TOURNAMENT ARCHIVE: PRINCE
All Hail Purple Rain
In the summer of 1958, on the continent of North America, three supernovas of North American popular music would be born. Now, on the 60th anniversary of this celestial episode, we at Choon Group celebrate the divine creations of these pop gods by launching 60 each of their greatest creations into glorious competition, allowing we mere mortal stargazers to decide the fates, and declare which of their classic jams shall henceforth be known as the Most Legendary Song for each of this trio we call, The Legends of '58!
The Championship Round of our Prince Tournament was won by classic ballad "Purple Rain," which in one of the closest votes of all six rounds, garnered 52.4% of the votes vs. 47.6% for the irresistible funk of "Kiss." It could have gone either way, so thanks to the many loyal Choon Group readers and guests who weighed in with their precious clicks over three weeks of competition. Click the links below to see how each successive round shook out, with breakdowns of every individual matchup:
You can reminisce with the full field of 60 songs, a career-spanning and creatively curated box set's worth of classics by Prince Rogers Nelson (Born June 7, 1958 in Minneapolis, Minnesota), via our Spotify playlist* and Bracket Breakdown Podcast below.
*Notoriously, Prince’s label and catalogue issues were a mess, so there are all of 7 tunes in the tournament not on Spotify. Look for the links to those songs, marked *NOS*, in the breakdown of the total list, further below.
The 60 competing tunes were divided into four ranked brackets of 15 songs, each named after a color strongly associated with Prince at some point in his career. Each song's final overall ranking, determined by 1) how far they made it in the tournament, 2) the percentage of votes they earned in their final round, and 3) the higher seeded song breaking any ties after 1 and 2, is indicated in parentheses after the title. Clicking the title of each song will take you to the best video we could find for it.
1. (Bye) Little Red Corvette. (5th) What a better way to set it off than the #1 seed in the Purple Bracket: that long purple trenchcoat and the multilevel stage in the video--this is where MTV grabbed him and the world started to really get on board, from 1982’s 1999 double album.
8. Cream. (30th) A #1 hit (his last) from 91’s Diamonds and Pearls album. I definitely had a signature dance to this in high school, a little hula-esque number I imaginatively called: The Cream Dance. Great organ and drums on this motivational uplifter.
9. Thieves in the Temple. (39th) Emo Prince. Lead single from final feature film, 1990’s hard-to-watch Purple Rain quasi-sequel Graffiti Bridge, I recommend seeking out the extra-emo 8 minute extended mix.
5. Darling Nikki. (15th) One of the PMRC’s so-called Filthy Fifteen, legend has it that hearing this song after buying the Purple Rain soundtrack for her daughter started Tipper Gore on her music censorship crusade. Covered by Foo Fighters.
12. The Greatest Romance Ever Sold. (56th) *NOS* Year 2000 single from Rave un2 the Joy Fantastic, a sultry midtempo jam whose remix featured Eve.
4. Sexy MF. (22nd) Advance single from 1992’s Love Symbol LP first issued on VHS! It’s some extra-horny big band jazz-rap with solos for everybody, including a slick one from longtime guitarist Levi Seacer Jr, who also sings the hook.
13. Under the Cherry Moon. (50th) Titular track from his second film, the Riviera-set black and white mess Under the Cherry Moon featuring Prince as Christopher Tracy, a piano-playing gigolo. This gorgeous cabaret jazz smolderer was covered by Spoon in the days after Prince’s death.
6. Delirious. (20th) From 1999 and part of Prince’s brief rockabilly phase which also included Controversy closer “Jack U Off” and “Delirious” b-side-slash-continuation, “Horny Toad.”
11. Mountains. (40th) Underrated utopian pop gem, it’s the second single and closing credits music from Under the Cherry Moon.
3. When You Were Mine. (16th) Notably covered by Cyndi Lauper, which is a good time to remind everyone that a song’s placement in this tournament encompasses all its major variations. That being said, I prefer the original, from 1980’s new wave classic Dirty Mind.
14. Forever in My Life. (55th) Definite editor’s choice here, this paean to commitment and devotion is a Sign 'o' the Times deep cut that is a crucial emotional peak of Prince’s incredible concert film of the same name.
7. It’s Gonna Be Lonely. (35th) Closer to self-titled 2nd album from 1979 is a big soul banger with bonus modulations. We love Mac DeMarco’s faithful posthumous cover.
