Prince Playlist – 10 of my Favourites

A year on from Prince’s untimely death at the age of 57, I thought I would share some of my favourite tracks from the star (for the full playlist, go to the end of this post).

Prince_SelfTitledStarting off in the late 70s with ‘Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?’ from Prince’s second album Prince (which also features ‘I Feel For You’, later made famous by Chaka Khan), this song is beautiful funk rock and that guitar solo is just irresistible. It’s also crazy to think that Prince was only 21 when this was released.

Moving into the 1980s, the title track from Prince’s fourth album, ‘Controversy’ Prince_Controversyaddresses the speculation surrounding him at the time: “I just can’t believe all the things people say… Am I black or white, am I straight or gay?”. Like many of Prince’s tracks, it is ahead of its time and as relevant today as it was in 1981. It is also happens to be ridiculously catchy and of course, funky.

1999A year later Prince released 1999 which features some of his biggest hits – one of which is the stunning ‘Little Red Corvette’. In the same vein as Springsteen’s ‘Pink Cadillac’, Prince utilises the 80s “car as a metaphor for a woman” trope to an electric effect as he screams “You must be a limousine!” An 80s classic.

PrincepurplerainIn 1984 Prince released Purple Rain, the soundtrack inspired by the film of the same name and his most famous album, (to date it has sold over 22 million copies worldwide). The album is jam-packed with tunes but there are two clear standouts for me. Firstly the opening track ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ with its iconic opening verse: “Dearly beloved, we are are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.” A hugely energetic fireball of a song, it nearly explodes at the end and I wish to God I had experienced it live. Equally as feel-good and supercharged is ‘Baby I’m A Star’, one of my top 5 favourite songs of all time. The transition into the track from ‘I Would Die 4 U’ is seamless and if you have not had a full-on dance session while playing it at full volume in your bedroom, then you are really missing out. Trust me.

ParadeLPPrince’s 1986 album Parade also features some of my favourites, albeit for very different reasons. ‘Kiss’ was one of the first Prince tracks I ever heard and I have danced to it countless times since. He really is in his prime with this song as he balances seduction with genuine affection. Also on Parade is the beautiful ballad Sometimes It Snows in April’, where Prince’s talents as a lyricist are on full display. Providing a real contrast to tracks like ‘Kiss’, here Prince is stripped back and emotional as he laments on death and grief.

More often than not, however, my favourite Prince tracks are dripping with bold Prince_sign-o-the-times_250sexuality and electric funk. 1987’s Sign o’ the Times is a wonderfully varied and rich album and has something for every mood, however I find myself continuously coming back to two tracks in particular. ‘It’ is a purely addictive song with its gorgeous slick beat and in those last 60 seconds of instrumental you can clearly hear the inspiration for modern synth-poppers such as Christine & the Queens.

However, ‘U Got the Look’ is without a doubt my favourite Prince song. It has the perfect blend of pop, rock and funk, along with Sheena Easton’s fantastic vocals and I can’t help but fall for it every time I hear it.

Prince_BatmanFinally, I have to mention a track from Prince’s soundtrack for Tim Burton’s Batman from 1989. My personal favourite is ‘Partyman’, which is featured in the art gallery scene in the film where Jack Nicholson’s Joker playfully defaces some priceless art. Unlike many soundtracks, this song does not need its context to be enjoyed but I think it’s fair to say that the song really does make the scene.

You can listen to the full playlist here:

Bruce Springsteen – The Highlight Reel (1973-1975)

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A young Bruce Springsteen holds his debut record, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.

Introduction

Earlier this year, Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band kicked off The River Tour (due to finish in September after 75 dates), in support of the 2015 release of Springsteen’s The Ties That Bind: The River Collection box set, featuring outtakes and video footage to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the album The River. In September, Springsteen will also release his autobiography Born to Run, which he has been privately writing for the past seven years. Amongst this Springsteen fever, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to collate, and share, my personal Springsteen highlight reel.

Over the past few years I have gradually fallen deeper and deeper in love with the music of Bruce Springsteen. First introduced to him via his Born In The USA record, I immediately connected with his 80s releases and decided to delve further into his musical history. As both a History graduate and a huge music fan, I find him absolutely fascinating. In just over a week’s time, I will be seeing Springsteen at London’s Wembley Stadium and when buying my tickets, I came up with the idea of writing a Springsteen series for this blog.

My personal highlight reel will span every single Springsteen album, split up into roughly 2 to 3 albums per post. The tracks I have chosen are my current personal favourites and this project is not intended as an in-depth analysis of Springsteen or a list of his ‘best’ work, but as a personal reflection on his music. I will aim to cover all of his current work by the time his River Tour ends in September (fingers crossed!)

As with any ‘Best Of’ list or countdown I have ever written for this blog, choosing which songs to feature has been incredibly difficult. However, it feels like even more of a challenge with Springsteen as not only is there a lot of music to choose from, but his work is so varied and raw, that it somehow feels personal choosing one song over another.

Highlight Reel 1973-75

In this first highlight reel, I will cover Springsteen’s three albums released between 1973 and 1975 – Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. (1973), The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle (1973) and Born to Run (1975).

