Let’s Go Crazy: A dozen of the late genius Prince’s best guitar songs
By Gary Graff
April 29, 2016
We didn’t need Prince to die to appreciate how many things he did well, musically and otherwise.
But we’ve been reminded of all those virtues during the eight days since he was found dead at the age of 57 in an elevator at his Paisley Park compound in suburban Minneapolis. And one of the talents that’s been celebrated most is his guitar playing, which his peers have positively gushed over in the wake of his passing.
It was Eric Clapton, after all, who, when once asked what it felt like to be the world’s greatest guitar player, responded, “I don’t know. Ask Prince.” Alice Cooper told us that, “Nobody really got how good of a guitar player he was—just a great, great guitar player. Musicians knew how good he was. I don’t think the public knew how good he was, though.” Journey/Santana guitarist Neal Schon—whose tone Prince aped in “Purple Rain”—proclaimed him “a magnificent player,” while Bob Seger recalled producer Jimmy Iovine once telling him that “as great as (Prince) is at everything he does, the best thing he does is play guitar.”
With all of that in mind, then, we thought we’d weigh in with our choice of the Purple One’s dozen best guitar songs over 38 years of releasing music to the world…
- “Purple Rain” (1984): The pedestrian and obvious first choice—but for good reason. Why try to be cooler than thou when this majestic opus, with its soaring solo, is as cool as it comes. There’s a reason why most of those paying concert tributes to Prince after his death, from Bruce Springsteen to David Gilmour, went with “Purple Rain.”
- “Let’s Go Crazy” (1984): The other bookend of the Purple Rain album, a full-out rocker from its crunchy opening riffs to its hot middle solo and searing, pick-shredding outro. A slap-upside-the-head awakening for the uninitiated who thought he was only an R&B artist.
- “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (2004): Prince was among those who entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that year, but he saved his greatest moment at the ceremony for this tribute to fellow inductee George Harrison, blowing the roof off New York’s Waldorf-Astoria and blowing away fellow performers such as Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and Harrison’s son Dhani with a jaw-dropping interpretation of Eric Clapton’s original solo from the Beatles track. This was the moment that put Prince on the map as guitar giant.
- “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man” (1987): The most buoyant and upbeat track on the lauded Sign O’ The Times album, a six-and-a-half-minute romp decked out with a pair of solos, one melodic and the other similar to “Let’s Go Crazy’s” crazy finish.
- “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad” (1979): His lady did him wrong but Prince treats us right with some explosive playing on this ode to heartbreak and suffering. Suffering never sounded so good.
- “When You Were Mine” (1980): This Dirty Mind track, Prince’s first out-and-out rocker, isn’t notable so much for his soloing as much as for the fact it nails and in its own way defines the New Wave tone of the time—sharp, angular, staccato but rhythmically propulsive and tight in the groove. A compact gem that broadened Prince’s stylistic footprint and invited in an entire new audience.
- “Bambi” (1979): An early indication of what Prince could do when he strapped a guitar on, a deep cut whose guitar heroics are sometimes overshadowed by its eyebrow-raising lyrics about trying to seduce a lesbian. Maybe if he just shut up and played the guitar for her…
- “Scandalous!” (1989): The seven-minute version on the Batman companion album was hot, but find the Long Version from a subsequently released EP that features more than 19 minutes of guitar gymnastics. Indulgent? For sure, but you’d be hard-pressed to call any of it wasted.
- “The Cross” (1987): A majestic, spiritual anthem whose dynamic builds into a ferocious nearly two-and-a-half minutes of six-string divinity that surely had the heavens rocking as well as the congregation.
- “Kiss” (1986): This spare, sinewy chart-topper—a consensus choice as one of Prince’s best songs ever—leaves plenty of room for treacly fretwork that blends funk and jazz stylings atop its stiff drum machine beats. Playful and punchy and every bit as fresh now as it was 30 years ago.
- “When Doves Cry” (1984): Yeah, another one from Purple Rain, but that shows just how locked-in and motivated Prince was six albums into his career. Beat, vocals and minimal keyboards dominate this boldly bass-less track, which leaves plenty of room for a slow-burning late-song excursion that took an already one of a kind song into another strata.
- “Father’s Song” (1984): Better known as the segue between Purple Rain‘s “Computer Blue” and “Darling Nikki,” a harmonic delight across two-and-a-half minutes and another new tonal approach in Prince’s creative quiver.