Top Prince Songs of the '80s, Volume 2

With the shocking April 2016 death of legendary, beloved pop/rock musician Prince, music fans have placed renewed attention on the tremendously impressive catalogue of one of the greatest artists of the rock era. And while that happens to be a body of work that contains nearly four full decades of released music, the Prince discography of the '80s certainly reveals that era to be one of his richest and rewarding. Only a handful of cross-genre pop/rock artists of the last 60 years warrant the kind of adulation Prince has received both during his life and (on a surely ongoing basis) posthumously. And even fewer truly deserve it. Here's a second tier of top-notch Prince songs from the '80s to celebrate as honored achievements among an undeniable legend's very best work from a dizzyingly prolific music career. Rest in peace, Purple One.

01
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"When You Were Mine"

American musician Prince (1958 - 2016) plays guitar as he performs at The Ritz during his 'Dirty Mind' tour - New York City, 1981.
Gary Gershoff/Getty Images

Though 1980's Dirty Mind largely served as the beginning of Prince's frank, sometimes shocking treatment of sexual matters, one of the album's greatest songs actually functions as a fairly pure, minimally outrageous guitar-synth pop song. That's not to say it's anything less than a masterful piece of work; rather, it serves to spotlight the artist's playful, light-hearted side even as it treats some unique, rather uncomfortable romantic topics in its lyrics. As usual, during this early period, Prince's falsetto vocals are on strikingly vivid display, but the artist's new wave-transcendent combination of synthesizer and guitar may just be the most memorable musical elements of the tune. Other artists would memorably cover this song (most notably Cyndi Lauper on her 1983 debut LP), but Prince's version remains classic.

02
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"Controversy"

On 1981's 'Controversy,' Prince began to comment somewhat on the reception his "shocking" music was getting.
Album Cover Image Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Prince returns to his funk roots on this title track from his 1981 LP, also acknowledging for the first time the growing public reaction to his bold image and uncompromising, autonomous approach to making music. Even more impressively, he manages to critique the prudish nature of American culture, challenge the notion that the sacred and so-called "profane" can't comfortably coexist, and (finally) recite the entirety of one of Christianity's most familiar prayers. But all of this somewhat esoteric purpose comes off to the listener primarily as danceable pop music nirvana, as the song's version of a chorus stands out as yet another melodic moment of transcendence from one of music's foremost masters.

03
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"Delirious"

Prince enjoyed his first genuine commercial breakthrough with 1982's '1999.'
Album Cover Image Courtesy of Warner Bros.

As synth-pop began to make its presence known in American music and the pop charts, Prince continued to demonstrate his mastery of the instrument on 1982's breakthrough LP, 1999. Though sometimes considered a lesser hit from that album, this track actually peaked higher on the Billboard singles chart than the record's seemingly ubiquitous title track. The quirky synth riff dominates the proceedings, but lyrically speaking, Prince comes off as a vulnerable, almost ordinary human when it comes to the unsettling experience of infatuation. In contrast to his already established lothario image, Prince freely admits here that sometimes the prospect of sex and romance can throw him for a loop just like the rest of us suckers. It's an exhilarating change of pace for an artist who always seemed in total control of his environment. But he was just human after all.

04
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"Let's Pretend We're Married"

Perhaps the most graphic lyrics of Prince's '80s catalogue came on this track from '1999.'
Single Cover Image Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Prince's liberal use of the cardinal profanity in its fullest carnal connotation served as a moment of awakening for many a pre-pubescent mind of the early '80s. However, upon closer examination of the song's actual merits, this song contains far more than the naked confessions of uncontrollable lust. Musically speaking, the moments of aggressive funk are mesmerizing on their own, especially during the sparkling bridge ("Oh, little darling if you're free for a couple of hours...") that leads into the rather conventional chorus. Ultimately, the explicit lyrics serve plenty of purpose on their own, but this song is a rewarding total package.

05
of 10

"The Beautiful Ones"

Prince released one of the absolute top albums of the '80s in 'Purple Rain.'
Album Cover Image Courtesy of Warner Bros.

