Welcome to my 3rd annual Prince Hall of Fame blog post. What is this? How did we get here? Let’s recap:
I’m usually an album guy but I make a lot of playlists because sometimes I just wanna hear bangers or slow jams or east coast hip hop or early-60s jazz or something in between. I make playlists for every occasion and nobody has been the subject of more of my playlists than Prince. Side note: I’m writing “playlists” way too much. I’m assuming you’re aware of that. I just wanted you to know that I’m also aware of it. I can’t think of another word. Mixtape? Inaccurate. Mix? Maybe I’ll mix that into the next paragraph *rimshot*.
Come with me all the way back to the year 2020. Terrible, terrible year. Pandemic lockdown. I challenged myself to write more thinking maybe if I put in the hours I might actually get good at it. I wrote about a different Prince song every day. I was ranking them all between 1-5 stars, reserving 5 stars for only the best of the best. However, after 176 consecutive days writing about Prince I had to stop. We were coming out of the pandemic, I was occasionally leaving the house, and I couldn’t maintain that pace. There were still hundreds of Prince songs, the project would take me years to complete, and sadly one needs money to be able to afford the amount of free time it would take to continue that project. In the final post of my 176-day streak I revealed the rest of my 5-star Prince songs. I cut the playlist off at an even 20 songs. If you know me you’re aware that kind of playlist restraint is nearly impossible.
Then I listened to for a few months and I couldn’t help myself. I’d think, “This list would be even better if I added…” This was in April of 2021 and I knew the 5-year anniversary of Prince’s passing was right around the corner so I invented another excuse to write about him and turn the playlist into a something that would evolve over time instead of remaining static. Like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, or the many sports Halls of Fame, each year I would induct new songs into my own Prince Hall of Fame. In 2021 I added two more songs to the list. In 2022 I added three more, bringing the total to 25 songs (I’m good at math). There’s no scientific basis for my selections. No statistics I look at like record sales or how they performed on the charts. An induction is purely based on my own opinion.
That said, for my 2023 induction I made a conscious effort to fill a massive void. Let me do exactly what I wouldn’t do and bring statistics into the conversation. Here’s a little chart I created:
This chart spans from the year 1978 when Prince released his first album, For You, until 2016 when he passed away. The bars represent the number of songs from each year that are currently part of the Prince Hall of Fame playlist. A near-40 year career, 25 songs, and yet they were all released between 1980 and 1992. I know that Prince’s version of “Nothing Compares 2 U” and the live studio version of “Power Fantastic” were released posthumously, but they were originally recorded in the mid-80s so I’m putting them there.
If you saw this chart and knew nothing about Prince you might assume his career ended in 1992. Prince released approximately two dozen albums from 1992 to 2016. So where are the hits? That’s a question without an easy answer. First off, there were the battles with record labels. The name change to an unpronounceable glyph. He started releasing directly to his fans via internet-only downloads years before iTunes existed and casual fans weren’t ready for that kind of distribution. I know I wasn’t. I was actually interested in hearing Prince’s new music during his NPG Music Club era, but I couldn’t wrap my head around music that wasn’t available in physical form. If it wasn’t on a CD it didn’t count. At least that’s how I felt. He also struggled adjusting to the popularity of what he considered to be inferior hip hop and R&B. I believe Prince’s struggle coming to grips with being routinely beaten on the charts by wack rappers who couldn’t sing or play an instrument sent him on a bigger tailspin than people realize. That combination led him to the a stretch of mediocre music (by Prince’s standards) that covered much of the 1990s.
In the early-2000s Prince got his groove back. After the critical and commercial failure of 1999’s Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic he began making music for himself again instead of trying to make what he thought would put him on the charts. By the early-2000s Prince was creating great music again but he had lost much of his audience. That’s why my Prince Hall of Fame graph looks like Prince left the music industry in the mid-90s. I’m not trying to argue that Prince was making music in 2004 that was as influential, groundbreaking, or transcendent as it was two decades earlier. Not even close. But, he was making quality music deserving of more recognition than it received.
For my 2023 Prince Hall of Fame inductees, I’m going to balance out that graph a bit. I want to shine a light on my four favorite 21st century Prince songs. It’s inspiring to me that after decades of making hits, writing and recording thousands of songs, and traversing so many highs and lows that Prince still had the creativity and funk in him well into his 40s and 50s. Here are the four inductees in alphabetical order:
“Black Sweat” – 3121 (2006)
I should’ve inducted this song before 2023. “Black Sweat” was a single from Prince’s wildly underrated 2006 album 3121. If he hadn’t alienated so much of his audience and the music industry by 2006, this album would’ve been a hit. Prince is in his full falsetto glory on this track, talking shit over a sparse, funky beat with heavy bass. He seamlessly weaves glimpses into his sense of humor throughout this uptempo club banger with lines like, “You’ll be screaming like a white lady when I count to three.” For what it’s worth, the video is one of the most meme and gif-able of his career. “Black Sweat” is arguably the best song of the last 25 years of Prince’s career and definitely deserves a spot in the Prince Hall of Fame.
“Breakfast Can Wait” – Art Official Age (2014)
Speaking of Prince’s sense of humor, this song is most famous for having Dave Chappelle dressed as Prince on the cover of the single.
