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Prince’s 15 Best Post-Eighties Deep Cuts

Cherry-picking the most underappreciated Prince songs of the Nineties and Oughts

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INGLEWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 19: Prince performs live at the Fabulous Forum on February 19, 1985 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

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Very few artists can have an unimpeachable year; Prince almost had a perfect decade. From 1980, when he unleashed Dirty Mind, his masterpiece of funky new wave, to 1988's gorgeously dense Lovesexy, Prince Rogers Nelson put together an arguably unmatched run of musical innovation and pop culture success. 

In the years since, Prince has never been less than interesting, but the hit-to-miss ratio has changed as his Purple Majesty increasingly devoted himself to his always stellar live performances. Sometimes, as with 1998's four-CD Crystal Ball collection or 1994's Come, incredible work has been tucked away on hard-to-find or obtuse albums. But even at their most confounding and indulgent, Prince's post-Eighties albums have always contained a one song or two that stands with his very best work. 

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“Lavaux”

20TEN, 2010

On this slinky, synth-kissed pop song from his 35th studio album (released as an insert in various European publications), Prince namechecks New York City and Portugal. But he spends most of the gorgeously airy song singing the praises of snow-capped mountains and vineyards. Fitting, given that the song takes its name from a region of Switzerland, where Prince visited when he played the Montreaux Jazz Festivals in 2007 and 2009. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the terraces of Lavaux stretch for almost twenty miles along the shores of Lake Geneva. After "Edelweiss," this is easily the funkiest song written about Switzerland.

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“Sticky Like Glue”

20TEN, 2010

That falsetto coo, that nimble guitar figure — "Sticky Like Glue" is the type of light-gauge funk that Prince pioneered in the late Seventies on gems like "Soft and Wet." Here, he trades vocal lines with three backing vocalists (Shelby J, Liv Warfield and Elisa Dease) and flicks off guitar upstrokes with the élan of Nile Rodgers. Like so much of Prince's work after re-embracing his faith in the early Nineties, "Sticky Like Glue" sees him reframing potentially lascivious lyrics into something more PG-13, as he extols the joys of friendship as well as sex. 

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“Somewhere Here On Earth”

Planet Earth, 2007

While Prince never scans as one for nostalgia, he set the aural mood to this gentle piano ballad by kicking it off with the warm crackle of vinyl. His silky smooth falsetto then shades into Jimmy Scott territory as he laments the digital age and declares his preference for face-to-face intimacy. Pianist Renato Neto provides spare accompaniment on the track, while trumpeter Christian Scott's muted-bell solo is as evocative as cool period Miles Davis. When Prince veers towards jazz, he tends to go for muso fusion, but here, in one of his more satisfying forways into the genre, he keeps things nicely simple and classic.  

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“Chelsea Rodgers”

Planet Earth, 2007

The second single from Prince's 32nd album, Planet Earth (which was initially released on CD as an insert with Britain's Mail on Sunday newspaper), "Chelsea Rodgers" invited speculation about the song's muse. Was she the secret love child of Prince and Sheila E? One in a long line of gorgeous Purple protégés? Well, it turned out that the song's namesake was a model, apparently one with a "butt like a leather seat." Prince's ode to her is one of his funkiest songs of the 21st century, built on a succulent disco bassline, gospel vocals, cosmic synth squiggles and punctuated by ecstatic brass interjections.

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Prince performs "3121" at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, CA (Photo by Lester Cohen/WireImage)

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“Black Sweat”

3121, 2006

The numerology behind 3121's album title might refer to it being Prince's 31st studio album (which was released on the 21st of March) or, as he told a BET audience, to Psalms 31:21. Regardless of any arcane provenance, the album's "Black Sweat" was a clear highlight. The song's use of sonic negative space and its deep sensuality called to mind Prince's classic single "Kiss." Over his nastiest groove of the decade, he deploys a high, squealing frequency usually reserved for G-funk and Neptunes productions and promises to have his lover "screamin' like a white lady." On the strength of that single, 3121 debuted atop the Billboard Top 200 album chart. Astonishingly, it was the first of Prince's albums to do so.

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“The Marrying Kind”

Musicology, 2004

Musicology, Prince's 28th studio album, was released to coincide with the artist's induction in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This album gem features riffing horn work from Candy Dulfer, Greg Boyer and longtime James Brown sideman Maceo Parker. But aided by the lurching stomp of a backbeat from drummer John Blackwell, Prince whips it all up into a variant on prog-rock, loaded with epic guitar and more nimble  than anything the likes of the Mars Volta ever attempted.

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“So Far, So Pleased”

Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic, 1999

In 1999, No Doubt reached out to Prince, asking him to contribute vocals to their song "Waiting Room." He did much, much more than that, revising the entire track, adding keyboards and backing vocals and earning a co-writing credit in the process. In exchange, Gwen Stefani lent her vocals to "So Far, So Pleased," a pop-rock single as bright, crunchy and candied as a bowl of Apple Jacks. The song was a clear highlight of the Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic album, which also featured cameos from a motley crew of musicians ranging from Chuck D to Sheryl Crow to Maceo Parker.

