REVIEW: Divide – Ed Sheeran

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I had always enjoyed Ed Sheeran’s radio hits, such as “Thinking Out Loud” and “Photograph,” but I never really took the time to sit down and listen to any of his studio albums. However, the hype surrounding his latest release, Divide, was too much to ignore, so while stuck in traffic for over two hours on Wednesday, I took the time to listen to the album, and I’m very glad I did.

I’ll start off by saying that the first single, “The Shape of You,” didn’t do much for me; I just can’t buy ginger-bearded Sheeran as a bar-hopping lothario constantly getting involved in one-night stands. Sonically, I also found the song too mechanical and generic, even after his admittedly stunning one-man Grammy performance of the song. The song that really caught my attention was the second single, “Castle on the Hill,” a rumbling nostalgic ballad whose cinematic lyrics recall Bruce Springsteen at his best, the kind where you can close your eyes and imagine every image sung unfolding in your head. In many ways, it may be the best song Sheeran has written to date.

Listening to Divide in full turned out to be just as rewarding an experience: Divide is a mature, accessible, brilliantly written and produced record with lots of great songs and Sheeran fully developing into his own personality as an artist. He is a storyteller in the vein of the aforementioned Springsteen as well as lesser known names like Richard Thompson and Frank Turner, with a uniquely British wit and sensibility all his own. This comes out best on the irresistibly catchy “Galway Girl,” a much more accessible and believable love story than “Shape of You,” with more great storytelling details that put Sheeran in a class of his own among today’s (few) successful singer-songwriters.

I’m not going to go through the whole record, but one song that deserves special attention is “Dive,” Sheeran’s best song to date: a powerful, mature and perfect song about the fear of falling in love expressed perfectly, with Sheeran’s best vocal performance to date. Other highlights include the rather sweet “What Do I Know?,” a cheery paean to the power of art, and the aching “Supermarket Flowers,” a touching tribute to Sheeran’s dearly departed mother that will bring a tear to your eye. From start to finish, Dive is an immensely enjoyable record, and proof that if he keeps it up, Sheeran will be around for years to come.

Divide is available through Atlantic Records wherever cds and vinyl are sold, as well as all major streaming services. Always support the artists (unless it’s Nickelback).

 

REVIEW: Sunday in the Park with George

On Friday evening, my girlfriend and I had the privilege of seeing Sunday in the Park with George at the Hudson Theatre near Times square. The show, written by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford.

Written by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, Sunday in the Park with George is a multi-arc musical chronicling the creation of Georges Seurat’s most famous painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Originally opening in 1984, with Mandy Patankin and Bernadette Peters in the lead roles of Georges Seurat and his model, Dot; it was Sondheim’s first production since the infamous Merrily We Roll Along. Despite some complaints over the pacing and structure of the play, the show was fairly well received and was generally considered a return to form for the legendary composer.

The show is broken up into two parts: the first begins with Seurat in 1884 as he obsesses over getting the famous painting just right, creating friction with just about everyone he knows, most notably his model / lover Dot, whom he continually distances with his obsessive and cold demeanor. Each subject of the painting is given its own subplot, though none are as compelling as the main tension between Georges and Dot.

The second half fast forwards to 1984, when Georges’ great-grandson, George, struggling with his own ability to forge connections, as well as the difficulty of living up to his great-grandfather’s legacy. Helping him along is his grandmother, Marie, who is later revealed to be [SPOILER ALERT] the daughter of George and Dot. The second half focuses on George coming to term with the shadow of his family legacy and learning to accept and appreciate his own gifts.

While not as accessible as some of Sondheim’s other productions, Sunday in the Park with George is still a fascinating look at the mindset of an artist when in the throes of creativity, how it drives him to and away from what matters most.

Gyllenhaal gives a commanding performance as Seurat, holding his own against previous stars such as Mandy Patinkin and Philip Quast. He imbues Seurat with equal amounts of warmth and distance, allowing the audience to feel frustrated and proud at key moments, perfectly nailing the complexity of the character. Vocally, his voice is light and warm, and he handled the songs with ease.

Annaleigh Ashford was a formidable female lead, playing perfectly off Gyllenhaal and portraying both Dot and Marie with warmth and humor, providing a great deal of sympathy for both characters. Her nuanced portrayal is maybe the best part of the whole production.

Song-wise, the two high points are its emotional centerpieces, the triumphant “Finishing the Hat” (one of the best testaments to the power of art ever written) and the aching “Move On,” sung by George and a vision of Dot as he finally learns to let go of his burden.

Its odd structure and abundance of side characters can make it occasionally hard to follow, but Sunday in the Park with George is undoubtedly worth seeing thanks to its commanding leads and great soundtrack. The show runs until April 23rd.

THERE WAS NO LOSER FOR BEST PICTURE LAST NIGHT.

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This year’s Oscars will be remembered for the Best Picture blunder at the end of the night that will forever overshadow whatever work Warren Beatty may attempt in his remaining years. Some were happy that the low-budget Moonlight really did overcome the tremendously hyped (some would say overhyped) La La Land. Others were upset that Emma Stone-Ryan Gosling vehicle, which was hailed for its originality, lost to a film many deemed as ‘Oscar bait.’

