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Best Prince Albums: The Studio Discography, Ranked And Reviewed
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Best Prince Albums: The Studio Discography, Ranked And Reviewed

A mere portion of his body of work, the best Prince albums present a multi-faceted discography in all its world-changing glory.

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One of the most prolific musicians ever to have lived, Prince not only released 39 studio albums in his lifetime, he wrote, recorded and produced entire records for side-project acts that made up his purple stable, and also gave away standalone hits for many more. His true discography, then, runs well beyond this countdown of the best Prince albums, while the material that he didn’t release – placed in The Vault, and currently being excavated through a series of reissues – amounts to a parallel discography that likely outstrips the music we know about. In sheer volume alone, picking the best Prince albums is a daunting task, but here they are – every studio album credited to Prince, ranked and reviewed.

Listen to the best of Prince here, and check out our best Prince albums, below.

39: ‘20Ten’ (2010)

Given away free with newspapers in the UK and Europe, 20Ten didn’t quite live up to the era-defining title bestowed upon it, though Future Soul Song proved that Prince could still write quiet-storm ballads of some vintage. Tucked away as a hidden 77th track, Laydown provided the album’s high point, the self-proclaimed “Purple Yoda” rapping over skeletal funk that came closest to capturing him at his timeless best.

Must hear: Laydown

38: ‘HITnRUN Phase One’ (2015)

Sitting somewhere between a remix project and a collection of songs Prince had eked out online in recent months, HITnRUN Phase One drew upon elements from the previous year’s Art Official Age while also featuring re-recordings of Vault material from the early 90s (1000 X’s & O’s) and his unlikely duet with Zooey Deschanel on New Girl. Sonically of a kind with is predecessor, HITnRUN Phase One was swiftly followed by a more organic-sounding sequel, HITnRUN Phase Two.

Must hear: 1000 X’s & O’s

37: ‘Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic’ (1999)

To all intents and purposes, Prince had already soundtracked the end of the millennium in 1982, with 1999. When the year itself rolled around, he invited guests such as Chuck D, Gwen Stefani and Sheryl Crow to contribute to a record that sought to emulate the success of his hero Santana’s recent comeback, Supernatural. Still identifying as the “Love Symbol”, he kept one final special guest in reserve, calling upon “Prince” – “a really good editor, a good decision maker” – for production duties. “The experiment, in hindsight, was: ‘We’ll try the proper classic Prince thing, but just to see: ‘How can I ride this wave?’” Prince’s then engineer, Hans-Martin Buff, told this writer for the book Lives Of The Musicians: Prince. Drawing a line under a fractious decade, Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic was later remixed and released with a slightly different tracklist under the name Rave In2 The Joy Fantastic, before Prince disappeared from mainstream view for almost half a decade.

Must hear: Eye Love U, But Eye Don’t Trust U Anymore

36: ‘The Slaughterhouse’ (2004)

Much of the introspective music Prince released during the early part of the 21st century had little interest in competing for chart positions, but shelved projects given titles such as High skirted around the edges of contemporary pop and R&B. That album’s songs would eventually be split across two digital collections in 2004, The Chocolate Invasion and The Slaughterhouse. Subtitled Trax From The NPG Music Club Volume 2, the latter included a party jam that asserted Northside Minneapolis’ place in the world at a time when hits were spilling out of Virginia, the home state of Timbaland and Pharrell Williams; the production on album opener Silicon sought to reclaim ground from those producers, whose era-defining work had taken so much from the best Prince albums of the 80s.

Must hear: Silicon

35: ‘Planet Earth’ (2007)

Like 3121 before it, Planet Earth was something of an around-the Prince-world-in-45-minutes experience that piled party cuts (Chelsea Rodgers) on top of delicate balladry (Somewhere Here On Earth) and self-aggrandising rockers delivered with a playful smirk (Guitar). Surprise appearances from The Revolution’s Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman (on Then One U Wanna C and Resolution) gave fans palpitations over the thought of a full band reunion, while, in the UK, label executives that had agreed to give Planet Earth a conventional release truly lost the plot when Prince decided to give it away for free with copies of weekend newspaper The Mail On Sunday.

Must hear: Guitar

34: ‘The Chocolate Invasion’ (2004)

Originally released to subscribers of Prince’s NPG Music Club, the first iteration of The Chocolate Invasion included The Dance, later re-recorded for 3121 (the song was dropped to make way for My Medallion on the 2015 Tidal edition). A highlight of the collection, When Eye Lay My Hands On U also became a dramatic opener to Prince’s two Montreux Jazz Festival performances in 2009.

