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The 20 Best Prince Songs: His Most Irresistible Tracks, Ranked

Party like it’s 1999 as we celebrate the legendary artist’s purple reign on the charts!

“Life is what you make it / Be the best that you can be / Now’s the time / Take your place in history.” Those lyrics from 2015’s “Free Urself,” the last single Prince ever released, were words the artist lived by right up to his death in 2016 at the age of 57. The multitalented singer, songwriter, producer, and instrumentalist won seven Grammys and sold well over 100 million records throughout his decorated career, which left an abundance of hits for us to enjoy.

And if the Prince songs he took to the top of the charts himself weren’t enough, he was also the creative force behind such classics as Chaka Khan’s “I Feel for You,” Sinéad O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U,” and the Bangles’ “Manic Monday,” among others he gifted to his fellow artists.

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The High Priest of Pop also made a big impact on the big screen, appearing in 1984’s Purple Rain (which grossed over $70 million worldwide and earned him an Oscar for Best Original Song Score), 1986’s Under the Cherry Moon, and 1990’s Graffiti Bridge. Now, eight years after his passing and on Purple Rain’s 40th anniversary year, it’s just been announced that Black Panther’s Ryan Coogler is set to produce a Prince jukebox feature film for Universal Pictures.

Prince with guitar
Prince (1984) Icon and Image / Contributor / Getty

This is great news for Prince fans, as it’s coming on the heels of other exciting reports: A stage musical based on Purple Rain is scheduled to have its world premiere next year in Minneapolis, Minnesota, home of His Royal Badness himself.

The musical’s book is being written by Pulitzer-Prize finalist Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, and it’s sure to capture all the energy and joy that the movie and the featured Prince songs served up a few decades ago. After all, the stage is where Prince always felt he truly came to life.

“Put it like this: When I’m onstage, I’m out of body,” he once told Essence. “That’s what the rehearsals, the practicing, the playing is for. You work to a place where you’re all out of body. And that’s when something happens. You reach a plane of creativity and inspiration. A plane where every song that has ever existed and every song that will exist in the future is right there in front of you. And you just go with it for as long as it takes.”

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Prince with guitar
Prince (2005) Kevin Winter / Staff / Getty

Fans, of course, had faithfully stuck by his side during his 37-year joy-ride of a career, through all the hits and the occasional misses, too. “When you don’t talk down to your audience, then they can grow with you,” Prince said of the secret to his longevity. “I give them a lot of credit to be able to hang with me this long, because I’ve gone through a lot of changes, but they’ve allowed me to grow.”

And though he was open about not being one to listen to his old records — “I don’t live in the past.… I make a statement, then move on to the next,” he once told Rolling Stone — we do keep all of these Prince songs in heavy rotation. And our gut tells us you do, too.

So let’s go crazy! Put on your best purple outfit and join us in spinning these 20 Prince songs that are sure to get you groovin’.

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20. “Cream” (1991): Prince songs

“It’s your time. You got your horn, so why don’t you blow it?” This No. 1 hit — his last — is pure Prince, with clever, winking lyrics and a killer groove. The Diamonds and Pearls album liner notes reveal he wrote it while looking in the mirror, and that turns this potentially frisky tune into more of a self-empowerment anthem. Sh-boogie-bop!

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19. “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man” (1987)

“I asked her if she wanted to dance, and she said that all she wanted was a good man. And she wanted to know if I thought I was qualified.” This guitar-heavy winner is a great showcase for the artist, and it not surprisingly inspired plenty of cover versions, including from New Kids on the Block’s Jordan Knight, the Goo Goo Dolls, the Replacements and more.

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18. “Baby I’m a Star” (1984): Prince songs

“Hey, look me over. Tell me, do you like what you see?” We think the answer’s obvious on that one. Though this Purple Rain song was a B-side (for “Take Me With U”), it’s definitely one of the best Prince songs out there. And the B proved to be symbolic. Prince performed just twice at the Grammys during his career, and he sang this tune both times: the first time alone in 1985, and then in a medley of hits with Beyoncé, the Queen Bey herself, in 2004.

17. “Alphabet St.” (1988)

“Put the right letters together and make a better day.” This song spelled success for Prince, as it hit the top 10 here and in the U.K., the only track off his Lovesexy album to do so. Proving his musical prowess in 2004, he played a bluegrass-inspired version of this song in concert, interpreting it as he imagined that genre’s Flatt and Scruggs would’ve. A true mic (and fiddle) drop moment.

16. “Pop Life” (1985): Prince songs

“Tell me, what’s the matter with your world? Was it a boy when you wanted a girl?” “I wish we would’ve taken a picture of all of the tape,” Prince protégé Sheila E., who helped mix this single, told The Current, noting how it was a painstaking process — done with razorblades, markers, and patience — years before digital mixing tools and platforms were available.

15. “Sign O’ the Times” (1987)

“In France, a skinny man died of a big disease with a little name. By chance his girlfriend came across a needle and soon she did the same.” Obviously, the lyrical content in this No. 3 hit went to some very deep, uncomfortable places, tackling drug addiction, deadly hurricanes, gang violence, and more. Its “gaunt, minimal funk” sound, as the New York Times described it, fit the artist’s mood well.

14. “U Got the Look” (1987): Prince songs

“Here we are folks. The dream we all dream of: Boy vs. girl in the World Series of love.” Sheena Easton duetted with Prince on this track. “Of all the producers I’ve ever worked with, he was the most ‘free.’ He was the one who didn’t stick to the plan,” she told Watermark, noting how “I was coming in [throughout the song] at the wrong time, like an answer; that’s not how it was originally planned. And he went, ‘I like that, let’s keep that up.’”

