Retrospective: The Music of Prince (1980-1989)

By @TrueGodImmortal and @SpeedontheBeat 

Introduction By @TrueGodImmortal
-Prince in the 80's.... there's so much to say about this legendary time in his career and what he accomplished. From the start, Prince arrived on the scene with his unique style, his femininity through masculinity, along with his immense amount of talent, and captivated the world. He was something special from the moment he signed his record deal at the age of 18. He went on to release two albums in 1978 and 1979 respectively, kicking off a huge near 40 year career with almost as many album releases. His sexually charged lyrics combined with his glowing youth created an image for himself that would live in infamy forever. The output of Prince in the decade would see reinvention, precise imagery, the oozing of sensuality and sexuality, as well as the most important thing: his musicianship.

Gifted with the ability to play any instrument that would be placed in front of him, Prince dominated a decade that would see superstardom come for Rick James, Michael Jackson, and many others. In reality, that was the holy trinity of the 80's, and they were all in competition with each other. Prince and Rick never seemed to get along, while Michael and Prince seemed to have a true respect for one another, but the competitive fire between the two prevented us from hearing a classic collaboration. Egos and the plight of a genius tend to get in the way of these things, but through it all, Prince remained at the forefront as the most consistent artist of the 80's and it's not even close. It's very rare that an artist can put out a few albums in a decade and maintain cohesion and quality, but to basically release an album every year in the decade and still maintain quality, while dropping three classics and two other possible in a 10 year span was unprecedented. Today, outside of his rock star image, the androgyny, the clothing, the countless beautiful women, and just the entire aura of Prince the enigma, we take a moment to look at his music from the 80's, his greatest and most daring decade as an artist.

*Dirty Mind (1980)
By @TrueGodImmortal

-Prince would kick off the 80's in a major way, making sure his sexualized image seemingly became stronger and stronger on this project. What shines through here however, besides the topical content, is the instrumentation. The instrumentation is mostly upbeat, funky, and very raw, as the songs were recorded primarily in Prince's home studio, with several of the songs being finished in one night, giving it a different feel than his two previous projects. His first two projects saw Prince in his most romantic state so to speak, while this album seemingly painted a portrait of salacious sex, sultry rebellion, and the highest form of vulgar eroticism. The funk wasn't your normal disco-esque funk, it was more aggressive, more soulful even, and with this, Prince would begin his descent into a new world as an artist.

The singles for this album were the no. 1 charting "Uptown", the title track, and one of his most racy yet iconic songs in "Head". While each single managed to chart and carry on a life of its own, what makes this album so special is the cohesion through the 8 tracks. My personal favorite song remains "Do It All Night", which features heavy bass guitar and rhythm guitar riffs that seemingly carry the whole production. Other songs that truly helped make this album a possible classic are "When You Were Mine" and the lively "Partyup". The one song that remains controversial to me is the incest hinting "Sister", which was yet again Prince at his most risqué and clever, or in the eyes of a number of fans, it was his most strange. Regardless of whether he attempted to push the envelope too far or not, Prince stands in all his audacious glory on Dirty Mind and doesn't care if he shocks you. That was the goal from the start and it works perfectly on an album that truly might stand as his most underrated overall.

*Controversy (1981)
By @TrueGodImmortal

-Music marks time. I've always believed that. Sometimes you have music that fits so well for the time that in order to appreciate it in current times, you need to place yourself in the shoes of the artist and the people at the time. This is, in a way, one of those albums. The title let you know that this would be slightly different than what we received before, and while the sexually charged lyrics were still prevalent and the pushing of the envelope is of course in tact, but the subject matter tackles more than you would necessarily expect. The title track is an interesting opener to this album, as at the time, Prince was the topic of a lot of discussion. He uses the title track to respond to the murmurs about him and the questions surrounding his religion, sexuality, his image, and more. With funky instrumentation carrying his words, Prince pissed people off with his recital of the Lord's Prayer during the song, and was accused of blasphemy, like the intended reaction and response he was hoping for at the time. What makes it even better is that Prince had the media right in the palm of his hands and thrived off playing them like a fiddle. Thus, his seemingly scathing response to the chatter about him personally, really plays like a funky strategic move to stir up some, well, some controversy.