So which film really deserved to win? It doesn’t matter, because the whole incident was the best thing to happen to both films. For years to come, both Moonlight and La La Land will be endlessly viewed and analyzed as future film historians will argue over which film should have won, ensuring both films’ legacies deservedly will be secure. And that’s the way it should be: both films, while offering different genres, perspectives and performances, are equally compelling and unique. Moonlight is a harrowing portrayal of the complexities and struggles that still exist growing up as an African American, while La La Land mixes 1950s’ nostalgia and modern cynicism beautifully.

To call Moonlight ‘Oscar bait’ or discredit La La Land as ‘slight’ because of its genre is to oversimplify and completely miss the point of both. They are so vastly different yet so eerily relevant to today’s climate, and will likely serve as important signposts of what audiences were looking for in 2017 and will continue to look for in entertainment in the toughest times.

MUSIC IN THE AGE OF TRUMP, PT. 1 – Springsteen & Dylan Write Two Different Yet Deeply Similar Records That Deal With Relevant Themes.

 

DISCLAIMER: This is the start of a recurring theme on Nasti Thoughts, where I will take a current song or album and relate it to the current political landscape, arguably the most tumultuous since the 1960s’.

When it comes to writing songs that reflect the socio-political landscape at any given times, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen are usually at the top of their list. Despite employing different styles (Dylan cryptic and poetic, Bruce more economic, straightforward and cinematic)

Such music has rarely been more relevant than today: from the mysterious smoke and mirrors show of Trump’s cabinet to the wily, unorthodox and just plain offensive actions and speeches of the President himself, we are living in strange, scary times. Manipulation is a powerful tool and complacency is at an all time high. People are hurting and are easily swayed by fallacious ideas that appeal to their basest interest.

Bob’s Oh Mercy and Springsteen’s Magic were recorded nearly 20 years apart (1989 for Bobby Z, however I listened to both of these albums again recently and couldn’t help but notice several similarities between the two albums: both Magic and Oh Mercy are regarded as twilight-era highlights in both artists’ careers (with the latter arguably being the unofficial start to Dylan’s mid-1990s’ renaissance), but the similarities go much deeper than that.

Both albums begin with charging, paranoid rockers that speak about fractured systems we once believed in, and how the dissonance within both leads to disconnection and isolation: “Radio Nowhere” and “Political World.” Bob and Bruce also return to this well with “Everything is Broken” and “Livin’ in the Future.” albeit less successfully, in my opinion. Both albums also have prayers for a fallen world, one lost due to the distortion of our values; Bruce’s is more hopeful and determined (“Long Walk Home”), while Bob’s is more solemn and resigned if not outright doubtful of redemption (“Ring Them Bells”).

Failed romance is also a theme, and both have the narrators in denial of their heartache: Bruce masks his with bravado and humor (“Girls in their Summer Clothes”), while Bob knows deep down it still haunts him, but he’s able to shrug it off as long as he’s not alone (“Most of the Time”).

Several tracks draw their power from the unsettling vagueness: “Man in the Long Black Coat” and “Magic” (as well as “Your Own Worst Enemy”) both deal with a mysterious stranger with a darkly captivating pull, whose power and identity are never quite identified; furthermore, both songs also use trees as symbols of doom (“bodies hanging in the trees,” “…African trees bent over backwards from a hurricane breeze…,” “…tree trunks uprooted ‘neath the high crescent moon…”). Also falling into this category is Bobby’s “What Was It You Wanted,” another song that has no clear narrative beyond a series of questions posed, and sounds all the darker because of it.

Finally both songs close out, albeit unofficially in Bruce’s case, with deeply mournful, personal songs: “Terry’s Song” and “Shooting Star.” As has been the case thus far, Bruce’s is more hopeful and chooses to look at the loss with a positive outlook: “love is a power stronger than death.” Bob’s, on the other hand, paints a more tragic, almost apocalyptic portrait, with references to the “sermon on the mount” and “the last temptation”; the person he’s singing about seems to have missed their chance for redemption.

While not all of this is overtly political, much can be tied towards the sense of dread permeating through much of the United States right now. These themes – isolation, heartbreak, betrayal, loss of our values – are deeply on the minds of Americans under Trump, and Bob and Bruce convey these concerns beautifully in each of their own inimitable style.

Be on the lookout for next month’s edition.

 

Grammys 2017: The Good, The Bad and the….Odd.

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The 2017 Grammys have come and gone; more than perhaps any awards show, the so called ‘biggest night in music’ invites a great deal of animosity, often accused of being a popularity contest that awards safe, commercial work as opposed to the truly groundbreaking and original.

This year, in many ways, was no different: Adele took home the top prize for Album of the Year for 25, a largely safe gestalt of a record whose notoriety hinged on the success of “Hello.” I am an Adele fan, but 25 simply did not have the thrilling originality of 18 or 21, relying far too much on belt-y ballads as opposed to the more diverse textures of her previous efforts. And Adele knew it too: her acceptance speech had her basically espousing the virtues of Beyonce’s Lemonade, which we all knew should’ve won; if there ever was year Kanye would’ve been in the right, it was this one. Lemonade is Beyonce’s most ambitious and mature work to date, a tour de force of sight and sound with deeply personal, moving and emotionally complex themes.

