Many thanks to everyone who voted for their favorite Prince songs from the legendary Warner Bros. Era! Check out the consensus Top 25 below and leave your thoughts in the Comments section.
25. I Wanna Be Your Lover (from Prince, 1979): Reminiscent of For You’s “Soft and Wet,” this underrated disco-pop classic is a testament to Prince’s rhythmic and compositional genius. The sweet mid-tempo groove creates mental images of a crowded roller rink, complete with knee-high socks, tight hot pants, and a swirling mirror ball. Furthermore, the lyrics have fig leaves in all the right places. “I wanna be your lover,” Prince sings in his silky falsetto. “I wanna be the only one that makes you come—running!” Although “I Wanna Be Your Lover” would only scratch the surface of what he would later accomplish, it soared to #1 on the Billboard Hot Soul charts.
24. Forever in My Life (from Sign O’ the Times, 1987): A stunning ballad that no doubt had personal significance for Prince, whose then-fiancée Susannah Melvoin had brought new meaning to his life. “I never imagined that love would rain on me and make me wanna settle down,” he croons. “Baby, it’s true. I think I do, and I just wanna tell you that I want it with you.” What’s interesting is his off-kilter vocal arrangement; chief engineer Susan Rogers told Podcast Juice that she accidentally recorded Prince’s background harmonies ahead of his lead, but to her surprise, he liked the effect and kept it as is.
23. Adore (from Sign O’ the Times, 1987): Although it was never officially released as a single, “Adore” is one of the greatest love songs ever to bless a pair of eardrums. His buttery falsetto melts all hearts within listening distance, reminding people of what made his voice such a revelation in the first place. “Until the end of time, I’ll be there for you / You own my heart and mind, I truly adore you / If God one day struck me blind, your beauty I’d still see / Love’s too weak to define just what you mean to me.” What woman wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of that? Furthermore, he’s able to brag about himself (“I’d like to think that I’m a man of exquisite taste”) and crack a joke without breaking the mood (“You could burn up my clothes, smash up my ride—well, maybe not the ride”).
22. Dirty Mind (from Dirty Mind, 1980): With its pulsing electronics and devilish falsetto, “Dirty Mind” eclipses everything the artist had been about before and shaped everything he did after that. Gone are the sparkling disco influences that modeled his first two projects; in its place, is something grittier and more primal yet still true to the essence of Prince. “I realized I could just write what was on my mind and didn’t have to hide anything,” Prince revealed in an interview at the time. “I say out loud what no man or woman dares to say, but is thinking about.”
21. Computer Blue (from Purple Rain, 1984): Full of surprises and refusing to sit neatly within any genre, “Computer Blue” stirs the senses and tingles down the spine. “We were jamming one day, and I’m playing something, and he goes, ‘Oh, that’s nice,” says Revolution keyboardist Dr. Fink. “Then that turns into ‘Computer Blue,’ which became a full-blown collaboration between Prince, me, Lisa and Wendy, and Prince’s father, who wrote the main melody in the bridge section of the song.” The visceral bursts of funk and rock, combined with the chilling “Hallway Speech,” make for an electrifying listening experience, particularly those who enjoy getting lost in the vortex of the singer’s psyche.
20. Gett Off (from Diamonds and Pearls, 1991): Prince may have been reluctant to adopt hip-hop in the ‘80s, but “Gett Off” demonstrates his interest in experimenting and innovating throughout the 1990s. This persistent, gyrating beat is a trailblazing dose of ‘60s-era funk, hip-hop, and hard rock, complete with Rosie Gaines’s smooth harmonies and Eric Leeds’s exotic flute lines. In the bridge, Prince offers a sonic homage to the Godfather of Soul (“I like ‘em fat / I like ‘em proud / You gotta have a mother for me now move your big a** ‘round this way so I can work on that zipper, baby”). “Gett Off” shot to #1 and #21 on the Hot Dance and Hot 100 charts in 1991, respectively.
19. Kiss (from Parade, 1986): Sexy and loaded with great one-liners, “Kiss” is a wicked funk masterpiece that almost didn’t see the light of day. Interestingly, Prince gave the acoustic demo to his protégé band Mazarati, who gave it more funk and flair, before he snatched it back. With its classic James Brown sample and frizzy synths juxtaposing Prince’s delicate falsetto, “Kiss” skyrocketed to #1 faster than any Warner Bros. single in history. The song’s iconic music video features a young, radiant Prince in a black crop top with matching trousers, flirtatiously dancing alongside a veiled Monique Manning while Revolution member Wendy Melvoin plays guitar.