He takes a moment to address the situation with Russia and the current president at that time Ronald Reagan, on "Ronnie, Talk to Russia". I'm not the biggest fan of this song personally, but the content and message behind it is strong and totally understandable. The same can be said for the ironically titled "Sexuality", which uses the platform to speak candidly about prejudice, how the world is centered for that time, and also takes a shot or two at the sensationalism of television and oddly enough, tourism. Prince would utilize his ability to address serious matters over the funkiest of rhythms, and the songs were so catchy that the message just might have gotten lost. Never to waver from his bread and butter, Prince crafted some tales on the album that would capture our attention, one of which would be "Private Joy", an ode to a secret lover of sorts. In what might have been the most pop song on the album, Prince personifies many emotions here, as he professes his love for the secret woman, and won't reveal her identity, but doesn't want her to belong to anyone else. It is a truly interesting song, one that's oddly enough been covered by artists like Cheyene and Latoya Jackson. However, that's not the true shining star of this album.

The shining star of this album is also the longest song on the entire album, and that's the 8 minute epic "Do Me Baby". The sultry rhythms and the smooth yet slightly aggressive drums lead into an erotic yet poetic vibe from Prince, as he seemingly sings to his lover that the tension has grown to be too much to handle and they need to take care of it. The lyrics are perfect, but the instrumentation is what truly carries it for me, as it seems to fit perfectly behind the words, yet doesn't overshadow it. The explicit nature of this song drives home the fact that regardless of what political or social messages Prince may throw into his music, the basis of it remains to be sexually driven. Controversy as an album is not a classic so to speak, but it is his most risky album up until that point, due to the nature of the expanding content and topics. Another win for Prince.

*1999 (1982)
By @TrueGodImmortal

-I have a list of my favorite Prince albums. No shock, most of them are all from the 80's. While I could you the full order of how I rank his best albums, I'll just instead tell you this much: this album is in my top 3 or 4 Prince releases and with good reason. This would be his initial breakthrough album, garnering him more attention and adulation than he had previously received. Sure, Prince was a solid and well known pop star at the time, but this was the album that would catapult him to even higher heights. What may have been a big factor in Prince gaining more notoriety on this album was his willingness to craft catchy genre-bending songs. While his passion for drum programming and synthesizers were taking on a life of their own, the sound he was honing grew into something even more special than before. With an album split into four sides, Prince would set out to take his artistic creativity to an entirely different level and it worked to perfection on this album for sure.

Starting off with the title track, the song is rooted in an apocalyptic mindset, as the resounding hook of "tonight we're gonna party like it's 1999", sees a look into the belief that when a new millennium hit, perhaps the world would come to an end, or to a screeching halt. You could further the apocalyptic climate of the song with the lyrics "two thousand zero zero, party's over, oops out of time" also, which is another testament to the genius of Prince. He took a song about the world ending and made it into a funky pop jam that encourages partying like it's your last night to do so. It worked very well here and the song was a perfect way to kick off a classic album. While the title track seemingly made the album big, it would be the second single released that carried it over the threshold so to speak. "Little Red Corvette" would be the catalyst for the huge success of this album and rightfully so.

With a bit of funk rock sensibility from Prince, along with the infectious hook, he crafted something timeless with the song. The metaphor is strong here, as he compares a fast woman who he enjoys a one night experience with to the speedy vehicle, telling her to slow down and hopefully find a love that's going to last. It would be the biggest hit he had on the album, and the moment that I found out Prince passed away, as expected, this was one of my go to songs. Regardless of what he's actually speaking on in the song, the instrumentation and vocals of Prince make it such a feel good track, which was the appeal of it to audiences worldwide.

Aside from the two mega singles, Prince would craft a peculiar socially aware and slightly political gem in "Free", while the sounds of "D.M.S.R" remain one of his greatest to this very day. Testing the limits of electro-funk, this album etched a place as one of the best in his extensive discography, earning him multi platinum success and setting him to be the biggest superstar of the decade besides a certain King of Pop. Though his first 4 albums were all solid, with some immense success to boot,  1999 was the beginning of the superstar.

*Purple Rain (1984)
By @SpeedOnTheBeat

-And here we are. The album I feel is Prince's greatest project. And I know it's a slightly clichéd choice, but I don't care. Purple Rain. Hilariously enough, it's a soundtrack album (you'll see why that's funny).

