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Prince's 15 Most Righteous Guitar Tracks

Prince's 15 Most Righteous Guitar Tracks

The response to Prince’s death in April 2016 was a global rainstorm of emotion. He was many things to many people: a whirling funketeer who woke up sexual urges, an iconoclast who inspired individual expression, a symbol of everything pop could be.

Belatedly, though, a consensus is forming behind his primary status as a fearsome guitarist. Prince was so gifted, he overshadowed this trait himself, with tastefully plucked hits like “Kiss,” “Cream” and “Raspberry Beret.” You already know those tunes. Here, however, is a list of the truly mind-blowing numbers—some of them deep cuts, others from Prince’s essential 1984 masterpiece Purple Rain—that should convince even skeptics.

Note: Only the six-string sizzle of Prince is included (sorry, Revolution sideman Dez Dickerson and your mighty solo for “Little Red Corvette”).

Another note: As you'll notice when you do your own searches, the bulk of Prince's music is no longer available for streaming via YouTube. We've included what we could find. Enjoy!

15. “Dreamer”
Lotusflow3er (2009)

A revolutionary way with the electric guitar, a black heritage, a penchant for rock songs involving purple weather conditions: Prince withstood comparisons to Jimi Hendrix his whole life. So when he finally decided to pay explicit tribute to the Sixties rock icon, he went all out, aping Hendrix’s wah-dipped “Voodoo Child” intro, cutting loose with multiple fuzzed-up solos and even doing his best trippy vocal impression of the master. Clearly, lessons had been learned. Amazingly, Prince doesn't embarrass himself in the attempt, which is impressive.

14. “The Ride”
Crystal Ball (1998)

Scary as it is to comprehend, Prince had stashed away more completed albums in his famous “vault” than most artists release in a lifetime. One of them is his legendary CD The Undertaker, a hard-blues workout recorded at his home studio that was originally intended for inclusion in a 1994 issue of Guitar Player. After his label, Warner Bros., had a panic attack over the idea, some of Prince’s most incendiary shredding was doomed to be deep-sixed. But this track—basically an opportunity for Prince to make his guitar sound like lava spewing from a sex volcano—made it out alive via this box set several years later.

 

13. “The Morning Papers”
Love Symbol Album (1992)

Working with his frighteningly tight combo the New Power Generation, Prince expanded his musical palette and recaptured his R&B audience (at the expense of wider popularity, a decision we applaud). This original track could easily have been a big-production Eric Clapton number, anchored by horns, a full-throated vocal and a bluesy solo captured with impeccable tone. In a mere four minutes, “The Morning Papers” crams in a generous amount of fretboard exploration, but during its final stretch, it can only be Prince, whose instrumental passion has escalated into a full-on scream. The solo ends on a risky final note that has to be heard to be believed.

 

12. “Joy in Repetition”
Graffiti Bridge (1990)

The sultry groove of this lesser-known jam identifies it as high-grade sex music (a huge compliment), but after the three-minute mark, Prince goes full Carlos Santana with one of his most face-melting solos. It’s hard to know what the engineer was thinking, panning the overdriven freakout all over the mix, but regardless, some kind of tropical achievement is unlocked. Over the years, Prince would talk of his love for Santana’s style. This track proves it, as he burrows deeply into wah-wah abuse, digital delay and a sweltering intensity. His playing is so uninhibited, it’s a shame it has to finally reach climax and roll over.

11. “Electric Chair”
Batman (1989)

Already grappling with his own private sense of schism (he shelved 1987’s The Black Album because it was “evil”), Prince was having a rough end of the decade when director Tim Burton called with an ideal project, one that let the musician act as Caped Crusader and Joker both. While his chart-topping “Batdance” felt like a random, weightless bit of studio fluff, Prince found good use for some of his earlier dark ideas—like this supercharged funk-rock pounder (memorably performed on Saturday Night Live). The massed guitar harmonies are Maiden-worthy, while Prince doesn’t have a problem hijacking a Hollywood blockbuster for his own experiments with atonality and dissonance.

 

10. "U Got the Look"
Sign o’ the Times (1987)

Prince’s guitar playing could be a conduit to ecstasy, to spiritual catharsis or simply to good ol’ booty shaking. On this ferocious track, it’s an expression of pure erotic id. The Jessica Rabbit of 12-bar-blues tunes, “U Got the Look” is the hip-swiveling high point of Prince’s majestic double album Sign o’ the Times. Never before had he saturated his sound in so much distortion; the treatment becomes a wink to the listener that’s just as explicit as the lyrics (“If love is good, let’s get to rammin’ ”). Unholy squeals and atonal moans emanate from a disturbed, almost Frippian place. When Prince finally cuts loose with some pentatonic licks, his sexual hunger is a palpable thing.

 

9. "Alexa de Paris"
B-side, “Mountains” single (1986)

Prince’s black-and-white movie musical Under the Cherry Moon repulsed a majority of critics and audiences, but the music—collected on the Parade LP—signaled a high degree of creative growth. Heard onscreen (but only purchasable as the flip side of a single) is this incredible instrumental, which even a skilled pair of ears could easily confuse for primo Jeff Beck. Lushly supported by the orchestrations of longtime collaborator Clare Fischer, Prince takes a song-long excursion into mysterious modes, abrupt key changes and, ultimately, his most adventurously exposed solo flight. Discovering this piece of music is like that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark when Indy uses the beam of light in the Map Room to find the Well of Souls: a totally new way of seeing.

 

8. “She’s Always in My Hair”
B-side,
“Raspberry Beret” single (1985)

As confusing as Prince’s psychedelic Around the World in a Day album was for the mainstream rock audience he had just won over with Purple Rain, the artist was apparently doing exactly what he wanted. Take this fierce castaway track that he relegated to the scrap heap (it probably got more spins in guitar-centric households than the A-side). The central riff is hard as nails, and when he explodes into a yowling mid-song solo, the speedy precision of his runs is daunting. The song was deliriously reinvented onstage by Prince’s final band, the all-female precision squad 3RDEYEGIRL.

 

7. “Purple Rain”
Purple Rain (1984)

Closing out the record on an emotional high, Prince’s soulful anthem of atonement is loaded with technique. First, a note about then-19-year-old Wendy Melvoin’s delicately strummed rhythm part, enriched by a chorus pedal working overtime. It’s often misplayed; make sure to stretch your fret hand out to accommodate those extended F add9 and Ef add9 chords. (These shapes might have been inspired by Andy Summers’ decade-defining “Every Breath You Take,” a massive hit at the time.) By the time you make it to Prince’s fiery exit statement, which combines speedy runs with hummable repeated themes, you’re completely in his pocket. He would play this classic for the rest of his life. It was the final song at his last concert.

 

6. “When Doves Cry”
Purple Rain (1984)

Don’t rush us. This album’s a bona-fide guitar classic, so let’s take our time with it. Until you can fire up your octaver and execute the insane piece of squonk that introduces Prince’s immortal single, you should pay attention. Drenched in barely controlled feedback and propelled by blurred-pick-hand frenzy, it’s a disturbing way into a strange song: skeletal, bass-free, impossibly arresting. Later, Prince’s lengthy outro solo calls back to his earliest records, yet bolstered with newfound maturity, it italicizes the ache at the heart of the lyric. (He also plays the smarty-pants synth solo.) If only all pop songs were this sophisticated.

 

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