And yet, despite this blunder, this year’s shows had quite a share of highlights, and thankfully got quite a lot right: David Bowie, who only won one Grammy in his lifetime (for Best Music Video in 1985), swept every award that his brilliant swan song Blackstar was nominated for, though only one of the awards was televised (Best Rock Song, a surprisingly formidable category all around). Chance the Rapper made history, becoming the first artist to win for music that was exclusively streamed for his album Coloring Book; the humble Chicago artist seemed at a loss for words each time he went up, giving praise to God and his parents in both his speeches, before letting his music do the talking with a stirring performance of “How Great” and “All We Got.” And Megadeth, whom lead singer Dave Mustaine once dubbed the ‘Susan Lucci of the metal Grammys,’ finally won Best Metal Performance.

Performance-wise, there were several highlights: the mash-up between Lukas Graham’s “7 Years Old” and Kelsea Ballerini’s “Peter Pan” was surprisingly fluid and powerful, while Lady Gaga managed to rescue her much anticipated performance with Metallica with sheer power and energy as James Hetfield tried to emit his signature snarl into a broken microphone (someone definitely got fired); between her explosive vocals and boundless stage presence (that crowd surf!), Gaga may as well replace Hetfield full time.

Ed Sheeran proved why he is such a singular talent, with a sensuous performance of “Shape of You” that further exposed his multi-talented skills, accompanying himself on guitar, keyboards and a triggered drum machine. And what about that Barry Gibb tribute? Demi and Tori both destroyed, and Gibb was understandably moved.

Finally, A Tribe Called Quest made the night’s lone explicit political statement, bringing out Busta Rhymes to appropriately refer to Donald Trump as ‘Agent Orange,’ after the deadly herbicide dropped on the U.S. during the Vietnam War.

The performance of the night, however, goes to Bruno Mars: his first performance of the night, “24k Magic,” was your typical energetic performance from the diminutive soul king. It was later in the night, however, that Bruno proved why he is already a legendary performer: all year, we had been waiting to see how the Grammys would honor Prince in the wake of his passing; while it would be tough to top Sheila E’s emotional BET Awards showcase, there was no doubt that the Grammys’ version would be stirring in its own right. And boy it was: opening with a funky, nostalgic cameo by Purple protégées Morris Day & The Time, Bruno then crashed onto the stage, decked in Prince’s signature Lord Byron-esque ruffled purple and white outfit, and simply rocked the house with “Let’s Go Crazy.” Prince was definitely looking down, smiling, knowing his influence and spirit lives on in Bruno.

The other big tribute, however, was not quite as good: Adele was, on paper, the perfect choice to honor George Michael, as they both come from the same pedigree of British artists with an affinity for old school soul and belty ballads, but the dirge like rearrangement of “Fastlove” – not a particularly well known or emotionally compelling song – was a plodding bore. Anything from “Faith” to “Praying for Time” to “Careless Whisper,” or even a more uplifting choice such as “Freedom ’90,” would’ve been far more dynamic. It was touching to see Adele tear up towards the end, and her mid-song pause and apology certainly speaks to her humble and endearing character, but it definitely wasn’t her at her best.

Then there were the weird moments: John Travolta continues to prove that he is only going to get more awkward at award shows with each passing year, coming off as absolutely ridiculous with his ‘bling’ joke and notoriously stupid hair, and Cee-Lo Green entered the Meme Hall of Fame with whatever the fuck that gold debacle was. And finally, let’s talk about that Beyonce performance: should I have loved it because it was Beyonce? Am I wrong for finding it confusing and pretentious? My mind is still doing circles.

My last paragraph most heap some praise on the unsung hero of the night: James Corden, who brought his trademark sense of humor, humble demeanor and fearlessness to the evening, from incorporating his parents into a naughty bit with Heidi Klum and Nick Jonas, to an impromptu carpool karaoke that exposed John Legend for not knowing the words to “Sweet Caroline.” Corden killed it, and he should definitely host more shows down the line.

Overall, the 59th Annual Grammys were a flawed and wily ride, but overall it was a rather surreal and entertaining affair, with tons of highlights to make up for some of the evening’s more dubious moments.

 

The Arts and Liberalism are Inseparable.

Politics and art have long gone hand in hand, regardless of those who tell singers and actors to shut up and sing. The accepted norm is that these people live in a bubble – they don’t know real struggle due to the privileges of their success. They have no idea what the ordinary person goes through.

This is completely and utterly incorrect.

Whether it’s Meryl Streep or Bruce Springsteen, the idea that an actor, musician, painter or any other human being in the creative arts is some out of touch recluse with no connection to the outside world is fundamentally wrong.

For Springsteen to write so eloquently about the plight of the working man, or Streep to successfully embody someone like Karen Silkwood, or for straight actor Tom Hanks to play a gay character so sympathetically in Philadelphia, etc., they have to have the ability to connect with people who aren’t like them, as well as associate with a variety of races, colors, creeds, genders and sexual orientations, all of which you’re far more likely to come across in the arts than almost any other industry.

