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Beyond The Hits

Prince: Revolutionary Transmissions From Beyond The Greatest Hits
The Quietus , April 21st, 2016 19:23

While there's nothing wrong with a Prince hits anthology or two, this doesn't even begin to tell the story. Petra Davis, Joe Stannard, Al Denney, Wyndham Wallace, David Moats and John Tatlock choose their favourite non-single tracks... (republished 21st April 2016 - RIP Prince)

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Prince singles don't tell the whole story, so here is a collection of his best album tracks and... SHUT UP ALREADY! DAMN!

Listen to the Prince Beyond The Hits Spotify playlist here

'Lady Cab Driver' from 1999 (1982)

Compared to some of the musical hubris displayed on 1999, 'Lady Cab Driver' starts off quite unassumingly - a relatively pedestrian bass riff with some tasteful brass. No space-age synths, just good old-fashioned, driving funk.

And then comes the bridge. For several minutes, Prince seemingly delivers his lines through clenched teeth as he gives some lady a good seeing to - dedicating each amorous thrust to: cab drivers, politicians, discrimination, not being tall, the rich (just the greedy ones), himself, the poor, the creator of man (and the son). Who knew dirty talk could be so profound. Just try saying "This is for _ " under your breath next time you cop off. It's way sexier than your normal internal monologue of "Am I doing it right?"

Indecently, the moaning lady on the receiving end sounds like she's in a different room entirely, which suggests that maybe Prince is not that short after all.
David Moats

‘Erotic City’ B-side to 'Let's Go Crazy' (1984)

Every bit as bare-bones electric as his masterpiece, ‘When Doves Cry’, this B-side to ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ was a stealth club smash and smoking-hot vocal collaboration with Sheila E, the lady for whom Prince would allegedly pen The Black Album as a birthday gift. The buzzing chemistry between the pair as they wilfully confound the words ‘funk’ and ‘fuck’ over a predatory, circling bass line is a joy; the lyrics are sheer ripest perfection: “Every time I comb my hair, thoughts of you get in my eyes/ you’re a sinner, I don’t care - I just want your creamy thighs." Al Denney

'Life Can Be So Nice' from Parade (1986)

Could this be a nod to Pink Floyd's terrific 1968 single 'It Would Be So Nice'? It'd make sense given the paisley-tinged direction Prince pursued after the multimedia blowout of Purple Rain. This song boasts a similar theme of everyday life viewed through a kaleidoscopic prism – where Floyd's Rick Wright politely enquires as to whether we've read “the Daily Staaaaandard” Prince dismisses scrambled eggs as “so boring” en route to declaring that “this wonderful world is paradise”. One of the many highlights of the thoroughly astonishing Parade, this song is a dizzy forward tumble urged on by drummer Bobby Z's persistent pounding, Dr Fink's cuckoo keys and Wendy and Lisa's hare-brained back-up chatter. The guitars also reveal Prince (and possibly Wendy) anticipating the skittering steez of Fennesz without recourse to digital signal processing. Prince wasn't just revisiting psychedelia, he was attempting a reinvention, at roughly the same time as the real new psych of acid house was jacking its way out of Chicago. It's interesting to compare and contrast the two, in cultural as well as sonic terms – but of course, Prince has never, ever, ever, ever, ever done any drugs in his entire life, so to suggest that this song sounds a lot like an early report back from the then-mysterious land of Ecstasy would be, um, inappropriate. Joe Stannard

‘How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore’ B-side to '1999' (1984)

This gospel-tinged beauty is a stand-out moment in a back-catalogue of ballads that occasionally tends towards the craftsmanlike and seems to draw out the tedious r&b muso in His Royal Purpleness. Prince has never been a great singer exactly, but he’s rarely used his striking falsetto to better effect than here, punctuated as it is with shiversome asides and swoops into normal register. The lack of studio gimmickry helps, too, giving space for the stabbing, bluesy piano to sing out its loneliness with sensual grace. Alicia Keys turned this into a minor hit years later, but her phrasing remains near-identical to the original, and the polite hip-hop backing track glosses over the unvarnished soul that's on display here. Al Denney