18. Raspberry Beret (from Around the World in a Day, 1985): Jetting to #2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, “Raspberry Beret” is a pure pop masterpiece that glows as bright as its psychedelic album cover. The lightweight track cruises along a cheerful backbeat of delicate drum work, velvety strings, and bubblegum harmonies (provided by Lisa Coleman, Wendy Melvoin, and her twin sister Susannah). On the surface, “Raspberry Beret” appears to be relatively tame compared to his Rude Boy material. However, it doesn’t take a master linguist to see the underlying sexual innuendos in lyrics such as “We went riding down by old man Johnson’s farm” or “I wouldn’t change a stroke ‘cause baby I’m the most, when a girl as fine as she walks in.”
17. Anna Stesia (from Lovesexy, 1988): The emotional centerpiece of Lovesexy pulls us into Prince’s spiritual orbit like never before. “Have you ever been so lonely that you felt like you were the only one in this world?” he asks in the opening lyric. “Have you ever wanted to play with someone so much, you’d take anyone, boy or girl?” That one line speaks to anyone that’s looking to find their place in the mystifying and often cruel world we inhabit. Surrounding Prince’s heartfelt confession is a magnificent collection of sounds and styles: soft piano strokes, booming drums, ghostly synths, and heavy metal guitar licks, leading to the fiery gospel refrain (“Love is God, God is love, girls and boys love God above”). Although it hasn’t appeared on any of his greatest-hits compilations, “Anna Stesia” is one of Prince’s finest artistic achievements and, over time, will no doubt be recognized as such.
16. She’s Always in My Hair (from The Hits / The B-Sides, 1993): No other B-side in Prince’s career packs a roundhouse punch like “She’s Always in My Hair.” Reportedly inspired by longtime protégé Jill Jones, he celebrates her unconditional support for him, giving the song even more power and drama. “Whenever I feel like givin’ up, whenever my sunshine turns to rain,” Prince acknowledges. “Whenever my hopes and dreams are aimed in the wrong direction, she’s always there / Tellin’ me how much she cares.” With its hair-raising synths, digital drums, and crunchy guitar riffs, “She’s Always in My Hair” is a song that demands good speakers or headphones for full effect.
15. Housequake (from Sign O’ the Times, 1987): Perhaps as a partial response to whispers of his African-American fan base dwindling, Prince offers “Housequake,” a funk firebomb that would’ve defined any artist’s career if released as a single. He recorded an early version of the song, one day after the public announcement of the Revolution’s disbanding; however, Prince continued to develop it until it was just right. “[‘Housequake’] came at a time when there were other changes in his life,” Susan Rogers explained. “His musical instruments, his style, his colors, and the people around him were evolving.” Encompassed by swirling synth effects, blazing horn riffs, and a relentless beat, “Housequake” is a dynamite jam that finds Prince reveling in his newfound freedom, playfully changing voices, and transforming his James Brown influences into something utterly unique.
14. Little Red Corvette (from 1999, 1982): The fusion of sex, fast cars, and new wave-influenced rock was a perfect storm that elevated Prince to stardom. “Little Red Corvette” perfectly illustrates the dream-capsule concept of the 1999 album. In fact, Lisa Coleman remembers that inspiration for the Top 10 Billboard hit came when “I bought this vintage pink Mercury at a car auction… He slept in it one time and came up with ‘Little Red Corvette.’” With its hazy imagery and slow-churning synths, listeners often miss the song’s darker undercurrent. The “You’re gonna run your body right to the ground” lyric could also serve as a dark warning for the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
13. Sign O’ the Times (from Sign O’ the Times, 1987): With its skeletal funk backdrop and stinging social commentary, “Sign O’ the Times” became a platform to grieve for victims of AIDS (“a big disease with a little name”), gang violence, abortion, and substance abuse (“In September, my cousin tried reefer for the very first time, now he’s doing horse—it’s June”), among other social ills. In trailblazing fashion, “Sign O’ the Times” jolted to #3 on Billboard’s Hot 100 without the benefit of a Prince-produced music video, a bold move on the singer’s part as most artists leaned heavily on MTV as a promotional tool in the 1980s.
