The Essential and Best Albums Of The Musical Genius Prince

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Olaf Hajek for Rolling Stone
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When we lost Prince, it was like the world tripped on its axis. For his fans, time stopped, and our disbelief rang loud in our ears. Even those who only knew him from his most popular songs or from seeing him at award shows probably felt the shift. This magnanimous bit of energy ceased to exist in the world, and social media went into deep mourning. After the announcement of his death at his home in Minnesota, actor and director Adam McKay summed up what many of us were feeling, “For real though, shouldn’t everyone go home from work and school? It’s Prince. It’s like hearing the Grand Canyon died.”

And that’s really what it felt like. The man who filled the world with incomparable music ceased to be on April 21, 2016. The five-year anniversary of Prince’s death is almost here, but it’s still hard for many fans to accept that he’s really gone.

Prince Rogers Nelson wrote countless songs under his famous moniker and pen names. He defined his own style, and his music crossed musical lines and shaped the direction and trajectory of popular music forever. While it may seem easy to list his best albums and even talk about lesser-known ones, parsing through a genius’s body of work requires careful consideration. How does one pick from his catalog? It would be like trying to find the most beautiful snowflake; each is perfect in its own way.

Still, I tried. Below, you can find a list of the best Prince albums, at least, according to this fan. All of these albums are worth a listen, and they are presented based on when they are released and not ranked in any particular order. Prince’s music is about how it makes you feel. So, on some days, you may want to blast Purple Rain, and on others, it may be Controversy.

To honor the artist’s memory on the fifth anniversary of his passing, here are the best Prince albums for both longtime fans and newcomers to enjoy.

  

Where To Listen to Prince’s Best Albums?

Today, music lovers are more likely to stream their favorite artists’ music than to purchase physical albums or individual tracks. And there are good reasons to stream rather than purchase Prince’s music. The world prolific gets thrown around a lot, but Prince truly was. For completists, there are a lot of Prince vinyl records to collect.

Many of the best Prince albums are readily available on music streaming apps like Spotify. If you are interested in purchasing Prince albums or vinyl records, they can be found at every major music retailer, and we’ve included some links to specific Prince albums below. You can also listen to Prince’s discography via Amazon Music Unlimited, which costs $7.99 for Prime Members.

  

For You (1978)

The album For You introduced us to a 19-year-old Prince who wrote, produced and arranged all of its tracks. The majority of the album is like a love letter — sweet and loving — except for its most popular song, Soft and Wet, which is pretty sexual. (If the song title didn’t make that abundantly clear.) The lead track’s lyrics, “All of this and more is for U. With love, sincerity and deepest care. My life with U I share,” gives hints of the artist yet to come.

For You (1978), Best Prince Albums Image Courtesy of Amazon

For You

$10.92

  

Controversy (1981)

Though before the album that is next on our list came Prince (1979) that gave us “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” and “I Feel For You,” which was later covered by Chaka Khan, and the album Dirty Mind (1980), which gave us “When you Were Mine,” and the funky sounds of “Uptown,” and they are incredible it’s the lyrical content of Controversy that makes it an essential addition. The lead track after which the album is named addresses many of the questions surrounding Prince at the time. There was speculation about his sexuality, ethnicity and religion. These topics extended through much of his career. And while he talks about politics in “Ronnie Talk To Russia,” the song that we won’t ever forget from the album Controversy is “Do Me Baby.”

controversy, best prince albums Amazon

Controversy

$14.99

  

Purple Rain (1984)

In 1982 Prince dropped 1999, which was an amazing album. One hiccup with that album was that if you bought the CD version instead of the vinyl it didn’t have the song D.M.S.R., which is not a song to be missed. Good news: the remastered version does contain this track as well as the very grown and sexy “International Lover.” While 1999 is a great album it’s only the warm-up for some of his most beloved work, Purple Rain, which was released in 1984 as the soundtrack to the movie of the same name. It goes without saying that his guitar solos on “Let’s Go Crazy” and “Purple Rain,” can never be duplicated.

purple rain by prince Amazon

Purple Rain

$14.99

  

Sign O’ The Times (1987)

1985 brought us Around The World In A Day, which gave us “Raspberry Beret,” “Pop Life” and a new look for Prince. It became one of his fastest-selling albums. It examined race issues and his seemingly conflicting relationship with religion, which can be heard in “Temptation.” The standout on that album has to be “Condition of the Heart.” In 1986 Prince once again starred in a movie, “Under the Cherry Moon,” with a soundtrack of the same name. The album featured a very paired down “Kiss,” a hit, that was later covered by Tom Jones. And though you should get these two albums, it is Sign O’ The Times that most of us didn’t see coming.