They’re called ‘liberal’ arts for a reason: truly great art is meant to be universal. It is meant to bridge gaps beyond gender, race, color, creed and sexual orientation. It comes from an innate understanding of the human condition and the struggles associated with it, along with a sense of compassion and empathy. Conservatism, almost by definition, is on a philosophy built on a resistance to change. The most influential music of the last 60 years – Elvis, The Beatles, Dylan, Prince, Nirvana, to name just a few – came about from a fundamental inclination to challenge accepted norms, be they concerning race, sex, religion, politics or some other supposedly sacrosanct institution. Conservatism reveres the sanctity of these institutions, and scoffs when they are challenged in any way.

This is why almost no one reveres the likes of Toby Keith, Ted Nugent, or Rob Schneider – their works show a fundamentally limited grasp of human life. Nugent would never risk losing his audience of macho chest-beating meatheads the way Springsteen did with a song like “Streets of Philadelphia,” which spoke sensitively to the plight of people with AIDS, and specifically homosexuals thanks to its association with the movie, Philadelphia. Nugent, meanwhile, writes songs about fucking 15 year olds. To each their own I guess.

This is not to say that people with any conservative ideologies can’t be successful artists at all – Clint Eastwood, for example, has created some truly stunning works throughout his career as both an actor and a director, despite him leaning to the right; even Eastwood however, is socially liberal. I also don’t believe all great art is inherently political or rebellious – Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, as well as the great American songwriters of the 1930s’, exemplify that quite well. However, great art and an inclusive mindset go hand in hand.

When a celebrity sticks their nose in a controversial political issue, be it through their art or their statements, it’s not because they live in a bubble: it’s the exact opposite. That is not to say the opinion of a celebrity automatically holds more weight than the average person, but when it comes to having a well rounded, worldly view on certain issues – namely social issues – they are generally far more in the know than your average Middle American.

It is true that Madonna probably doesn’t know the plight of an average steel worker, but she can certainly relate to a rape victim who feels that the legal system consistently lets victims of assault down. Bruce Springsteen may not live near the Metuchen auto plant anymore, but he’s long remained active in New Jersey charities for the poor and struggling. These people put their money where their mouth is and know what they are talking about. Their art is testament to that.

Purple Perfection: Prince’s 40 Greatest Songs.

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This Sunday, almost a year after his shocking passing, Prince’s full Warner Brothers music catalog – everything up to 1994 and two from 2014 – will finally hit streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music. This includes his most seminal albums – 1999Purple Rain, Sign O the Times. With such a wide ranging catalog (more than half of Prince’s nearly 40 albums were recorded for Warner Brothers), now is as good a time as any to sit down and sift through the cream of the crop and come up with the 40 most essential Prince songs throughout his career, from chart topping smashes to long out of print obscurity.

40. Alphabet Street (Lovesexy, 1988)
Lovesexy was a largely adult affair, drifting towards the spiritual as opposed to the physical, but “Alphabet Street” provided a nice respite. It’s not life changing, and certainly pales in scope and overall artistry to some of his other singles, but it’s also incredibly catchy, recalling “Raspberry Beret” with its automobile references and psychedelic vibe. Make sure you get the album version with Kat Glover’s rap, as the song feels even slighter without it.

39.I Feel For You (Prince, 1979)
Chaka Khan did it better, but “I Feel For You” still holds a nice place as one of Prince’s best early numbers, and his own take certainly stands up well against Chaka’s 1984 smash. Prince’s take is more relaxed, with a breezy groove and vocal performance, and lays a nice framework for which Chaka (and Stevie Wonder) improved upon exponentially.

38. She’s Always in My Hair (The Hits / B-Sides, 1993 – originally recorded in 1983)
This mid-tempo love song backed “Raspberry Beret,” and later became a live staple. Prince obviously loved the song, as he always smoked it in concert, turning in passionate vocals and searing guitar work whenever it popped up in the set.

37. In This Bed I Scream (Emancipation, 1996)
Prince’s three disc kiss-off to Warner Brothers was a hit or miss affair, but it yielded some gems, most prominently this riveting tale of regret. Though it has a relatively gleeful hook and arrangement, the song’s lyric are pure heartbreak, buoyed by a series of vocal crescendos that stand out as one of Prince’s best studio performances. The song as a whole is one of his most underrated and exciting.

36. How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore (The Hits / B-Sides, 1993 – originally recorded in 1982)
This smoky blues shuffle is probably Prince’s most beloved B-side and was also a live highlight for many years, with Prince pulling out some of his most daring and honest vocals: when he holds that long note on “Stiiiiilllll like it better….” you feel it in your soul.

35. Solo (Come, 1993)
This chilling Billie Holiday esque tale of isolation and loneliness might be Prince’s darkest: the lyrics, when read on their own, could be a suicide note. Its spooky quality is enhanced by Prince’s falsetto, by far the most ghostly it ever sounded. Despite its sparseness, it’s also one of his most evocative arrangements: if isolation had a sound, it would be the electric piano and harpsichord that serve as sole accompaniment.

