7 times that Prince blew our minds: classic recordings and performances

Prince in 1984.
Prince in 1984. (Image credit: Ross Marino/Sygma/Corbis)

Has it really been four years since we lost Prince? It's still sometimes difficult to believe that he's no longer with us, but fortunately, we have his classic studio recordings and live performances to remember him by.

We should say that compiling a list of the best Prince moments is pretty much impossible; you could break it down by genre, era, instrument or any other criterion, but you'd still be left agonising less about what should be included and more about what you should leave out.

During a career of highs, there were countless jaw-dropping moments, and we've picked out just a few of them. See you in the Purple Rain.

1. When he made his guitar cry

It's one thing to play an amazing guitar solo - quite another to do it when you're sharing the stage with the likes of Tom Petty, Steve Winwood and Jeff Lynne.

With all due respect to these artists, when Prince performed with them at the 2004 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ceremony, he bossed it.

Watch the video above and you'll see that everything's moving along in a stately, respectable fashion until about half way through, when Prince decides that enough is enough, tears off the shackles and lets rip on his trusty Hohner Tele. Consider yourself schooled.

2. Controversy

Controversy would sound amazing even if it was released today. That it came out in 1981 almost beggars belief.

With its simple 4/4 drums and insistent synth bassline, the influence of this sleaze-funk workout can be heard all over the place. But, this being Prince, there are countless guitar flourishes and lyrical gems as well. "Am I black or white, am I straight or gay," he enquires, as he plays with his racial and sexual identity and second guesses what the audience is thinking.

And then, of course, he starts reciting the Lord's Prayer. As you do.

3. When he went toe to toe with Beyonce

If you invite Beyonce to perform with you, you're taking a risk. Sure, she brings star power and has charisma to burn, but that's the problem. She's a force of nature, and if you're not careful, everyone watching will forget you're even there. 

When Prince and Queen Bey took to the stage to perform a medley of his hits at the 2004 Grammy Awards, though, he generously allowed his co-star to take centre stage (even throwing in the horn riff from Crazy In Love) while still making it clear who was running the show.

Collaborations like this have a habit of feeling thrown together, but Prince is reported to have insisted on rehearsing every day for a week in the run-up to the performance. What a pro.

4. When Doves Cry

Say what you like about contemporary pop/RnB, but these days, no one has any qualms about messing with established arrangement structures. Experimentation is in: convention is very much out.

Not so in 1984. That idea that someone could top the US charts for five weeks with a song that didn't have a bassline would have seemed utterly implausible, but with When Doves Cry, that's precisely what Prince did. He tried it with bass, didn't like it and took it out.

Of course, what was left was incredible. A thumping Linn LM-1 drum pattern. Minimal but memorable synth motifs. Yearning, layered vocals. An iconic guitar intro and a squealing solo. Only Prince could have made this.

5. When he blew up the Super Bowl

Playing the Super Bowl halftime show comes with its own special pressure. It's a prestigious slot that's been occupied by legendary artists in the past. There's a massive TV audience, and you know that every element of your performance will be dissected and discussed.

When Prince rolled into Miami in 2007, though, everyone knew that he'd nail it. After skipping through a medley of his and other artists' hits - including a blistering cover of Foo Fighters' Best Of You - he played his ace. As the heavens opened, here was Purple Rain. He even had the weather in his pocket.

6. The B-sides

Everyone knows Prince's hits, and his albums were stuffed with gems, too. But what if you've still got killer material to burn? You leave some of it in a 'vault' (how much material is still left in there, we wonder?), let other artists have number 1 hits with it, and stick it on your B-sides, of course.

Many of Prince's 'fillers' would have been career highlights for other artists. Erotic City could have been an album's lead single, and then there's She's Always In My Hair. Later covered by D'Angelo - arguably the only artist with enough talent to be considered Prince's musical heir - it's a quirky but fabulous pop/rock groover, and became a live favourite. The clip above has him performing it on The Arsenio Hall Show in 2014 with 3RDEYEGIRL.

7. Whenever he got on stage

OK, we'll admit it: Prince blew our minds pretty much every time we saw him. It didn't matter what or where he was performing - he always brought it.

Here he is in 2014 again, romping through a horn-charged version of a song that appeared on The Family's eponymous album (which also featured a little-known ballad by the name of Nothing Compares 2 U). As ever, he leads his band superbly.

Ben Rogerson

I’m the Deputy Editor of MusicRadar, having worked on the site since its launch in 2007. I previously spent eight years working on our sister magazine, Computer Music. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 24 of which I’ve also spent writing about music and the ever-changing technology used to make it.