Must hear: When Eye Lay My Hands On U

33: ‘Musicology’ (2004)

After moving away from the mainstream for a series of releases in the early 2000s, Prince’s 28th studio album, Musicology, was greeted as a comeback, despite protestations from the man himself (“I never went anywhere!”). Exploiting a loophole in the way Nielsen SoundScan counted sales, Prince gave copies of the album away with tickets for his Musicology Live 2004ever tour, ensuring its No.3 placement on the Billboard 200. In truth, his mature pop-funk needed no such trickery to cut through – the album did just as well in the UK, where it relied on good old-fashioned store sales as much as it did digital purchases from Prince’s newly launched Musicology Download Store.

Must hear: Musicology

32: ‘LOtUSFLOW3R’ (2009)

Part of a three-album package that also included MPLSound and Elixer, the sole album by local Minneapolis singer Bria Valente, LOtUSFLOW3R marked a return to exploratory rock in the Rainbow Children vain, this time with heavy doses of late-60s psych. The Grammy-nominated Dreamer likened life in the US to “a slave plantation” in a call for change that seemed to assume increasing urgency for Prince in the years that followed.

Must hear: Dreamer

31: ‘HITnRUN Phase Two’ (2015)

Compiled with a similar approach to its predecessor, but widening the net to incorporate material from as far back as 2010, HITnRUN Phase Two became the unexpected end stop on Prince’s 38-year career. Co-credited to his long-running group The New Power Generation, the album was a more live-sounding counterpart to HITnRUN Phase One, and took in frothy pop-rock (Rocknroll Loveaffair) alongside songs that spoke to the political moment in the wake of Freddie Gray’s murder and a fresh wave of Black Lives Matter protests (Baltimore, Black Muse).

Must hear: Black Muse

30: ‘PLECTRUMELECTRUM’ (2014)

The first of two albums released on the same day in September 2014, PLECTRUMELECTRUM was the sole record credited to Prince and his all-girl power trio, 3RDEYEGIRL. Penned by guitarist Donna Grantis, its title track proved that Prince was as committed as ever to giving a platform to young talent, while the album’s overall “funk’n’roll” vibe opened onto possibilities for a new era sadly left unexplored, with Prince somewhat gunning for Led Zeppelin’s crown in the process.

Must hear: PLECTRUMELECTRUM

29: ‘Xpectation’ (2003)

Recorded towards the tail-end of 2001, and released on New Year’s Day 2003, as one of the world’s first download-only albums, Xpectation was recorded during a period in which Prince turned away from the mainstream in order to follow more personal artistic pursuits. Entirely instrumental, and with a guest appearance from classical violinist Vanessa-Mae, the album was given the tag “New directions in music from Prince”, in a nod to a similar line that appeared on Miles Davis’ most boundary-pushing work of the 70s. Closing track Xpedition took Davis’ fusion records as a jumping-off point, while pensive pieces such as Xcogitate and opener Xhalation seemed to capture Prince’s reflective state of mind in the wake of his father’s death, in the summer of 2001.

Must hear: Xpedition

28: ‘MPLSound’ (2009)

Where its companion record, LOtUSFLOW3R, was one for lovers of Prince as guitar hero, MPLSound, as its name suggested, returned to the synth-driven electro-funk that had become a bedrock of 80s pop culture, ever since he had perfected the “Minneapolis sound” with his 1999 album. Feeling frisky enough to make shout-outs to Salma Hayek via her then newborn daughter (“Hey, Valentina, tell your mama/She should give me a call”) and reminding fans where much of contemporary hip-hop got its DNA from (Ol’ Skool Company), it also boasted a true legend in the game, Q-Tip, on the squelchy pop confection Chocolate Box.

Must hear: Chocolate Box

27: ‘The Vault… Old Friends 4 Sale’ (1999)

Having dipped into The Vault for his 1998 collection, Crystal Ball, Prince opened the safe once again for The Vault… Old Friends 4 Sale. Largely culled from songs recorded in the early 90s, it came with a light jazz tinge and some showtune bombast, and included material originally pegged for the unrealised musical version of James L. Brooks’ 1994 dramedy, I’ll Do Anything (There Is Lonely, My Little Pill), plus a song given to Joe Cocker (5 Women) and a re-recording of the Parade outtake that lent its title to the collection.

