Prince and the Minneapolis Sound: The 20 Best Records

Prince II

In his lifetime Prince released almost 40 albums and that’s not including how many he left unreleased in his vault. Being that prolific means that the quality did sometimes suffer but when he was on it, he was untouchable. I’m picking my 20 favourite Prince records including 15 solo records and a further five that he made with people from the Minneapolis scene.

Prince was so creative and prolific during the 80s that he amassed too many songs to be officially released that he gave many away. Warner Brothers would only allow him to release one record a year, so this is how he coped with the songs he needed to get out of his system. He produced under the name The Starr Company and often didn’t put his name on the credits. Just like his first few records, Prince played most instruments on these records.

Here are my five favourites.


5. The Family – The Family (1985)
When Prince put The Family together, The Time had just split up. Apparently he said, “I’m going to get some of that Duran Duran money”. The Family’s only album is most well known for including ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ which became a number one single for Sinead O’Connor. They weren’t a huge success and split soon after the album came out. Lead singer, St. Paul Peterson does his best Prince impression over some glossy funk pop which is heavy on the sax thanks to Eric Leeds.

Key track: ‘Screams Of Passion


4. Sheila E. – The Glamorous Life (1984)
Written by Sheila E and produced by Prince, this is a great example of the trademark Minneapolis sound. Out of all Prince’s productions and side projects Sheila seemed to have the most creative control. She maintained her musical relationship with Prince throughout the years, playing and writing with him on further records. This was the most successful of Prince’s productions. ‘The Glamorous Life’ was a big hit single in America and ‘The Belle Of St. Mark’ made the top 20 in the UK.

Key track: ‘The Belle Of St. Mark


3. Jill Jones – Jill Jones (1987)
Prince is credited as writing over half of Jill Jones’ first solo album. Jones had previously made a name for herself as a backing singer. Prince mentored her after they hit it off in 1980. They dated with Jones inspiring Prince’s best B-side, ‘She’s Always In My Hair’. This classy R&B record is the most underrated of his productions. ‘G-spot’ is so catchy and ‘Violet Blue’ is one of the most haunting songs Prince was involved with. Jones was a brilliant singer who did the songs justice.

Key track: ‘Violet Blue


2. Vanity 6 – Vanity 6 (1982)
Vanity 6 only released one record in their brief recording career. This record is a ridiculous amount of fun mixing new wave and R&B inspired synth-pop. It came out when Prince was at his most prolific making this, What Time Is It and 1999 in the same year. Creating a girl group was a dream for Prince and lyrically he did not hold back on sexual themes (‘Nasty Girl’, ‘Wet Dream’). After Vanity left, the rest of the band continued as Apollonia 6. Sadly Denise Matthews (Vanity) died earlier this year.

Key track: ‘He’s So Dull


1. The Time – What Time Is It? (1982)
Prince has a production credit on the second and best album by The Time but it was heavily rumoured that he played every instrument on it. The Time were Prince’s rivals in the Purple Rain movie which bled over into real life. Morris Day was a charismatic front man that had almost as much star quality as Prince himself, which didn’t always sit well with him. He still helped them release a fantastic record. What Time Is It? has six songs that are all funky and as good as peak Prince. Perfect album cover too.

Key track: ‘Onedayi’mgonnabesomebody

15 albums sounds like a lot, but it was hard to get it down with Prince who has such a rich and expansive back catalogue. Even some of his weaker albums have brilliant moments. Honourable mentions go to the hip-hop inspired Diamonds & Pearls which amazingly is the album that produced the most hit singles in the UK for Prince. Also 2006’s 3121 and 2007’s Planet Earth which could have been edited down into a much stronger record. Last year’s HITNRUN Phase Two is also worth a mention as it contains his best set of songs since 2004.


15. The Black Album (1994)
Recorded as a follow up to Sign “O” The Times in 1987, The Black Album wasn’t officially released until 1994. Reportedly rejected for being too dark, this is a solid but slightly disappointing follow up to the perfect Sign “O” The Times. It’s gritty and hard hitting but it could do with a bit more light and shade which is something all his previous records did well. The minimal funk is a huge contrast to the bright production on Lovesexy which Prince hastily recorded as a replacement.