34. Black Sweat (3121, 2006) *
This minimalist funk jam was Prince’s funkiest track in a long time. Accompanied by a playful black and white music video featuring the Artist and dancer Celestina Aladekoba, “Black Sweat” could’ve easily come from Prince’s early albums, between its seductive lyrics, tight groove and synth hook. Prince was back, and this time for good.

33. Musicology (Musicology, 2004) *
The title song from Prince’s 2004 comeback album is a nostalgic tribute to the music that inspired Prince, namedropping Earth, Wind and Fire, Sly & the Family Stone, Chuck D, and numerous others, as well as sampling some of his own biggest hits during the fadeout. After spending much of the early 2000’s looking to reestablish his presence after the somewhat bizarre symbol period, Prince discovered that the only way to do so was to return what he did best, bringing back the funk and soul that defined his early work. Musicology as a whole was a very welcome return to form, the first time Prince had felt fully like Prince since perhaps Diamonds and Pearls.

32. Adore (Sign O the Times, 1987)
This tender, angelic ballad comes as a welcome sense of relief after the largely dark affair that is the Sign O the Times record. Prince’s falsetto reaches new and exciting heights as he croons of love everlasting, as this time he ain’t ‘fucking just for kicks.’ Just don’t smash up his ride.

31. Pop Life (Around the World in a Day, 1985)
One of Prince’s many ‘take a look around, the world may be shit but you gotta live anway’ anthems, “Pop Life” coasts along on a breezy groove as Prince poses a series of questions to its forlorn listener: “Is the poverty bring you down?” “Is the mailman jerking you ‘round” “What you puttin’ in your nose?” It’s an effective critique on 1980s-era excess, even if it isn’t as dynamic as a “Let’s Go Crazy” or a “1999.”

30. When You Were Mine (Controversy, 1981)
A soulful retro ballad with a killer hook, “When You Were Mine” quickly became one of Prince’s most covered songs, with the likes of Mitch Ryder and Cyndi Lauper – among others – each quickly trying their hand at it. It’s not hard to see why: “When You Were Mine” is a perfect pop song, with an instantly memorable melody and a simple but relatable sentiment that struck a chord. It wasn’t a big hit at the time of its release, but it’s since become a deserved classic.

29. Days of Wild (Crystal Ball, 1998)
Prince had a love-hate relationship with rap, acknowledging its musical significance while often expressing dismay at its perceived vulgarity and embrace of violence and misogyny. “Days of Wild” allowed Prince to successfully experiment with the genre while taking shots at the elements he disapproved of such as the glorification of drugs (“Pop, guns and weed? Brother please! We’re much too wise for this nonsense…”), misogyny (“A woman everyday should be thanked, not disrespected, not raped or spanked”), and fashion (“Tennis shoes and caps, now that’s phat”). It’s one of his most aggressive and original songs, as well as one his most effective uses of profanity for emphasis, something that the song lost after Prince’s religious conversion.

28. U Got the Look (Sign O the Times, 1987)
“Here we are folks, the dream we all dream of…boy vs girl…in the world series of love…”

And with that, Prince and Sheena Easton takes on a four-minute thrill ride with this grand-slam of a pop rocker. If Bogie and Bacall were a 1980s’ pop duo, this is the kind of sexy, classy number they’d specialize in. Prince and Easton’s feisty vocal volley has often been imitated, but never duplicated.

27. Diamonds and Pearls (Diamonds and Pearls, 1991)
The title song from his 1991 album, this sparkling ballad may seem somewhat saccharine on paper, but its glowing arrangement, warm vocal and the presence of the dynamic Rosie Gaines elevate it to something much greater. Even if some of the lyrics rely too much on the ‘moon / June’ rhyme scheme as opposed to more dynamic and evocative wordplay, they still are representative of the significant growth and sophistication Prince had gradually been demonstrating in terms of portraying relationships, a trait he began experimenting with as early as “Kiss.”

26. 17 Days (The Hits / B-Sides, 1993 – originally recorded in 1983)
To show just how much of a roll Prince was on in terms of quality from 1982-85, this haunting up-tempo ballad was only considered good enough to a B-side. The song it backed? “When Doves Cry.” Prince gives one of his most effective vocals, while The Revolution turn in one of their strongest performances in the studio, particularly Wendy & Lisa, whose spectral backing vocals are evidence of just how essential a component they were to Prince’s signature sound.

25. Dreamer (Lotusflower, 2009)
Arguably the best song Prince wrote during his mid-2000’s artistic and commercial resurgence, “Dreamer” is a searing, angry number that touched on racism, politics, and Prince’s infamous belief in chemtrails. With a chunky groove and biting, often clever lyrics (“Peanut butter logic, served on a bed of lies…”), this is the kind of song Prince should’ve focused on in what turned out to be his final years. It’s certainly more interesting than “Guitar.”

24. Delirious (1999, 1982)
This wily gem gets overshadowed by the other two breakout hits from 1999 (the title song and “Little Red Corvette”), and while it may not be as ambitious as either of those two tracks, it’s still an absolute blast: one of Prince’s catchiest pop confections, its cheery, zig-zaggy keyboard riff stopping at nothing to worm its way into your head as Prince delivers one of his most playful, seductive vocals.

