When it comes to reflecting on Prince’s huge back catalogue it’s easy to get side-tracked. Whether it’s the racy lyrics that steal your attention, the catchy beats or the impeccable production, it's somehow easy to forget that Prince really was one of the greatest guitarists music had seen (and may ever see, who knows).
From the funkier, soulful strumming in his debut to the riffs that can only be described as shredding, Prince’s skill on a guitar was far above expert, something his memory never quite gives him enough credit for.
As we await the first release from his vault, let's reflect back on seven of Prince’s most face-melting moments to honour the icon.
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'Let's Go Crazy'
There’s really only one way to open up an album as perfect as 'Purple Rain'; with heavy unrelenting guitars.
Not wasting a second, 'Let’s Go Crazy' welcomes you into the vibrancy of 'Purple Rain' by raising the stakes with every passing beat. Taking you from an ode into a riffing outro, the song elevates into madness rather than descending as the screaming finale is so tight and clean you can help but stop what you’re doing and let your jaw drop.
On an album that contains huge hits like 'Purple Rain' and 'When Doves Cry', Prince doesn’t mess about, showing his skill from the get-go and setting the energy bar high.
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While you might immediately associate Prince with more experimental or high production works, 'The Ride' is a perfect example of just some straight-up shredding.
Dripping in blue rock attitude that comes straight out of his Minnesota roots, on this bootlegged live track that was included in the 'Crystal Ball' compilation, you can feel Prince adlibbing, flowing with the music and punctuating every line with another face-melting riff.
Far more traditional than most of his other music, 'The Ride' is pure rock n roll, drifting in between the corners of musical history that Prince was raised on to create a sound that feels effortlessly massive.
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'I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man' (Live 1987)
I could never take the place of your man is already without a doubt one of Prince’s most infectious tracks as the catchy intro is sure to have you hooked. But a particular 1987 performance levels it up, taking it to that place that only Prince seemed able to reach.
Captured in the Sign O’ The Times concert movie, this performance is a perfect snapshot of both his showmanship and incredible skills as he ups the tempo, volume and intensity, all while spinning around the stage.
With not one but two huge solos, you get to see both his heavier and more bluesy sides as he loses himself in his own excitement.
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'While My Guitar Gently Weeps'
Who is the only person that could upstage Tom Petty, Steve Winwood and the ghost of George Harrison? Prince.
There is so much to unpack in this video, from George Harrison’s son, Dhani, failing to hide his excitement over Prince’s presence, to the way Prince is hidden away in the shadows until his moment arises. But all the quirks of this performance are forgotten in an instance as even Prince seemed to forget where he was, managing to make the iconic Beatles track completely his own.
With such fast yet delicate finger work he seems to barely even be touching his guitar, something about this solo seems to become almost operatic as you see Prince sing along to his shredding before collapsing into a dramatic stage dive. So stage stealing, you can even notice him shooting semi-apologetic glances to his fellow musicians, right before he finishes the performance by throwing his guitar into the crowd and strutting off like it was nothing.
It’s the Prince version of a mic drop.
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'Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?'
Stepping out of his R&B origins, 'Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?' was Prince’s first rock-infused track, making it clear that his career would never be contained within a single, simple genre box.
Layering guitars to create a unique sound, the scorching solo that rounds off the song give audiences the first taste of the skill and passion that is felt on all of the above and throughout his discography. Refusing to ease his audience into this side of his musical persona, Prince took a keep up or get lost approach, sliding straight into one of his heaviest solos.
Refusing to stay on the successful path he was wandering down after 'I Wanna Be Your Lover', Prince didn’t just smash expectations, he completely shattered them, welcoming audiences into his boundary-less world with this face-melter.
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If we’re talking about face-melting, 'Computer Blue' has to be on the list. Lyrically bare, 'Computer Blue' instead dedicates itself to musical intensity, packed full of twists and turns in its sound.
In the Purple Rain movie, this track is charged with tension and anger that makes every note feel even heavier if that’s even possible. But from the 1:40 mark through to the end, this track is electric as the steady guitar undercurrent takes over with Prince turns scales into shredding riffs that seem to spin themselves into chaos.
Breaking down only to build back up again, Prince chucks the traditional verse-chorus format out of the window for 'Computer Blue’s unrelenting intensity.
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'Purple Rain' (Superbowl 2007)
Well, we had to talk include 'Purple Rain', didn’t we?
Obviously, 'Purple Rain' is a face melter with its anthemic guitar solo that he used to regularly expend to upwards of 15 minutes in live performances. But this performance from his 2007 Superbowl half time show, is also a complete tear-jerker. Displaying his control over his instrument at its best, Prince also somehow managed to get control over the weather as his performance was complimented by a torrential downpour.
As the most stripped back moment from his set, this particular Prince moment is oddly earnest for such a huge performance. With the atmosphere making the lyrics feel more moving, and the stage set up towering Prince’s shadow over the pitch, it seems like this was the exact moment the 'Purple Rain' solo was written for.
Shredding in the middle of a storm, alone on a massive stage, it’s enough to make you weep as Prince’s power fills the stadium with such ease you just know he was born to do it.
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Words: Lucy Harbron
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