The double album, which was released during the height of the AIDS crisis, signaled a change to his sound and echoed the current climate. The lead track, which is also the album’s title, is filled with sounds from a Linn LM-1 drum machine, as is the innovative “Dorothy Parker.” Prince had always leaned heavily on live instruments, so a drum machine which was used quite a bit throughout the 16-track album, was a departure from what we came to know of Prince. But it can’t be denied that the drum machine delivered on songs such as “Strange Relationship” and “If I Was Your Girlfriend.” Still, Prince was about the funk, love and sensual music and that is evident on “House Quake,” “Beautiful Night,” “Adore” and “Forever in My Life,” which is said to have been the song that the late John F. Kennedy, Jr. and Carolyn Bessette used for their first dance.

Sign O' The Times (1987), Best Prince albums Image Courtesy of Amazon

Sign 'O The Times

$21.75 $29.98 27% OFF

  

Batman (1989)

In 1988 we waited for the release of the Black Album, but it was shelved until 1994, and instead, we were treated to Lovesexy. Even though the CD has eight tracks, it is listed as one long continuous single track. While the single off the album was “Alphabet Street”, “I Wish You Heaven” revisited Prince from the For You years. However, the essential Prince album of the era actually came out in 1989 and was the soundtrack for the movie Batman, arguably the best version of that franchise. The Batman album was fun and contained snippets of the film. When you are feeling a little blah put on “Lemon Crush,” “Trust” and “Party Man,” from the album, you will be feeling better in no time.

Batman, Best Prince albums Image Courtesy of Amazon

Batman

$14.99

  

Love Symbol (1992)

In 1990 fans were treated to the album Graffiti Bridge. There was also a movie bearing the same moniker, but it felt like an extended music video more than a film. It was a lively album, and Prince’s duet with George Clinton on “We Can Funk” is the grove you need when life gets you down. It prepped you for the highly sensual album Diamonds and Pearls (1991) with powerful vocals by Rosie Gaines on the title track and a video directed by Lisa Bonet plus “Cream,” is unforgettable. Yes, those albums are great and should be in your collection, but it’s the album with the unpronounceable name that we want to turn your attention to. The Love Symbol album is Prince through and through. It is one hard-driving song after another. The lyrics are among some of his most poetic, and he even tries his hand at reggae with “Blue Light.” The album once again delves into the balance of love, sex and religion. Songs such as “God Created Woman,” “The Sacrifice of Victor” play against “Sexy M.F.,” “Love 2 the 9s” and “The Continental.” Listen closely for the segues that feature the actress Kirstie Alley; they offer some insight into the album.

Love Symbol, Best of Prince Image Courtesy of Amazon

Love Symbol

$10.92 $15.98 32% OFF

  

Come (1994)

The Hits / The B-Sides (1993) is a great starter kit to Prince’s music. You not only get his more popular releases, but you also get some of his best B-sides and his rendition of “Nothing Compares 2 U,” which was popularized and introduced the world to the hauntingly beautiful vocals of Sinéad O’Connor, who covered the song. However, the album Come, which marked the end of new music from Prince to Warner Bros. during his contractual dispute with the record company, may be one of his most underrated albums. It is funky, and every song has a grove and intensity that makes you want to laugh, cry, dance, and acknowledge that Prince was far more complex than we will ever understand. “So Low” speaks of the highs and lows of human emotions and describes unbearable sadness to that of a curb appearing to be a skyscraper. The song ends with the declaration that he is “no one.” “Papa” addresses an abusive parent-child/relationship, but then we also get “Come,” and “Pheromone” which are sexually charged but the melodic vibes from “Space” and “Letitgo” will charm you, as will their remixes.