23. Something in the Water (Does Not Compute) (1999, 1982)
While Prince would portray the themes of paranoia, insecurity, and general emotional vulnerability more effectively in later songs (“Thieves in the Temple,” “The Beautiful Ones”), “Something in the Water” still remains one of Prince’s most underrated and effective tracks. It’s also one of his weirdest, boasting a spin-cycle rhythm, hidden, almost subliminal vocals (the way Prince simply whispers the word ‘bitch’ at one point is downright sinister), and maybe the most chilling moment in Prince’s entire recording history, as he unleashes a series of screams that sound like they come from the deepest, darkest pits of hell. Don’t listen with the lights off.

22. Do Me, Baby (Controversy, 1981)
Probably the song I would like to most go back in time to watch Prince record in person: just what the hell was it like to watch him unleash those torrential, orgasmic screams in person? The pinnacle of his early bedroom soundtracks, Prince isn’t fucking around on “Do Me Baby”: it’s an intense, over-the-top, erotic romp that, like the best sex, takes it time to build up to an incredible climax, ebbing and flowing at key times, going in unpredictable and exciting directions when you least expect it. When Prince utters, “I won’t stop until the war is over,” you can’t help but submit. Christian Grey ain’t got nothing on the Purple One.

21. I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man (Sign O the Times, 1987)
A forlorn soul ballad disguised as a retro throwback to the boardwalk sound of the early 1960s’, this little gem is proof that stripped of the sexual innuendoes, ear piercing screams and other histrionic signatures, Prince was just a damn good pop songwriter: this is the kind of song Carole King could’ve knocked out for The Drifters and made into an instant classic, but as such it remains a relatively obscure entry in his catalog (though it did make the Top 10). I’ll touch more on Prince’s maturation of a songwriter in regards to his portrayal of women and relationships as this article progresses, but the depth and sensitivity he portrays in this song marked a major progression, as it is unlikely he could’ve come up with something this elegant and adult in both subject matter and musicality around the time of “Jack U Off.”

20. Darling Nikki (Purple Rain, 1984)
Also known as Tipper Gore’s all time favorite, this graphic tale of a one-night stand is one of Prince’s darkest and most unique songs: its metallic, slinky, almost robotic guitar riff, the longing vocal and the NSFW lyrics made for a challenging but nonetheless compelling listen. Moreover, it stands out for being one of the few tracks in Prince’s catalog where intercourse isn’t a positive, transformative experience: the narrator is clearly haunted by Nikki’s abandonment, punctuated by one of Prince’s most psychotic screams begging her to come back.

19. I Wanna Be Your Lover (Prince, 1978)
In just under three minutes, Prince’s first major hit single managed to establish the image that would define his early career: a fearless, androgynous paramour of love and lust unafraid to shatter boundaries. Who else could pull of a line like “I wanna be your brother, I wanna be your mother and your sister too” so confidently?

18. Let’s Go Crazy (Purple Rain, 1984)
Prince’s pre-eminent showstopper, a ‘live in the moment’ anthem with the most memorable opening sermon in pop music, “Let’s Go Crazy” is a musical funhouse that delights, frightens and excites. Its lyrics urge the joy of life while also confronting the specter of death (much has been made of the haunting coincidence of Prince having died in an elevator, a metaphor for hell that is echoed in the song’s pre-chorus refrain). Few have approached mortality with such abandonment and enthusiasm.

17. Cream (Diamonds and Pearls, 1991)
His last chart-topper, “Cream” is also the last of Prince’s erotic anthems to gain traction with the general public, as he moved towards a more spiritual direction as the 1990s’ went onward. Mixing Delta blues with a New Jack groove, “Cream” was a breath of fresh air after Graffiti Bridge left his career in somewhat of a limbo state, ensuring fans that there was still a lot of ground for Prince to cover and that his muse was still very much with him. Also, has a cowbell ever sounded sexier?

16. The Most Beautiful Girl in the World (The Gold Experience, 1995)
This could be considered Prince’s last true ‘classic.’ That is not to say he didn’t have anymore great songs or albums, or that he didn’t write songs that should be regarded as classics (“Dreamer”), but this incredibly touching ballad was the last song in Prince’s lifetime to have anywhere near the impact of his previous classics. More than just a great pop single, “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” is one of his most affectionate ballads, as well one of his most evocative studio arrangements, tastefully making use of natural sound effects such as water rippling and animals. The song also features Prince’s greatest vocal take, spanning every facet of his range, most notably his rich, low natural baritone.

15. Controversy (Controversy, 1981)
“People call me rude. I wish we all were nude. I wish there was no black or white, I wish there were no rules.”

When Prince hit the scene, he was unlike anything that had been seen; a hybrid of James Brown, David Bowie and Smokey Robinson, he was a dichotomy: his songs portrayed the sort of sexual machismo of big voiced Barry White types, yet his feminine falsetto and androgynous stage presence made for a compelling parallel. Questions about Prince’s personal life came into question, and “Controversy” – the song and as well as the album – was a no-holds barred “Fuck You” set to the nastiest of grooves.

