Top Prince Songs of the '80s, Volume 1

10 Hits From the Eclectic Pop Superstar

Singer song-writer and musician Prince performs at the Hollywood Palace to promote the opening of his film 'Purple Rain' on July 26, 1985 in Los Angeles, California.

Sherry Rayn Barnett/Getty Images 

Though unquestionably one of the decade's biggest pop superstars and responsible for several absolutely classic '80s hit songs, Prince was always far more than that: a fiercely talented, daring artist capable of and willing to try almost anything. His albums yielded an array of interesting compositions and performances, but it's through the artist's best-known songs that Prince shines the brightest. His catalog of hits is one of the most attention-deserving in pop music history, usually for reasons far beyond what's immediately apparent.

Although Prince passed away suddenly on April 21, 2016, at the age of 57, his music lives on. Here is a chronological journey through the '80s of 10 of his greatest songs of the decade.

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Prince had recorded intriguing songs prior to this one (including the provocative, but repetitive, "Dirty Mind" and "Controversy") and he even enjoyed a slightly bigger hit in 1980 with "I Wanna Be Your Lover." Still, this is when the electrifying pop craftsman took his most singular bow to date. Sure, the iconic keyboard intro is powerful, but the song's true brilliance lies in a delightful blend of funky guitar and Prince's majestic sense of melody. The actual apocalypse—whenever it might come—will surely never manage to be this much fun.

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"Little Red Corvette"

All of the songs from 1999 displayed a deepening grasp of pop song structure, but here Prince smoothly creates a nimble contrast between the slow synth groove of the verse and the explosive, guitar-fueled chorus. It makes for a transcendent result, a song that still manages to surprise listeners even after years of consistent radio play. As one of Prince's earliest rockers, this tune gives a clear indication of the singer's broadening versatility and his willingness to cross genres.

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"I Would Die 4 U"

Comparing the great music from the soundtrack of Purple Rain to the film of the same name makes it clear that there was a definite limit to Prince's versatility. Once again, though, the singer proves that he's equally adept with the synthesizer and the guitar, two instruments that didn't always spend much time on the same stage during the '80s. In his capable hands, this song maintains a sultry groove that is typical of Prince's catalog, yet somehow refreshing.

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"Let's Go Crazy"

Prince aimed for, and most certainly reached, an impressive new level with Purple Rain, and this song from that album particularly shows his musical growth. The sermon intro is a classic rock star pose, but it's executed with such verve and imagination that it presents us with something utterly new. The song that follows stands not only as a celebration of "this thing called life," but is also a showcase for Prince's highly underrated guitar playing. The lead toward the end has few rivals in the '80s.

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"Purple Rain"

Guitar remains a powerful factor on this, Prince's most well-known and evocative ballad, but this powerful title track's instrumentation is notable for its subtlety rather than the scorching fierceness of the previous song's guitar parts. Prince's vocals continued to get better from song to song, especially at this part of his career when he relied much less on the falsetto used so often in his formative years. Soulful and convincing, the performance on this tune holds up incredibly well for a pop hit of its magnitude.

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"When Doves Cry"

The tasteful guitar intro to this monster hit proved that Prince was quite interested in attracting a "Jimi Hendrix of the '80s" tag, in addition to the many other ways he aimed to conquer the world of pop music. The song itself works abundantly well as a pop confection but also as a deeper, haunting, and emotional artistic statement. The escalating use of layers of moody keyboards, coupled with various planes of supporting vocals, help to make this song an intoxicating trip indeed.

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"Raspberry Beret"

One way to measure the majesty of a song is to look at the rush to cover it by other, disparate artists. Prince's music has never been short of admirers, but some might recognize this song via the back door, from the Hindu Love Gods version a few years following the single's release. That band—which was basically R.E.M. with Warren Zevon as frontman instead of Michael Stipe—yielded a stripped-down but revealing version of this tune. In both versions, Prince's intoxicating melody always remains the centerpiece.

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Tom Jones' cover of this tune generally smacks too much of novelty, and in some ways its popularity tends to obscure the fact that the original version is one of Prince's finest performances. The singer goes back to his roots here, employing a mesmerizing falsetto vocal approach and dramatically raising the emphasis on rhythm, especially with the funkiest guitar he'd come up with since Dirty Mind. Dated Dynasty TV reference notwithstanding, this one ultimately stands as further glaring evidence of Prince's mastery.

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"I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man"

Speaking of great covers, there is a lovely version of this song by the Goo Goo Dolls, back when they were still a real rock band in the early '90s. You have to hear that one to believe it, but this tune in its original form once again reveals that Prince was a master pop craftsman with an incredible array of musical tools at his disposal. Lyrically, it's typical but still not tired, with a wry take on romance and heartbreak.

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"I Feel for You"

To keep things interesting, this one is a wild card on this list. Perhaps not that many people know that Chaka Khan's 1984 hit version of this song was originally released by its composer, Prince, in 1979. Though not the only instance of another artist taking a Prince tune to the top of the charts, this is arguably the best such example. If you never knew this was a Prince composition, listen closely and see if you can hear the familiar sound of royalty in the song's structure.