For many, Prince’s catalog not being available on streaming services has been particularly painful in the wake of his tragically early death last year. Albums that were once a cinch to snatch up from used CD bins vanished entirely, and considering the legal mess of having left no will to his estate, it remains to be seen if, say, his videos will ever officially hit YouTube after he long discouraged it. And as anyone who’s ever tried to queue up “When Doves Cry” on Spotify knows, Prince is one of the most prominent artists to nix most streaming services — with Tidal long standing as the lone exception.
However, there’s renewed reason to get excited about Prince’s famously hard-to-stream catalog. Universal Music Group obtained the U.S. rights to many of his most popular recordings from 1978 to 1996 (the years he was signed to Warner) and the songs finally hit streaming services on Sunday (Feb 12). Even more recently, exclusive rights to Prince’s post-1995 NPG Records catalog were acquired by Universal Music Group. Rejoice, Prince fans — the vault is finally opening.
For now, let’s focus on the Warner years — the albums you can currently stream on platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, iHeartRadio and Pandora. Here’s a cross-section of just ten of the many, many worthy tunes Prince’s millions of fans now have access to. Since most are already familiar with Prince’s ’80s canon, we decided to focus on the 1990s, when people started to lose track of the good stuff he was still putting out fairly consistently. His name was Prince, and he never stopped being funky.
“We Can Funk (feat. George Clinton)” (from Music From Graffiti Bridge, 1990)
Graffiti Bridge was a consistently strong if undistinguished Prince-and-friends soundtrack to a film that was merely the latter, highlighted by this Jam & Lewis-influenced banger that brought together the two funkiest post-James Brown icons to ever live. Prince falsettos and shreds while Clinton burbles and bandleads, and together they explore every crevice and g-spot of the groove.
“Tick, Tick, Bang” (from Music From Graffiti Bridge, 1990)
Many cringed at it in the early ‘90s, but Prince’s engagement with hip-hop was fascinating — his discovery of roughly sampled loops and abrasions, and just the general sound of rappers’ chants. He never outright rapped himself, but he did tons of things rap-adjacent, and “Tick, Tick, Bang” plays like a megamix of his rare inability to get a “flow” going like those MCs. The track is a stuffed-to-bursting mess, which doesn’t negate its awesomess; the stray squeals of sampled guitar, scratching crusty sound collaging vie with his signature keyboard stabs and sun-bright synths like some kind of unholy matrimony between Scritti Politti and the Bomb Squad. It’s like Pre-Pre-Millennium Tension.
“Cream” (from Diamonds and Pearls, 1991)
We are grateful that Prince maintained his youthful spritz to the end, even if he became somewhat less pornographic after pledging himself to his Jehovah’s Witness faith. But “Cream” is a surprisingly irresistible (and premature) slice of what might have been had he simmered down and gone the Eric Clapton/Bonnie Raitt route, a bluesy, adult contemporary lite-rock jam with all-traditional instrumentation that pays lip service to boomers with its placid delivery and “sha-boogie-bop” interjection post-chorus. Still, it’s the filthiest soft-rock song ever recorded — and Prince’s final Hot 100 No. 1 hit.
“Walk Don’t Walk” (from Diamonds and Pearls, 1991)
This gorgeous curio is a weird one, combining the airy gorgeousness of the True Romance theme and neo-gospel sha-la-la-las that play call and response with a barrage of –yes, seriously — car horns. “Walk Don’t Walk” is a great example of what Prince was capable of doing inside of multi-part harmonies and ensemble vocals, rather than being all the way out in front. It’s a simple, maybe even nonsensical track, but he never did anything else like it, and amongst such a great catalog, that’s really saying something.
“Willing and Able” (from Diamonds and Pearls, 1991)
Diamonds and Pearls has more left turns than the average major label Prince album; the big-booty-besotted “Gett Off” provides classic raunch and then the album about-faces for exercises like “Willing and Able,” which floats for five minutes on congas and Afropop-blues licks with the lightness of a funkier Paul Simon track. The backup singers really dominate on this album, and nowhere more than this track, horning in loudly while Prince himself just sort of hums and tweedles around the session musicians. It sounds like an outtake from a musical that never was. Prince probably had one of those in the vault, too.
“Sexy MF” (from The Love Symbol Album, 1992)
Rap doesn’t feel like the right categorization for Prince’s material in that vein even when it is; “Sexy MF” sounds like James Brown reciting slam poetry, complete with Maceo Parker-style horns providing a theoretical Greek Chorus before a real one shows up to chant “shakin’ that ass, shakin’ that ass.” While Prince was on the cusp of overexposure and label troubles at this point, no one batted an eye when he keyed the first radio bait from The Love Symbol Album to the word “motherf–ker.”
“My Name Is Prince” (from The Love Symbol Album, 1992)
In a delicious about-face from the (sonically) sanitized blues-rock from his previous hit “Cream,” Prince mythologized himself his next LP’s majestically naughty opener “My Name Is Prince,” and its oily new jack polyrhythms. Amid various squeals and scratches and breakbeats the man just unloads boast after boast in what’s more-or-less rapping: “I did not come to funk around / Til I get your daughter, I won’t leave this town.” Oh, and if you think Kanye flew close to the sun with “I Am a God,” check out the verse about God making an exception on his day of rest to create Prince Rogers Nelson.
“Blue Light” (from The Love Symbol Album, 1992)
Was there any genre Prince couldn’t master? “Blue Light” was straight-up reggae, with Bob Marley’s light touch and all, and one of the best songs on Love Symbol. It touches on fame and sex per usual, but it’s also just as funny as it is beautiful, with one stealth-brag about how “rude” his lovemaking sounds to eavesdroppers, and the twist that he’s actually pining for something he doesn’t have: “I’ll be 117 / You’ll be still saying ‘baby, not tonight’.”
“Loose!” (from Come, 1994)
Prince was the kind of prolific artist who embraced the art of the throwaway to luxurious effect. Toss something off? All the time. But it’ll be fun no matter what. In this case, his least memorable ‘90s album Come still boasted the supremely Nine Inch Nails-influenced “Loose!” a danceable jam with rough-cut industrial sonics and time out of course for a skronking guitar break. It was anything but slick, and heavily indebted to the ‘90s alternative-rockers eclipsing his status, but still improbably influential; Skrillex fans who skip to 2:30 might recognize an eerie resemblance to Bangarang opener “Right In.”
“Come” (from Come, 1994)
Relistening, Come was maybe Prince’s most stream-of-consciousness album up to that point — his Bedtime Stories, if you will, which Madonna peddled the same year as a sketchbook of erotic quasi-trip-hop that similarly found an ‘80s titan trying to find her footing among budding ‘90s dance trends. And Prince’s less-heralded work matched Madge’s by opening with the slowed-down breakbeat of its title track, albeit one he topped with a sundae of horns (well, and the chocolate and strawberry he wants “all over your thighs”), along with wishes ranging from “I wanna turn you gold” to “I wanna suck you.” Oh, and it’s eleven minutes long, with actual squishy oral sex sounds juicing the mix around the seven-minute mark. Would you believe it was around this time that his label became estranged from him??