Springsteen was only 23 years old when he released his debut record and right from the very start, he showcased his talent with words. One of the main reasons I love Springsteen’s music is because of his beautiful lyrics and ‘The Angel’ perfectly demonstrates his ability to convey a character through music, within a number of minutes. The lyrics feature numerous references to motorcycles and I love the simplicity of the piano playing and how its delicate sound contrasts the typical connotations surrounding the hells angel of the story.

Reading Springsteen’s lyrics is often more like reading a poem than a song, and it is these lyrics that make his songs so special. Also from his debut album, ‘Spirit in the Night’ tells the story of ‘Crazy Janey’ and co’s escapades to the Greasy Lake. It is romantic, freeing but also mysterious and shows how Springsteen is as much a storyteller as he is a songwriter.

Springsteen’s second album, also released in 1973, features a more bluesy and soulful sound with tracks including the gorgeously funky ‘The E Street Shuffle’ and ‘Kitty’s Back’. However, it is the final track, ‘New York City Serenade’ that is my personal favourite from the record. At just under 10 minutes long, it is a truly magical composition. It sweeps over you and transports you to Springsteen’s romantic fantasy of 70s New York. It also proves how skilfully Springsteen has been able to incorporate piano and saxophone into rock music.

In 1975 Bruce Springsteen released his third studio album, Born to Run, which saw him finally break into the mainstream and achieve commercial success. The second song on the album, ‘Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out’ is one of my favourites mostly because it just makes me feel good and because it reminds me of the music featured in The Blues Brothers that I was obsessed with as a child. It tells the story of the formation of the E Street Band, with Springsteen placing himself in the story under the pseudonym ‘Bad Scooter’ and meeting the other band members such as the ‘Big Man’ himself, saxophonist Clarence Clemons. A big, big tune.

It may not be as lyrically sophisticated, but ‘She’s the One’, also from Born to Run, is without a doubt one of my top Springsteen songs. It has a great pace to it and builds so beautifully. Its staccato beat is infectious and when it really kicks in at 1.17 you just feel so alive.

Perfectly placed after the sombre, but stunning, jazz of ‘Meeting Across the River’, is Born to Run‘s big finale – ‘Jungleland’. The song portrays the violent gang lifestyle of the protagonist (the ‘rat’) who tries, and ultimately fails, a ‘stab at romance’. It is tragically beautiful and a fantastic example of Springsteen’s role as a commentator of 20th century America, in particular of the working classes. It also features a breathtaking saxophone solo from Clarence Clemons. ‘Jungleland’ is epic and when you listen to it, you really feel it.

 

 

Happy 50th Birthday Janet!

Today is the one and only Janet Jackson’s 50th birthday. She recently announced that she is expecting her first child with her husband so this is going to be an amazing year for her.

Jackson is one of the true pop icons and really is the whole package – a fantastic artist and songwriter, but also an incredible dancer. I am a huge fan of her work in the 80s in particular and it only seemed right to share one of my favourite Janet Jackson songs for her big day. ‘The Pleasure Principle’ was featured on Jackson’s 1986 album Control and its music video is one of my favourites of all time. Beautifully simple, it features Jackson showcasing her iconic dance moves in an epic solo dance performance.

David Bowie – A Tribute

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When I saw the news this morning that David Bowie had died, I was absolutely shocked. This was the man who just a few days earlier had released his new album Blackstar on his 69th birthday and I had, rather naively, hoped that a new album could lead to the possibility of seeing him live on tour. Bowie was a true icon, a trailblazer and an innovator. He was one of a kind and his mastering of the art of reinvention, not to mention his influence, will never be matched.

I haven’t listened to every song that Bowie ever released and, at the age of 21, I didn’t experience the Bowie phenomenon in the 1970s first-hand. Instead, I discovered (and still am discovering) his music through his cultural legacy, my parents, curiosity, and through various film soundtracks from Frances Ha to Guardians of the Galaxy. I looked back on Bowie in the 70s and 80s in the same way that I do with multiple other artists from those eras, with that familiar feeling that I was born in the wrong decade and a slight sense of injustice, wondering why these kinds of artists don’t seem to exist today.

David Bowie created some amazing music – my personal favourites including ‘Young Americans’, ‘Rebel Rebel’ and ‘Fashion’. I remember seeing him as Ziggy Stardust when I was younger and thinking he was some kind of mythical creature. A key Bowie moment I remember was when, aged 16, I watched Cherie Currie come alive as she channelled Bowie in the film The Runaways, showing how Bowie taught many people that it was ok to be quirky, have different sides to yourself, be gender fluid and just to be yourself. That was the pivotal thing about Bowie, he never tried to fit in and by doing so he inspired others. Perhaps ironically, he was never in fashion because he had style, and style is timeless.

Two days before his death, Bowie had not only released a new album, but a bloody brilliant one at that: experimental, jazzy, unsettling, challenging and utterly unique. Aged 69, Bowie was still exciting and more importantly, fresh. Blackstar perfectly captures how Bowie was the king of reinvention and new sounds, but his music was always, undoubtedly, unique to him. His last single, ‘Lazarus’ which I chose as my track of the week at the start of the year, is an absolute masterpiece. In some ways it feels all the more tragic that Bowie has died in light of him releasing such progressive and wonderful music mere days before his death. Yet, the fact that ‘Lazarus’ was his last single is oddly beautiful and poignant, as he sings ‘Oh I’ll be free, Just like that bluebird.’

Goodbye, Starman. ☆