Must hear: Old Friends 4 Sale

26: ‘One Nite Alone…’ (2002)

A piano-led counterpart to The Truth, his acoustic-based album of four years earlier, One Nite Alone… was originally released solely to subscribers of Prince’s NPG Music Club. Recorded with an intimacy that more than lived up to its title, listening to the album was like spending a little over a half an hour sitting across from Prince as he worked his way through song sketches, some of which would emerge more fully formed on later records (U’re Gonna C Me, re-recorded for MPLSound). A long-time fan of Joni Mitchell, Prince also finally committed to tape a cover of A Case Of You, originally released on Mitchell’s landmark album Blue, and a song which Prince had performed almost 20 years earlier at his own milestone event, the 8 August 1983 show at First Avenue, Minneapolis, during which he debuted most of the Purple Rain album.

Must hear: A Case Of U

25: ‘N·E W·S’ (2003)

Bearing the tagline “Directed by Prince”, N·E W·S was recorded in one sitting, with long-term saxophonist Eric Leeds, plus keyboardist Renato Nato, bassist Rhonda Smith and drummer John Blackwell. Running to four tracks – North, East, West and South, each clocking in at 14 minutes – there was a craft behind its lengthy extemporisations; though Prince had recorded instrumental albums before, notably with his Madhouse side project in the late 80s, this often moody collection arguably best captures his approach to the form, with a matured understanding of experimental improvisation.

Must hear: East

24: ‘The Truth’ (1998)

A low-key collection of acoustic songs, The Truth was originally released as a companion CD to the Crystal Ball box set. Though given gentle electronic embellishment, its stripped-back sound was the most intimate Prince had been across a whole record to date, with songs that spoke to his embrace of vegetarianism (Animal Kingdom) and a maturing worldview that set fame aside for personal growth (Don’t Play Me), plus outpourings of grief following the death of his infant son, Amiir (Comeback).

Must hear: Don’t Play Me

23: ‘Emancipation’ (1996)

The first album Prince released following his split from Warner Bros, Emancipation was a triple-disc deluge of material that sought to prove he could not only hold his own among a fresh wave of R&B hitmakers, but that he could handle his own business affairs, too. Running to exactly three hours, there was plenty of space for him to flex, with Jam Of The Year waving a banner for a new era, and a cover of The Stylistics’ Betcha By Golly, Wow offering a pitch-perfect recreation of the Philadelphia soul sound of the 70s. Having spent much of the decade in an embattled frame of mind, Face Down offered welcome levity and a clear message to critics who’d written him off “as a washed up singer”.

Must hear: Face Down

22: ‘Chaos And Disorder’ (1996)

Recorded at the height of his battle with Warner Bros, Chaos And Disorder’s title alone seemed to speak to the general mood surrounding Prince in the mid-90s. “It started out with a lot of anger,” New Power Generation drummer Michael B. told this author for the book Lives Of The Musicians: Prince. “We didn’t know at the time that they would concede.” Eventually released as “the last original material” Prince recorded for the label, the album swung from back-to-basics rockers such as its title track to pleas for racial unity (The Same December) and a gloomy kiss-off to his former label, Had U.

Must hear: Chaos And Disorder

21: ‘3121’ (2006)

Underpinning both a Vegas residency and the pricing for his record-breaking 21 Nights In London stint at the city’s O2 Arena (general-admission tickets were sold at a wallet-friendly £31.21), Prince’s 31st studio album was released on 21 March 2006, and offered a lively run through much of what had brought him to that point. Latin-tinged ballads (Te Amo Corazón) nestled alongside pop-rock showmanship (Fury) and dramatic expressions of heartbreak (The Dance). Though he’d cooled on performing his most outrageous material, Black Sweat slid in on an electro-funk groove that proved he could still raise the temperature with as little as a sparse drum-machine snap and a naggingly catchy synth line.

Must hear: Black Sweat

20: ‘ART OFFICIAL AGE’ (2014)

The first Prince album to receive an official co-production credit (shared with Joshua Welton, husband of 3RDEYEGIRL drummer Hannah Ford-Welton), ART OFFICIAL AGE found Prince facing his mortality in disarmingly touching ways. Imagining himself undergoing affirmation therapy while placed in suspended animation, he reflected on how far he’d come in WAY BACK HOME and delivered one of his finest late-career ballads in BREAKDOWN.

Must hear: WAY BACK HOME

19: ‘Crystal Ball’ (1998)

A world first in two senses, Crystal Ball marked the first official release of material from Prince’s much-bootlegged Vault, and also the first time an entire album was sold through the internet. Shuffling remixes and new songs together with mid-80s outtakes – including tracks originally recorded for the near-mythical unreleased project that gave the collection its name – the triple-disc set served as something of an alternative best-of, showcasing over a decade’s worth of shelved material.

