More of the best Prince songs you probably haven’t heard

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Music
May 11th, 2004 • 7:08 am

Citizen Keith follows in the footsteps of Slate writer Ben Williams and gives us his own list of “best Prince songs you haven’t heard“, which is very different from Ben Williams’ list.

Of course, there are so many great Prince songs that major differences are unavoidable. Major disagreements (on “Animal Kingdom” in this particular case) are another matter… Rather than criticize someone else’s choices, I’d just like to take this opportunity to come up with my own list, in the hope that it might encourage you to further explore Prince’s fabulous body of work.

  • “Days of Wild” (Crystal Ball, 1997) — This one is a bit hard to explain. It all started with a made-for-TV concert movie entitled The Beautiful Experience that was first broadcast in the States and elsewhere in 1994. Depending on where you lived, you were shown a butchered version with the curse words edited out, or the full version. The original version of “Days of Wild” in this movie had a number of curse words, most notably three occurrences of the F-word in its first couple of lines, and in the Canadian broadcast, the song itself was removed from the movie entirely! I first saw the movie in France, though, where they couldn’t care less about English curse words, and “Days of Wild” was there in its full glory. It was my first exposure to the song, and it’s a moment I will never forget. It’s a live version of the song that was played during the special concert that took place at Paisley Park Studios on Valentine’s Day earlier that year, to celebrate the launch of “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World.” It was Prince (known as the symbol back then) in “warrior mode”, full of breathlessly tight and funky energy. “Days of Wild” is a wonderfully sparse, deliberately arid song, where the musicality is not so much in melody (the lyrics are spoken rap-like but in Prince’s unique style, and the musical theme bears more than a passing resemblance to Duke Ellington’s “Caravan”), but rather in the rhythm, in the flow of words, in the use of a mix of samples, loops and live, pulsating drumming. With funky phrases such as “It’s freezer burn compared 2 cool,” you cannot help but rap along. And the guitar in the middle of the song is out of this world. The studio version of this song was, at some stage, expected to be part of The Gold Experience, but when that album was released in 1995, it wasn’t there. In fact, that studio version, which exists and is circulating among collectors, never saw the light of day. The first official release was on the Crystal Ball 3-CD compilation of outtakes and rarities. It’s another, longer live version, also recorded during a live performance in Minneapolis. Yet another live version recorded in Montreal was released as a single through the NPG Music Club in 2002. All these versions are worth having. But the original live version from The Beautiful Experience remains the most compelling of the lot.
  • “New World” (Emancipation, 1996) — Another ultra-funky track from a 3-CD opus. Sung in an urgent falsetto, it showcases Prince’s wizardry in the studio (drum loops, mutilayered vocal tracks, etc.) in a manner that is both playful and complex. The lyrics are great (“Did u hear about the new pill / Feels like sex / Guaranteed 2 thrill with no ill / Side effects”) and the song keeps a tight grip on the listener all the way to the end. Terrific track.
  • “Pink Cashmere” (The Hits/The B-Sides, 1993) — One of a handful of previously unreleased tracks included in this 3-CD compilation of hits and rarities. Another solo effort, except for the string arrangements provided by the one and only Clare Fischer. An amazing composition, with many terrific lines and wonderful instrumentation. A typical example of how Prince always demands the best from his listeners just like he demands the best from himself as a musician. It probably sounds too complex, too convoluted on the first listen. But listen to it a few times, and you’ll become hooked.
  • “La La La, He, He, Hee” (B-side of “Sign O’ The Times” maxi-single, 1987) — If you only have the short, edited version included on The Hits/The B-Sides, you are missing something. The full version is over 10 minutes, and has some amazing, orgasmic guitar work. The lyrics are silly, but deliciously so. It is a song that needs to be heard in its entirety to really appreciate it.
  • “Shockadelica” (B-side of “If I Was Your Girlfriend” maxi-single, 1987) — Another hidden gem that’s only available in edited form on the compilation. Here again, the song can only be appreciated in its full form. It’s one of the several very funky songs of the period on which Prince used his sped-up “Camille” voice, to great effect. It’s an apparently austere song that keeps you on a tight leash but ultimately rewards you with the introduction of a terrific synthetic bass line and incredibly bouncy, ultra-percussive sounds that leave you begging for more, and more…
  • “Feel U Up” (B-side of “Partyman” maxi-single, 1989) — I am afraid I am starting to repeat myself here, but once again, the edited version on The Hits/The B-Sides doesn’t do full justice to the song, another “Camille” track whose extended version features the excellent saxophone of Candy Dulfer over a sort of dreamy instrumental background. As you might suspect from the title, it’s a bit of a naughty song—but it’s oh so sexy :-). There are all kinds of weird electronic sounds used as percussive accents, and it all makes for a very funky experience indeed.
  • “Northside” (NPG Music Club track, 2001) — This is an “old school joint” in the vein of “The Work, Pt. 1” (The Rainbow Children, 2001) or “Musicology” (Musicology, 2004). But it’s a particularly powerful one. It features great background vocals by Kip Blackshire, but also terrific vocals by Prince himself. And the rhythm section and horns are just to die for. If you are talking about real music with real instruments, this is it. When the funk is this tight, it needs to be played loud.
  • “Sex Me, Sex Me Not” (NPG Music Club track, 2001) — There are two versions of this song, one that was originally released as a download through the NPG Music Club in 2001, and the other one that is now part of the Chocolate Invasion album that can now be bought from the Musicology store. They are both terrific. More minimalist electronic funk, yes, but when it’s that good, you cannot get enough of it.
  • “Silicon” (NPG Music Club track, 2001) — This one is particularly impressive not just for the music, but also for the amazing lyrics. Again, it might sound austere, excessively mechanical and overly complex at first, but it grows on you, and Prince can always be trusted to make complexity danceable, as the vocals invite you to do in the latter stages of the song. As for the lyrics, well, let’s just say that they require your full attention :).

As you can imagine, I could probably go on and on… It’s probably obvious from the descriptions that this list is heavy on the funk. But that’s because I find that this is one of the aspects of his work that are consistently underrated and undervalued. Somehow it still seems, in this day and age, that funky music cannot be considered serious or “deep.” Well, I am sorry, but this stuff is deep. Mightily funky, and deep.

Some of these songs are fairly easy to find. Others might pose more of a challenge as they can only be found in the second hand market as B-sides of old vinyl maxi-singles. But they are well worth the effort!

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