Top 20 21 Prince songs.

So today mental_floss is running the quiz that I suggested to them back in April, which led to the idea of a whole week of Klaw quizzes: Can you name the six #1 hits authored by Prince?

To celebrate this, here’s a countdown of my twenty favorite Prince songs, which I recommend you skip until you’ve tried the quiz. Prince completists out there will probably notice that all but one of these songs were released as singles; in part this is because I am generally a singles guy instead of a deep tracks guy, in part because I think deep tracks guys are usually pretentious boobs, and in part because my first introduction to early Prince came from The Hits which, if you ignore the third disc that is clearly for pretentious boobs, is rather awesome.

(EDIT: Why 21? Because somehow I deleted “Raspberry Beret” when reordering songs, didn’t notice it, and added a 20th song before posting. Of course, I wrote the whole thing two weeks ago, so I’m just guessing that that’s what I did.)

21. “Partyman.” Prince had a very long peak, but it wasn’t a steady one; the late ’80s were relatively fallow for him and he didn’t bounce back all the way until Diamonds and Pearls in 1991. The video for “Partyman” starred a relatively unknown Dutch sax player named Candy Dulfer, who then had a crossover pop hit called “Lily Was Here” a year later.

20. “Little Red Corvette.” I wonder what Prince song has actually received the most airplay over the years – it seems like “Corvette” is a staple of eighties stations the way that Visage’s “Fade to Grey” is de rigueur for ’80s new wave compilations. It’s a good enough song, with lyrics that walk the line between clever and all-right-we-get-it-everything-is-about-sex, which kind of sums up 64% of the songs Prince recorded, with the other 36% just about sex without any of the metaphors.

19. “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?” Prince was pretty big on the synth early in his career, before the New Wave crowd took it and played it directly into the ground. This was one of Prince’s catchier synth hooks; “When You Were Mine” has better lyrics (“You didn’t have the decency to change the sheets”), but he sounds like he recorded his vocals with a towel stuffed in his mouth.

18. “I Wanna Be Your Lover.” His first US top 40 pop hit, with 28 more to follow. I wonder how many programmers and listeners realized what exactly Prince was saying in the chorus.

17. “Black Sweat.” I think this is the only post-name-change song on the list; it sounds a lot like early Prince with better production values and a very catchy drum machine riff behind it. It’s less-is-more music.

16. “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man.” Ten thirty-five on a lonely Friday night.

15. “Sign O’ the Times.” Hated this song when it came out, because it was so strange. Now I like it, because it’s so strange. Prince was never big on social commentary, at least not in songs he released as singles, but “Sign” is entirely about it, and one of the first mainstream songs to talk about AIDS.

14. “Thieves in the Temple.” Honestly, if it wasn’t for this song, I’m sure Prince could propose that we all forget that Graffiti Bridge ever happened and get a unanimous “amen” from the congregation.

13. “1999.” Might not have made my list at all on January 1, 2000, because I was so damn sick of it.

12. “Let’s Go Crazy.” Dearly beloved … Purple Rain was Prince’s breakthrough, and I’d like to think the main reason is that he veered so much farther into rock territory than he ever had before. He was already working his own wide-ranging style of fusion, and by assimilating a big chunk of not just rock but distorted guitar-driven rock, he created something pretty amazing that no one has been able to match since then. Oh, and this wasn’t even the best song on the album.

11. “Delirious.” Great song that sounds kind of dated now. It’s begging for a remake that replaces the little Casiotone synthesizer he used on the original track with some guitar.

10. “U Got the Look.” Prince invents text messaging, with the help of the hey-she-got-kinda-hot Sheena Easton.

9. “Alphabet St.” Perhaps better in the version released as a single, without the embarrassing rap from “Kat,” although for embarrassing it’s tough to top “Dead on It” from The Black Album. Also, getting “Alphabet St.” as a single meant that you didn’t have to buy Lovesexy and end up with one of the more ill-advised album covers in music history. (This was the most ill-advised cover in music history. I warned you, but you’re going to click anyway.)

