By Brian Ives
Tuesday (June 7) would have been Prince’s 58th birthday. Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen numerous tributes to the man, and those that have crossed generations and genres. Many of these dedications focused on songs from the ’80s, the era where he was a dominant force in pop culture.
But Prince never stopped making music, and he never stopped making interesting music, even if the he wasn’t topping the pop charts. Although he released music at such a fast pace, it was often difficult to stay up to date with his latest works. So it’s understandable that you may have missed some of his should-have-been-classic songs over the years.
Here, then, is a list of 16 great Prince songs from the ’90s and beyond.
“Diamonds and Pearls” (from 1991’s Diamonds and Pearls)
Diamonds and Pearls rightfully got a lot of mileage out of it’s funk jams like “Gett Off” and “Cream,” but the ballads were even better. This one was a collaboration with Rosie Gaines, one of his most vocally gifted protégés.
“Money Don’t Matter 2 Night” (from 1991’s Diamonds and Pearls)
Prince at his most political; he takes a empathetic look at the effect of poverty on poor families. The Spike Lee-directed video brought the point home.
“7” (from 1992’s “Love Symbol” album)
The 1992 album that used an unpronounceable symbol as it’s title was an extension of the musical diversity and pop hooks of Diamonds and Pearls; “My Name is Prince” and “Sexy MF” were classic funk jams, but the acoustic guitar and sitar driven “7”is the album’s standout.
“I Love U, But I Don’t Trust U Anymore” (from 1999’s Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic)
A sad piano ballad (featuring acoustic guitar picking by singer/songwriter Ani DiFranco), that many fans thought was about his ex-wife, Mayte Garcia. The title itself is heartbreaking; the song itself is devastating. Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic seemed to be about reintroducing Prince to the pop mainstream (Gwen Stefani, Eve and Sheryl Crow all guested on the album as well), and the album was a bit hit-or-miss, but this song holds up to Prince’s greatest ballads.
“Musicology” (from 2004’s Musicology)
After a few years of eccentric records (including 2003’s NEWS, a collection of four instrumentals that were each 15 minutes long), Musicology aimed to relaunch Prince as a pop superstar. Even if it didn’t dominate the charts as his ’80s classics did, it was his most successful album since 1991’s Diamonds and Pearls. The title track was a James Brown-influenced bit of funk, on which he name dropped many of his influences, including Earth Wind and Fire, Sly and the Family Stone, Public Enemy, Run-D.M.C. and Brown himself. Musicology is a strong album start to finish, but the title track is a standout.
“3121” (from 2006’s 3121)
Prince released a few other records since Musicology, but 3121 was the true follow-up; like Musicology, it was filled with songs that should have been hits, and probably would have been in an earlier era. “3121” boasted with fat synth lines and screaming guitar leads, and wouldn’t have felt out of place on Sign ‘O’ Times. 3131 was Prince’s first album to debut at #1, and his first #1 since the Batman soundtrack.
“Black Sweat” (from 2006’s 3121)
A throwback to his ’80s classics; the track is made entirely of synthesizers, a drum machine and Prince’s (mostly falsetto) vocals. Even though it’s on 3121 it could have been on 1999.
“Guitar” (from 2007’s Planet Earth)
Another face-melting six-string showcase from Prince, in which he reminds you, “I love you baby, but not like I love my guitar.” And that shows in his playing.
“Chelsea Rodgers” (from 2007’s Planet Earth)
An upbeat disco jam, it wouldn’t be out of place on a “Hits of the ’70s” compilation. On this song, he gives center stage to one of his many protégés, Shelby J, who handles most of the lead vocals.
“F.U.N.K.” (a download-only single from 2007)
Prince was in great form in the mid-2000s; besides 3121 and Planet Earth, he also had this one-off single that was a sadly under appreciated funk-rock masterpiece. It was something of a response Prince had to a beef he was having with his fans, who were upset about Prince trying to force fan sites to cease and desist all use of his photographs, images, lyrics, album covers and anything linked to the Purple One’s likeness. “We don’t care what people may say,” he sang. “We ain’t gon’ let it ruin our day/The best remedy for a big, fat punk is funk!” It may be hard to find this song online, but it’ll be worth the effort when you do.
“Chocolate Box” (from 2009’s MPLSound, which came bundled with a separate Prince album, LOtUSFLOW3R)
This song, which featured a cameo from Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest, was very synth/EDM based and was probably a few years ahead of its time.
“Purple House” (from the 2010 Jimi Hendrix tribute, Power of Soul)
Who but Prince would have the gall to change the title of a Jimi Hendrix song to fit his own style (and why didn’t he just record “Purple Haze” instead)? But that’s what Prince did here, changing Jimi’s “Red House” to his preferred color. Visuals aside, Prince has always had a huge Hendrix influence, and here he pays loving tribute but gives the song more of an R&B feel.
“FixUrLifeUp” (from 2014’s Plectrumelectrum)
Another one with 3rdEyeGirl, he weighs in with his opinion on modern-day rock bands when he sings, “Girl with a guitar is 12 times better than another crazy band of boys/Tryin’ to be a star when you’re just another brick in the misogynistic wall of noise.”
“Breakfast Can Wait” (from 2014’s Art Official Age)
Art Official Age was released the same day as Plectrumelectrum, but where the latter was a full-on rock album, AOA focused on R&B, including on this song. The artwork accompanying the single featured Dave Chappelle in Prince drag, serving pancakes, taken from a 2004 skit from Chappelle’s Show. Who said the Purple One didn’t have a sense of humor?
“This Could B Us” (from 2015’s Hit N Run Phase One)
A classic slow jam, which pointed out that Prince never lost his swagger. Sample lyrics: “What I got make you weak in in the knees/Take your energy (oh baby)/Make you sleep all week/Sex with me ain’t enough/That’s why we gotta do it metaphysically.”
“Baltimore” (from 2015’s Hit N Run Phase Two)
The highlight of the final album that Prince released during his lifetime saw the man getting political, singing about the death of Freddie Gray. A mid-tempo pop song, Prince chants “If there ain’t no justice then there ain’t no peace” midway through the song, and calls for gun control in the lyrics.