Key song: ‘Cindy C

For You

14. For You (1978)
Prince’s debut album is a solid disco/funk record that shows glimpses of what he was capable of. For You is made even more impressive as a 20 year old Prince played every instrument and produced the whole record. There’s a confidence already on show that comes across on the more upbeat songs. He hadn’t quite got the ballads down but he mastered those within his next few records. Only Prince could start his career with a single called ‘Soft & Wet’.

Key song: ‘Soft & Wet


13. Come (1994)
Come was recorded in 1993/4 around the same time he was recording The Gold Experience. Without any hit singles, Come still made number one in the UK charts (his last album to do so). It was originally rejected by Warner Brothers and Prince himself didn’t have any interest in promoting it. Out of all his records, this has been the biggest grower on me. The grooves he created here make the songs feel more like we’re hearing a jam session in his studio. The songs are his most overtly sexual in theme since Dirty Mind. Despite a lack of obvious highlights this is a very whole record with some great production.

Key song: ‘Loose!


12. Musicology (2004)
Part of Musicology’s appeal was the relief of Prince going back to basics after a series of very mixed records. 2003’s jazz inspired, N.E.W.S was a low point in his recording career. This is a very traditional R&B record with some very tight playing from Prince. The title track was Prince’s idea of educating the listener. The backing vocals sing of it being an “old school joint for the true funk soldiers”. It joins ‘Cinnamon Girl’ and ‘A Million Days’ being the best songs he’d written in a decade. Some thought Musicology was Prince trying too hard to please as he was back on a major label again, but I think the material was strong enough to back up his bid for being a commercial artist again.

Key song: ‘A Million Days


11. Around The World In A Day (1985)
Prince’s seventh record is one of the great commercial suicide records of the 80s. ‘Raspberry Beret’ and ‘Pop Life’ were bubble gum pop as catchy as anything on Purple Rain but they sit next to hookless jams like ‘America’ and ‘Tamborine’. The sprawling title track and opener would have come as a shock to anyone expecting Purple Rain part two. ‘Condition Of The Heart’ is one of his most over the top and moving ballads. This isn’t an easy listen but it’s a compelling album with persistence.

Key song: ‘Pop Life


10. Symbol (The Love Album) (1992)
Prince’s records in the 90s were sometimes a real challenge, from the ridiculously overlong Emancipation to the bland Prince on autopilot of Chaos & Order and Rave Un 2 The Joy Fantastic. The Love Album was one of the exceptions. It was the last hugely successful album for Prince in the UK. He continues the hip-hop theme of the previous year’s Diamonds & Pearls and brings some of his heaviest funk of his career (‘Sexy MF’, ‘My Name Is Prince’). There’s house music influences (‘The Flow’) as well as reggae (‘Blue Light’). There are gorgeous ballads too (‘Sweet Baby’, ‘Damn U’). This is one of his most varied records that just about justifies its length.

Key song: ‘Sexy MF


9. Lovesexy (1988)
After The Black Album was abandoned, Prince came back with his most upbeat and colourful album. The quick recording of Lovesexy makes it a very light and easy record to digest. ‘Alphabet Street’ is one of his most carefree melodies that has quite rightly become one of his most well loved hits. There’s plenty of other great songs here that make this one of his most satisfying releases.

Key song: ‘I Wish U Heaven


8. Prince (1979)
Prince’s second album could well be his most underrated record. It contains his breakthrough single ‘I Wanna Be Your Lover’ and ‘I Feel For You’ (later a number one for Chaka Khan). It also contains the infectious, ‘Bambi’’. He was already much better at writing ballads that showed how far he’d come from his debut (‘With You’, ‘It’s Gonna Be Lonely’). The guitar solo on ‘Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?’ shows he was already an incredibly gifted guitar player. This is one of his most simple and accessible records.

Key song: ‘Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?


7. The Gold Experience (1995)
At the time this was billed as a new Purple Rain. It’s not quite in that league, but this is a great record that is easily his strongest since his imperial phase. ‘The Most Beautiful Girl In The World’ is his only UK number one single but it’s the title track which should have been the biggest hit. It makes a suitably epic closing to this ambitious record. ‘Shy’ and ‘Dolphin’ show he could still make pop sound effortless. ‘P Control’ and ‘Billy Jack Bitch’ are Prince proving he hadn’t lost of the funk that he mastered at a young age.