'Lovesexy' from Lovesexy (1988)

Its parent album in microcosm, 'Lovesexy' is neoclassical jazz-inflected new age funk rock in excelsis, the references to “race cars burning rubber in my pants” giving some clue as to its unorthodox nature. The song begins with what seems like an extremely basic melody, but this is eventually abandoned in favour of a series of vocal fragments subjected to all manner of time-stretching perversion. Prince's voice and that of playmate Cat are sped up, slowed down, twisted, refracted and merged in glorious illustration of the polymorphous sexuality-as-spirituality of the lyric, a crazed conflation of the philosophies of George Clinton, the Reverend Al Green and Wilhelm Reich. Our hero's excitement reaches such a fever pitch at one point that his voice buckles and warps until it resembles a puddle of sonic matter frothing at the feet of God.

It's funny as fuck, too, the self-mocking asides perfectly judged: “I'll make love to you... tomorrow” offers the self-styled International Lover with a shrug and in all likelihood the same shit-eating grin he fired off-camera in the 'Raspberry Beret' video. The song is whacked even further out of shape by a series of Zappa-ish stylistic detours and horn charts which are Lovecraftian in their geometry, muscling their way in from weird angles, suggesting a mind-melting dream collaboration between Igor Stravinsky and Duke Ellington. Finally, the neo-gospel chant of “Rain is wet, sugar is sweet/Clap Your hands, stomp your feet/Everybody, everybody knows/When love calls U got 2 go” rings like the fundamental truth of all things, leaving the listener shuddering between ecclesiastical fervour and lustful devotion, not knowing whether to laugh, cry or cum. [Nurse! The bromide... Ed] Joe Stannard

'Darling Nikki' from Purple Rain (1984)

On Purple Rain, Prince's singles-laden soundtrack album, sandwiched between the cheerful Moroderisms of 'Computer Blue' and the stunning pop-psychedelia of 'When Doves Cry', lies a disturbing glimpse of aberrant genius. From stammering intro to shuddering outro, 'Darling Nikki' is determinedly, unforgettably, sinister: this is the song as succubus, less burlesque than grotesque. "I knew a girl named Nikki, I guess you could say she was a sex fiend," explains Prince over the track's early, spare bars, "I met her in a hotel lobby masturbating with a magazine." I credit this image almost exclusively with the warping of my 12-year-old sexual imagination. There's more than one way to masturbate with a magazine, after all.

Though this explicit lyrical content provoked international outrage, thereby giving the world the PMRC, Tipper Gore and Parental Advisory stickers, in fact it is the arrangement that truly drags the mind through the gutter. As the song progresses, it becomes increasingly difficult to listen to at all. Chilly guitars, effects-laden and multitracked, slither around the floor of the song; urgent blastbeats bludgeon past an increasingly frantic vocal which culminates in a scream that sounds like nothing so much as a wounded dog. What follows is, if possible, even stranger: the song's outro swims into focus, a set of gospel harmonies, recorded in reverse, announcing the End Of Days. A sexual apocalypse in only 4 minutes, and to this day, genuinely hair-raising. Petra Davis

‘Nasty Girl’ by Vanity 6 (1982)

This stemmed from Prince’s idea to assemble an all-girl trio decked out as high-class prostitutes who would lip-synch odes to their own insatiable sexual appetites and, um, personal massagers. With the group’s Prince-penned ‘Nasty Girl’, we get exactly that – the video looks like Patrick Bateman's softcore fantasies minus the chainsaw – twinned with a terrific, crystal-poppin’ dance groove replete with those blaring synths. Hilariously, Prince tried and failed to persuade lead singer Denise Matthews to adopt ‘Vagina’ (pronounced ‘Vageena’) as her stage name, later settling for Vanity because looking at her was apparently like looking in the mirror at a female version of himself. The ‘6’ was added to the group’s name in tribute to the number of breasts possessed by the trio. Al Denney


