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Music Writers on the Prince Songs That Defined Their Lives

Prince is dead, and that sucks, but what he leaves behind changed us forever.

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Prince is dead at 57, and that fucking sucks. So we asked people to write about their favorite moments from his insanely rich and varied career.


"Controversy" was the first Prince song I fell in love with. I saw him live for the first and only time with my brother in Manchester two years ago. We'd spoken the entire way there, speculating what his setlist would be and otherwise spinning out over how dreamlike it was that we were both on our way to way to see Prince on a drizzly night in May. The one thing my brother kept telling me, him being the bigger fan of the two of us, was that he wouldn't play "Controversy." I shouldn't get my hopes up. He never plays it. By the time the "Purple Rain" had gushed to an end and Prince left the stage, I was more than contented with what was already the greatest live performance I'd ever seen. Then darkness descended in the arena again, he started to play "Controversy" and I briefly left my body. Angus Harrison, VICE/Thump



My favorite Prince song is "I Would Die 4 U," the fourth single from Purple Rain. I feel in many ways, it's an under-appreciated track, and I'm not sure why it hasn't garnered the same fawning devotion as the others; it's just as deserving. Every time it's played in a club, every time some drab house party is fleetingly enlivened by it, every time I sit in my room and it blares tinnily from my shit laptop speakers, just every time I hear it, it is the best time I've heard it. It couldn't be more representative of all the good, the great, we can ever see or do in our lives. It is a perfect song. The air burns every time it's played. His life was an exhibition of magnificent sexual, stylistic, human power. It wasn't a crass collection of moments, it was a fog of pure delight, an opaque purple mist of perverse genius. What a fucking guy. Joe Bish, VICE


When I heard Prince had been found dead in his studio, it was the first time a celebrity death ever hit me in a real way. Disbelief followed by dread, nausea, and tears that wrung out of my body so forcefully it gave me stomach cramp. Seconds later I got a text from my mom asking if I was OK, which was a much faster response than she has been known to give for deaths within our own family. I cursed myself for having never seen him live, felt thankful for even existing within the same tiny blip on the universal timeline as him, and grieved for the loss of someone so beyond description that language suddenly feels like a dumb and unequipped device. Then I started thinking about sex.


"Darling Nikki"—the sonic sore thumb of Purple Rain, is a track so sexy it is literally the reason parental advisory stickers exist. Why was this song so notorious when pretty much every Prince song is a sex song? My guess is because it's aggressively about female sexual appetite—female sexuality as a weapon rather than the typically portrayed passive quality of "sexiness" that exists only at the behest of the male gaze.

Yeah, "Darling Nikki" is sort of a humblebrag about how much crazy sex Prince has probably had, but it's also a love letter to the power of female sexuality, sexual expression, and, frankly, the pleasures of doing it rough. So really there's no need to be sad, because pain or pleasure, death or sex, Prince is the explosive center of all opposing forces, and that's an energy that'll last a hell of a lot longer than any of us will. And if you do feel really blue right now, then at least Prince was nice enough to leave behind enough material to crywank to. Emma Garland, Noisey


I was resisting writing anything about Prince right now because, honestly, my heart is so heavy that it didn't feel right. But I somehow can't help myself. His significance in my life was—is—so great. I bunked off school to watch Purple Rain on a well-worn VHS at my friend Nicole's house. I lined up for hours at Birmingham HMV with the other Prince geeks to get a copy of the Symbol album signed by Mayte and the New Power Generation. My aunty, Jemma, died at the age of 36 many many years ago, and I remember so vividly playing "Sometimes It Snows In April" (she died in January, but her birthday was April) over and over and over again, smoking my Embassy No.1s and drinking two-liter bottles of Strongbow. I got to see him perform the song a few years after Jemma's death, at the NIA in Birmingham. I cried a purple river.


Over the years, I've seen Prince play a good few times: in Manchester, at the O2, at Koko where he came up on the balcony with his guitar and played 2 ft from me while I shook, according to my friend Kathryn, like "an excited poodle humping a tree." One time he turned up to a weird party I was randomly at in South Kensington and sat behind a velvet rope sipping tea while we all stood staring at him which made me feel so so sad that I cried a bit.

Throughout my teenage years, my twenties, my thirties, to today, Prince has been a constant. A solid constant of memories, happy and sad, poignant and frivolous. I sat up until the early hours many a night with my old roommate Penny drinking wine and singing along to "Get Off," "Adore," "Scandalous," "I Will Die 4 U" at the top of our lungs. I really love U Prince. I miss U so much. All I ever wanted to do was to go to Paisley Park and get to see u play "Sometimes It Snows In April" at the piano. That never happened. That never will happen. It's snowing this April, and every April forever. Hattie Collins, i-D


The first CD I ever owned was Dangerous by Michael Jackson. I realize he's not Prince, but bear with me. Prince was Michael Jackson's great rival in the made-up-in-my-head 80s superstar wars. My loyalty to Jackson meant I never really listened to Prince. I had never forgiven him for turning down the chance to duet with Jackson on "Bad" (pointing out the fact that the opening line of that song is "your butt is mine", Prince said: "Now I said [to Jackson] 'who is singing that to whom? 'Cause you sure ain't singing that to me and I sure ain't singing that to you'."

Obviously at this point, Prince's biggest hits were engrained in my psyche whether I liked it or not. Secretly I was starting to fall a bit in love with him. "Raspberry Beret" was one of my mom's favourite songs and she'd often play his The Hits compilation when she was driving me to school, but it wasn't until another superstar obsession—Ms. Beyoncé Knowles—duetted with Prince at the Grammys in 2004 that I properly fell in love with his discography. That medley is a masterclass in how proper superstars effortlessly exist on another plane to most ordinary fuckwits with a microphone. There's a bit where it segues between "Baby I'm A Star" and "Crazy In Love" and if that doesn't make your stomach flip with joy then have a word with yourself. Michael Cragg, Popjustice



Every element of "17 Days" is an immaculate conception, perfect proof of the power of art, a genuine testament to the notion of individual genius. That slouching bassline. That icy drip of a synth-hook. The staccato thud of the beat. Prince's faux-indifferent vocal.

Yes, this is an immaculately produced track, but all the studio trickery in the world can't disguise a mediocre hook, or a weak bridge, or a sloppy middle eight. "17 Days" would sound incredible played on a tub of Clover with some rubber bands. It's a battered, bruised, but still defiant declaration of independence. Josh Baines, Thump


I used to dream as Prince. In a recurring sequence from when I was about eight years old, I'd look down to find myself in his body, shirt ruffles almost blocking the view of my guitar while I played an invented song that I'd inevitably forget when I woke up. He turned my mind inside out with his malleable take on gender, his emboldened blackness, his masculinity slippery like satin. "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World" remains my favorite video, with its powerful message on self-esteem and pride. Prince was the first musician who made me understand that you could be many things at once: an impish figure in a tightly cut red matador suit, cooing in a falsetto, then in the same breath one dropping to a velvet baritone while fluttering kohl-rimmed eyelids. Tonight, I hope to turn into him again. Tshepo Mokoena, VICE