From start to finish, this album captures both the essence of the movie and the essence of one of Prince's greatest eras: the Purple Era throughout a lot of the 1980s. A combination of the funk era we got from his first few CDs (minus the actual funk, replaced with more of a rocker style, but still includes soulful elements) mixed in with raw sexuality and Prince and The Revolution just hitting all the right notes. To keep it in layman's terms, that's what the Purple Era is (to me, at least; I'm not the definitive when it comes to Prince). What makes this one my all-time favorite is simple. The album was straight to the point, and it wasn't overproduced or over-the-top.

Nine tracks of pure, unadulterated epic beauty. Prince's solos on Purple were beautiful, and no, I'm not just talking about the title track. Experimentation with synths. R&B rock! The sequencing, giving us one-two hits like "I Would Die 4 U" and "Baby I'm a Star" along with the duo of the underrated "Computer Blue" and "Darling Nikki" back-to-back.

Seriously, man! "Computer Blue" is one of those tracks you need to experience, if only for the fact it takes, like, five turns in just under four minutes. I know that "Purple Rain," "When Doves Cry," and other tracks are the pinnacles of this album, but start putting some respek on "Computer Blue" (that's still a funny thing to say, right?). I REALLY wish that the full version of the track made it onto the album, but...I mean, it was the 80's. Technological limitations wouldn't have made it possible, even without "Take Me With You" appearing on the album.

EVERY track on Purple Rain is classic. Yes, even "Take Me With You." When people say "oh, this is Prince's Thriller," they're not lying (even though--shhhh--Purple Rain is better). The album is legendary and, if you've never heard it (or seen the movie), go do so. Everyone owes it to themselves to hear Purple Rain once before they die (hopefully more, but at least once).

*Around The World In A Day(1985)
By @TrueGodImmortal

-First off, let me just explain this: I love this album and it has some legendary Prince songs on it. One song that should have been included on the actual album is one of my all time favorite Prince songs in "Erotic City". Released officially in the period between Purple Rain and Parade, this particular song is always included on my personal album tracklist for this one. It's a song that has been re-released multiple times, but I've always included it in this album personally. Sure, is it on the actual tracklist and the vinyl? No. However, in the digital age, I have it almost as a B-side (something Prince would love) to accompany Side A of this album, right after "Raspberry Beret". While "Erotic City" encompassed everything I love about Prince's music, the actual album Around The World In A Day showcased what makes Prince such a genius, delving into what felt like a personal journey for self reflection and growth after superstardom struck via 1999 and Purple Rain.

The album would feature some of his most creatively daring songs, but also some of his most infectious tracks, with the aforementioned "Raspberry Beret" being one of them. The commercial yet grand sound of Purple Rain seemed to slightly disappear, giving way to a much more funky and psychedelic sound. There's some George Clinton inspiration shining through exponentially on this album, and you can hear the influence on a song like "Pop Life", which is one of the bigger singles from this album. Though Prince attempted to take a backseat from the limelight with the release of this album, he couldn't manage to escape the charts, as "Pop Life" would be a top 10 hit, as would "Raspberry Beret", pushing this album to double platinum, along with over 6 million copies sold worldwide. The message there was that even if the music wasn't forced onto radio or heavily promoted, it could still break through based on the power of the artist, but most of all, the quality of the music.

The evolution displayed in this album along with the psychedelic vibe and the cover drew comparisons to the Beatles' classic album "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band", but Prince insisted that there was no influence from the Beatles on it. One would be forgiven if you felt that there was some influence, because it definitely shines through on songs like "Paisley Park" and "Tamborine". Where Prince excels yet again is on his finger pointing but still aggressive single "America", as he takes on the United States for their reckless political behavior and criticizes the concept of nuclear war and communism. This song was special, and although the album version only went about 3 minutes and 40 seconds long, the single version would be a 21 minute epic full of instrumental solos and an all around jam session until the tape ran out. It's the moments such as these that make Prince the artist he was.

Closing out the album with "The Ladder" and "Temptation", Prince definitely left a mark with this project and I honestly have to consider it one of his most underrated albums. The critics at the time didn't understand the vision of this one, but I bet they do now.

*Parade (1986)
By @SpeedOnTheBeat

-Now, Parade. This one dropped after Around the World in a Day and is the last album (not counting the unreleased Dream Factory) to feature The Revolution. It also doubles as the soundtrack album to Under the Cherry Moon, Prince's 1986 directorial debut. Now, while that film was...unique, to say the least, the album itself doesn't disappoint. It's a funky-ass album, but not really "funky" in the sense of his earlier projects. The funk here's a lot more European psychedelia, if that makes sense. He's capturing the setting of the film, France, in a way that only he can.