Watch Music Video - Vanity - Nasty Girl in Music  |  View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com

'Electric Chair' from Batman (1989)

The Batman soundtrack is considerably better than received wisdom would have you believe, and though 'Electric Chair' faces stiff competition from similarly neglected gems such as 'The Future', 'Partyman' and 'Arms Of Orion', it's still the best track on the album. I'd go as far as declaring it one of the greatest all-round studio performances Prince has ever given. His guitar here is just fucking nasty, its filth and fury barely contained by the sleek titanium cage of the drum machine pattern, puncturing the song from the inside. 1988's The Black Album is usually considered the ultimate distillation of the artist's shadier impulses; in giving voice to the character of The Joker, however, Prince accesses his darker side in much more convincing style than either 'Bob George' or 'Dead On It' could allow. The song's sense of gleeful amorality is forced home by some of the finest screaming-in-tune this fellow has ever committed to tape. As evocations of spiritual decay in a violent, crime-ridden dystopia go, this one's a killer. Joe Stannard

'Sometimes It Snows In April' from Parade (1986)

He’d shocked with the bass-less ‘When Doves Cry’, the schoolboy-arousing female masturbation references in ‘Darling Nikki’, the pop-pyschedelia of ‘Pop Life’ and the sleek and shiny ‘Kiss’. But when Parade reached its conclusion, the last thing expected was a tremulous acoustic ballad that ached for Christopher Tracy, the deceased fictional character he played in the doomed Under The Cherry Moon film (to which Parade was loosely a soundtrack). So intimate that you could hear the scratching of his fingers along the fretboard, so mournful that even his grand piano seemed to be grieving, Prince sighed with a resignation that blended a tender nostalgia for friendship and the tragedy of inescapable human frailty: “Sometimes I wish that life was never ending/ But all good things, they say, never last”. Then, just as you’re wiping the final tears from your cheeks, he lays down one last revelation that sucks the breath from your lungs: “And love, it isn't love until it's past."

Regret has never sounded so poignant. He may have been known as the imp of the perverse, but he was a poet of the platonic too.
Wyndham Wallace

’17 Days’ B-side to ‘When Doves Cry’ (1984)

This song also labours under the title '17 Days (the rain will come down, then U will have 2 choose. If U believe, look 2 the dawn and U shall never lose)', and again finds Prince licking his wounds following a ladyfriend's unexpected exit. Though originally conceived of as a track for Vanity 6’s second album, you could imagine Madonna doing justice to this in one of her less self-aggrandising moments - but no-one hurts quite so good as Prince. Building from an elastic bass-line and synths falling like electric snowflakes on those famously Bambi-esque eyelashes, it’s simply a great piece of pop songwriting, confirming the newfound emotional range that helped make Purple Rain a multi-million seller. The way the chorus refrain just melts into the verses, in particular, is a masterclass in economy at a time when perfection seemed to come disarmingly easily for the young Mr Rogers Nelson. Al Denney

'Automatic' from 1999 (1982)

As we know, Prince is extremely versatile, and before he started hawking copies of Watchtower door-to-door, he liked to remind us of this as often as possible. Sometimes, he told us, he liked to pretend he was married. Every so often, though, he liked to pretend he was a robot. One of the more mechanistic entries in his oeuvre and one of the less obvious highlights of 1999, the nine-minute-plus 'Automatic' showcases an oft-undervalued aspect of Prince's talent - his brilliance as an electronic musician. Here, he advances like a one-man Kraftwerk with a chromium boner, presenting himself as a helpless machine in the service of his lustful significant other while making a slave of the listener with the compulsive proto-House shudder & clunk of his beloved Linn M-1. Joe Stannard

'Crystal Ball' edit from Crystal Ball box-set (1998)

The gestation that led to Prince’s magnum opus Sign O'The Times was a fraught one. The original plan, pushed by Revolution members Wendy and Lisa, was to make an album as a democratic band, rather than another Prince & The Revolution project, in which they were little more than session players. Work commenced on what was to be the LP Dream Factory, but Prince’s megalomania and didactic working methods soon re-asserted themselves.

