The famed singer and all-round musical impresario, the Purple One, AKA Prince, is far more than just a pop star. The incredibly gifted performer was far from a dedicated axeman, but he is still regarded as one of the finest players of the instrument the world has ever seen. While it’s easy to get lost in Prince’s pomp and pageantry, one must never forget that underneath it all, he was a searing, scything and scintillating guitarist, one that managed to not only steal the spotlight but integrate it into his holistic sound. Likely better than anyone before him and since.
Of course, throughout his time in the limelight, Prince was never irrevocably attached to one style or genre. He would pick up and put down instruments with consummate ease, meaning many of his skills were blended seamlessly into his work. Ergo, Prince is one of the most underrated guitarists of all time. We’ve pawed through Prince’s extensive catalogue and are more than thrilled to bring you the ten times that the Purple One kicked things up a notch with his eccentric guitar skills. These are Prince’s ten greatest guitar songs of all time.
As Prince’s career motored on, he neglected to include as much of the guitar as had originally permeated his early moments on the stage. Coming, as they did, shortly after rock’s golden age, it’s no surprise that Prince adopted their sound. As time and taste moved on, Prince would become more attached to the studio’s magic and all he could create from his position behind the mixing desk. It means much of our list below is centred around Prince’s earlier songs and albums, diminishing none of the quality but showcasing his immediate affection for the instrument.
There have been a few live moments where Prince has wielded his guitar as nobody had ever expected before. Of course, his Super Bowl moment was one that will live in our memories forever. But there is one song and one performance that stands out head and shoulders above the rest. But we’ll get to that one a little bit later.
Below, we’ve got ten of the greatest Prince guitar songs of all time.
Prince’s 10 best guitar songs:
10. ‘She’s Always in My Hair’
Prince’s foray into the world of psyche-rock was, at best, a pretty confusing one. Around the World in a Day was a mainstream rock record that followed his seminal album Purple Rain. While the LP isn’t the greatest, one song came out of the blocks with a real purpose — ‘She’s Always in My Hair’.
The B-side to ‘Raspberry Beret’, the song was often maligned by Prince’s diehard fans but, with time and space, the song once again shines. Thanks in no small part to Prince’s iconic guitar work. The song’s core riff is robust and able to cause a riot all before the middle guitar solo blows the audience away. A song eventually picked up by Prince and 3RDEYEGIRL and given a revamp; it’s hard not to love the original single.
9. ‘Computer Blue’
Purple Rain is undoubtedly Prince’s most guitar-heavy record. In fact, many, including Eric Clapton, have proclaimed the album as a defining moment in rock’s continued reach across the airwaves. Prior to the album, little innovation in rock ‘n’ roll seemed likely, but a brand new wave of different sounds leaned heavily on the guitar after it.
Prince was certainly not a singular entity. He took inspiration from artists like Frank Zappa and David Bowie and extrapolated their futuristic viewpoint to fit his own unique narrative. There’s no better estimation of this concoction than Purple Rain‘s song ‘Computer Blue’.
The main riff is rambunctious and bristling, but its the transitional interlude that really demands Prince’s guitar work be taken seriously.
8. ‘Lady Cab Driver’
Prince and funk music go hand in hand. This is likely not new information for any diehard Prince fans. The singer and musician made it his mission to incorporate all facets of music and expression into his own work. Perhaps the greatest vision of this seamless infusion is ‘Lady Cab Driver’, an eight-minute jam that still feels timeless.
Of course, there are plenty of references made to the other guitar-slinger in the funk world, Nile Rodgers. The Chic man’s style clearly inspires the choppy and clean guitar riff. There’s a solo for all of those diehard axemen who need such a noodling thing, but the real joy of this piece is the chugging riff.
Speaking to Guitar Player in 2004 as part of an interview, Prince said: “A lot of cats don’t work on their rhythm enough, and if you don’t have rhythm, you might as well take up needlepoint or something. I can’t stress it enough.”
7. ‘When Doves Cry’
Again, it’s hard not to see Purple Rain as one of the definitive guitar albums of the eighties, if not the entire 20th century. ‘When Doves Cry’ isn’t just a classic song; it’s also a marker of how incredibly musical Prince was. He displays a sincere amount of guitar talent throughout the piece, but perhaps nothing is more impressive than the unusual squeaks he retrieves from his guitar early on.
The song is full of feedback, enriched by Prince’s unique ear and absolutely drenched in attitude. Skeletal and without much backing, Prince manages to ensure his guitar fills all of the spaces available.
The lengthy outro of the song is certainly worth revisiting too. It’s a reminder that Prince’s songs have always been an evolution rather than a revolution. He uses a similar style in his previous records, and it can be plotted all the way to Purple Rain and this song.
6. ‘U Got the Look’
Coming from 1987’s Sign O’ The Times, Prince’s song ‘U Got The Look’ allows the singer and musician to fully expressive himself in the kind of way that would make Freud blush.