8. “Pope.” I think this is the only B-side on the list – it was unreleased before The Hits came out. Very catchy, with humorous lyrics and that same less-is-more feel that a lot of Prince’s best songs have. It’s poppy by Prince standards.

7. “Raspberry Beret.” My wife was floored when I told her this wasn’t one of Prince’s #1 songs. I’ve often wondered if this song gave Ian Broudie the idea to call his side project the Lightning Seeds (a mondegreen from the line “thunder drowns out what the lightning sees”). And no, I don’t think the urban legend about “in through the out door” is true.

6. “Sexy MF.” Not one you’re going to hear on the radio any time soon. Sort of a funky NPG jam session with plenty of sexual innuendo and a syncopated beat that feels like an odd time signature or a record that keeps jumping ahead. I could argue for any song from here on for #1.

5. “When Doves Cry.” Hell of a guitar intro, brilliant lyrics, and no bass line whatsoever.

4. “Soft & Wet.” This was actually Prince’s first single, according to Wikipedia, but I’ve never heard it on the radio. The title gives you a fairly clear indication of what the song is about, and what almost every song Prince recorded in the first four or five years of his career was about. It’s dated with the heavy synth use – almost funk meets new wave – but the hook is sharp. Great first line, too, although that might be the reason I’ve never heard it on the radio.

3. “7.” No one seems to know to what seven people the song refers, but the mystical lyrics and catchy chorus made it kind of a surprise hit. Of course, in the U.S., it peaked at #7.

2. “Gett Off.” One of the best opening stanzas to any song, ever: “How can I put this in a way so as not to offend or unnerve/But there’s a rumor going around that you ain’t been gettin’ served/They say that you ain’t you know what in baby who knows how long/It’s hard for me to say what’s right when all I wanna do is wrong.” The song was sort of a return to Prince’s glory days of sex-driven funk, but despite serving as the first single off the Diamonds and Pearls album, it didn’t make a dent in the singles charts until the album’s second single, “Cream,” went to #1.

1. “Kiss.” Iconic? Anthemic? Timeless. There may be no better exemplar of less is more in music.


  1. C’mon Keith. First the Cowherd love, now “in part because I think deep tracks guys are usually pretentious boobs”. I’ll grant you guys who *refuse* to like singles are usually pretentious boobs, but for many artists, there’s a different style with their radio airplay songs and the rest of their album. Liking one over the other, either way, isn’t wrong.

    (In fact, if you’d like the challenge, I’ll give you 3 or 4 albums, you can give a listen, see what you like and see if those register as “singles” or “deep tracks”. Honor system, of course.)

    (Although if you think all the albums suck, that would certainly ruin the whole thing.)

  2. I’d love to see the same thing done with Jack-o.

  3. No “Head” No “Erotic City”

  4. I agree with Dave on the deep tracks thing. It’s more about people who refuse to like singles and only deep tracks. With that said, I love Prince. My favorites are

    1.When Doves Cry
    2.Get Off
    3.Raspberry Beret
    5.Purple Rain
    6.You Got the Look
    7.If I Was Your Girlfriend
    8.Soft & Wet
    9.Little Red Corvette
    10.Sexy MF


    Batdance- I kid, I kid

  5. I always thought “Head” was just a gimmick. It’s not really any different than any of his other early songs, but the lyrics are – were? – scandalous, so it gets extra attention.

    I could be convinced of Dave’s point, but my own experience, even with albums I love, is that the best tracks are nearly always the singles – probably 80% of the time. There’s no particular logic to releasing inferior tracks as singles – if singles are supposed to promote the album, release the best songs as singles, just like movie companies put all the funniest jokes in the trailers.

  6. Starfish and Coffee’s one of my all-time favorites songs.

  7. No “Raspberry Beret”?

  8. I’m with Andrew

  9. Huh, “Raspberry Beret” was on the original draft. I must have deleted it when reordering. Good catch.

  10. “There’s no particular logic to releasing inferior tracks as singles”

    Sure there is. If (a relative) inferior is going to get your airplay and (a relative) superior is not, many artists will make a business decision to choose the latter. The reason that eras have a distinct sound is because popularity breeds popularity.