Another shift on this is that, well, it's pretty safe to say that the Purple Era died with this album. There's a darker air over this whole project, not just on the album art, either. Even when "Playful Prince" or "Sexy Prince" comes out, it's in a way that carries a lot more weight than before. It's probably because of the spiritual and religious overtones present throughout. It's one of Prince's best albums (not one of my top three, though) because it's so friggin' experimental...and all the experiments work.

*Sign O' The Times (1987)
By @TrueGodImmortal

-After the Revolution disbanded, Prince would go on to release what I feel is his greatest album and the height of his creative peak. He was toying with the idea of two different releases at the time, one being the Revolution assisted Dream Factory album, which would have saw a bigger emphasis on the Revolution being involved. However, after the group disbanded, this project seemed to be shelved and put on hold. With that, Prince created a feminine alter ego named "Camille", and he set out to record an album with sped up vocals in the manner of a woman to drive the alter ego home. Yet, he still wanted to release his songs from Dream Factory as well, so Prince was faced with a challenge and a decision to utilize all these songs, as well as some new material in a monumental triple album idea titled Crystal Ball. Warner Bros seemed to not trust the triple album idea and Prince begrudgingly agreed to trim it down to a double album. Regardless, what we got from these different sessions and processes is the greatest Prince album ever, in my humble opinion.

There are three different versions of Prince on one album. There's the Prince who was still in Revolution working mode from the Dream Factory sessions, there was the sped up vocal, more enriched in femininity Prince, that created the alter ego and tapped into the sensibility of the fictitious Camille, and then there was the Prince we all seemed to know and love, with his thriving need for funk, soul, psychedelia, and rock. From time to time on this album, those three would intersect and combine, making this album a beautiful mess in some ways, yet his most cohesive project in another way. It would showcase Prince at his most daring and artistic, as the combination of three ideas seemed to provide the true balance of his genius. At this point in his career, Prince had done so much, and the need to challenge himself spawned this classic piece of work. From the title track, we hear the confidence and smoothness oozing out of his vocals, welcoming us to an experience the likes of which we may never hear again.

It is on the songs recorded in the "Camille" era that we see just how far his creativity stretches, as evidence on the Sheena Easton assisted "U Got The Look" and of course, one of the biggest hits from the album in "If I Was Your Girlfriend". Though many would say "If I Was Your Girlfriend" was a prime example of the controversial androgyny that Prince displayed, it was more so just a testament to his genius and how, as Camille, he wanted to personify a character and alter ego to the core. The song itself is extremely funky, with layers of electro soul behind it as well, giving it a luxurious sound. The other songs from the Camille period, such as "Strange Relationship" and "Housequake" are also great listens, with "Strange Relationship" being one of my favorites on the entire album. This Camille phase would later return in other albums, but it worked amazingly here, setting the tone for an album that seems to be all about duality, a key to the Gemini genius without a doubt.

The songs that came from the Dream Factory sessions are in their own right classic as well, as "The Ballad of Dorothy Parker", "I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man", and "Starfish and Coffee" are all songs carried over from the album. However, the song that carried over that is truly one of my favorites here would have to be the grand sound of "Slow Love", which is the perfect mix of jazz, blues, funk, and soul. "Slow Love", which was initially NOT on the first two track configurations of Dream Factory, crept in at the end of the recording, and apparently was strong enough for Prince to include it and rightfully so. The song is a beautiful ode to making love, and playful yet intricate lyrics such as "The man in the moon is smiling, for he knows what I'm dreaming of.... tonight is the night for making, slow love", really set tone for this track. Though we never got the official Dream Factory or Camille releases, we are certainly blessed as fans to hear what these sessions spawned via some of the songs included on this album, but Prince doesn't stop there with this project.

The apex of this classic album is in the final two tracks, one of which is probably Prince's greatest song EVER, while the other is one of his more underrated tracks of all time. First, let's start with the underrated track, the 9 minute epic "It's Gonna Be A Beautiful Night". Full of funk, booming drums, and soaring guitars, backed by the falsetto hook, this song is undeniable. Prince masterfully weaves through the track, coming with a more free flowing sound in his vocals and coasting over the funky production. The song truly inspires a good mood, as well as some possible dance moves and it is a perfect lead in to the final song on the album and what I consider the best song of Prince's career.