14. 7 (Love Symbol, 1992)
The flip-side to “Thieves in the Temple,” possessing a similar Middle Eastern sound but being much more optimistic and upbeat in nature. Essentially the theme song to his film 3 Chains O Gold, “7” is yet another of Prince’s ‘love will conquer all’ anthems, and it’s one of the best: between the aforementioned Mediterranean inspired arrangement and some of his most evocative lyrical passages, “7” is simply sublime, an irresistible paean to hope.

13. I Would Die 4 U (Purple Rain, 1984)
The penultimate song in Purple Rain, “I Would Die 4 U” isn’t a song so much as a pledge: I’m going to give you my all…just don’t expect to understand all of it.’ It was a promise to always keep us guessing, to keep us intrigued and challenged. That promise was one kept throughout his entire career, as he constantly sacrificed one phase for the next to keep fans wanting more, whether they understood what he was doing or not.

12. Thieves in the Temple (Graffiti Bridge, 1990)
There isn’t much good you can say about Graffiti Bridge, Prince’s directorial debut and his ill-fated sequel to Purple Rain. The soundtrack, for the most part, is quite clunky, with lots of forgettable contributions from supporting artists, as well as some tepid tracks from the Artist himself. Still, “Thieves in the Temple,” with its Middle Eastern sound and dark lyrics of paranoia and mistrust, rose above the pack and immediately established itself as one of Prince’s most original works of his career. It also became one of his most revered, eventually becoming a jazz standard after Herbie Hancock famously covered the song in 1996, once again how wide Prince’s influence spanned.

11. Sometimes It Snows in April (Parade, 1986)
This quiet piano ballad is the subtle cousin to “Purple Rain’s” bombast: a gentle, elegiac tribute to a spirit gone too soon. In the wake of Prince’s passing, the song gained a notoriety it never quite gained during its lifetime (given its retroactively ominous title, how could it not?) Ignoring its haunting parallels with Prince’s actual passing, the song still functions flawlessly as a meditation on the intertwining of pain and pleasure, on how death and rebirth go hand and hand, and how all good things must come to an end.

10. The Beautiful Ones (Purple Rain, 1984)
The first emotional high point of the motion picture, this is a Prince ballad like no other: he never so convincingly portrayed such vulnerability or emotional nakedness before or since, at least when it comes to romance. Starting off as a tender, falsetto driven plea, it builds up to an absolutely devastating conclusion, with Prince screaming at the edge of his voice for his lover to make the choice, “Do you want him? Or do you want me?” Apollonia may have taken her time, but the rest of us never gave it a second thought.

9. Raspberry Beret (Around the World in a Day, 1985)
A love song about a colorful, obscure sartorial article, a girl who ‘wasn’t too bright…but knew how to get her kicks,’ and a motorcycle ride to Old Man John’s farm? This psychedelic throwback was the kind of quirk gem only Prince could come up with, and turn into a massive hit at that. One of his most endearing compositions, the whimsy of “Raspberry Beret” offered the perfect counter to the grandiose drama of “Purple Rain,” and further established Prince as a versatile and unpredictable force in pop music.

8. Sign O the Times (Sign O The Times, 1987)
The flip side to “1999.” Whereas the earlier track urged us to set aside the woes of the world, this one confronts them head-on: AIDS, crack, the Challenger explosion and nuclear fallout all get name dropped in some form or another throughout this track, as Prince’s sullen vocal muses of a world gone dark and getting darker. Unlike “1999,” release won’t come from earthly pleasures, but from the stability of love and family. Prince’s forays into socio-political writing were hit or miss, but this was a home run (the goofy ‘…we’ll call him Nate’ line notwithstanding).

7. 1999 (1999, 1982)
I wish I could’ve been there when those synths cut through the airwaves in 1982. Prince’s seminal breakthrough party anthem perfectly undercut the swath of fear that was quickly sweeping through Reagan’s America. “1999” put everything into perspective: “Everybody’s got a bomb, we could all die any day, but before I let that happen, I’ll dance my life away.” As the decade grew more turbulent, Prince’s attitude became essential in the face of AIDS and Star Wars. It’s just as relevant as ever in the face of Trump. Truly a timeless song no matter what year.

6. Kiss (Parade, 1986)
That ‘waka-waka’ guitar riff. That air-tight groove (maybe The Revolution’s best studio take). That agile falsetto. The endlessly quotable one-liners (“Act your age, mama, not your shoe size…”). “Kiss” is the perfect pop single, and captures Prince in the best of both his worlds. Equal parts bawdy and sophisticated, this song did more to cement his public image than perhaps any other single post-Purple Rain, as a pop star, as a sex symbol, and as a songwriter. Like “Little Red Corvette,” it also represented a massive step forward in Prince’s portrayal of sexuality and relationships: he is not concerned with looks, flirty pickup lines, or zodiac signs, just unfettered commitment (and your kiss).

