Prince did it all, and did it well, he could compose, produce, arrange, sing and play just about every instrument, and play them in the best possible way. As Sheryl Crow said, he could play the piano like Chick Corea or Herbie Hancock, pick up a bass and play like Larry Graham, and of course play the guitar like Jimi Hendrix or Buddy Guy. Possibly this fact, as well as his extravagant appearance, has made Prince completely underrated as a guitarist. So here at Guitars Exchange we want to pay tribute by rescuing Prince the guitarist with 10 of his best solos of all time, yet aware that we will leave out interesting things like Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad, Computer Blue, She’s Always On My Hair, Interactive, and Screwdriver.
The frenzied electric guitar in Bambi came out in 1979, his second record, called simply Prince. An album which, like his debut, had the Minnesotan taking charge of writing, arranging, producing, playing and singing everything in it. Quite an incredible achievement for someone who had just turned 21. Perhaps even more amazing is seeing at that time he is already a master on the 6-string, lighting this song up with a wicked riff and a couple of dirty solos, with incredible ‘bends’ and a lusty vibrato that fits to perfection with the lyrics about a man who begs a lesbian to go to bed with him. If sex has a sound, it could well be Prince’s guitar. At the time, there weren’t any of the legendary custom guitars around, not even his famous Telecaster replica, Hohner, so the guitar he used to use back then was a Gibson L6-S Deluxe, possibly due to the influence of one his idols Carlos Santana.
Purple Rain (Studio and Live 1985)
When Prince died there was a false story circulating on the internet attributed to Eric Clapton, who when asked by a journalist “How does it feel being the best guitarist alive?”, replied, “I don’t know, ask Prince”. It was the same story that was credited to Hendrix and others, (also fake). The story was fake, as I was saying, but could have been true because Clapton adored Prince. Actually, his favourite song of all time, more than any by Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters or Freddie King, was Purple Rain. So the song clearly had something, and so did this guitarist to warrant such praise.
Purple Rain is one of his tributes to ‘the Wild Blue Angel’ , or in other words, Jimi Hendrix. Prince channeled the Seattle native and delivers his most memorable song in one take, live, recorded on August 3, 1983. It was the first time rhythm guitarist Wendy Melvoin, just 19, played onstage with Prince’s band The Revolution, playing the chords with her purple, heavily modified Rickenbacker 330, but it is Prince who shines with his amazing melodic solo, alternating quick phrasing with repeated phrases easy to hum that makes Purple Rain one of the greatest songs of all time. Although in the movie of the same name Prince is seen playing his legendary guitar Cloud, most of the record, including this song, it was recorded with his Hohner Telecaster, designed by H.S. Anderson, likely connected to his beloved amps Mesa/Boogie Mark II. The song became a fixture in his setlist, and would come in incredible versions as on the 1985 tour, where he went on for 20 minutes of guitar glory. A beautiful nod to fate, it was the last song he performed live, the closing song to his last show, April 14, 2016, a week before his death.
Let’s Go Crazy
Let's Go Crazy is the song that open the record and the movie which made Prince a superstar on the world stage. He couldn’t have chosen a better introduction note, an organ like the one you hear at funerals, backed by a kind of eulogy on life by Prince. Then the song takes off like a rocket until 2 incredible solos by the artist previously known as the fucking owner of the 80s shows that he could look toe to toe with any of the ‘shredders’ who populated the decade. Yet apart from his remarkable speed, Prince played with a lot of feeling, making each note count and not just showing off technical expertise. On the first solo he uses a complete arsenal of his dear Boss pedals, including of course the BF-2 Flanger, while on the 2nd solo he uses a Dunlop Crybaby Wah, which may be his most hectic and memorable solos.
When Doves Cry
One of the strangest pop singles in music history, but also one of the best. A number that opens with a distorted psychedelic solo, played through the Boss OC-2, which gives way to a drum machine Linn LM-1, with Prince singing the melody. There isn’t a bass, nor almost any other tools, yet it is absolutely irresistible, the guitar returns for the end, his Hohner, with another sublime solo drenched with distortion in which you can feel the full pain of the lyrics, making way for a final solo on a synthesiser, which, of course, he plays too.
