In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, in honor of Prince’s pair of new albums, we’re picking our favorite songs from the Purple One.

Prince is my favorite type of pop musician: The kind who’s managed to cultivate a tremendous amount of popularity and commercial success without compromising his artistic vision—especially when conventional wisdom argues they should have dialed back. (Others in this category: Kanye West, David Bowie, Janelle Monáe.) His hits are hits for a reason, but what makes me truly love a Prince song is when something about it would’ve been second-guessed to death by anybody else. He’s a notoriously fussy control freak, but none of that comes across in his ’80s output, which has the distinct mark of a guy who couldn’t be told “No.”

Advertisement

Nobody could convince Prince to restore the bass line in “When Doves Cry.” Nobody could dissuade him from recording an entire, ultimately-shelved-and-repurposed album in the guise of a female alter ego, Camille. And, fortunately, there was no successful campaign to keep the abstract, brain-scrambling synth-funk of “All The Critics Love U In New York” off of Prince’s breakthrough album.

Squirreled away on side four of 1999, “All The Critics Love U In New York” is the antsy, moody climax of a record that opens with the ’80s catchiest visions of apocalypse. It’s not peak Weird Prince—the three separate records (including Camille) that were melted down into Sign O’ The Times were still to come—but it is a bracing, abrasive statement from a musician barreling his way toward the mainstream. While retaining the stark minimalism that defined the Minneapolis sound, Prince fires up seemingly every gizmo on 1999’s Blade Runner-inspired shelves, bringing out tones that are closer to automatic phone dialers and whirring drills than musical instruments. And just when the whole enterprise threatens to get too indulgent, “All The Critics Love U In New York” gains self-awareness: “Yes, we’re certain of it,” Prince states, mimicking the static of a police radio, “he’s definitely masturbating.” It’s the funniest spoken aside of the record, and the second-smuttiest. (First prize on the latter count goes to this bit from “Let’s Pretend We’re Married”: “Look here, Marsha, I’m not saying this just to be nasty, but I sincerely want to fuck the taste out of your mouth.”) And as soon as that line was committed to tape, you can be damn sure it wasn’t questioned.

Advertisement