Key song: ‘Gold


6. Controversy (1981)
In 1980 Prince released Dirty Mind which was a massive step up in quality from his previous records. A year later he made Controversy which wasn’t quite as perfect, but it did show his songs were becoming more ambitious. The title track remains one of his best songs with it’s squelchy synths and deep bass-line whilst lyrically he addresses his public image, “am I black or white, am I straight or gay?”. ‘Ronnie Talk To Russia’ and ‘Annie Christian’ let out Prince’s experiential side. Controversy ends with ‘Jack U Off’ which is pure filth and too much fun.

Key song: ‘Controversy


5. 1999 (1982)

The album that made Prince a huge star. It begins with two of his biggest songs (‘1999’ and ‘Little Red Corvette’) but there’s so much more to the album than the hits. This record sounds like it was aimed for the clubs with the success of 12” mixes at the time. The songs often using repetitious grooves that go past the seven minute mark (‘D.M.S.R’, ‘Automatic’). ‘Lady Cab Driver’ is one of the best funk songs he ever wrote. ‘Something In The Water’ is one of his best album track oddities that finds Prince telling us, “some people tell me I got great legs”. This could have been his biggest album but it was only the beginning.

Key song: ‘Something In The Water (Does Not compute)


4. Sign “O” The Times (1987)

In the 70s, Stevie Wonder had a decade of putting out increasingly amazing music before releasing an ambitious and perfect double album that fulfilled all his early potential at the height of his powers. Prince did the same almost 10 years later. Often referred to as Prince’s masterpiece, this is a record that defied genre and had a blast while doing so. His lyrics were more powerful than ever, mixing the socially conscious (the title track) captivating character studies (‘The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker, Starfish & Coffee’) and some of his most sensual love songs (‘Slow Love’, ‘Adore’). It’s easy to take this remarkable record for granted. Sign “O” The Times is timeless, vital and still sounds like nothing else.

Key song: ‘If I Was Your Girlfriend


3. Purple Rain (1984)

What is there left to be said about this record? It’s a masterclass in production, songwriting and sequencing. Purple Rain deserves every single bit of hype it has ever received. It helps that The Revolution were the best backing band he could have had at this stage. The first Prince record I bought and still one of the best albums I’ve ever heard.

Key song: ‘Take Me With U


2. Parade (1986)
The 1980s was full of successful records that were really unique (The Dreaming by Kate Bush, Sulk by Associates, ‘Disintegration’ by The Cure). Parade is up there with the strangest records to make the top 10. It’s often overshadowed by the critical panning of the accompanying movie and the inclusion of ‘Kiss’, which is one of his signature hits. This is a psychedelic masterpiece where songs blend into each other with strange percussion and complex time signatures. You can hear the ideas flowing out of Prince so quickly, yet it’s a very focused record. It ends with ‘Sometimes It Snows In April’ which is the most beautiful song Prince ever recorded. Parade is the most unique record by someone who excelled in making unique records.

Key song: ‘Sometimes It Snows In April

Dirty Mind

1. Dirty Mind (1980)
The phrase, all killer no filler has a tendency to get overused but it’s very hard not to use it on an album like Dirty Mind. This is 30 minute record where not a second is wasted. On his previous two records the subject matters had often been addressing traditional aspects of love and relationships, here Prince goes to the next level. Dirty Mind is an apt title for such a provocative record that includes ‘Head’ and ‘Do It All Night’. The new wave inspired, ‘When You Were Mine’ is one of the most pure and perfect pop songs he ever wrote. The whole record is such a joy with the beautiful ‘Gotta Broken Heart Again’ being the only time when things slow down. This is an extremely fully realised album which is amazing as it was recorded as a bunch of demos. You can hear Prince pushing boundaries and having fun as he does. He mainly sings in a high register which suits these songs where he plays with his own sexuality. This is a raw record that will always sound like the perfect party soundtrack (although watch out for the lyrics on ‘Sister’). It may not be his most varied or ambitious record but I think it’s his best. It’s the one I reached for when I heard the sad news.

Key song: ‘When You Were Mine

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.