While the inclusion of Chappelle is laugh-out-loud funny, the song itself is classic sexy Prince funk. The second that syncopated kick drum and the slap bass hit you know Prince is about to get nasty as hell. The lyrical content is exactly what you’d expect from a Prince song titled “Breakfast Can Wait” but his sense of humor is once again prevalent. I guess you could argue that “Black Sweat” and “Breakfast Can Wait” are similar.
Prince may have suspected that fans might not want to see him at 55-years-old in a video for a song called “Breakfast Can Wait.” It’s also possible he was in poorer health than any of us realized and decided it was best for him to stay off screen. Regardless, Prince brought in 18-year-old Danielle Curiel to direct, choreograph, and star in the video. Danielle is now better known as singer/rapper/choreographer/dancer DaniLeigh. DaniLeigh killed it with this video, giving it a sexy Janet Jackson “If” vibe that works well with the track.
Before I wrap up this one, I’d like to come back to my earlier point that he was 55 years old when this song was released. 55! I wasn’t doing shit half this cool when I was 25, much less 55. Dude had his AARP card and pulled off a track like “Breakfast Can Wait” with ease. Prince is the GOAT.
“Dreamer” – Lotusflow3r (2009)
Here’s the truth about “Dreamer” and I mean this as the best possible compliment to both artists: For years I’ve searched for proof online that this isn’t a Jimi Hendrix cover. This song oozing with “Voodoo Chile” vibes. I can even hear Hendrix’s voice singing these lyrics. This socially conscious anthem would’ve fit right in at Woodstock. It’s Prince reminding everyone that – while he’s the funkiest man the universe has ever seen – he’s also the greatest guitarist and can rock with anyone.
Since I’ve been obsessed with Prince’s three shows at the 2013 Montreux Jazz Festival lately, I’m adding a little treat for my readers. Click the video above to see Prince’s performance of “Dreamer” with 3rdEyeGirl from night three of that festival. While the studio version of “Dreamer” is straight up rock, Prince can’t help but get funky playing this song live with Ida Nielsen playing bass beside him. He also unleashes a vintage Prince guitar solo in the middle of the song. Listen to this song and tell me it doesn’t get you fired up. Definitely worthy of a place in the Hall of Fame.
“Musicology” – Musicology (2004)
2004’s Musicology was Prince’s re-introduction after some time away from the spotlight. He was also Prince again…literally. His name was Prince, and he was still funky. Musicology scored Prince five Grammy nominations and two wins, including Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance for the song “Musicology”. By this time Prince was in his mid-40s and reveled in his role as an elder. “Musicology” is all about paying tribute to the “true funk soldiers” and making real music that gets people dancing. The video features a live performance of the song in which every member of the band and audience is dressed to the nines and people in t-shirts and do-rags are getting stopped at the door. Prince wasn’t making music for the kids anymore and he was embracing it. Yet another Prince classic (I can’t believe this song is almost 20 years old) and easy selection for the Hall of Fame.
Here’s the chart now. Yes, it’s weighted heavily toward the 80s, but it’s a start. The fact that the mid/late-90s aren’t represented isn’t an accident. I’ve seen plenty of Prince heads online who ride hard for his Gold Experience and Emancipation-era music, but it just doesn’t work for me, at least not like his other stuff. A lot more hit-or-miss than the rest of his career, in my opinion. There’s plenty of work still to be done on this Hall of Fame list in coming years. There were two songs specifically that I had to resist adding this year because six seems excessive. Save some for later. We haven’t touched anything from his first two albums or the late-80s. There’s also plenty from his late career remaining. I’m personally a huge fan of the brief but brilliant and highly underrated 3rdEyeGirl era and they’re not represented here yet.
I had an entire paragraph here about how proud I was that I learned how to embed an Apple Music playlist in my blog post. I took the 29 songs and made them an Apple Music playlist that you can enjoy. It looked impressive and I really went overboard patting myself on the back to an embarrassing degree for accomplishing something relatively simple. Then I went live with the post and the embed vanished. I don’t get it. I’m looking at it right now in the editor, but when I open my browser it’s not there. This is bullshit. Anyway, I’m going to leave the widget in the code and hope that it shows up miraculously in this post and my three minutes of research on how to embed the playlist weren’t wasted. If you can’t see it above, here’s a link that looks far less impressive but will get you access to the playlist just the same.
One note on the playlist: All 29 Prince Hall of Fame songs are there, but unfortunately the version of “7” that I prefer isn’t available on Apple Music. You’ll have to settle for the album version, which is also damn good. If you want to hear my preferred version, click here. It’s a more stripped down than the original.
“7” seems like an appropriate way to end this post as it was Prince’s favorite number, and it’s also been seven years since we lost Prince. I can’t tell you how many times in the past seven years I’ve thought, “I wonder what Prince would be doing. I wonder what Prince would think.” I miss the random Prince sightings at award shows or sporting events. His appearances on talk shows where you least expect him like George Lopez or Arsenio Hall. His occasional tweets. I miss the thrill of that one in a million chance that he’d pop up at a concert or a record store I was at while visiting the Twin Cities. I wonder what kind of conspiracies would’ve piqued his interest during Covid or how he would’ve gotten involved in the protests following the murder of George Floyd in his hometown. Mostly I wonder what kind of music he would still be making. More than anything I miss that feeling of a new Prince album. The vault stuff is cool, but it’s not the same without him here. Seven years and I still miss a dude I never even knew. That’s what great music can do. Rest in peace, Prince. We love you and miss you every day. Still.