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