    (For example, M83 put out a wonderful album last year that has a distinctly “80s” sound to it. In the 80s, they’re on top 40 radio selling multiples of what they currently sell. In the 00s(?) they still get acclaim, but from a much smaller audience.)

  11. Connecticut Mike

    Keith, Initially I was going to write about how I kind of disagree with your point about singles tending to be the best songs on an album. I think singles are chosen based on accessibility and catchiness as opposed to quality per se (which doesn’t preclude them from being good songs). In the process of writing my post, I came to realize that it really seems to depend upon the artist in question.

    I cannot stand Prince, so unfortunately I really cannot comment on his songs, but I started thinking about two artists that I do like, Tom Petty and Bob Dylan.

    I came to realize that most of my favorite Tom Petty songs are popular singles. A lot of my favorite Bob Dylan songs are/were not singles. To me this begs the question, are there “singles artists” and “album artists”? Tom Petty typically gets more radio airplay than Bob Dylan (although Dylan certainly has had his share of radio hits, they were pretty much all before I was born). Is there a fundamental difference in the way that the music was intended to be experienced by the audience, as a stand-alone song or in the context of the album as a whole?

    It is kind of an interesting question because it speaks to the way we consume and perceive music as individuals, and the experiences we relate to a song. I don’t think I have the answer, but I’m curious to know what other people think about this.

  12. Unless I’m mistaken, the decision to release singles is largely the record company’s.

    And that is weird – I had never heard of M83 until two hours ago, and now you’re the second person to mention them to me.

    Anyway, I restored “Raspberry Beret” to where I think it was on the original list. Thanks for catching that … I’m a little fried this week.

  13. I think its more about depth of fandom. The more you immerse yourself in an artist and give all songs on an album 50 plays rather than hearing the single 50 times and getting the album for a few spins, the higher the odds you find songs you love more than the single.

    To pick a well-known band as an example: I was (like many late 90s college kids) a huge Dave Matthews Band fan. Ask 100 typical music listeners my age (who don’t hate DMB) their favorite of the band’s songs and I’m sure the winner will be Crash Into Me. Not because its necessarily the best, but because its the most well known and even people who never bought an album (or listened much to the album they bought) has heard it dozens of times. Ask most DMB superfans their favorite and you’ll get a wide range of picks, most of which aren’t singles. To say that’s because Crash Into Me and Satellite are the artistic gems and superfans just strive to be different, even if its by latching onto inferior songs, seems cynical at best but mostly wrong.

    On the flipside, I can name 10 Stevie Wonder songs I really like but they’re all singles. Is that because those are actually his best or because the only album I own is a greatest hits compilation? I imagine the diehards who have followed his entire career and have devoted time to all his albums would have a different take. The only thing everyone would agree on is that I Just Called to Say I Love You sucks as hard as any song from a great artist has ever sucked.

  14. (Above was building on what CT Mike said. That’s what I get for not quoting.)

  15. ’10. “Delirious.” Great song that sounds kind of dated now. It’s begging for a remake that replaces the little Casiotone synthesizer he used on the original track with some guitar.’

    Keith, Keith, Keith… Sorry, but you couldn’t be more wrong on this one. The “little Casiotone synthesizer” is the very soul of that song. Replace it with guitar? Why don’t we go remake “The Brave Little Toaster” as a CGI while we’re at it.

  16. I think there is a difference between what the record companies believe are the “catchiest” hit singles / most “airplay friendly” and which are the best. Just because a song has catchy hooks doesn’t necessarily make it my favorite on an album. Or, it may be at first but I quickly grow tired of a song that is very repeatable but lacks substance.

    Specific radio stations target certain demographics, and if a track plays to that particular demo, then they want it. But if you’re not part of that demo, you may not like it. Yet it becomes a “hit” record. For ex., you probably don’t listen to Radio Disney (oh but you will someday
    Keith, you will, trust me), yet those are hit singles for that demo. I guess since I’m a musician (former), I fit the pretentious mold.

  17. I’ve mentioned this on my blog but it’s worth repeating here: One of my favorite days growing up was the day my mother took me out of school early to go to see Purple Rain in the theater.

