there is. Every day, I’m trying to do a better job remembering it. And whenever I need a reminder, this record has been there for me.

“Sometimes it Snows in April” is just one of the many gifts that Prince gave us in his incredible 57 years on this planet, which is such better place to live on because of his contributions. RIP.

“All good things they say, never last.
And love, it isn’t love until it’s past.”

Posted on by TP1.COM in Featured, Starting V

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