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Purple Playlist: Prince Beyond the Hits

| Monday, February 27, 2017

Prince_WEBLAUREN HEBIG | The Observer

On the same night he was memorialized at the Grammys, Prince’s music returned to all major streaming platforms. Despite his contentious relationship with the Internet, the Purple One’s music is now available to a new generation of listeners. The notoriously prolific artist’s catalog can be overwhelming, but never fear: Here are six Prince tracks that go beyond the greatest hits.

17 Days (1984)

This funky pop is about heartbreak, yet it’s perfect for the dance floor. The chords sound just like samples from the epic “Purple Rain” while he laments “Let the rain come down.” The rubbery bass slides upward, propelling the song forward even as the narrator mopes immobile. He sits alone, with nothing but two cigarettes “and this broken heart of mine.” It’s a universal feeling, whether heard through earbuds or subwoofers.

She’s Always in My Hair (1985)

As your Hendrix-worshipping uncle with the ponytail told you teary-eyed on Thanksgiving, “Prince could really rock too, man.” The guitar riff is one of the artist’s heaviest, backed up by punishing slap bass. The lyrics are simple: whether he marries her or not, someone will always be there in the narrator’s hair. The psychedelic edge adds uneasiness to steadfast devotion.

Jimi would be proud.

The Ballad of Dorothy Parker (1987)

Prince writes his characters with an innate humanity that a select few can match, yet he rarely tells a story as direct as “Dorothy Parker.” He meets the titular waitress and heads back to her place for a bubble bath. He’s “kind of going with someone,” so he leaves his pants on. Reportedly inspired by a dream, the song has a hazy sound to match. The two don’t end up together, but the narrator finds peace by returning to the tub again, like a body perfectly balanced in warm water.

If I was Your Girlfriend (1987)

Prince’s 1979 breakthrough came when he sang “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” but by 1987 he wanted to know if he could be your friend too. Prince pushes his falsetto a step further, pitch-shifting it up to create an androgynous persona he called Camille behind the scenes. Never content with gender norms, he asks for intimacy, platonic and otherwise. “Could we just hang out?” he asks, “could we go to a movie and cry together?” Prince never blurred gender lines more than this, and it’s transcendent enough to serve as an example for the rest of us.

Sometimes it Snows in April (1986)

The Purple One ended his jazzy, monochromatic “Parade” with this mournful ballad. The spare arrangement is little more than piano and and three vocalists singing about a deceased friend. “All good things,” they sing, “never last.” This song gained extra poignancy last year when Prince himself died April 21. D’angelo’s teary-eyed cover, performed just six days later, remains the best musical tribute to his legacy.

D.M.S.R. (1982)

This eight-minute dance track manages to sum up Prince’s ethos in its four-word chorus: “Dance, music, sex, romance.” The four-on-the-floor beat is updated for the dawning computer age with squelching synth lines and booming drum machine fills. Prince plays a party-starter MC demanding “people everywhere” to “loosen up their hair.” It’s impossible not to obey when he tells listeners to scream if they feel all right, but Prince’s funky shrieking high notes are impossible to match.

 

 

 

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About Jack Riedy

Jack Riedy is from Palatine, Illinois, a town with sixty-seven thousand people and no movie theater.

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