10. P Control. (31st) *NOS* This opener to 1995’s The Gold Experience got a couple downvotes from the selection committee, and sure, maybe it’s a little silly, but I gotta tell ya, this one used to cold rock a party in the late 1990s.
2. Purple Rain. (1st) Climax of the film, a #2 hit, and the song that opened the heavens at the 2007 Super Bowl. This powerful ballad was recorded mostly live at a benefit concert in 1983.
15. The Most Beautiful Girl in the World. (59th) *NOS* A #3 hit from 1994, it got some downvotes to be given this seed, but it’s an immaculately recorded Philly soul dream that prefigured Prince's later covers of The Stylistics and The Delfonics.
1. (Bye) Let’s Go Crazy. (4th) The second #1 hit and film-opening performance from Purple Rain, a rock classic with perhaps the most audacious song-closing guitar solo in rock history, even if we're not sure what "the purple banana" is...
8. I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man. (24th) One of Prince's classic story songs, a poignant tale with a great vocal melody and another killer guitar solo. The long album version from Sign 'o' the Times is essential.
9. Partyman. (51st) Gentlemen, let’s broaden our minds. The second single from 1989's Batman soundtrack and yes, forever linked to the scene where Nicholson cavorts in the art museum.
5. Pop Life. (21st) A sad but hopeful pop bop from 1985 with much slappin' of da bass. Elvis Costello covered it when it was still new. “Whatcha puttin in your nose” was a callout of some coke-addled friends, rumored to be Vanity and Morris Day. Oh and that bonkers boxing match breakdown...
12. Do Me, Baby. (35th) The prototype for the Prince sexy falsetto ballad--"Insatiable", "Scandalous" and others carry its DNA--concludes with some amazing vocal histrionics.
4. Erotic City. (13th) Holy crap, a B-side with the word "fuck" prominently in the chorus got on the radio in 1984. The story goes that after seeing a Parliament Funkadelic show in 1983, Prince knocked this one out, got Sheila E to sing the hook, and gave us a classic that is filthy in all senses. I just want your creamy thighs!
13. The Ballad of Dorothy Parker. (41st) Sign 'o' the Times album cut and another story song as Prince gets his groove back via a chaste dalliance with a waitress in an all-night diner. Incredibly evocative moments--the fruit cocktail, the bubble bath with the pants on, the Joni Mitchell shout-out... This quirky groove has found its way into multiple samples.
6. Sometimes It Snows in April. (19th) Oh boy. When prince died in 2016, this devastating piano ballad about the death of his Under the Cherry Moon character came immediately to the minds and hearts of many a fan, including D’Angelo, who memorably covered it on The Tonight Show.
11. Jungle Love. (38th) Frequently under the pseudonym Jamie Starr, Prince had a hand writing and producing on four albums for funk band Morris Day and The Time, also the starting point of super producers Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis’s careers, and he featured them and this jam memorably in Purple Rain.
3. Alphabet St. (12th) Another minimalist funk classic and the lead single from 1988’s nudey-covered Lovesexy, this one’s memorable for the opening “No!” and the line about putting her in the backseat and driving her to Tennessee, sampled on the big hit by Arrested Development.
14. Breakfast Can Wait. (47th) The latest entry in the tournament, included on 2014’s Art Official Age album, this mid-tempo soul jam is notable for its cover art’s appropriation of Dave Chappelle’s portrayal of Prince holding a plate of pancakes in the infamous “Game, blouses” sketch.
7. Baby I’m a Star. (7th) In the movie and on record, this Purple Rain cut connects with “I Would Die 4 U,” but it stands alone as a feel-good dance floor proclamation.
10. Batdance. (48th) The selection committee gave it some downvotes, but who other than Prince could make a #1 hit out of what's basically album sampler + a movie trailer, and like Tim Burton’s Batman film, it ruled the summer of '89.
2. I Wanna Be Your Lover. (17th) Perhaps the first classic Prince choon, written for soul/disco diva Patrice Rushen but utilized as the contract-saving lead single from his 1979 self-titled sophomore LP. The faletto was in full effect, and he gleefully trolled Dick Clark after lip-synching to it on “American Bandstand.”