12. The Ballad of Dorothy Parker (from Sign O’ the Times, 1987): The Music Snobs once described “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker” as “the complete Mt. Everest of drum programming,” and the metaphor is apt. Those smooth yet propulsive rhythms depict an affair with an attractive waitress, similar to the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown).” While bathing together, Dorothy ignores an incoming phone call and reassures Prince that “Whoever’s calling can’t be as cute as you.” Ridden with guilt, he reconciles with his girlfriend he’d been fighting with earlier by taking a bath with her as if he was purifying himself from all his wrongdoings.
11. When You Were Mine (from Dirty Mind, 1980): Notably covered by Cyndi Lauper and Mitch Ryder, “When You Were Mine” illuminates Prince’s sophisticated pop craftsmanship. Threaded throughout bright slashes of Chuck Berry guitar riffs and shimmering synths is an ambiguous love triangle for the listener to analyze. “When you were mine, you were all I ever wanted to do,” he sheepishly confesses in the final verse. “Now I spend my time, following him whenever he’s with you.” “When You Were Mine” is a brash portrayal of emotional wreckage left behind after the dissolution of a relationship.
10. 1999 (from 1999, 1982): Challenged by management to create a thematic centerpiece in the vein of “Controversy,” Prince went to work on the song, determined to surprise. “He yelled at us, and then he went back to Minneapolis and kept recording,” remembered Bob Cavallo. Days later, he re-emerged with “1999” and blew everyone away. Before turning the record in, though, Prince made a crucial decision during the mixing process. He recorded the verses as a three-part harmony featuring himself, guitarist Dez Dickerson, and keyboardist Lisa Coleman. However, in the final mix, he dropped out two of the voices on each line so that each singer became a lead vocalist – Lisa on the first line, Dez on the second, and Prince on the third. The baton-passing technique resembled Stevie Wonder’s 1972 classic “You Are the Sunshine of My Life.” Even as a nuclear Armageddon approaches, you can almost feel the stage lights flaring and Prince’s world flooding with color (purple, some blue, magenta, and gold).
09. Joy in Repetition (from Graffiti Bridge, 1990): Intricately arranged and improving with age, “Joy in Repetition” is a breathtaking piece of audio erotica. Originally recorded during the Crystal Ball ‘86 sessions, Prince weaves tribal-sounding drums, exotic synths, and rippling guitar lines with seductive vocal harmonies and poetic imagery. “In the alley over by the curb, he said ‘Tell me what’s your name’ / She only said the words again, and it started to rain / Two words fall in between the drops and the moans of his condition / Holding someone is truly believing there’s joy in repetition.” As the song builds to a crescendo, Prince’s voice soars with the music. “Why don’t you love me, baby?” he pleads in a dramatic call-and-response amid sweltering guitar eruptions. “Why can’t you love me, baby? ... Come on and love me, baby!”
08. Sometimes It Snows in April (from Parade, 1986): “There are a handful of songs in Prince’s catalog that are something akin to sacred to many fans,” Christian Gerard wrote for PopMatters. “‘Purple Rain’ is one, as is ‘Anna Stesia’ from Lovesexy. ‘Sometimes it Snows in April’ breathes in that same rarified air.” Written and recorded during a single session, a forlorn Prince (accompanied by Wendy and Lisa on guitar and piano, respectively) sings about loss and yearning from the perspective of Under the Cherry Moon film character Mary Sharon. It’s such an intimate recording—you can hear the creaking of the stools and Wendy’s fingers stroking the guitar. The pathos in his vocal comes through with such purity and honesty the listener feels every ounce of his heartache. “Sometimes I wish that life was never-ending,” he pleads in one line. “But all good things they never last.” Given the context of Prince’s untimely passing on April 21, 2016 (exactly 31 years after the recording date), this quiet ballad was suddenly infused with new meaning.
07. Let’s Go Crazy (from Purple Rain, 1984): It doesn’t take long for listeners to find out why “Let’s Go Crazy” is the perfect opener for the Purple Rain album and film. The song begins with an unforgettable spoken introduction (“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life…”) followed by rumbling guitars, intense drumming, and an explosion of bright neon synths as Prince reinvents himself as a prophet, preacher, and party animal all at once. “The track’s like anatomy in how to succinctly craft the perfect rock song,” Consequence of Sound expressed in 2017. “Prince figured out the formula himself: build, release, pulsate, and release one more time, then leave ‘em wanting more.” One of four Top 10 singles on Purple Rain, “Let’s Go Crazy” peaked at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, R&B, and Dance charts in 1984. It remains one of his most beloved and critically acclaimed songs.