Must hear: Crystal Ball

18: ‘Graffiti Bridge’ (1990)

Kicking off the 90s with a return to the world that had defined the 80s, Graffiti Bridge was Prince’s long-awaited sequel to Purple Rain. Revisiting The Kid and Morris Day’s battle for supremacy – this time as rival club owners – the movie also shone the spotlight on two of Prince’s musical heroes, George Clinton and Mavis Staples. While the Purple Rain album solely featured Prince material, the Graffiti Bridge album made room for cuts by every artist involved – though Prince, naturally, had written them all. Whether sharing the mic with George Clinton on We Can Funk, ceding the stage to The Time for Release It, introducing the concept behind his soon-to-be new band on New Power Generation or fashioning the enigmatic ballad Joy In Repetition, Prince clearly sensed the changing tide of music at the start of the new decade. He also proved he could ride its wave on the album’s undoubted highlight, Thieves In The Temple.

Must hear: Thieves In The Temple

17: ‘Diamonds And Pearls’ (1991)

With hip-hop fast establishing itself as the dominant sound of the 90s, Prince fashioned his own take on the music with the help of a virtuoso new backing band, The New Power Generation. Working up sample-friendly material live in the studio, then chopping it into his own songs, he played turntablists at their own game with groove-laden cuts such as Gett Off and Daddy Pop, while making room for MC Tony M to further align his new music with mainstream rap. With no less than six singles released worldwide, from the slinky blues of Cream to the soaring balladry of the title track, Diamonds And Pearls proved that the best Prince albums would add more jewels to his crown in the new decade.

Must hear: Gett Off

16: ‘Come’ (1994)

Featuring his birth and “death” dates (1958-1993) on the cover, Come was the final album to be credited to “Prince” until the release of The Rainbow Children, in 2001. Released a year after he began identifying as the “Love Symbol”, the record placed 90s dance tracks (Loose!) alongside smooth R&B grooves (Space) and comments on child abuse (Papa) and racial inequality (Race). Somewhat lost in the noise of Prince’s increasingly acrimonious split from Warner Bros, Come deserves rediscovery among the best Prince albums.

Must hear: Pheremone

15: ‘Batman’ (1989)

Effectively reframing blockbuster film soundtracks as star vehicles, Prince’s Batman soundtrack album worked as both a standalone record and a companion release to Tim Burton’s silver-screen reboot of the Batman franchise. Inspired by the alter-ego lives of Bruce Wayne/Batman and Jack Napier/The Joker, Prince themed each song around a character in the film (album opener The Future was sung from Batman’s point of view; The Joker was behind Partyman; and The Arms Of Orion was envisioned as a duet between Bruce Wayne and Vicki Vale), while also creating a whole new character for himself to play. Half-Prince, half-Joker, the anarchic Gemini was let loose to terrorise high-society scenesters in one of the best Prince videos, Partyman. Fittingly, among a number of surprising Prince facts, one of the first songs he ever learned to play was the Batman TV theme tune, on his father’s piano.

Must hear: Partyman

14: ‘For You’ (1978)

Released when he was still just 20, Prince’s debut album, For You, captured a precocious talent working at a level that belied his age. Given unprecedented freedom to produce the record, Prince also played every instrument himself – all 27 of them – on an album whose highlights pitched him towards an R&B audience (Soft And Wet, Just As Long As We’re Together) while also hinting at the genre-straddling future that lay ahead (the mature ballad Baby). Radio DJs were left unsure how to label him, but that was part of the point. “Don’t make me Black,” he’d told Warner Bros, indicating the sort of genre-blind music the best Prince albums would come to exemplify. “My idols are all over the place.”

Must hear: Soft And Wet

13: ‘The Black Album’ (1994)

A collection of songs recorded for a birthday party Prince had thrown for drummer Sheila E, The Black Album was shelved almost as quickly as it was compiled. Preferring instead to release the more spiritually-minded Lovesexy as his follow-up to Sign O’ The Times, Prince later reflected that he had “learned from” The Black Album, but that he wasn’t willing “to go back” to the confrontational frame of mind that had led to bare-bones funk tracks such as Le Grind and his dismissive appraisal of the rising hip-hop scene, Dead On It. Describing The Black Album as an “I’ll-show-them moment” in the face of critics who’d begun to wonder if Prince had strayed too far from his funk roots, engineer Susan Rogers explained, in Lives Of The Musicians: Prince, that he later felt it was a “reactive” as opposed to a “proactive” work, so “he yanked it off the loading dock”.