Erotically charged at the best of times, Prince was always keen to enact his own fantasies within his music. More often than not, using his instruments to express himself more clearly than his lyrics ever could. The track is a hip-shaking, baby-making bop.
Prince kicked up the distortion, added some 12-bar blues and allowed the unholy yelps of fornication to permeate the notes on his fretboard. With lyrics that read, “If love is good, let’s go rammin'”, it’s impressive that Prince’s guitar sounds like the dirtier member of the group.
5. ‘I’m Yours’
As the eighties welcomed its own guitar heroes, with Van Halen now becoming the icon of the genre, Prince was quietly making his name known. The Purple One’s debut album saw the teenager not only play every instrument on the record but play them better than most impresario. Of course, it was on ‘I’m Yours’ that Prince laid down the guitar gauntlet.
Naturally, the musician’s songwriting still had time to mature and room for it too, but ‘I’m Yours’ showcases all of the raw talents we know he had stored up. The riff is an amalgamation of Prince’s influences and the world around him.
The real joy of this piece is just how vibrant his sound already was. At only 19 years old, Prince was already displaying the kind of chops that had taken decades for many to perfect.
Prince’s self-titled second record once again saw him display his growing esteem. As the rock world looked to be taking a nap, allowing the figures of the previous decades to be under the spotlight, Prince slowly gathered pace and proved that one needn’t rely on the trope of rock ‘n’ roll for success. Or at least, not in the same way.
There’s no doubt that ‘Bambi’ is a song drenched in the triumvirate of rock ethos: sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. But where the golden age of rock music would have neatly waxed about the sunsets and cocaine on offer, Prince brought a far sleazier, far more dangerous and certainly more engrossing vision.
Neck skids and some serious double-stop screeching means with every repetition, the song gets better and better. But it, unusually, is in the solo that the musician truly shines brightest. The solo bends like air and fizzes with luscious vibrato while Prince plays like the icon he would become.
3. ‘Let’s Go Crazy’
The opening track from Purple Rain is certainly a landmark moment on the seminal album. For the album, Prince reinvented himself as a sexy preacher of sorts, and it is on this song that he enacted the new vision with aplomb. Perhaps the finest moment on the album comes from Prince’s vicious riffs on this song.
The song is effervescent and simply bubbling with life, but it is Prince’s guitar that pushes the song to a new level, matching the joyful intensity and ensuring the audience knows what’s to come on the rest of the album. Pure, unbridled brilliance.
‘Let’s Go Crazy’ not only conceals some of Prince’s greatest riffs but also features two stunning solos. The second solo does a great job of slicing open [rince’s universe, bleeding all over his audience. Fitting in with the title, it’s one of Prince’s craziest songs.
2. ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’
One such guitar moment comes not within Prince’s song but as part of a very special performance.
On March 15, 2004, taking to the stage alongside the great Tom Petty, Steve Winwood, Jeff Lynne, Dhani Harrison, among many others, Prince was preparing something typically unique. The occasion was a celebration of former Beatles member George Harrison who was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—so it needed to be special.
The all-star band, performing ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’, which is quite possibly remembered as Harrison’s most-beloved Beatles song, included members of the Heartbreakers and had pre-planned a moment for Prince to take the lead, a moment of majesty, a moment of sheer rock and roll brilliance. A moment only Prince could pull off.
Prince was determined to make the most of a moment to pay tribute to Harrison, and he began to wield his axe with powerful, uncompromising confidence, with a style that ultimately defines his nickname as ‘His Royal Badness’ and unleashed a relentless three-minute guitar solo that had his new bandmates smiling from ear-to-ear, gasping at its splendour and making sure George had a fitting tribute.
1. ‘Purple Rain’
There’s no doubt that any of the songs mentioned in our top ten list could have a viable spot near the top. Such was the diversity and tonal changes of Prince’s sound; it would be idiotic not to note that each one has its place within his Royal Badness’ canon of work. However, if we’re talking about landmark moments, there is no bigger in the musician’s career than ‘Purple Rain’.
The song has been routinely regarded as a seminal moment in rock’s history. It certainly was for Eric Clapton. Clapton had often cited the singer as one of the best guitarists the world has ever seen, noting ‘Purple Rain’ as the injection of energy rock and roll needed to stay alive, saying “at a time when I thought rock and roll was dead,” he continued: “This is someone who is a reincarnation of Little Richard, Jimi Hendrix and James Brown in one. I thought that’s exactly what the world needed.”
The song closes out Purple Rain and acts as the final piece of the gorgeously purple puzzle. While there’s plenty of rhythms to be enjoyed, it is Prince’s outro that will live in our memories forever. The song remains a classic and would also become the final song he’d ever perform for an audience. Therefore, its place at the top of the pile is guaranteed.