To celebrate the music and mastery of Prince, who passed away suddenly on April 21, 2016, Korea Guitar enlisted self-proclaimed Prince expert Van Walker to compile a list of Prince’s greatest moments on the 6-string. (NOTE: It’s difficult to find videos for most Prince songs. We’ve added what we could find. For the rest, you’re just going to have to pull out your Prince collection and explore.)
FULL DISCLOSURE: I’m “that” guy. If Prince has ever coughed on tape, I probably have a copy of it. Prince was an amazing, dynamic performer and one of the inspirations I drew upon before finally settling down to learn guitar myself. While he will be greatly missed, we still have an awesome body of work to look back on and appreciate. Here are ten (or so) songs that best represent Prince’s otherworldly ability to play guitar.
Special Mention – Either I can’t count or I’m being all enigmatic like Prince. I’m going to go with “enigmatic.”
My Drawers – It is now common knowledge that Prince didn’t merely use The Time as the band to open before him, he also wrote and performed every song on all of their albums. Basically, back in the ‘80s, when he was still crafting his mysterious persona, he would take songs that he thought were too “R&B” and put them on a Time album, keeping the juicier and stranger stuff for himself to further cultivate his aura. The Time’s third album, “Ice Cream Castles,” featured music that would be prominent in the smash hit film “Purple Rain.” One of the deep cuts on this album, “My Drawers,” is a straight-ahead funk-rocker that features Prince tearing his beloved Hohner Telecaster a new one. The riff is pure funk pentatonic, with a shade of feed-backing tone to give it a bit of a wild air. In a lesser player’s hands, it’s a noisy mess; in Prince’s hands, it’s a deep cut worth a listen.
WOW – This is one of three taken from the ambitious (if a bit uneven) 3RDEYEGIRL album, Prince’s long-awaited foray into rock. This riff is heavy-bluesy, played at half-time, and reminiscent of the kind of FM radio rock Prince likely grew up listening to in Minneapolis in the ‘70’s. It’s a nice groove that he fully tears into at the end.
AINTTURNINROUND – Honestly, this track (also from the 3RDEYEGIRL album) is either great or filler, but the undeniable fact is that Prince played the second best solo of this project on this particular track. It is equally psychedelic, sonic, funky, and inventive, and it closes out a jam that is either enervating or awesome – I still can’t make up my mind. But that guitar keeps bringing me back…
What You Suspected – In this category, you’ll find three songs that the average rock fan would totally believe were right up Prince’s guitar alley.
Let’s Go Crazy – Purple Rain version: This is, plain and simple, a new wavy rock song. That initial hook is meaner than a left hook. The solo in the middle is pure tastiness, and the one at the end is absolutely iconic. This might be the most recognizable Prince song of his long and lauded collection.
Purple Rain – This song is an ‘80’s hair ballad in every way. The guy playing the solo had better hair than the girls he was, ah, “entertaining.” The song bordered on schmaltz but has actually lasted and still sounds great. But the solo? It’s every bit as awesome and arena-rocking as anything by, say, Gary Richrath of REO Speedwagon (listen to “Keep On Loving You” and think of the solo in Purple Rain).
PLECTRUMELECTRUM – This song comes from the 3RDEYEGIRL album, and is the most complete rocker on the album. An instrumental, some folks have called shenanigans on it for the main riff sounding a lot like Audioslave’s “Cochise.” (That said, I’ll note that those same folks are not calling on Audioslave’s “Cochise” for sounding a lot like Led Zeppelin’s “The Ocean,” or that Zeppelin’s…I’ll just stop digressing there, mmmmkay?) At any rate, there are two guitar solos on this track. The best part is that no one will have any problem figuring out which one is Prince’s. He flat kicks the door down with a wah-wah drenched blues-rock face melter, the kind of solo that made a kid like me pretend to play it, complete with a broom and an ugly guitar face.
Offbeat, Offbrand, and Amazing –These three are deep cuts. They are, at the very least, experimental, or avante garde, yet full of an unexpected amount of pure rock fury (thanks Clutch!).
Ronnie, Talk To Russia – This is a fast-rocking track off of “Controversy.” Basically, it’s a straight-ahead politically snarky mix of rock, new wave, and rockabilly, with the guitar turned up to eleven and the solos punctuated by gunshots and explosions. For the uninitiated, this track is unexpectedly fun.
Annie Christian – Frankly, this one is an acquired taste (also from “Controversy”). Put another way, it’s funkmaster Prince in new wave drag, because myth-building mattered back then. Still, the guitar in this jam is the truth. It’s just that the song around it is almost going out of its way to be difficult…which, considering the heavily socio-political bent of the song, probably means that he stuck the landing after all…
Temptation – This track is the last one from the enigmatic “Around The World In A Day” album (an album some have accused Prince of releasing as a way of throwing a wet blanket on the fire he’d started with “Purple Rain”). It’s the blues-rock nightmare of a tortured soul playing tortured licks. The protagonist is struggling with the pull of righteousness and the pull of lust, and both are evident in the guitar playing throughout. This is easily his most ambitious guitar track until much later in his career, and I defy anyone to name another track where he clearly lets himself go so openly. The guitar alternately grumbles and screams and wails and shreds, all in keeping with the theme of the song: just an amazing listen overall. One can clearly see the Hendrix influence on his playing, while at the same time realizing that he’s neither aping nor paying homage to Hendrix; he’s simply discovering new territory along the Hendrix azimuth.
HOLY SHIT – If you’ve never heard these songs before, that will be your reaction. These tracks Move The Air.
The Ride – You’ll find this one on “Crystal Ball.” It’s Prince playing the blues. Let me repeat: it’s Prince. Playing The Blues. He does this so well it might actually piss you off that he hadn’t done more like this before now. Seriously. I won’t bother describing it because, well, (capslock of justice) IT’S PRINCE PLAYING THE BLUES.
Let’s Go Crazy – 3RDEYEGIRL version – Remember how this one was originally a new wavy rocker? The truth is that Prince “new-waved” it up to make it more chart-worthy when it first came out. This version is what Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin would have done. It is half-time, heavier than plutonium, deeper than Morpheus, and will sterilize cattle at 500 meters. He even had the nerve to work Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein” into it…because Prince. You are guaranteed to get a speeding ticket if you listen to this one while driving. Guaranteed.
While My Guitar Gently Weeps – By now, you’ve likely seen this clip on Facebook or elsewhere on the ‘Net, and it is exactly what it looks like: Prince turning rock legends into fanboys. The look on Tom Petty’s face as Prince lays it down is pure OMG, and Dhani Harrison can’t get enough of it.
Computer Blue – With apologies to anyone else in the funk rock business, this is the greatest funk/rock jam ever. Ever. Period. End of discussion. The shred at the 2:30 mark would etch carbon. The lyrical solo at the 3:25 mark is both tasteful and awesome. Both of those were in the same song, played by the same hands. That’s genius. It’s amazing to me that this track is on the “Purple Rain” soundtrack and still remains anonymous.
That’s my ten (or so) anyway. Did I miss something? Get at me in the comments!