15. My Name Is Prince. (54th) (Hey, this song samples “I Wanna Be Your Lover!”) In the early '90s, Prince had an axe to grind as Michael Jackson declared himself King of Pop, so he responded with this hip-hop/dance music reminder of his powers, complete with one of his most raw vocal performances.
1. (Bye) Raspberry Beret. (8th) Top seed for the glorious windows-down summer anthem from 1985’s Purple Rain follow-up Around the World in a Day, featuring a fun partially-animated video that brings in the album art, and oh guess what it’s an awesomely relatable story song.
8. Musicology. (32nd) *NOS* Prince forced his way back onto the charts by giving away copies of his 2004 album with every ticket to his massive Musicology tour. The title track gives a good feel of his later years’ James Brown/Las Vegas road band.
9. Round and Round. (43rd) Aw, sweet little Tevin Campbell. Can we talk? I’m ready! Prince provides backup vocals, songwriting and production on this hit R&B single from Tevin’s Grafitti Bridge cameo.
5. 7. (14th) Billboard maybe rigged it so that this enigmatically spiritual hit from 92’s Love Symbol LP peaked at #7, but Prince is at the peak of his multi-tracked vocal harmony powers as he dabbles in middle eastern flavor.
12. Black Sweat. (44th) *NOS* A synth whine and knocking 808s--in 2006 he was super late to those musical motifs but as a single from his 3121 it felt retro and fun and a really good track for your gym playlist. As with “Kiss” and “When Doves Cry,” there’s no bassline!
4. Controversy. (18th) Title track from LP #4, it’s 1981 and he’s finding the funk/new wave crossover sweet spot, and beginning to comment on his own image.
13. She’s Always in My Hair. (45th) Beloved B-side of “Raspberry Beret,” perhaps too straightforward pop to fit on the psychedelic Around the World in a Day, but so so good. Covered by D’Angelo on the Scream 2 soundtrack of all things.
6. If I Was Your Girlfriend. (26th) Long before the wider culture put a name to such things, Prince was examining gender roles in relationships with this yearning expression of desire for a deeper love, delivered in his sped-up “Camille” vocal process. Covered by TLC, quoted by Beyoncé. Really hard to fuck with Side 3 of Sign 'o' the Times.
11. Uptown. (49th) Wow, this bracket is probably the strongest overall. Party manifesto and single from the classic Dirty Mind LP of 1980, this one had “white, black, Puerto Rican/Everybody just a-freakin’”.
3. 1999. (9th) An apocalyptic pop dance party with nuclear synths that began an MTV-aided campaign to world domination. Prince's propensity for letting band members take the spotlight (however briefly) shines here for Dez, Wendy, et al.
14. Cindy C. (58th) *NOS* 1987: Prince pulls The Black Album from the brink of release because of concerns over its bad energy. Over the years, it was infinitely bootlegged as fans flocked to the forbidden "Funk Bible," with workouts like this ode to the supermodel Crawford.
7. Girls and Boys. (28th) In the Under the Cherry Moon scene featuring the unleashing of slang term “wrecka stow”, Prince jumps up on a table at an uptight party and charms Kristin Scott Thomas, helped along by Eric Leeds’s sax and strategically-deployed French. (Not like "pardon my French.")
10. Soft and Wet. (33rd) The debut single! 1978’s For You is sometimes a jarring listen the first time you hear it because of the whiff of disco cheese, but there are a couple absolute stunners, and indications for future genius are there, including this sexy number that yes, MC Hammer sampled on Please Hammer Don’t Hurt Em.
2. When Doves Cry. (3rd) I could talk uninterrupted for a half hour just about this song, and that it somehow didn’t get a #1 seed makes it somewhat of an underdog in my book. Unlimited exceptional elements: the composition, the video, the soul-baring lyrics, the vocal arrangement, the Dr. Fink keyboards, the screaming. Dig if you will the picture...
15. Pink Cashmere. (57th) Unfortunate cannon fodder, this was a 1993 single from his first hits compilation, but a remnant from a productive period in 1988, when it was written about the gift of a literal coat of pink cashmere given to his then-girlfriend, British model Anna Fantastic. Gossip aside, it’s a gorgeous falsetto swooner with characteristically glorious strings from longtime collaborator/arranger Clare Fischer.
1. (Bye) Kiss. (2nd) The 1 seed, the wedding reception essential, the leads single from 1986's Parade, and another one with no bassline. I remember not liking this game-changer right away as a kid because it was too "weird." Um, also covered by Tom Jones. Not gonna link to that.
