Ranking every song on the iconic Prince album '1999'

2022-11-23 21:50:08 By : Ms. Yan Liu

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Ranking every song on the iconic Prince album

It was make-or-break time for Prince. While the soon-to-be legendary musician was all of 24 in 1982, he had already released three albums that largely failed to break him through to mainstream audiences. As he acknowledged in his previous album’s title, Prince was controversial but not well-known enough to translate that into world domination.

That would change soon enough. 1999 is Prince as he first dials into all the elements that would make him great: funky rhythms, dance-party vibes, lasciviousness out the wazoo, and pop hooks. By frontloading his new album with two of his catchiest songs ever, Prince ensured that even middle America could get down with the genre-blending styles of The Purple One.

1999 became the first Prince album for everyone. While his style was too all-encompassing to land him a solid core audience, Prince decided to double down on the mix and turn himself into the ultimate pop star. He was someone the rock kids, new wave fans, pop heads, R&B devotees, and disco victims could all latch on to for different reasons. He was a man for everyone, and 1999 was his coming out party.

40 years on, 1999 still feels like it’s custom-made for global takeover. That’s a little bit strange, especially when you look at the dense song lengths and inescapable horniness that filters throughout the album’s tracks. But it was all carefully planned to make Prince a superstar, something that was probably inevitable but just needed a little push. 1999, needless to say, was that little push.

To celebrate the album’s anniversary, we’re taking a look at all 11 tracks that make up 1999. Some are all-time classics, some are hidden gems, and some are forgotten album cuts, but they all make up the story of 1999. Here are all of those tracks, ranked in order of greatness.

Prince was always a great believer in pushing the envelope regarding modern technology. As one of the great progressive minds when it came to drum machines and synthesisers, Prince was always looking to stay on top of new trends.

That’s a double-edged sword, though, especially on a song like ‘Delirious’. Primitive drum machines and thin-sounding synths stymie the side one closing track so severely that it almost sounds like a joke. Sure, it can still be enjoyed for its goofy arrangement, but ‘Delirious’ is one of the songs that keeps 1999 from truly being a front-to-back classic.

A heavily sarcastic track that nearly derails 1999 right before it hits its dramatic finish, ‘All The Critics Love U in New York’ reeks of contemptuousness and smugness. From Prince’s monotone recitation of the lyrics to the ridiculous “Body don’t want to quit / Gotta get another hit” section that sounds like a pilates exercise instead of a rock song, ‘All The Critics’ is an awkward listening experience for all involved.

It’s not all bad. The restless guitar growls that tiptoe around the song’s arrangement represents some of Prince’s angriest and most distorted six-string work by that point. But Prince once again leans too heavily on a drum machine that can’t add any depth to an already-fairweather song.

Prince’s fascination with the computer age was only beginning on 1999. For someone whose vault never upgraded from AOL-powered technology, Prince certainly had a major interest in the evolution of personal tech during the turn of the 1980s that would later surface on ‘Computer Blue’.

Most of these songs that live and die by their then-progressive and now-antiquated sounds can experience in two ways – you can either skip them or enjoy them for their novelty factor. ‘Something In the Water’ at least has a hazy atmosphere propelled by some slick-sounding synths, so it probably sits at the top of the list here.

When Prince found a hook, he was going to lean into it hard and heavy. The 1999 era saw a relatively sparse composition style, with most songs relying on just Prince, a drum machine, and some synths. Of all the noticeably bare songs on the album, ‘Automatic’ has just enough Kraftwerk-like angular charm to make it enjoyable.

The problem with ‘Automatic’ is pretty obvious: it’s nearly ten minutes when it should really only be half that length. Maybe some people can’t get enough of Prince whispering sweet nothings into their ears, but for me, I get the point pretty quickly. “Stop me if I bore you” is a perfect lyric that comes in at the perfect time.

One of the great fakeouts on 1999 was when you received the album for the first time, saw the song ‘Let’s Pretend We’re Married’, and assumed that it would be a romantic ballad. Absolutely not – instead, the track is perhaps Prince’s single biggest horndog moment ever put to tape.