Wendy and Lisa threatened to quit over it, but were persuaded to stay to finish the record and the current tour. However, this perceived disloyalty niggled away at Prince, and he shortly after fired them anyway, canned the LP (much to his label Warner Brothers’ displeasure), ended his relationship with Wendy’s twin sister, and locked himself away in the studio to work obsessively and mainly alone.

After experimenting with changing the speed of his own vocal recordings, to create various indeterminately gendered alter-egos, he put the female-sounding “Camille” voice up-front, and turned in 8 tracks of concise pop-funk. Despite its bizarre origins, Warners loved the album, and had high hopes for it commercially, until Prince informed them that it was to be released under the name Camille, and he would neither do press for the album, nor acknowledge it as his work. More troublingly, he also began to talk about Camille both in the third person and as if she were a real person.

Warners flatly refused to go along with this lunacy, so he canned Camille too and began work on what was to be a triple album, the equally ill-fated Crystal Ball.

By this time, Warners, concerned that their star act was spiralling into unbankable Brian Wilson-esque madness, despatched an A&R man to find out what the hell was going on.

The legend goes that Prince, excited about his latest new direction sat the guy down and played him the title track, a Camille-led 11-minute long song about magically preventing the apocalypse by drawing ritualistic sex art on the walls of your home, featuring bizarre prog-jazz interludes, spoken word segments, an atonal flute & funeral drum intro, and introducing the world to the concept of “mathematical gas”. Prince reportedly received the bollocking of his life, and was told to stop fucking about and make an LP with some singles on it or else.

Somewhat chastened, he went back and edited everything down into the Sign O'The Times double album, leaving this song in the vault for almost a decade. If you can track down the original though, with its musings on “the purple underground”, Claire Fisher’s sinister orchestral arrangements (later to be recycled for the Batman OST), and its ever-shifting tones, styles, and bleak Book of Revelations imagery, you’re in for a demented treat. Plainly, Mr. Nelson was not a well man at this time, and his imminent evolution into a sunnily optimistic and slightly preachy bible-waver was probably necessary for his own sanity. But of all his recorded works, Crystal Ball most powerfully distils his mid 80s obsessions with identity, gender politics and the nature of faith into a compelling, if unhinged, whole. John Tatlock

‘Power Fantastic’ edit from Crystal Ball box set (1998)

As jaw-dropping an achievement as Sign O’The Times undoubtedly was, Prince had originally intended his magnum opus as a three-disc set entitled Crystal Ball – Warner Bros baulked at the idea, he was forced to reconsider, and so began a history of bad blood between artist and label, culminating in the regrettable ‘squiggle’ farrago which saw him sent up as a nutjob in the popular press. All of the tracks slated for release on Crystal Ball have surfaced in some form or another over time, but it's ‘Power Fantastic’ which speaks most eloquently of its dizzying ambition. It's a quite unspeakably grown-up sounding epic, an absolute space-cruiser of a ballad. ‘Sometimes It Snows In April’’s Joni Mitchell-inspired weepie might provide a vague sort of precedent for this, but here he’s gunning for the jazz greats and getting away with it: muted trumpets, flutes, the piano which plots a defiantly tricky course with languorous ease. The whole thing feels like you're lazily circling the plughole towards ends unknown. Basically what we’re saying is, Crystal Ball would have been the best album ever, 'til those Bugs Bunny cunts at the label came and ruined it all. Al Denney

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scott
Feb 3, 2010 4:44pm

"The Waiting Room" by No Doubt is essentially a Prince song. It was "co-written" with him, he produced it, plays on it, and sings back up. It sounds more like Prince than ND and is totally one of his best written songs. Essentially for any prince fan to hear.

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Holly Barringer
Feb 3, 2010 4:52pm

You forgot 'Girl' and 'Another Lovely Christmas'. Gems, both.

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Joseph Stannard
Feb 3, 2010 6:00pm

Girl and Another Lonely Christmas are awesome b-side, f'shaw. Regarding the latter, for years I only knew the short edit on the Hits/B-Sides 3CD. Then last year I heard the full version and it blew my soul apart. There was all this extra STUFF to it!