8. U Got the Look. (25th) Slammin’ #2 hit duet with Sheena Easton (you know, the Scottish lady he wrote “Sugar Walls” for), this Sign 'o' the Times rocker matches the Camille vocal process in the World Series of Love.
9. How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore. (37th) Another fan favorite B-side (“1999”), this bluesy piano lament from 1982 picked up some 808s and became a hit from Alicia Keys’ debut album some 20 years later.
5. I Feel for You. (34th) Speaking of covers that eclipsed Prince’s original, Chaka Khan’s sublime 1984 version of an album cut from his 1979 LP might have been the last time he wrote out the words “for” and “you” for ASCAP.
12. Computer Blue. (27th) Yes Lisa, the water is warm enough. This mini-suite encompasses one of Prince’s father’s compositions, an autobiographical detail that is worked into its inclusion in the Purple Rain film.
4. Gett Off. (11th) The New Power Generation debuted as his co-billed band in 1991 and the speaker-blowing bottom end on this single got him back some cred he’d lost with Grafitti Bridge. Then his blown-out bottom at the ‘91 VMAs made him the butt of jokes, but you really can’t deny 23 positions in a one-night stand.
13. 17 Days. (52nd) Prince in the '80s was so prolific that truly incredible songs were relegated to B-Sides, if released at all (sorry no bootlegs in the tournament superfans), and part of “When Doves Cry” selling 2 million copies was this indelible portrait of “two cigarettes and this broken heart of mine.”
6. The Beautiful Ones. (23rd) The scorching, anguished Purple Rain ballad when Apollonia is asked to choose between Prince's character "The Kid" and Morris.
11. A Love Bizarre. (53rd) Making the cut over Sheila E's other big hit "The Glamorous Life," this 1985 Revoltuion-era concert favorite, stretches out on a 12-minute album version from Romance 1600.
3. Nothing Compares 2 U. (10th) First recorded by short-lived Paisley Park band The Family in 1985 prior to Sinéad O'Connor's jaw-dropping 1990 cover. This year, Prince's estate discovered and released his stunning original demo, and the tears run down our face anew.
14. The Human Body. (60th) *NOS* In the late '90s/turn of the century, Prince/TAFKAP had a yen for club music, with house remixes of his singles and a few well-executed album cuts such as "Loose!" from the Come LP, and this banger full of big beautiful breakdowns.
7. Money Don’t Matter 2 Night. (36th) Spike Lee directed the video of this beautifully sung socially-conscious single from Diamonds and Pearls, that demonstrated Prince wasn't just about God and/or booty.
10. Take Me With U. (29th) Lush old-school romantic duet with Apollonia, single from Purple Rain, with strings and percussion perfect for a motorcycle ride down to Lake Minnetonka.
2. I Would Die 4 U. (6th) Another Top Ten hit from the 13-million (25 worldwide) selling Purple Rain soundtrack. Wait a minute, is this guy writing a radio hit from the point of view
of a messiah? Prince was on top of the world in 1984.
15. Adore. (42nd) Wow, what a great song to close out the list. 15 seed?! Can't figure out how someone on our selection committee downvoted this perfect jazzy falsetto ballad that combines sincerity, sexiness, and sense of humor in pitching some fantastically human woo. "Love" is too weak to define just what Prince means to me.
Methodology/Disclaimer: I began with a fairly exhaustive wikipedia-aided list of hits, significant deep cuts, B-sides, and collaborations/compositions for other artists that stretched to around 150. There was a quick n' dirty/kill-your-babies/let's-face-facts cut that got me down to around 80, which I shared on a list with our selection committee, made up of Choon Group writers and superfans who got in touch when I put out the call. They each nominated a top ten and a bottom ten--these pluses and downvotes roughly determined top and bottom seeds, and murdered poor sweet "Diamonds and Pearls" right off the list. I tried to balance eras, maximize number of releases represented, separate albums with multiple tracks among the brackets, and not pair off two of the same style of song in a first-round matchup. So obviously this was not science, and was ripe for snubs and upsets, but hopefully brought those who played and now you, dear reader, to a greater appreciation of The Artist Formerly Known as The Artist Formerly Known as Prince. Enjoy the music!
May u live 2 see the dawn or some shit, Yours, Choon Group