06. Controversy (from Controversy, 1981): Riding on a smooth beat of sizzling funk and synthesizer pomp, “Controversy” speaks to social and political issues without jeopardizing his sound. “I just can’t believe all the things people say,” Prince declares in the opening lyric. “Am I black or white? Am I straight or gay?” However, the funk anthem reaches its apex when he recites The Lord’s Prayer and offers his motto: “People call me rude, I wish we all were nude / I wish there was no black and white, I wish there were no rules.” In an age where viewers are frequently distracted from or deceived about the truth, “Controversy” remains a timeless classic and a full-fledged indictment against sensationalism.
05. If I Was Your Girlfriend (from Sign O’ the Times, 1987): “If I Was Your Girlfriend” is one of those rare recordings that few would dare to try, let alone pull off successfully. You almost feel as though you’re eavesdropping on the most private of conversations, but the song reaches its loving hand out to create the illusion of a perfect relationship. “Would you run to me if somebody hurt you, even if that somebody was me?” Prince sings. “Sometimes I trip on how happy we could be.” The chilling Linn-Drums and slap bass, eerie synths, and pitch-shifted Camille vocals blur the lines between fantasy and reality, soul and funk, male and female, until no lines exist at all. Upon its release, “Girlfriend” limped its way to #67 on the Billboard pop charts since radio stations deemed it too bizarre to promote. Fortunately, the 21st century opinion of the track is widely positive.
04. Erotic City (from The Hits / The B-Sides, 1993): Drawing inspiration from George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog” and Laid Back’s “White Horse,” the supremely catchy “Erotic City” extends an olive branch to those who may have felt slighted by “Let’s Go Crazy’s” anthemic rock vibes. The combination of rock-solid drum programming, shimmering waves of synthesizers, and a knockout Camille lead vocal made for an instant classic. Drummer Sheila E. was hesitant to record the song due to the explicit lyrics, so Prince stepped in and did the dirty work while she sang backup primarily in the chorus. Once again, Prince proves that a pop song can explore unexpected (even uncomfortable) territory and still be a massive hit. Not only did “Erotic City” get significant airplay in dance clubs, but it also stands shoulder-to-shoulder with some of Prince’s elite recordings.
03. Purple Rain (from Purple Rain, 1984): A power ballad for the ages, “Purple Rain” will always be Prince’s crowning achievement, regardless of where it may rank on this list. Not only is it a passionate, gospel-fueled call for individual change that earned him an Academy Award for Best Original Song Score, but it also served as an epic finale to his 2007 Super Bowl Halftime Show in Miami, which was seen by 93 million people in the United States alone. “While music journalists are often guilty of using spiritual terminology to describe concert experiences,” Consequence of Sound explained, “it feels like only those types of words can do justice to what it meant to hear “Purple Rain” in the flesh. It was like being in church, Prince like a pastor at his pulpit.”
02. The Beautiful Ones (from Purple Rain, 1984): Arguably the finest ballad of Prince’s career, “The Beautiful Ones” is about a man wearing his emotions on his sleeve and opening up in a way he’s never done before. Contrary to popular belief, “The Beautiful Ones” wasn’t penned exclusively for his Purple Rain love interest (Apollonia Kotero), it also involved his real-life split with former protégé, Denise “Vanity” Matthews. “I was talking to somebody about ‘The Beautiful Ones.’ They were speculating as to who I was singing about – but they were completely wrong,” Prince told Ebony. “If they look at it, it’s very obvious. ‘Do you want him or do you want me,’ that was written for that scene in Purple Rain specifically, where Morris would be sitting with [Apollonia], and there’d be this back and forth. And also, ‘The beautiful ones you always seem to lose,’ Vanity had just quit the movie.”
01. When Doves Cry (from Purple Rain, 1984): If one were to pick a single song that defines Prince as an artist, it would have to be “When Doves Cry.” From the opening snarl of guitar to the closing Mozart-like keyboard flourishes, “When Doves Cry” explodes from the speakers with attitude just as its high-heeled creator intended. We get a glimpse of what Prince’s real-life relationship was like with his parents (primarily his mother since he did re-connect with his dad through their love of music). When he says “How could you just leave me standing? Alone in a world that’s so cold?” that may have been a question he wanted to ask his mother who, he feels, abandoned him. For all its impact, “When Doves Cry” spent five weeks at #1 during the summer of 1984—becoming the most successful hit of Prince’s legendary career—and continues to be one of the most stunningly original songs in the history of recorded music.