The sweet sound of a resounding "Oooooooh" begins the journey of the greatest moment in the musical history of Prince. This sweet sound then carries us into a bevy of glorious horn arrangements accompanied by soft yet booming drums. As the sound of "Oooooooh" closes, the adlib of "baby" then follows and captures the listener's attention as it leads us to the chorus, which is simply poetic:

"Until the end of the 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/"

By now, you certainly know I'm speaking about "Adore", the near 7 minute beautiful piece of art that closes out this album. There is something magical about "Adore", and if there was ever something that fit in the category of musical perfection, then this is it. Every word possesses meaning, the cadence is flawless, the vocals are beautifully sung, the production is on another level, and when you combine all these elements, you get the biggest victory, not only on Sign O' The Times, but in the entire history of Prince Rogers Nelson. While some would crown Purple Rain as his greatest, and they have a case for it, to me, there is absolutely nothing in his discography that beats Sign O' The Times. Creatively, vocally, and just all around musically, this is Prince's finest hour.

*LoveSexy (1988)
By @TrueGodImmortal

-This was initially supposed to be the highly anticipated Black Album that he was due to release. The Black Album was going to release in December 1987, but oddly enough, it was pulled from release and Prince went back to the drawing board so to speak to craft this. Recorded over seven weeks, this album was met with a mixed reception by critics and fans alike, but it is rooted in what we love Prince for: his creativity and genius. He recorded this album and sequenced it to be just one long track in a continuous sequence, though now, it is separated into an album of 9 individual songs. The album itself is a struggle so to speak, with the battle of good and evil being a common theme throughout. Prince went on record to say he considers this a gospel album and with themes of spirituality, self love, awareness, and positivity through faith, that claim could be supported.

The opening track "Eye No", is extremely profound, as Prince speaks directly to the people and tells them to free themselves from vices and problems they faced, while also rejecting the vibe of Satan. I used to always wonder if this was a genuine attempt at Prince proclaiming his faith in God or if this was somehow a mockery of the religious and strong willed believers in the higher powers. I think it was more so genuine now, knowing what I know about Prince, but when considering his career over the years, I was understandably skeptical, but the music does carry a hint of a man on a spiritual journey. This leads us into the feel good song "Alphabet St.", which isn't necessarily my favorite, but it's infectious and shows Prince at his most playful yet confident. The continuation of Side A and the message on this album shines through in his uplifting of women on "Glam Slam" and on the interestingly titled "Anna Stesia", he repents for his previous sins and puts his faith in God.

Side B is not so much a plight for redemption, but more so just him uplifting and loving. This is evident on the title track, "When 2 R In Love", and on "I Wish U Heaven". Though he features some sex charged ballads here, it feels like there's a change taking place within Prince the artist and person, and this album seemingly would be the embodiment of that. Though it isn't his best or close it, and commercially it underperformed, LoveSexy is a personal exodus for Prince and for that, this album remains a special, albeit overlooked part of the Prince journey in the 80's.

*Batman (1989)
By @SpeedOnTheBeat

-The Batman album is my second favorite Prince album of all-time, after Purple Rain. I know, I may be speaking blasphemy since it's one of the albums people tend to overlook and/or completely ignore when talking Prince because of the controversy surrounding it. But, it's a concept album that doubles as a soundtrack album for Batman 1989. What I love about this album is that it is a combination of Darker-than-Dark and playful Prince.

Prince, through songs and actual audio clips from the film, plays both Batman and the Joker. On top of that, the man went Heath Ledger in his appearance. He straightened his hair, wore Batman boots, and dropped songs like "Batdance." Look at the video for that song. It's incredibly dark while the song itself is kind of campy. Perfect mix. I feel the album is underrated because of the campiness behind it being a soundtrack album to Batman 1989. But put that aside, forget about the contractual controverseies, and actually check it out. You're going to get Prince doing some of his best work. Not to mention, who could resist the smooth sound of "Scandalous"???

Outro By @TrueGodImmortal
-There you have it. Albums that truly set the tone of this decade, created the legend of Prince and shaped a genre in many ways. The extreme genius within Prince's music throughout this decade remains one of the greatest runs we've ever seen in music, and it could truly be the greatest run ever. He transformed throughout the decade, going from controversial and shock value songs to smooth and sensual ballads to funky dance tracks and it all seemed to flow together naturally. That's the beauty of what Prince did as an artist, and the reason why his run in the 80's will always be legendary. RIP.



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