13. “7” (1992)

“I am yours now and you are mine. And together we’ll love through all space and time.” With Middle Eastern flourishes and mystical lyrics, this song’s hook is “rousing and immediate,” as Billboard noted, praising the “retro-funk shuffle beats…countered by hip-hop-style scratching [that’s] topped with flower-child strumming and sitars.”

12. “Delirious” (1983): Prince songs

“I get delirious whenever you’re near, lose all self-control, baby, just can’t steer.” This fun, bouncy entry proved to be Prince’s second Top Ten hit, which made it all the way to No. 8. As the Prince Songs blog describes it, “‘Delirious’ is arguably the pinnacle of Prince’s brief, but intense infatuation with 1950s rock ’n’ roll,” adding that the artist’s “vocal performance is sublime, scenery-chewing camp.”

11. “Gett Off” (1991)

“How can I put this in a way so as not to offend or unnerve?” When a Prince song starts like that, you know he’s about to get a little risqué — and he does just that in this wild romp of a track. Some lyrics are inspired by James Brown’s “Mother Popcorn,” as noted by Prince’s intro line to them: “Remind me of somethin’ James used to say…”

10. “I Would Die 4 U” (1984): Prince songs

“I’m not your lover, I’m not your friend, I am something that you’ll never comprehend.” This is actually another Prince tune that Sinéad O’Connor covered, along with some members of the group Fun Lovin’ Criminals. “She said she’d vowed she’d never cover another Prince song, but I think coming from the world of reggae that was really what got her to do ‘I Would Die 4 U,’” the group’s Frank Benbini said of the version he and his side project did for Purple Reggae, an album of Prince covers. “It’s such a beautiful version,” Benbini noted after O’Connor’s death.

9. “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?” (1980)

“I play the fool when we’re together, but I cry when we’re apart.” Despite its title and lyrics, this song from the artist’s second album is pure joy to listen and dance to. It hit No. 13 on the R&B charts, and in 1980, an American Bandstand episode aired of him performing it – then giving Dick Clark one heck of an awkward interview afterward.

8. “Raspberry Beret” (1985): Prince songs

“Seems that I was busy doing something close to nothing, but different than the day before. That’s when I saw her, ooh, I saw her. She walked in through the out door, out door…” Paste hails this as “one of Prince’s most masterful pieces of songwriting, smoothly melding together verse, chorus, and bridge into a glorious three-and-a-half minute love affair. Using the sound and symbols of psychedelia only further proved his greatness.”

7. “Let’s Go Crazy” (1984)

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called ‘life.’” Few songs boast such an iconic opening line — and sound. This No. 1 smash will forever drive the artist’s fans nuts, as proven by it reentering the charts upon his death, going all the way to No. 25. His brilliance, to paraphrase the song, will last forever, and that’s a mighty long time…

6. “1999” (1982): Prince songs

“So if I gotta die, I’m gonna listen to my body tonight.” Only Prince could make a song about the end of the world fun and danceable. When Larry King interviewed the artist in 1999, Prince assured him that despite his doomsday-esque lyrics, penned in 1982, “I always knew I’d be cool. I never felt like this was going to be a rough time for me.… I just wanted to write something that gave hope.”

5. “I Wanna Be Your Lover” (1979)

“I wanna turn you on, turn you out, all night long, make you shout.” As Rolling Stone put it, “With ‘I Wanna Be Your Lover,’ Prince threw down his glittery gauntlet [and] from there on out, the world had to meet his challenge.” The then-21-year-old’s breakout hit off his second album was inspired by and offered to singer Patrice Rushen (“Forget Me Nots”), but she surprisingly took a pass.

4. “Kiss” (1986): Prince songs

“You don’t have to watch Dynasty to have an attitude.” Prince scored a No. 1 hit with this gem, which also earned him a Grammy win for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocal. Some may be surprised to learn that Brenda Lee’s 1959 hit “Sweet Nothin’s” influenced the Purple One’s producer, who’s noted he adapted Lee’s vocals for a bit of the 1986 track’s background parts.  

3. “Little Red Corvette” (1983)

“But it was Saturday night, I guess that makes it all right. And you say, ‘What have I got to lose?’” This synth-sational classic from the glory days of MTV was the artist’s first hit to crack the Top 10. In breaking down the classic song’s innuendo and impact, Slate notes that “Prince was our Bard of one-night stands, and ‘Little Red Corvette’ was his masterpiece.”

2. “When Doves Cry” (1984): Prince songs

“Animals strike curious poses. They feel the heat, the heat between me and you.” Dig if you will this smash, which held the No. 1 chart position for five weeks. The master musician, who wrote and composed the song, plays every instrument on the innovative track that features no bass line. “He said, ‘There’s nobody that’s going to have the guts to do this.’ And he was smiling from ear to ear,” Peggy McCreary, one of Prince’s engineers, told Billboard. “He decided to do something really daring. That’s what Prince was all about.”

1. “Purple Rain” (1984)

“I only want to see you laughing in the purple rain.” The success of Prince’s magical masterpiece, which won him a Grammy for Best Rock Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal, ironically scared him. “It’s my albatross and it’ll be hanging around my neck as long as I’m making music,” he noted of the song and other tracks featured in the film of the same name. Eerily, it would be the last number he’d ever play live in April 2016, just one week before his death.

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