When it comes to 1984's Purple Rain, lead-off track "Take Me With U" certainly has its share of devotees. However, the overall quality of Prince's theatrical (if not necessarily cinematic) masterwork creates valid arguments for each of its nine tracks to be considered essential listening. Particularly "The Beautiful Ones," a sultry, atmospheric ballad full of achingly beautiful moments. After all, the entire project represents Prince at his most unabashedly romantic, and as usual, this is not an artist who does anything halfway. So this track ultimately serves as an emotive, cathartic celebration of Prince as both an unrivaled vocalist and impeccable composer.

06
of 10

"Darling Nikki"

For all the hand-wringing about its sexually charged, even "filthy" (at least in some uptight circles) lyrics, this track is far more interesting for its gothic synthesizer overtones and aggressively singular structure. For one thing, Prince had already been far more lascivious on record then he is here - even at this early juncture of his career. So if critics wanted to nail him for it, a focus on this relatively tame libidinous ditty seems rather silly. Nevertheless, Prince is in full display here as an adventurous composer, a musician not only unwilling to censor himself and unafraid of the evaluations sure to result from so-called conventional wisdom, but also in full command of his considerable versatility. In the case of Prince, fans may arrive for the reputedly bawdy attractions, but they inevitably stay for the artist's awe-inspiring substance.

07
of 10

"Pop Life"

Prince made a stylistic turn with 1985's 'Around the World in a Day.'
Album Cover Image Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Some critics were disappointed and even flummoxed by the so-called psychedelic elements of 1985's Around the World in a Day. However, they may have been missing the point - that Prince was such a restless artist that his idea of evolution could spin the heads around of merely mortal observers. After all, he had just begun to display the depth of his musical gifts by mid-decade, having spent most of his first few years thoroughly exploring funk, post-disco, soul, R&B, and straight-ahead rock music avenues. So on a joyously melodic, eclectic tune like this one, Prince seemed to be working on experimental alternatives to create something like a living musical organism. The fact that he could do so while also presenting such sturdy, melodically rewarding moments as these provide yet more testament to his towering genius.

08
of 10

"Sometimes It Snows in April"

Prince released his second album that served as a soundtrack for one of his films - in 1986's 'Parade.'
Album Cover Image Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Even before Prince's cruelly premature death - so shocking in its suddenness - this tune from 1986's Parade was a highly charged emotional listening experience. Against the backdrop of gentle piano and acoustic guitar, Prince details a perspective on wrenching loss, exhibiting some of the same grief-stricken musings that have met his own real-life demise. Strictly as a performance, however, the track illustrates yet another dimension of Prince's artistry - the kind of intimate, personal experience that fans could sometimes draw out from him onstage but generally not from his highly limited sharing about his personal life. But as a doorway into the heart and mind of a beloved artist, the music will just have to do.

09
of 10

"Sign o' the Times"

Prince delved into social commentary in earnest for the first time on 1987's 'Sign o' the Times.'
Single Cover Image Courtesy of Warner Bros.

It took some time perhaps for Prince to turn to serious social commentary, but he does so memorably on this lead-off title track to his sprawling 1987 double-album release. As an astute observer of intimate and sexual human behavior, this artist had certainly established himself as a singular, worthy voice a decade into his career. Nevertheless, Prince takes a considerable risk in attempting to outline the emerging social problems of the late '80s - mainly because the path to "preachy" can sometimes be a shockingly short one. However, Prince's disarmingly poetic lyrical turns (ranging from "a big disease with a little name" to "When a rocket ship explodes and everybody still wants to fly") help ensure that the song deftly avoids treacle.

10
of 10

"Forever in My Life"

Prince delved into social commentary in earnest for the first time on 1987's 'Sign o' the Times.'
Album Cover Image Courtesy of Warner Bros.

As in the first volume of '80s Prince songs, the final slot in this list seems like a good time to step off the beaten path and spotlight some of the artist's lesser-known treasures. This brings us to this deep album track from Sign o' the Times, a straightforward but rewarding showcase of Prince's prime, stand-alone vocal talents. In this tune, the artist again announces that just like the rest of us (and in his own special way), he simply wants stability, love, acceptance and peace. Doesn't seem like too much to ask, but as in so many things, Prince seemed to have a prescient understanding of how hard such human comforts are to come by. Yet even in the face of strife, this is an artist who always had hope - which he will continue to communicate to fans in death as in life.