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Artwork: Reverend

Prince’s Musical Mt. Rushmore

By Chris Lacy

Music flowed through Prince at all hours. He set aside an untold number of finished songs and albums in his Paisley Park vault. Some material appeared on later projects. But only a select few are legendary enough to grace the four coveted spots on this imaginary Mount Rushmore.

My criteria was picking one song that complemented his signature musical style—rebel, virtuoso, icon, and sex symbol. Check out my picks below and share which songs would make the final cut on your personal Mount Rushmore!

Part I: REBEL

“Controversy”
Controversy (1981)

Prince was a rebel who enjoyed taking the rule book, rewriting it, and ripping it to shreds because he could. “Controversy” made him a lightning rod for criticism from the barbershops to the pulpits.

As with many things Prince, it starts with the rhythm. That four-on-the-floor drumbeat, the lava lamp blobs of synth-bass, and chicken-grease guitars all flow from the musical livewire he was.

Hand in hand with that irresistible groove is Prince’s reaction to the rumor mill. 

I can’t understand human curiosity

Controversy

Was it good for you? Was I what you wanted me to be?

Controversy

And like any good rebel, he stirs the hornet’s nest by reciting the Model Prayer from the Bible and creating his own mantra. 

People call me rude

I wish we all were nude

I wish there was no black and white

I wish there were no rules

My biggest takeaway from “Controversy” is this valuable life lesson: “If you live for people’s acceptance, you’ll die from their rejection.” When you’re brave enough to be real with yourself, that’s honest art. It’s hard. It’s scary. But it’s real.

Part II: VIRTUOSO

“When Doves Cry”
Purple Rain (1984)

A virtuoso is someone who mastered every facet of the game. By the age of 26, Prince was one of the most complete and polished musicians of his time. If I had to pick one song that captures all his skills and presents them to the masses, it would have to be “When Doves Cry.”

He blurs the lines between rock, pop, funk, soul, and classical until no lines exist at all. His acrobatic vocal range tells a story of pleasure and pain with a touch of the bizarre.

Dream, if U can, a courtyard

An ocean of violets in bloom

Animals strike curious poses

They feel the heat, the heat between me and you

“When Doves Cry” topped the Billboard pop charts for five weeks, making it his first and most successful #1 hit. What’s crazy is this was the last song recorded for the album! How a 26-year-old Prince was able to pull this off will be one of music’s great mysteries.

Simply put, “When Doves Cry” is the peak of the purple pyramid.

Part III: ICON

“Purple Rain”
Purple Rain (1984)

We can talk about how gifted Prince was as an individual talent. But “Purple Rain’s” rise to iconic status wasn’t a one-man show or a two-man gig. It was a collaborative effort.

He needed inspiration from Journey’s Top 20 single, “Faithfully.” (Prince called Jonathan Cain, saying: “I want to play something for you, and I want you to check it out. The chord changes are close to ‘Faithfully,’ and I don’t want you to sue me.” Cain’s response? “Man, I’m just super-flattered that you even called. It shows that you’re that classy of a guy. Good luck with the song. I know it’s going to be a hit.”)

He needed his most iconic band to help him bring the song to life on the big screen. (Dr. Fink told Duane Tudahl: “Prince came to us with the chords for the song during rehearsal. He had the song, but the arrangement wasn’t quite finalized yet, and I don’t think the lyrics were finished. So, when he brought it to us, he just said, ‘Play what you feel.’”)

He needed God to be his special effects director for the Super Bowl Halftime Show. (The NFL arranged a phone call with Prince that went like this. NFL: “Hey Prince, I want you to know it’s raining.” Prince: “Yes, it’s raining.” NFL: “Are you OK?” Prince: “Can you make it rain harder?”)

Crucial moments like that are why “Purple Rain” will never go out of style and outlive us all.

Part IV: SEX SYMBOL

“Adore”
Sign O’ the Times (1987)

Tugging on women’s heartstrings as well as their bra straps was Prince’s style. “Adore” delivers six-and-a-half minutes of holy lust to your ears, heart, and hips.

Many writers have spent centuries trying to describe love. He cracked the code within one chorus. 

Until the end of time, I’ll be there for you

You own my heart and mind, I truly adore you

If God one day struck me blind, your beauty I’d still see

Love’s too weak to define just what you mean to me

What woman wouldn’t wanna be on the receiving end of that?!

But “Adore” is more than Prince trying to get his special lady undressed and into bed. He believed that the God he worshipped wanted us to have passionate and meaningful sex. 

When we be makin’ love

I only hear the sounds (Oh)

Heavenly angels cryin’ up above

Tears of joy pourin’ down on us

Plus, few artists can tell jokes in one of the greatest love songs ever and not break the mood. 

This condition I got is crucial

Crucial, baby

You could say I’m a terminal case

You could burn up my clothes

Smash up my ride

Well, maybe not the ride

“Adore” is the slow jam that all slow jams wish they could grow up to be.

Making this list was tough because feelings change as we get older. Some songs are instant classics the moment we hear them; others need time to grow on us. But please let us know which songs would appear on your Prince Mt. Rushmore in the comments section below. Or you can argue with your friends on how bad my picks were. Everyone loves a good debate, right? “Peace & Be Wild!”

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About the author

Chris Lacy

Chris Lacy is an independent music journalist, follower of Jesus Christ, I.T. consultant, and hip-hop choreographer. Born in a Navy family, he grew up in Puerto Rico, Guam, and San Diego before moving back home to South Carolina. Lacy spent four years with Albumism.com as a Contributing Writer. “I had zero experience when I joined,” he explained. “But with my passion for music and storytelling, Albumism taught me how to find my voice as a writer. I’m forever grateful for that.”

Chris’s goals for every writing project are to move you emotionally and stay with you long after you finish reading. And like Prince, his musical tastes are all over the map. You can find Chris Lacy on Twitter, Instagram, and Medium.

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Have you enjoyed reading so far? We are a non-profit and ad-free Prince fan site, and we like to stay that way. So could you help us out a bit with the expenses running Housequake and become a patron? It's very much appreciated!

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