Top 5... - April 27, 2016

Prince: Five Essential Albums
by James
James
by James hmv London, Bio "Like the legend of the Phoenix, I've just eaten a whole packet of chocolate HobNobs..." Editor, hmv.com

Prince: Five Essential Albums

The last few days have been ones of mourning at hmv towers as we struggled to process the loss of one of the world's greatest musical talents at the age of only 57, but inevitably the conversation eventually turned to his music and, if nothing else, Prince's death has brought back a heap of musical memories for so many of his fans around the world and sparked discussions about his best works.

As a final tribute to one of the most prolific and singular artists in living memory, we examined all 39 of Prince's studio albums across the length of his career and even though such an exercise will inevitably mean leaving out a whole bunch of excellent albums, we've picked the five that represented key points in his career and the ones we simply couldn't live without. Here goes...

 

 

Prince (1979)

Prince's debut album For You, released a year earlier in 1978, had proved Prince's prowess as a musician and songwriter, having played every instrument himself (27 in total), but even though tacks like 'Soft and Wet' would later be viewed as early classics, at the time the song barely grazed the Billboard charts and having spent more than twice his advance recording it, both he and his label Warner Bros. needed a quick follow-up. If For You was about Prince showing the world his technical ability as a musician, his eponymous sophomore album showed he not only knew how to make great music, but how to make music that would sell. Songs like 'I Wanna Be Your Lover' and 'I Feel For You', both of which had originally been written for other artists, catapulted Prince into the public eye and earned him a slot on American Bandstand, a pivotal moment in his early career that introduced him to a mainstream audience for the first time and set the stage for everything that was to follow.

 

 

1999 (1982)

By the time 1982 rolled around, Prince already had four albums under his belt, but the heavily funk-influenced music featured on them meant that his records were still predominantly being played on R&B radio stations that catered to a more niche audience, and barely at all outside of the U.S. But then he released this album's title track '1999' - which reached No.2 in both the UK and Australia - and followed up with 'Little Red Corvette', the first of Prince's singles to break the top 10 in America. A track with a much more rock / pop feel than his earlier work, this album proved to have the crossover hits that transformed Prince from a fringe R&B act into a musician with major mainstream appeal. A full 16 years later, when New Year's Eve came around at the very end of 1998, you can bet there was hardly a DJ on the planet that didn't have this tucked away in their record box ready for midnight.

 

 

Purple Rain (1984)

You don't even really need to be a hardcore fan to know that 1984 was the year that Prince was catapulted to superstardom, and it's all down to Purple Rain. More than just an album, Purple Rain was a huge artistic undertaking that comprised both a semi-autobiographical film – starring Prince himself - and a complete soundtrack which just happened to feature career-defining hits like 'When Doves Cry' and, of course, the title track itself. This all came at a make-or-break point in Prince's career and such an ambitious project could so easily have gone sideways in the hands of lesser mortals, but this is Prince we're talking about.

 

 

Sign O' The Times (1987)

By 1987 Prince and Michael Jackson had pretty much drifted off together into a new, stratospheric category of 'famous' and the latter had ambitious plans for what would have been the music video for 'Bad', the title track from the album he released that year. Jackson had reportedly wanted the video to feature a dance-off between Prince and himself, but Prince was having none of it and while Jackson was strapping himself into his tight leather outfit, Prince was writing songs with some very political, socially aware lyrics about drug addiction, AIDS and gang warfare, and scoring top five hits around the world in the process. It's also worth noting that this was the fourth album Prince had released in the gap between Thriller and Bad, each one of them as vital as the last. By this album, Prince is in full artistic stride and it's just brilliant.

 

 

The Love Symbol Album (1992)

We struggled to choose between two of the albums that Prince released in quick succession at the beginning of the 1990s, the other being 1991's Diamonds and Pearls, but we've chosen this in the end simply because the story behind it is such an important chapter in Prince's career. It's well documented that Prince and his record label had spectacularly fallen out at this point, with Prince not only walking around with the word 'slave' written across his cheek for months on end, but also refusing to be called by his own name, insisting instead on an unpronounceable symbol. This, then, is a self-titled album and its as much of a statement about the music industry as it is about himself, but what a statement it is. With songs like 'My Name Is Prince' and 'Sexy MF', this is a record packed with attitude and that's always where Prince excels.

 Let us know what your favourite Prince album of all time and why - tweet us @hmvtweets

 

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