Things really go off the rails in the final minute, when Prince goes on a fuck frenzy before once again facing down the apocalypse as he did on the title track. It can all be a bit much for the uninitiated, but it’s also classic Prince working at his absolute sexual prime. ‘Married’ might be the most unhinged fantasy on 1999, but it’s an intoxicating one nonetheless.

Funk was already a well-established genre by the time Prince got around to it. While he had early dalliances with R&B and disco, 1999 was a step into the worlds of pop and rock music. The dry dancefloor-humping club rhythms were slightly less prominent than they were on Dirty Mind, but they’re still around.

‘D.M.S.R.’ shows the other side of Prince that got him a ton of early attention – his rampant horniness. ‘D.M.S.R.’ is Prince working overtime to get things hot and heavy, pulsating through the speakers with some potent P-funk. Lines like “Work your body like a whore” might not have aged terribly well, but ‘D.M.S.R.’ is still one of Prince’s most infectious funk workouts.

Prince had an interesting relationship with big sweeping ballads. As most everyone knows, he has one of the all-time classic power ballads in ‘Purple Rain’, but that track is more of an anomaly than a trend in Prince’s discography. Prince was always at his best when he was bringing the energy, not slowing things down.

‘Free’ is definitely the closest thing 1999 has to its own ‘Purple Rain’, and it’s a poor substitute when looked at in that light. On its own, though, ‘Free’ can be a stirring look at human behaviour and a desperate plea in the form of a moving piano ballad. Once Prince perfected that particular kind of song on his next record, it’s easy to see why he rarely returned to it. But ‘Free’ shows that Prince could kick off the slow dances with more than just ‘Purple Rain’.

You’re doing it completely wrong if you’re not having fun while listening to a Prince album. With built-in dancefloor rhythms and infectious energy, each Prince album allowed the listener to put their worries to the side for a short while. The lighter he worked, the better Prince got. He doesn’t need to focus on love or God’s judgment all the time – sometimes, he just needs a lady cab driver to get his imagination going.

‘Lady Cab Driver’ is the most blatantly silly song on 1999, and that’s why it continues to be as enjoyable as it is. With a slick bass line and a breakdown that a psychiatrist could have a field day with, ‘Lady Cab Driver’ implies that Prince fucks in order to rid the world of its ills. Really, he’s just doing the lords work.

Closing out 1999 on a shuffling slow dance, ‘International Lover’ would probably be too schlocky for its own good in anyone else’s hands. But the great saviour of music comes through with one of his most potent weapons: the falsetto. Few other singers could harness their highest tones like Prince, and on ‘International Lover’, Prince uses it to get as deliberately romantic as he would ever get on record.

There’s something incredibly pure about ‘International Lover’. It’s the gold standard for what would eventually transform into the R&B slow jam, and you can hear the influences that everyone from Boyz II Men to D’Angelo stole directly from Prince on this track.

There’s no need to complicate things on this list: Prince knew what the album’s two best songs were, and he frontloaded them onto the tracklisting. While the two tracks have wildly different energies, it was ‘Little Red Corvette’ that saw Prince truly start to embrace synthpop as a viable vehicle for the 1980s cultural takeover.

‘Little Red Corvette’ was a breakthrough for Prince in more ways than one. It was one of the first videos that exposed Prince to the world MTV, in turn making him one of the first successful black artists to be played on the channel. ‘Little Red Corvette’ changed everything for Prince, angling him as a true god-tier pop star. 40 years later, it’s still a killer listen.

It’s no secret what a good Prince album should make you do: it should make you want to party. No matter where you are or what mood you might be in, a proper Prince LP will have you up, moving and grooving from the very start. While he was fine-tuning this approach to music on his first three albums, 1999 dialled in that inexhaustible party atmosphere and used it for all its worth on the epic album opener, ‘1999’.

But this party comes with a price – apocalyptic annihilation. Funnily enough, anxiety about the world coming to an end hasn’t dissipated in the four decades since Prince first showed us how to best handle it: with a killer good time. That makes ‘1999’ evergreen, always there to soundtrack the best of times and worst of times. When you’re partying with Prince, even Judgment Day can be an infectiously cathartic experience.

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Ranking every song on the iconic Prince album

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