Pop star Prince rose to international fame in the mid-1980s with the release of his album, Purple Rain. His career solidified him as a giant of rock and roll. These top Prince hits are some of the most important parts of his musical legacy.
1. Little Red Corvette
Little Red Corvette was one of Prince’s earliest hits, released in 1983. The song hit number six on the Billboard Top 10, the singer’s first track to achieve top placement. It combines elements of pop and post-disco music to create a highly-danceable, upbeat song. The lyrics also explore the mental, emotional, and spiritual consequences of casual sex.
Prince was, for many people, a controversial figure: he was a light-skinned black man—leading to rumors that he had mixed heritage—and styled a flamboyant, androgynous persona that led to questions about his sexuality. In the early 1980s, the media was in a flurry over his personal life. Controversy was a response to these rumors, with the singer expressing that he wished people weren’t so eager to pry into his personal life.
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3. Erotic City
Erotic City was one of Prince’s most overtly sexual songs, released in 1984. It was noted for its experimental, innovative use of vocal manipulation and instrumentals. He also got away with using the word “f***” by saying that the lyrics were actually “We can funk until the dawn.” Censors let the line slide, and the track was a hit.
4. Take Me With U
Released in 1985 as part of his album Purple Rain, Take Me With U was proof of Prince’s ability to work with music arrangements of all kinds. The song was a duet with Apollonia Kotero, who also appeared in the film, Purple Rain. It also, uniquely, featured an orchestral backing, which wasn’t typical for his music. The result was a stunningly dramatic ballad that was worthy of its film appearance.
Prince had a fascination with Armageddon and the end of the world, which wasn’t a surprise—he was a Jehovah’s Witness. That’s not to mention that as the century drew to a close, conspiracy theories about widespread disaster were popular. But the singer had a unique view of the end of the world, less as a mass death event and more as an opportunity for humankind to come together. The track 1999 is the only one of his songs that explore this idea.
6. I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man
Prince’s career was on fire in the late 1980s, when he released his album Sign O’ The Times. One of the best tracks on the album was I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man, a high-energy, percussion-driven song about looking for a new love after an old relationship has failed. The track’s popularity was only increased by the music video, which featured the pop icon at his performing best.
The 1991 song Cream bears a reputation as Prince’s last single to chart at number one on the Billboard charts. The track was praised for its playful lyrics, attention-catching guitar riffs, and blues-inspired instrumental backing. It has regularly been cited as one of his best songs of the 1990s, being seen as the mature peak of his funk-inspired exploration of that time.
8. The Most Beautiful Girl In The World
In the mid-1990s, Prince restyled his public image, famously changing his name to an unpronounceable symbol that led to him being called “The artist formerly known as Prince.” His 1994 hit The Most Beautiful Girl In The World was one of the earliest singles to be released after the name change, but this didn’t affect its success. It was written in honor of his fiancee at the time, Mayte Garcia.
9. Let’s Work
Prince always strongly considered himself a Minneapolis man and kept a close connection to his hometown. His 1981 hit Let’s Work was inspired by a street dance that was popular at the time in Minneapolis. The singer reworked it into a pop dance hit that incorporated elements of funk and post-disco. It reached number one on the dance club charts in the US.
10. When Doves Cry
When Doves Cry is often cited as the song that made Prince a superstar. While fans can probably debate endlessly about that, it certainly cemented him as a sex symbol and a star performer. The pop track was a massive success, climbing to number one on the Billboard charts. But it is best remembered for its sultry music video, which depicted the singer climbing nude out of a bathtub.
11. I Wanna Be Your Lover
The late 1970s saw Prince find his breakthrough moment with his self-titled album, which was his second release. The song I Wanna Be Your Lover from that album was his first hit single, hitting number 11 on the Billboard charts. At the time of the track’s release, he was only 21 years old. He later admitted that it was inspired by a crush he had at the time; the object of his affection was the musician, Patrice Rushen.
Delirious was yet another one of Prince’s songs that toed the line with the censors, stopping just short of where he would be penalized. The single is about going crazy with lust, though the metaphors were subtle enough to still let the pop star achieve airplay on mid-1980s radio stations. It used inspiration from the rockabilly genre to achieve its unique swinging beat and was noted for its ending, which featured the sound of a baby babbling.
13. I Would Die 4 U
Purple Rain saw Prince experimenting with lyrical imagery from religion and the Christian Gospels. I Would Die 4 U fuses the idea of a romantic declaration with the order of Christ to His followers to lay down their lives. At the time, critics praised the track as one of his most skilled and passionate vocal performances. It was also popular thanks to its upbeat dance tempo, which helped it peak at number eight on the US charts.
