69: F.U.N.K. / PFUnk

Internet download (2007)
In 2007 Prince waged war on his adoring public by threatening to close down several fan sites for using his image. The backlash to this inexplicable feat of self-sabotage was immense. The targeted sites banded together to form Prince Fans United, a united front to fight back against the bullish threats of legal action. The cease and desist letters initially started up again but then Prince took a different tack. He plucked the funkiest jam sitting in his vault and vented his spleen over the top, turning the former instrumental into a diss track on his own fans. He then gave it to Prince Fans United and also released it himself on a site he created called PrinceFAMSunited. F.U.N.K. (or PFUnk as it was briefly titled in case its target wasn’t clear) contains many scathing lines but perhaps the biggest burn was it was one of the best things he’d put out in years, totally eclipsing anything on the recently released Planet Earth album. He wasn’t kidding when he threatens in his Camille helium squeal “you might not like the taste but I’m still gon’ stick your face in this funk!” And the fanbase loved having their noses rubbed in. This is what they’d been crying out to hear. Just when they were starting to question their relationship with him he goes and reminds them why he’s loved in the first place. Now the song is great, sure, but that gesture – the very act of spitefully smiting his fans with the one thing they craved, somehow rescuing the situation by doubling down on the dickishness – has to be one of the greatest artworks of the 21st century. Forget Montreux, he should have performed this move at the Venice Biennale.

71: Paradigm

Paradigm CD-R single (2001) / How Late Do U Have 2BB4UR Absent? (2005)
Which is the greatest Prince and George Clinton collaboration? Soul Psychodelicide never lived up to Joy in Repetition’s year-length promises. George’s input on We Can Funk was largely cosmetic, on a par with his 1994 cover of Erotic City. The Big Pump? Meh! The true mind-meld of these two funk colossuses comes in the form of the little-heard, wordplay-tastic Paradigm, a collaboration which in the words of George: “I peed on it, sent it to him, he peed on it, and sent it back”. And boy is it rich in the P funk. I get giddy happy whenever I meet a fellow acolyte and “hey brother, do u paradigm?” has become my equivalent of a Masonic handshake. I’m building a funk army – a support group for the bleak, lean years ahead. We’ve lost Prince, we’ve lost James. When George goes, funk will enter its dark age. He’s already on his farewell tour before he retires later this year so make the most of your time before the sun sets.

285: Magnificent

Internet download (2004)
The criminally-overlooked Magnificent – a ‘virtual’ b-side to Musicology – is a beautiful, balanced affair, with plucked strings and electronic debris floating in elegant equipoise. Deep listening and headphones are mandatory. A closed mind is not. Come fly with me to 200 miles above the Earth, where we tap out a primitive rhythm on the door of the International Space Station. Our secret knock is immediately returned, granting us access inside to witness a zero-gravity wrestle between Jacob and an angel. An Old Testament ballet in the orbit of Gaia. The fight has been going on for millennia but is now accompanied by a carefully-orchestrated disarray of sound. Leaked coolant has gotten into the synth keyboards, causing them to splutter out digital handclaps and tom-toms, and a low bassline begins to squelch in time with the emergency warning lights. The spacecraft may be about to implode but we’re ringside at the eternal dance of the earthly and the divine, and feeling enraptured we’re not giving up our seats yet.*

*Serving suggestion only.

335: My Medallion

Internet download (2001)
I can imagine My Medallion, like all good minimal music, was created Jenga-style with the gradual removal of elements from a fleshed-out track until the Minimal Viable Funk remains. Scratches, space invaders and ignition noises are amongst the load-bearing bricks that stay, leaving a sparse and jerky tower in the Kiss mode that gets under your skin like Frank Sinatra’s ticks. It’s a Looney Toons tale of a stolen medallion with a Spill The Wine chorus and verses that are downright hilarious. You often hear Prince’s guitar-playing described as under-rated, yet in my view it’s his lyrical storytelling that never gets enough props. He can spin a yarn as good as a Waits, Brel or Cash but can make you snort milk out your nose in the process. And as a pun fan, I cry bravo and throw roses on the “Dry cleaning: we do fine” line.

344: Glasscutter

Internet download (2004)
“Hey DJ, hit me with some of that ol’ school Prince! Y’know, back when he was the sexy MF with a dirty mind who wrote jawns about horny ponies and creamy thighs. I’m in the mood to listen to something with bath scenes and penetration metaphors, not glaziers’ tools. I’m sorry, what? This mid-noughties song is a five-minute rock/funk ode to a woman’s pert nipples? Oh, well in that case: play on, player!”

356: That Girl Thang

Internet download (2013)
Sold via the 3rdeyegirl site in 2013, That Girl Thang is a demo at heart, having only been written and recorded six hours before it went up. Raw as cookie dough (you can hear the mic knocks) and unadulterated with no edits, backing or overdubs, it’s as pure a hit of Prince as you can get. An intimate Polaroid allegedly intended as a flirtation device for a member of his harem (the dancer from the Chocolate Box video) after she sent a late night request for him to sing her to sleep. Beautiful, passing glimpses into unobserved, secret worlds of pillow talk.

465: Jukebox With a Heartbeat

NPG Ahdio Show #9 (2001)
Showing Prince at his most caustic, this gripe against radio programmers was written in response to the lack of airplay Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic received. The lines “why you giving people what they want when you oughta give them what they need ” are repeatedly spat out with white-knuckled frustration as Prince rails against the rigged game that charges for exposure. Of course this game served him well when he was an unknown teenager armed only with a bag of demoes, a deluxe press kit and an advertising exec behind him, but to point that out would be churlish. Ultimately Jukebox With a Heartbeat incapsulates one of the motivations behind Prince at the turn of the century turning to the internet to explore new models of promotion and distribution, appropriately enough only being released on one of his internet-only NPG Ahdio Show compilations. The beat is gnarled, highly strung and twists in complex directions as the song unfolds. Muscular but tense and full of knots crying out for a good massage.

479: Free Urself

Internet single (2015)
Prince reportedly shelved his Black album because he felt it was too dark and didn’t want it to be left representing him if he suddenly died. Appreciate then the beautiful poetry that the last single he ever did release was the most positive song out of his entire canon. This bubbly ball of pop bounces buoyantly with an unstoppable force like the boulder in Raiders of the Lost Ark if it was made of pink marshmallow and really, really wanted a hug. And just when you think there’s nowhere else for it to go the vocals side step into gospel and you want it to last forever. Instead it cuts out way too soon in the middle of an uplifting peak. Much like the man himself. Rest in purple peace Prince.