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25 Essential Prince Songs

The best of the Purple One’s world-changing, genre-defying hits

Prince's music catalog has no shortage of iconic hits.

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“What’s missing from pop music is danger,” Prince was quoted as saying in a 2006 Guardian interview. “There’s no excitement and mystery.” Danger, excitement and mystery were Prince Rogers Nelson’s calling cards from day one. At the precocious age of 19, he released his debut album, 1978’s For You. From there, he used his platform as an outrageously attired, unapologetically sexy performer (who just so happened to be a virtuoso musician and an innovative studio genius) to craft some of the most taboo-cracking, musically forward-thinking hits to every break the mainstream.

From his critical and commercial apex of 1984’s Purple Rain through his recent Piano and a Microphone tour, Prince never sat still. His prickliness was legendary, but his body of work speaks profoundly to the depth, sincerity and sensitivity of one of pop’s most enigmatic masters. Sure, he had no trouble stirring up headlines every few months or so with some cryptic or outrageous maneuver, which only added another layer to his volatile mystique. But what truly touched the world was his music — songs that moved us emotionally, sensually, intellectually or just plain locomotive-ally. Here, just a sampling of some of his best.

This list was originally published April 2016.

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“The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” (1994)

In 1993, Prince had changed his name to a symbol, was in a creative rut and was fighting with Warner Bros. over creative control. He realized he didn’t need help from a major label when he released “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World,” on indie label Bellmark. Prince reportedly spent $2 million out of his own pocket to promote the single. It turned out to be his biggest hit in years. The gorgeous falsetto-steeped ballad has clean funk guitar touches and keyboards, but Prince lets his gift for melody do most of the work. It was originally written for his future wife, choreographer, Mayte Jannell Garcia. She later recorded her own version, “The Most Beautiful Boy in the World.”

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“Black Sweat” (2006)

Released as the lead single from his 2006 album 3121, “Black Sweat” may be the best of Prince’s late period singles. Reminiscent of “Kiss,” it’s nothing but drum machine rhythms, glorious falsetto and a noodle-y synthesizer melody that hearkens to the Ohio Players’ “Funky Worm.” “I don’t want to dance too hard, but this is a groove,” he sings. “I’m hot and I don’t care who knows it… I’ve got a job to do.” “Black Sweat” may have only simmered on the charts, peaking at Number 60 on the Hot 100, but it helped 3121 debut at the top of the album charts, and earned a handful of Grammy nominations. More importantly, it was a timely reminder that Prince will always have the funk.