14. Sign O’ The Times
The late 1980s saw Prince experimenting with new musical styles taken from funk, psychedelic rock, electronica, and pop music. His 1987 album Sign O’ The Times was a departure from some of his earlier music. The eponymous track was rife with social commentary about contemporary social issues, most notably the AIDS crisis, poverty, addiction, nuclear war, and gang warfare. The single was a huge success and has been named among the most important songs in the history of rock and roll.
15. Raspberry Beret
Prince released the unusually upbeat Raspberry Beret in 1985. Though the singer was usually associated with power ballads, this song is an energetic dance hit with a fast tempo. Holding true to his own reputation as a sex symbol, he composed the track about two teens having an unexpected sexual encounter. But it’s not as immediately obvious as with many of his songs, which might have contributed to its popularity—despite many of his overtly sexual tracks stirring widespread controversy.
16. Alphabet St.
Prince’s 1988 song Alphabet St. was a unique and eclectic exploration of musical genres. Broadly categorized as an acoustic blues track, the song features a rap, performed by sidewoman, Cat Glover. It was the most successful single from his 1988 album Lovesexy, hitting the Top 10 on both sides of the pond.
17. Diamonds And Pearls
While many of Prince’s biggest hits focused on sexual attraction, his 1991 release Diamonds And Pearls was an authentic love song. The track was a success, peaking at number three on the US charts. An upbeat but powerful ballad, it was praised for its poppy catchiness as well as the soulful vocal performances of both Prince and sidewoman, Rosie Gaines, who accompanied him on the song.
18. The Beautiful Ones
The Beautiful Ones was included on Prince’s album Purple Rain, which was written to accompany his film of the same name. In the movie, it served as the major love song, which his character sings to Apollonia in an attempt to have her choose him over another man. He not only composed and sang it but also played all the instrumental backing tracks, including synthesizer and guitar parts.
19. Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?
Prince released Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad? in 1979 as a sequel to his earlier hit I Wanna Be Your Lover. The single was more of a traditional rock song than many of his many early hits; nevertheless, it placed on the R&B charts. The track followed the course of an abusive relationship and became famous for its aggressive, extended guitar solo—which in some versions was accompanied by the word “bitch!”
20. Purple Rain
Purple Rain may be Prince’s most famous song, and it isn’t hard to see why. Composed for the 1984 film of the same name, the track was a depiction of the end of the world. However, in typical Prince fashion, this event was shown as a happy and hopeful one because it depicted people being with their loved ones at the end. The single is considered one of the best in the history of rock and roll. In 2007, he famously performed the song as his last set at the Super Bowl Halftime Show, where the rain began to fall as he sang.
21. When You Were Mine
Prince released When You Were Mine on his album Dirty Minds in 1980. Though the single didn’t chart, it remained a staple of his live performances for the rest of his career. In 1983, the song was famously covered by Cyndi Lauper on her debut album. She turned it into a slower ballad based heavily on synthesizer accompaniment.
22. Let’s Go Crazy
Let’s Go Crazy was released on Purple Rain and became one of Prince’s standards at his future concerts. The song, which was described as a high-tempo synth-pop and funk fusion, was a number-one hit on the Billboard charts. Like many of the pop star’s tracks, this explores Christian imagery with teachings of life, death, and sin. It famously opens with organ music as he gives a eulogy.
23. Darling Nikki
Prince was not afraid of being a controversial figure, and many of his songs were considered shocking for the time. But Darling Nikki might be the most controversial, famously earning a placement on the “Filthy Fifteen” list compiled by the Parents Music Resource Center. The track tells the story of a sex addict named Nikki with whom the singer begins a relationship.
24. U Got The Look
Prince recorded the duet U Got The Look with Scottish singer Sheena Easton for his album Sign O’ The Times. The album was an exploration into new musical styles for him, who performed the song in his affected “Camille” voice. The track was a Top 10 hit for six weeks, helped in part by the music video, which also featured Easton.
Prince had many hits during his career, but one of his best was 1986’s Kiss. The track, which won a Grammy Award For Best R&B Performance By a Duo Or Group With Vocals, has been regularly named one of the greatest songs in the history of rock and roll. It continued to be performed regularly at his live shows and usually involved audience participation.
26. Thieves In The Temple
Prince’s 1990 album Graffiti Bridge was nearly ready for release when the pop star decided to add one last song—Thieves In The Temple. The single was marked for its unusual instrumentalization, which included Middle Eastern-inspired and operatic elements.
Prince’s 1992 single 7 remains one of the most popular of his legacy, but fans still aren’t sure what the title even means. The song is rumored to refer to the use of the number seven in religious texts, such as the seven names of the Divine or the seven deadly sins.
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