So, Prince’s death was a surprise and a shock. He seemed like he would live forever.
But this is about one of the inevitable consequences of his death: the loosening up of control of his work and his image. During his lifetime, control was a central theme of Prince’s work. Once he was gone, it was always going to change. The Vault would inevitably be opened.
And so we have a new version of Purple Rain, with extra, never-before-heard songs. We have Funko Pop figures. And we have so much more of Prince’s music now available online. I pay my $15/month for Spotify and now that gives me access to pretty much all of Prince’s mainstream work.
And so, during a long, boring Labor Day, I started to put together an entirely personal and subjective Spotify list of what I would call the 100 essential songs from Prince’s career.
And you can find it here.
This does of course raise issues of respecting an artist’s wishes after they’ve died. Most famously, Kafka wanted all of his work burned up his death. But his will executor ignored his wishes and now we have more of Kafka’s work than would have been the case. By not following his friend’s wish, Max Brod made our culture was made a little richer. So, not to be too on-the-fence, but I stand firmly with the answer that, well it’s complicated. If you have a literal or figurative vault full of work from an artist, destroying it seems like an extreme example of cultural vandalism.
If, as an artist, you don’t want to lose control of your work after your death, then destroy it yourself. In this case, I’d put the needs of the many above the needs of the one. If the artist feels strongly enough about this, then be sure and light the match while you’re around to do so, rather than relying on others to do it for you. This is entirely your right. If it still exists after you die, then you can’t be surprised if the world takes possession of it.
My list ended up looking pretty much how I imagined. It starts pretty healthily, builds to the peak of the Purple Rain to Sign O’ the Times albums, then declines. Finding something I felt was essential from his final decade of work was not easy. And this, I would emphasize, is almost entirely down to the fact that Prince provided the soundtrack to my childhood and adolescence. I left him behind in my mid-20s. We’d grown apart. But I have no doubt that there are armies of fans who love his later work. These lists are always personal, no matter how much we might pretend we are being somehow objective. I couldn’t give you honest criteria for how I chose this list: I love Prince; these songs are why.
But this isn’t anyone else’s list; it’s mine. And my point, aside from trying to provide you with a full working day’s worth of great music, is to show how ultimately pointless these lists are. There are no greatest films of all time; no essential 100 songs. Or, at least, we can all make our own lists and they will be all different. I hope you find something you like from my list.
(And yes, there are 99 songs on the list. The last place is for anything you like from Lovesexy, the album where Prince didn’t put breaks between the songs. Because he’s Prince.