    On a related note I got 5 out of 6. I missed Cream.

  18. Yes! first to mention Raspberry Beret.

    Your wife was close, I believe it made it to #2 or 3.

    I was close to making it my #2, as When Doves Cry is in my favorite songs of all time, not just favorite Prince songs.

  19. This was a smoking hot post. I love Prince and was about to jump in with a “YOU MUST BE CRAZY, KISS ISN’T HIS BEST TRACK” response, when I decided that it was only a matter of taste, and my vociferousness was only because i cared a lot.

    On the the Mental Floss thing – SPOILER ALERT – I sprinted to Kiss, When Doves Cry, Nothing Compares 2U, and Batdance, limped into Let’s Go Crazy, and had no idea that the sixth was Cream. None. Are you sure? Really? Cream?

  20. Keith, you completely overlooked the Dirty Mind album, one of Prince’s best. Someone suggested Head, but I agree with you, the lyrics made it controversial, but that is all. Dirty Mind, When You Were Mind and Uptown are better songs in my opinion.

  21. Correction, When You Were Mine. Typo.

  22. Prince invents text messaging? Why not, after all Al Gore invented the internet….

  23. Remind me where my $5 goes again? I’m sorry, not buying that someone who reviews literature and knows the proper cooking technique for every item of food he eats would refer to someone as a pretentious boob for listening to entire albums (the horror!). Good list though…I kid because I care.

  24. Of course I wrote the “pretentious boobs” bit as bait. Granted, I am a dedicated singles guy instead of an albums guy, but who’s going to get up in arms over that? Picking on deep tracks guys a little more so I get a reaction is WAY more fun.

  25. Dear Keith,

    Way to go, told you that one would work.


  26. I have to put nothing compares 2 U in the top 20. Sinead might be insane but she sang the crap out of that song.

  27. I met this girl with a brace on her knee and crutches a few years ago. I asked her what happened? she replied that she went to a prince show, met him and commented that he was shorter than she expected. he promptly kicked her in the knee wrecking her and he stormed off. rock stars are the best! even little tiny ones! the best part of the story is the ending- she wasn’t mad at all because prince touched her…and it made for a great story. awesome.

  28. Re: Singles vs deep tracks, I think it has to do with the band and the time period. A lot of bands now will realize ‘poppy” singles that they know will get radio airplay and will be more mainstream or palatable to a wider audience. Then you’ll listen to the album and it’s generally much more authentic to their style. Real fans of the band will dismiss the singles as “selling out” while new fans, who probably don’t like the bands original style of music, will prefer the singles but be turned off by the deeper stuff. I’m guessing this was far less common back in the day, but nowadays it certainly seems common.

  29. I’m a deep tracks guy, just because I’ve already heard the radio songs so often. Give me Zep’s “Ten Years Gone” over “Stairway” any day.

    If someone’s just a ‘singles’ guy, does that mean he can’t get into bands that never chart with singles (Wilco)?

  30. You got me Keith. $5 on the way.

  31. Keith don’t know if you have seen what Poythress is doing to Ohio St. but he has 3HR, one to each field. Looks like he has huge power.

  32. Controversy

  33. Love the list – though I must mention (from the mental floss quiz) the version of “Nothing Compares 2 U” that DID hit #1 was meh to me.

    That said, “Manic Monday” is one of the best pop songs of the 80s, and from pure songwriting is way up there on my favorite songs Prince has ever written.

  34. Strongly disagree on “Griffiti Bridge.” The movie was just awful (save for the always entertaining Morris Day/Jerome Benton byplay). The music, though…”Joy in Repetition,” “Elephants and Flowers,” “The Latest Fashion,” “Love Machine”…Tevin Campbell’s debut on “Round and Round.”

    And I missed “Batdance.” All the Prince songs that peaked at #2, and that one broke through.

    I’ll spare you public shaming for your dismissal of The B-Sides, and me five bucks.

  35. Reading through the comments, M83 is terrific.

    As for Prince songs… I’m sad that “Musicology” and “Chelsea Rodgers” are missing. People seemed to forget about Prince in the general time frame when those were released, but they’re both fantastic.