Can you imagine how Sgt. Pepper’s would have sounded if Hendrix had been their guitarist? well, maybe Paisley Park is the answer. The song, included on the psychedelic Around the World in a Day, wound up becoming the name of the studio/mansion of the artist in Minneapolis. It has an excellent arrangement of strings and chorus by Wendy & Lisa, but the rest is Prince’s responsibility, including the final solo, which is incomprehensibly cut in the video of the song. To listen to his best flourishes on 6-string, the best version is on the 12 inch extended single where the guitar is at the fore, and shines from the very start. It was one of the first songs recorded after Purple Rain, and quite possibly one of the first recordings where he plays his iconic Cloud guitar, a ‘custom-made’ instrument designed by luthier Dave Rusan for the movie. In the beginning it was meant to be a simple accessory in the flick but Prince ended up liking it so much he took it with him on tour and became his main axe for the following years, the first one was white, with coloured ones coming later.
I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man
Sign O’ The Times may be the greatest Prince masterpiece, released in 1987, it was a double album that gave free reins to his abundant talent, there was funk, gospel, rock, soul, pop, and spacey things that could only come from his imagination. After The Revolution days he returned to his beginnings, and took charge of doing everything himself, including his gift as a guitar player, as you can see in I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man, a great song with 2 parts where Prince rejects the advances of a girl who wants something more than just a night off with him, and in the end is uncovered with a solo, simple and very catchy that opens the 2nd part, an instrumental where the blues, funk, and jazz go hand in hand with his Cloud as the main star.
The Cross (live version)
I must have seen hundreds of concerts throughout my life, from Bob Dylan to The Who, from Ray Davies to Guns N’ Roses, from Al Green to Brian Wilson, from Neil Young to Paul Simon, from Pearl Jam to Arcade Fire, from Paul McCartney to Jerry Lee Lewis, from R.E.M. to Bruce Springsteen, from the Rolling Stones to Iggy Pop, from the Cure to Wilco, from Stevie Wonder to Elvis Costello, and into infinity, but there’s nothing like seeing Prince on stage. Although I must admit I didn’t see him in his prime, the tours of Sign O’ the Times and Lovesexy in ‘87 and ‘88, the equivalent to seeing James Brown in ‘70 or 71’, or The Who from ’69 to ‘71, Bob Dylan in ‘66, and Neil Young at any time. An artist in full swing giving the best he’s got. On those tours he never failed to play The Cross, a simple song with two chords, something like folk, where Prince finishes all lit up with his Cloud, almost as if he were praying in full guitaristic ecstasy.
Just My Imagination
Prince was a complete music addict, at his prime he not only recorded hundreds of songs (many of which haven’t been released yet) but also after his shows he would find some small club in the city where he would play and organise a new performance for very few chosen people, there he would cut loose on different versions of his songs, and improvised ‘jams’ or covers of songs that he liked. Among Prince followers, the most well-known of these is the one he gave in the club Paard van Troje on August 19, 1988 in the Hague, Holland. It became one of the most sought-after pirate records for collectors, Small Club. A triple album where you will find a cover of this Temptations classic, where Prince rips one of the best solos of his career, after 2:33, he unleashes the perfect storm, and it was purple, of course. One of the emotional peaks in his career.
“Say hello, to the wild blue angel!” was a line used in his shows when he was possessed by the spirit of Hendrix, something you can also apply to this song, put out in 1993, outside his magic reign of the 80s, and goes to show that Prince as a guitarist never had a bad spell, like he did with his compositions, the Cloud, this time the yellow one, continued stirring up magic. Years later Rod Stewart would cover this song with Slash on guitar, but pales in comparison to the original.
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
In 2004 the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame decided to induct as members Prince and George Harrison. The producer of the event asked him to play the guitar in a tribute to Harrison. He delightfully accepted and came to the rehearsal. Among the guests were the former friends of Harrison in the Travelling Wilburys, Tom Petty, and Jeff Lynne, as well as Harrison’s son Dhani and Steve Winwood. They began to play and when it was time for the solo, Marc Mann, Lynne’s guitarist played note for note the famous Clapton solo in While My Guitar Gently Weeps. At the end when it was Prince’s turn, Mann repeated the solo, and Gallen was worried but Prince told him not to fret, everything was going to be alright, Mann would play the first solo on his Stratocaster and Prince would take care of the ending. The next day the session began and Prince was left discreetly in the background, out of the spotlights, but at minute 3:30 he stepped forward and stole the show on one of the most amazing solos in history. Petty remembers feeling the electricity of those great moments, floating on air but the clearest confirmation was on the happy face of Dhani Harrison, a living portrait of his father, not believing what he was seeing. And the final coup de grace which left everyone’s mouth agape was when Prince threw his Hohner into the air behind him and left the stage without the guitar touching the ground. Pure magic!