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“Movie Star”

Crystal Ball/The Truth, 1998

One of Prince's strangest productions, wherein he plays a cartoonish Lothario who resorts to body oils, incense, even "environmental" records in an effort to get "mo' drawers, mo' drawers." Originally written with Morris Day from The Time in mind, this kinetic track finds Prince adopting the role of a Rolls Royce-driving movie star who, in addition to the romantic gambits described above, asks girls to buy him drinks, slathers himself in Paco Rabanne and gets turned down by every would-be conquest in the club. In the liner notes for Crystal Ball, Prince wrote: "D'Angelo's favorite bootleg. His love 4 this track inspired it's (sic) inclusion."

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“Dionne”

Crystal Ball/The Truth, 1998

Included as a bonus album with the three-disc Crystal Ball rarities set, The Truth offered up Prince in a stripped-down "acoustic" mode. At the start, this gorgeous ballad sounds unadorned and raw, like it was recorded in one take with Prince's nylon-string guitar foregrounded. But by the first chorus, garlands of backing vocals, bells, harpsichords and synthesized strings swell, and all sorts of strange stereo effects (breaking glass, rooster noises, Henry Mancini musical quotes) swirl about the mix. Fans still wonder about the identity of "Dionne," of whom Prince sang: "U should have held my hand/ U should have let me be your man."

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“Somebody’s Somebody”

Emancipation, 1996

A field recording of falling rain opens this Quiet Storm slow jam, one of Prince's all-time smoothest numbers. On it, he even deploys a faux sitar twang right out of Peaches & Herb's "Reunited" for extra soft soul vibes. The song finds the singer restless at 2 a.m., waiting to rendezvous with an illicit lover, seeking another form of emancipation: not from his record label (he'd escaped from his Warner Brothers contract earlier that year), but from a loveless relationship. 

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“I Like it There”

Chaos and Disorder, 1996

This crunchy number from Prince's guitar-heavy Chaos and Disorder finds him firmly in pop-rock mode. At the time, it was easy to wonder how much new music would be forthcoming from the prolific artist. The album's liner notes stated that Chaos and Disorder was "the last original material recorded by [File Under Prince] 4 warner brothers records." As a (now out of print) major label kiss-off. tracks like the standout "I Like it There" reminded listeners that in addition to his mastery of dance-centric forms, Prince never lost the ability to craft guitar hooks as sharp as those of, say, the Cars' Ric Ocasek. 

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“Dinner With Delores”

Chaos and Disorder, 1996

The only single to be released from The Artist 4merly Known as Prince's 18th studio album, "Dinner With Delores" premiered online at a special Chaos and Disorder website —  the first of his songs to debut digitally. Underpinned by a jangly guitar figure that could have powered a Reagan-era college rock song, "Delores" harkens back to Prince circa-1985, but with a charmingly prudish twist. The titular Delores is a nymphomaniac, which, amazingly, turns the once sex-crazy singer off. At song's end, he sings, "Damn, Delores, pick another subject please." This song is a favorite among Prince aficionados: Questlove told the Guardian that, "'Dinner with Dolores' has the best ending and fade in postmodern black pop history."

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“Endorphinmachine”

The Gold Experience, 1995

At the end of this raging rocker, a female voice coos, "Prince esta muerte." The preceding four minutes turn that utterance into a lie, as the song kicks and bucks with the energy of Prince's serrated guitar tone. That sound, sleek yet savage, was a reminder that while grunge's rise was at odds with Prince's sensibilities, he was still actively engaged with the compressed, overdriven guitar tones of then-modern rock. Some fans retroactively lamented the heavy overdubbing that "Endorphinmachine," a later live staple, received on record, but ignore them — The Gold Experience version has a perfect amount of cowbell.

Prince; 15 Best; Post-Eighties; Deep; Cuts

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“Billy Jack Bitch”

The Gold Experience, 1995

This wicked slice of funk is a riot of squealing keyboard lines, snarling guitar, cries of "Bitch!" (a looped sample from Fishbone's "Lyin' Ass Bitch"), strutting horns and even backing vocals from an uncredited Lenny Kravitz. It's the type of twitchy dance music Prince perfected in the Eighties. Minneapolis gossip columnist Cheryl Johnson suspected the song was directed at her in response to negative articles she'd written. But for all the music's aggression, the lyrics are almost reflective, as Prince wonders: "What misfortune left your heart so broken / U only say / Words intended 2 belittle or dismay?"

Prince; 15 Best; Post-Eighties; Deep; Cuts

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“Loose!”

Come, 1994

"Loose!" was originally conceived for Glam Slam Ulyssesan "interactive musical experience" loosely based on Homer's Odyssey that was written by Prince and performed for only a few weeks in late summer 1993 at his Glam Slam nightclub in Minneapolis. The forward-thinking track was then resurrected for Come. Featuring a screamed "1-2-3-4" count-off that sounds like Prince might've been listening to fellow Warner Bros. labelmates Boredoms, the song is warped-mirror electro, full of twisted guitar, synths and backing vocals that foresaw the work of artists like the Knife.

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