Must hear: Le Grind

12: ‘Controversy’ (1981)

Sitting midway between the new wave sound of Dirty Mind and the future-shaping electro-funk of 1999, Controversy found Prince dividing his attention between political concerns (Ronnie, Talk To Russia, Annie Christian) and provocative sexual come-ons (Do Me, Baby, Jack U Off). With its title track, he laid down a challenge to anyone who dared try and reduce him to binary classifications, throwing in a rendition of The Lord’s Prayer alongside his own manifesto: “People call me rude, I wish we all were nude/I wish there was no Black and white, I with there were no rules.” “To me it was more like an art piece,” Prince’s then keyboardist Lisa Coleman told this author, in Lives Of The Musicians: Prince. “You’ve never quite heard The Lord’s Prayer like that.”

Must hear: Controversy

11: ‘The Rainbow Children’ (2001)

Newly converted to the Jehovah’s Witness faith, and returning to using his birth name for the first time in almost a decade, Prince delivered one of his most personal and ambitious albums yet in the shape of The Rainbow Children. A concept record that expressed his theological beliefs through complex, jazz fusion-indebted songs such as the title track, it was in turns funky (The Work, Pt.1), celebratory (Last December) and confrontational (Family Name). The start of a period in the early 2000s during which Prince retreated from the mainstream in order to focus on more exploratory music, The Rainbow Children was as kaleidoscopic as its title suggested, and for many fans remains a best-kept secret among the best Prince albums.

Must hear: Muse 2 The Pharoah

10: ‘The Gold Experience’ (1995)

With a prescient concept that framed the album as a series of interactive experiences, The Gold Experience captured a pared-back version of The New Power Generation performing with all the vigour of a lean and hungry garage band. Prince’s battle with Warner Bros threatened to leave the album in The Vault indefinitely (promotional material proclaimed “Release Date: Never!” while Prince toured the record throughout the UK), but when it finally hit the shelves, more than a year overdue, The Gold Experience proved a rich addition to his canon. He may have changed his name, but songs such as Endorphinmachine, Dolphin and The Most Beautiful Girl In The World were undeniably the work of the same Minneapolis genius he’d always been.

Must hear: Endorphinmachine

9: ‘Love Symbol’ (1992)

With Diamonds And Pearls having reasserted Prince’s place among pop’s pre-eminent hit-makers at the start of the 90s, its follow-up, named for an unpronounceable glyph often referred to as the “Love Symbol”, offered a reminder that he would never be content turning out radio-friendly hits to order. Newly in love with his NPG band member – and future first wife – Mayte Garcia, Prince began incorporating the Middle Eastern music that inspired her belly dancing routines into an ever-expanding range of styles that put The New Power Generation through their paces. “We could play anything he thought of,” keyboardist Tommy Barbarella told this author, for Lives Of The Musicians: Prince. “He would make up crazy lines and bizarre transitions, and we could pull it off.” The result was an album that built on the hip-hop excursions of its predecessor while also dipping its toe into pop-reggae (Blue Light), early-90s club music (Eye Wanna Melt With U) and operatic theatricality (3 Chains O’ Gold), all woven through a narrative of good versus evil which played out both Prince’s desire for Mayte and his need to keep exploring new creative realms.

Must hear: 7

8: ‘Lovesexy’ (1988)

From Dirty Mind through to 1999 and Sign O’ The Times, Prince’s records more often than not had a central theme around which all the songs cohered. Edging even further towards concept-album territory, Lovesexy found him writing around a titular idea that seemed to fuse his spiritual and his sexual sides into one compatible whole. Prince wouldn’t be drawn on giving “Lovesexy” a hard and fast definition; instead, he preferred to let the music speak for itself, initially pressing CD copies of the album as one single, 45-minute track that ran the gamut of all his funky tricks in what he intended listeners to experience as “a mind trip, like a psychedelic movie”.

Must hear: Alphabet St

7: ‘Around The World In A Day’ (1985)

Adding psychedelia and “world” instruments to the mix, and embarking on a fruitful, deeply intimate collaboration with Revolution members Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman, Prince was keen to show that Purple Rain was not the be all and end all of his career, but just one creative landmark among many. Barely giving audiences time to catch their breath between releases, Around The World In A Day was issued while the applause from the Purple Rain tour still rang in Prince’s ears. Baffling newcomers whose mistake was to expect more of the same, it was, Prince said “something for myself and my fans, and the people who supported me through the years”.