Other great B-Sides: Hello, Feel U Up, Shockadelica, She's Always In My Hair and the remix of Batdance which has a nugget of the then-unreleased Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic in it. We definitely need a Part Two.

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Brother Grimm
Feb 3, 2010 6:56pm

'condition of the heart' is great. i like it even better than 'the beautiful ones'. 'she is always in my hair' is... where to stop?

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elmsyrup
Feb 3, 2010 9:19pm

In reply to Brother Grimm:

Brother Grimm is right- Condition Of The Heart is FABULOUS. Prince, eh? He's written probably the largest amount of brilliant songs of anyone I can call to mind- which makes his fall from grace and glory really sad.

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Zenslinger
Feb 3, 2010 11:42pm

What a relief to read some informed writing about Prince.

"Irresistable Bitch" is right up there. Incredible bass/drum work and arrangement.

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Ross Andre
Feb 4, 2010 12:10am

There's too many to name.

From Parade, there's New Position.

From the O(+> album, there's Love 2 the 9's.

From Come, there's Come... which is Prince at his most delectably insane.

This man has too many gems.

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Feb 4, 2010 10:06am

Something in the Water does not compute does it for me

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prince fan
Feb 5, 2010 5:11am

PINK CASHMERE!!!!

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Jebus Kryst
Feb 5, 2010 10:22pm

Something in the Water and Strange Relationship are missing for starters, not to mention the entire Rainbow Children album

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Maxie
Feb 5, 2010 11:00pm

Love this list - I could add some tracks but most are on my personal Best of Prince. I find his most adventurous works are those that move me the most. Bravo to those contributing to this article

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Paul Maher Jr.
Feb 9, 2010 4:03pm

"Girl"
"Pink Cashmere"
"Crucial" extended though, not that nasty edit on Crystal Ball where that genius guitar he laid down is faded out . . .
"She's Always In My Hair"
"Elephants and Flowers"
so many of the 800s are pure sonic brilliance . . .

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jack
Feb 9, 2010 4:44pm

While I appreciate an interesting, and informed, article about Prince, I'm somewhat baffled that 'Joy in Repetition' was ignored in this article. I urge the writers to give it a spin.

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Nicholas
Feb 10, 2010 4:48am

Go past the non-singles, past the b-sides and then you've further gems like Chocolate, All My Dreams, Baby You're A Trip, and The Sex Of It. The 1984 version of Something In The Water is well worth a listen too, as well as the punk-ish version of Tick, Tick, Bang. I guess they couldn't go 'there' in this article though.

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Kooki
Feb 13, 2010 11:37am

You dont know purple caca about Prince.

Fiat you used a Jehovah era Prince photo, yawn.

Camille is seen on the cover of SOTT.

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Teddy
Feb 16, 2010 4:56pm

Can't believe no on mentioned that beautiful instrumental that was a b-side to Mountains: Alexa De Paris. It is in Under the Cherry Moon when Prince is dancing with Kristen Scott Thomas while they trade insults to each other. Prince, Sheila E., and an orchestra. Greatest prog rock sock that Carlos Santana never recorded.

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Fabrice Hayoun
Feb 17, 2010 12:36pm

Hey,

Maybe those too:

- days of wild.
- family name.
- housequake

Friendly

Fh

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dr buck
Feb 19, 2010 3:14pm

I've always loved 'When You Were Mine' from Dirty Mind. Sounds like a lost 80s indie classic.

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Max
Feb 22, 2010 10:53pm

Please. How the hell can anyone come up with a group of songs from him that stand out. You're wankers if you try. They all have their place. Long live the Prince!

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uptown jimmy
Feb 25, 2010 3:11am

"Ballad of Dorothy Parker". Period. Good as he ever got.

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Mar 1, 2010 7:11pm

"Uptown" from Dirty Mind and lets not forget the incredible Bass in "Lets Work" from Controversy.