5. If I Was Your Girlfriend (Sign O the Times, 1987)
From what warped corner of Prince’s mind did he pull this from? Do we even want to go there? Who knows? The 1980s’ gave major momentum to the stalker ballad (“Every Breath You Take,” “Somebody’s Watching Me”), but leave it to Prince to turn the genre on its head and come up with something unlike anything he, or possibly anyone, could’ve conjured.

Inspired by his breakup with Susanna Melvoin, “If I Was Your Girlfriend” speaks of a longing to relate to your lover on the most intimate level, in this case their best friend. That Prince uses gender specific terms is key to understanding the narrator’s frustration, as he feels that his machismo makes him incapable of understanding his lover’s deepest emotions, so much that Prince deliberately sped up his voice to sound more feminine. Both creepy and beautiful, “If I Was Your Girlfriend” is an endlessly fascinating song, one that few have dare attempted to recreate because no one could do it like Prince could.

4. When Doves Cry (Purple Rain, 1984)
Dig, if you will, the genius of Prince’s biggest selling and arguably most beloved single: he played every single instrument. He did all the vocals. He defied conventional wisdom by not even giving the song a bass line, because he wanted it to truly sound different than anything else on the radio at that point. To say he succeeded is an understatement: in the midst of Reagan-era materialism, slick Casio riffs, and Yuppie excess, Prince broke through with an intensely personal tale of a man unable to come to terms with his father’s emotional distance, leaving him spiritually frigid and unable to relate to the one woman who could help him. If 1999 was the catalyst for Prince’s maturation as an artist, “When Doves Cry” was the culmination, his most mature and elegant composition to date, and one of those songs that significantly altered pop music going forward. 33 years later, it still feels fresh.

3. Little Red Corvette (1999, 1982)
There are a variety of factors that allow “Little Red Corvette” to stand head and shoulders above all of his other tales of sexual ribaldry. While there’s certainly much to enjoy in early numbers such as “Soft and Wet” and “Head,” they are rather immature and pedestrian, with little concern for subtlety or tastefulness. With 1999 as a whole being Prince’s true artistic breakthrough, it only made sense that his signature erotic side would too display a major leap in quality.

A marked departure from those earlier numbers, “Little Red Corvette” is a three-act play set to music, beautifully detailing the sexual awakening of its protagonist. The tapestry of tension weaved by the now-famous synth intro was the first clue that this would no ordinary tryst, but something much more sensuous, mysterious and ultimately satisfying. Those first lines confirm our suspicions:

“Guess I should’ve known by the way you parked your car sideways, that it wouldn’t last.”

This isn’t the confident paramour of “Head” or “Dirty Mind.” This is Prince as a novice, clearly experiencing his first adult moment of stimulation, with a woman who intimidates him as much as she excites him. Just the mere fact that she bought condoms along (“…pocketful of horses, Trojan and some of them used…”) is enough to rattle his confidence. And yet, he comes to the same conclusion: “it was Saturday night, I guess that’s makes it alright…”

The song’s climax (no pun intended) is maybe Prince’s best recorded moment, a heady rush of orgasmic release that only Prince could conjure through sound. Even as the song fades out, you know Prince and the band don’t want it to end. It feels too damn good.

2. Nothing Compares 2 U (The Hits / B-Sides, 1993)
It’s the song every songwriter wishes they could write: the evergreen. A song so deceptively simple, yet so universal in its appeal, that it could’ve been written at any time and become a classic, regardless of whatever current musical tastes. Everyone from Sinead O’Connor to Chris Cornell has tried their hand at the song, undoubtedly the most famous Prince has written for another artist. While the lone version Prince released himself – a duet with Rosie Gaines on his 1993 greatest hits anthology – is somewhat tepid and lacking, there are numerous live performances throughout the year that clearly show how proud he was having written this song.

1. Purple Rain (Purple Rain, 1984)
No matter how obvious a choice it was, there’s no way “Purple Rain” could not top this list. Forget that it may be ‘overplayed.’ Forget that it was the one everyone jumped to do a pedestrian cover of after his passing. From a musical, lyrical, artistic and emotional standpoint, “Purple Rain” is Prince Rogers Nelson’s masterpiece. It’s all at once tragic and triumphant, downtrodden and uplifting, sorrowful and hopeful. The song is a microcosm of everything that makes Prince great: passionate howls, tender falsetto cooing, sensitive, sensuous lyrics and one of the most legendary guitar solos in rock music, a ferocious torrent of sound that sweeps you up and keeps you enraptured. When the solo dies down into Prince’s final dove-like falsetto cooing, it’s like the storm has passed and the most beautiful rainbow has emerged.

After his passing, “Purple Rain” felt like an edict: “Honey, I know times are changing. It’s time we all reach out for the new. That means you too.” Prince is gone. The times have indeed changed. We need to move forward, embrace the new, those who Prince blazed a path for and continues to inspire. Things may not stay the same, but neither did Prince.

* recorded during his time with Universal, will not be available for streaming.

MISSION STATEMENT

The purpose of Nasti Thoughts is an exercise in fearlessness. The goal is to create dangerously, without worry of criticism or consequence. It’s a safe haven for unfiltered thoughts and ideas on just about anything. Nothing is off limits. Enter at your own risk.