Come, Best of Prince Image Courtesy of Amazon

  

Crystal Ball (1998)

The 17th studio album from Prince is The Gold Experience which promised that it would cover “courtship, sex, commitment, fetishes, loneliness, vindication, love and hate,” right before the track “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World” begins. It covered all that and was right before he released Chaos and Disorder, which was one of his more confusing albums. It gave us the single “Dinner with Delores,” but there wasn’t a tour to support it. But maybe it was because he had “Emancipation” up his sleeve, which signaled the end of his contractual obligations to Warner Bros. It is three CDs of thumping music and joy. All we can say is play it loud. But we would like to introduce you to Crystal Ball which oddly enough didn’t have a single. No special occasion is needed to play this music because it just needs to be heard. Most of the songs were recorded between 1985-1986 and 1993-1996, but the recording of “Cloreen Bacon Skin” is a master class on what it means to be unrelentingly in the pocket. It is Prince playing/owning the drums like he invented them.

Crystal Ball, Best of Prince Image Courtesy of Amazon

Crystal Ball

  

One Night Alone…Live! (2002)

Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic, made its debut in 1999, featuring guest appearances by Chuck D, Gwen Stefani, Eve, and Sheryl Crow, but the album didn’t catch on. It was followed up by The Rainbow Children, which is steeped in religion and offers a song that speaks of unconditional love and acceptance, “She Loves Me 4 Me.” But if you have never had the pleasure of attending a Prince concert and or an after-show—he once covered “Miss You” by the Rolling Stones— then the One Night Alone…Live! Box set will get you up to speed because it Prince well…live.

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One Nite Alone... Live!

  

Planet Earth (2007)

Musicology is another groove-heavy release from Prince and was the follow up to Xpectation (2003) and N.E.W.S. (2003), but which preceded The Chocolate Invasion (2004) and Slaughterhouse (2004), both filled with NPG Music Club downloads. These albums led us to 3121, (pronounced “thirty-one twenty-one”), and though we can now say that it was typical Prince music at the time, it didn’t sound like anything else on the radio. It gave us “Black Sweat,” the song that we all needed. It was like an opening act to his epic Super Bowl XLI,  performance that followed months later, where it rained as he sang “Purple Rain.” But since Planet Earth which he tried to include with copies of The Mail on Sunday newspaper in the UK didn’t get the recognition it deserved, then we want it to have it know as he reminds you of his incredible falsetto on “Somewhere On Earth.”

Planet Earth, Best Prince Albums Image Courtesy of Amazon

Planet Earth

$11.59 $11.98 3% OFF

  

Art Official Age (2014)

Prince’s release of Indigo Nights (2008) is another of his live albums but was available when purchased with the 21 Nights book and includes tracks from after shows. It preceded Lotusflow3r (2009) a triple album with music from his protégé Bria Valente. 20Ten (2010) and its artsy cover was another attempt from Prince to offer fans free music through U.K. and European print publications. It is undeniably Prince, as is PlectrumElectrum (2014). Still, we prefer instead to point you to Art Official Age; it reminds you why you love Prince. You  get funk, horns, his guitar, his falsetto and a reminder that sometimes “Breakfast Can Wait.” Art Official Age precedes Hitnrun Phase One and Hitnrun Phase Two but is far more grounded and what you want from the man that we will forever know as Prince.

Art Official Age, Best of Prince Image Courtesy Amazon

Art Official Age

$17.17

  

Welcome 2 America (2021)

Among the posthumous releases from his estate are 4Ever (2016), a compilation of some of his previously released music, Piano & A Microphone 1983, (2018) The Versace Experience (Prelude 2 Gold), (2019), Originals, (2019) featuring recordings of songs that he wrote covered by other singers such as “Manic Monday” by the Bangles and “Jungle Love” by The Time. And coming in July is a new release titled Welcome 2 America, making its debut on 60 Minutes. It was initially recorded in 2010 and contains music that addresses his thoughts and feelings about the state of the world, his hopes, concerns, disinformation, and racial injustice; 11 years later, clearly, it is still relevant. It is available for pre-order at the link below.

Welcome 2 America, Best Prince Albums Image Courtesy of Amazon

Welcome 2 America

$11.98

  

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