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Christopher
Mar 2, 2010 11:52am

In reply to uptown jimmy:

Word. Especially with the Joni Mitchell shout out.

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Rick Grant
Mar 2, 2010 2:40pm

the unreleased 'purple music' - astonishing pared-to-the-bone linn drumwork, great synths and a crisp, snappy vocal. it also goes pleasingly insane towards the end

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jinxmap
Mar 9, 2010 10:34pm

By far, "Pussy Control".

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pete srdic
Mar 11, 2010 9:32pm

ahhh Prince, with a roster of so much great music, you could ask 1000 people to compile a list of his best music and all would be different. My playlist starts out with Sometimes It Snows ... and Damn U & ending with The Cross and knew that Pheromone, The Continental amongst others had to be in there somewhere. What a talent and oh to see him back to the days of grinding funk again. BTW - ignore the grating lyrics - The Rainbow Children, musically, is a great album.

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Veronica
Mar 13, 2010 10:18pm

THREE WORDS: STARFISH AND COFFEE

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DavidDR
Mar 27, 2010 12:38am

Ballad of Dorothy Parker. 'Nuff said.

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George
Apr 2, 2010 9:38am

'Let's Pretend We're Married'. It would sound even better if the great man actually got around to remastering those earlier albums.

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George
Apr 2, 2010 9:44am

In reply to George:

Alright, it was released as a single in the US but not over here so it can still count.

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mister laurie
Apr 5, 2010 9:50am

17 Days is my fave Prince song.

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hale
Apr 10, 2010 12:56am

In reply to mister laurie:

Empty Room, dreamin about u, Aknowledge me,Pheromone, Interactive too many to mention

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BZA
Apr 10, 2010 2:57pm

...completely agree with regards to 'Crystal Ball' - the full epic track...great to see that one being acknowledged!

It might be the ultimate Prince track. It's also bonkers as well in the best possible way. "Expert lover..."

The twisted, off-centre tracks are the ones I like the best and great to see mentions of 'Erotic City', 'Feel U Up', 'Shockadelica' already...i'd throw in the first 4 tracks from Parade and also 'Come On', 'I No', 'Rainbow Children' and '3121' to name just a few.
The N.E.W.S. album is superb too...

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sui
Jul 10, 2010 4:59am

In reply to elmsyrup:

what fall? the man is still doing it!

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Jul 10, 2010 5:04am

In reply to Jebus Kryst:

Happy you mention the Rainbow Children, God believer or not the music is good,funky jazzy etc.I love this one too.

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SkinnyMofoWidDaHighVoice
Dec 8, 2010 1:20am

Yowsers! Some great suggestions here but mostly the b-sides inclusions are limited to being from his biggest hits during the 1999/Purple period when Horny Toad & 200 balloons are 2 further classic examples of the man's 'ahem' joint favourite hobby along with making music (Alexa de Paris is a jumbo cracker as mentioned also). I truly believe Pink Cashmere is one of the greatest and soulful lovesongs ever committed to tape but achieved little attention possibly due to being overshadowed by warner contract ending weirdness. If there's a longer version of Another Lonely Chrimbo than the Hits 3 B-sides then where could i lay my creamy thighs on it? Excellent to see Rainbow Children getting props almost a decade on...his best album since Rave by a considerable distance. Makes you long for the days of Napster with all those bootlegged riches in the users vaults hinting at the evermore eternal treasures that lie in wait. Just had to snag whatcha could given the router speeds of the time, i feel jammy to have rescued 7 albums worth anyroad. Check out Kevin Smith's 4 part story of what happens when you attempt to collaborate with your childhood idols...Chaka Mad?

For a mentalist midget his back catalogue sure is inexhaustible. Bill Oddie knows it and now y'all knows it too

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henry
Aug 5, 2013 11:06pm

When you were mine!

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Ryan
Jan 24, 2015 11:41pm

Computer Blue from Purple Rain !!!

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Dondi
Apr 21, 2016 8:10pm

Cloreen Bacon Skin. Absolute filth.

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