Must hear: Raspberry Beret

6: ‘Prince’ (1979)

Backing Prince’s claim that he “knew how to write hits” by the time of his self-titled second album, songs such as I Wanna Be Your Lover, Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad? and Sexy Dancer presented a taut post-disco sound that was as dancefloor-friendly as anything he’d ever record; the album also made its mark on the Billboard charts, with I Wanna Be Your Lover topping the Hot Soul Singles listing and a 12” mix of Sexy Dancer going Top 5 in the Disco 100. His precision-tooled songwriting hadn’t, however, taken the place of variety: Bambi flexed his increasingly muscular rock credentials and Still Waiting increased the intensity of his ballads. Five years after the album’s release, Chaka Khan added another hit to the list when she turned I Feel For You into a global smash.

Must hear: I Wanna Be Your Lover

5: ‘Dirty Mind’ (1980)

After honing his craft across his first two albums, Prince fused white new wave rock and Black R&B into a raw punk-funk sound on Dirty Mind, letting loose with sexually forthright lyrics to match. DJs were advised to proceed with caution, though its creator, who, on one of the best Prince album covers, stepped out wearing little more than women’s bikini briefs and a studded trench coat bearing an all-too-fitting “Rude Boy” badge, had no such misgivings as he made his boldest artistic statement yet. “We wanted to shock people and get attention,” Prince’s then keyboardist, and future member of The Revolution, explained in Lives Of The Musicians: Prince. “We felt like we would be an alternative for people who didn’t fit in anywhere else.”

Must hear: Dirty Mind

4: ‘Purple Rain’ (1984)

Not only crowning Prince one of the best 80s musicians, Purple Rain ensured he would be remembered as one of the most influential musicians of all time. Taking him to the top of the US albums and singles charts while the film dominated the box office, Purple Rain saw Prince make the leap from cult favourite to global icon, infiltrating every element of pop culture – filmmaking and fashion included. A perfect synthesis of rock and funk, Purple Rain displayed all Prince’s strengths in a radio-friendly framework, without stinting on the eccentricities that had made his music so compelling from the off. Though its title track remains a power ballad for the ages, When Doves Cry defied conventional notions of what pop music should do, leaving pop music forever changed in its wake.

Must hear: When Doves Cry

3: ‘1999’ (1982)

The one where it all came together, 1999 crystallised Prince’s creative vision and left him poised to take the mainstream by storm. Epitomising the “Minneapolis sound” that would soon be known the world over, the album also harboured many of the best Prince songs of all time. Among these, the title track set Prince’s apocalyptic world view to a future-shaping dance cut whose innovations continue to amaze, while Little Red Corvette pulled into focus as the sort of neon-lit vignette that would inform his big-screen ambitions. “There’s nothing like the feeling after you’ve done something and play it back, and you know that you’ll never hear anything like it and that they’ll never figure it out,” Prince said of 1999. Decades after its namesake year, scores of artists are still trying to get to the bottom of it.

Must hear: 1999

2: ‘Parade’ (1986)

Don’t be fooled by the black-and-white cover; Parade brandished the rapidly expanding palette of sounds Prince was working with in the mid-80s, incorporating everything from the bare-bones synth-funk of Kiss to the carnivalesque pop-psych of Christopher Tracy’s Parade and Mountains, and the hymn-like ballad Sometimes It Snows In April. Officially billed as a soundtrack companion to his second feature film, Under The Cherry Moon, Parade was the last album credited to Prince And The Revolution. Marking the end of an era, it also introduced a new creative foil, composer Clare Fischer, whose abstract string arrangements would not only burnish the jazzier aspects of Prince’s avant-funk, but would remain a secret weapon throughout much of Prince’s work, up until Fischer’s death, in 2012.

Must hear: Kiss

1: ‘Sign O’ The Times’ (1987)

A double-album of overwhelming creativity, Sign O’ The Times served notice that Prince’s post-Revolution career would be just fine. Though much of its material can be traced back to his time with the group, notably his collaborative streak with Wendy and Lisa, the record was a glorious celebration of everything Prince was capable of. Covering floor-filling one-man jams (Housequake), boudoir confessions (Adore), state-of-the-world addresses (Sign O’ The Times), radio-friendly pop-rock (U Got The Look), paeans to a higher power (The Cross) and all points in between, this is nothing short of a masterpiece. Pick any entry point, it doesn’t matter: Sign O’ The Times will have you hooked for years.

Must hear: Adore

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