If you read my blog and these posts with any regularity, you will understand my love for the music of the 50s, 60s, and 70s–essentially, the soundtrack of the “baby boom” generation.
But it would be wrong to think that I don’t love the music of my generation, too. I was born in 1972 and came of age in the 1980s. Like all children of the 80s, I adored the holy trinity of Michael Jackson, Prince, and Madonna. I was in high school when hard rock took over MTV and I was in college during the grunge years. I listened to(and liked) both, in addition to other trends that were less mainstream and popular.
Since I get as much out of these posts as anybody else, I thought I should start focusing on the popular music of my childhood as a way to better appreciate some of the good things that can come from mainstream pop when we stop, listen, and think a little.
So let us start with Prince.
My goal with this list is to provide an introduction to Prince and all his greatness in only five songs. If you know anything about him, you know that’s not possible. He is not only a prolific artist, but he’s one with a career now in its fifth decade. (Just writing that makes my head spin.) During that time he has been a cultural phenomenon, a has been, and an artist who has managed to reinvent himself more than once. Simply put, there is more than one Prince.
So let’s narrow it down to the glory years of the 80s. In the ten years from 1980 to 1989, Prince put out nine studio albums. That’s one every year with the exception of 1983. One of those albums is one of the best of all-time, certainly in any Top 20 list. Much of the music on those albums not only dominated the pop charts of that decade, it redefined what those charts sounded like.
So here’s five from the 80s by Prince.
Since Prince’s music is near impossible to find on YouTube, the links here are from Spotify.
“When You Were Mine” (1980)
From the album Dirty Mind, this is a contender for my favorite Prince song ever. Ever. The album is a mighty move forward, a bridge between sexy-soul-funk-club music of the 70s and the decade to come.
“Purple Rain” (1984)
The Purple Rain album was released on June 25, 1984, the soundtrack to the movie of the same name. By the first week of August it was the number one album in the country. It stayed there through the first weeks of the next year. Five of the nine tracks were top 25 hits. Four of them top 10. The title track was recorded from a live performance, with some over-dubbing in the studio after. It’s a masterpiece, pure and simple. Put on the headphones for this one…
“Raspberry Beret” (1985)
Prince’s 1985 album Around the World in a Day was a commercial failure but it spawned two hits despite the fact. Prince wanted the album to be experienced as an album, and so delayed releasing any songs as singles. It’s still worth a listen from start to finish, but if you have to choose one song…
“Sometimes It Snows in April” (1986)
The album Parade was the soundtrack to Prince’s second movie, his 1986 directorial debut Under the Cherry Moon. The movie kind of bombed, though my sister and I saw it soon after it opened. (This was a big deal. I was still 12, and it was rated PG-13, and I was very Catholic.) The album featured the megasuperhit “Kiss,” a song that deserves all the attention it continues to get on radio. But there were some other gems, like “Girls and Boys,” “Mountains,” and this ballad.
“Sign ‘O’ The Times” (1987)
By 1987, Prince had been a cultural phenomenon and best-selling artist as well as a commercial and critical flop in the music and cinematic worlds. He was a mixed commercial bag, but still someone who got attention when he released something new. I can remember the first time I heard this, the title track to his ninth studio album. Memory is an imperfect record, but I remember it being a pre-planned release on KIIS-FM radio. They played it twice in a row, starting at 8:00PM. I remembered that first listen almost every time I heard the song over the next weeks and months.
The song is performed on a synthetic instruments, mainly the now-legendary Fairlight CMI (Computer Musical Instrument). Surprisingly, Prince largely used the beats and samples that came with the keyboard, essentially “stock” music riffs. The synthetic additions he makes, along with his deeply memorable lyrics, made this a standout.