49. Prince Album Covers

*Deep breath*

My name is Corbin David Albaugh and I am a Prince fan. Allow me to clarify. When I say “fan”, I don’t mean it in the half-assed way that people are “fans” in the sense that they have the band’s t-shirt and know half the contents of their Greatest Hits CD’s. I’ve been listening to Prince since I was a junior high student in Football, Iowa. While half of my classmates were turning on to LInkin Park or Disturbed or whatever other butt-rock band was just hitting their stride in the early-aughts, I was turning on to Parade and learning the lyrics to Kiss and making my parents question every single thing they had done, parenting-wise, up to that point. I mean it in the sense that Prince has been with me since puberty. And I’m no longer ashamed to admit it.

I mean it in the sense that I own not one, but two copies of Purple Rain on vinyl. With the liner notes above my bed. In the sense that my old Myspace headline was the chorus to When Doves Cry (and I always wondered why girls thought I was weird). In the sense that I spent three consecutive days with Raspberry Beret stuck in my head. In the sense that I have not only willfully listened to Prince music produced after 1990, but purchased it with actual money as well. I know 

I think my affinity for Prince has its roots in my admiration of any celebrity or artist those talent or product is so overwhelming that it has given them diplomatic immunity to do whatever the fuck they please without any worry of actual criticism. Kinda like Beck being a Scientologist or all of Bill Murray’s career.

Or that one time Björk wore a swan because Björk.

Prince stands as another sterling example of this rare breed. Here is a man that has made an entire musical career out of being that goofy looking guy that you make fun of when you walk into the party, but then has sex with your girlfriend, sister, and best friend all while you’re not looking and then melting your face afterwards with a funky guitar solo so you couldn’t chase him down in revenge. While wearing high heels and a cravat. Any musician that can somehow be a Jehovah’s Witness and also release a song called “Pussy Control” has an instant ticket to my heart.

I could go on for hours about Prince’s contributions to music. I could talk about the fact that he helped bring electronic music and synths into R&B and helped pave the way for a lot of today’s modern pop music. I could talk about the fact that he has been the sole or primary musical contributor on nearly all of his 24 studio albums to date (not to mention his next two albums due later in September), showing a degree of autonomy not seen in many solo artists. I could talk about how Purple Rain is like seriously the best fucking album of the 80’s and I will fight you with a brick on a deserted jogging path if you challenge this assertion.

But this is a blog dedicated to hate and petty vitriol and so instead I’m going to talk about how Prince, in addition to having superhuman musical abilities, also has the superhuman ability to have the hands-down worst collection of album covers in the history of shitty album covers. While it’s typical of famous musical artists to have some questionable choices from time to time…

What the actual fuck, David Bowie?

Prince has truly outdone any of his contemporaries in the field of outrageous, awkward, and just outright bad album art. At their best, they are vague photographs or images or what look like baby’s first Photoshop. At worst they look like art for weird European sex films.

Because I am both a sadist and a Prince fanatic, let’s humor me and take a little stroll through my personal favorite collection of  Prince album covers. My hope is to one day deck out my entire bedroom in these album covers. If I bring a woman home and she isn’t frightened away, she is the one. This is my theory.

Prince – 1979

Prince’s 2nd album was released when he was 21. You can tell by the almost-but-not-quite-Pedro-from-Napoleon-Dynamite mustache that he’s rocking on the front cover as he forces his SexyPhunkDoeEyes deep into our souls whether we like it or not. You would think that Prince would scale back the creepy factor for his next release. But that’s why you’re a shitty mortal with no platinum records and Prince is Prince and his pinkie has had more sex than you ever will in your puny little life.

Album Highlight – Sexy Dancer – Although Prince hit it big with Wanna Be Ur Lover off this album, this is the best early Prince track to give you a hint of what’s to come. Straight robo-funk that sounded like a Cyborg Sly and the Family Stone, topped off with an obligatory heavy-breathing Prince breakdown.

Dirty Mind – 1980

This cover stands as Exhibit A when I present my case that Prince is a human above all of our supposed societal rules. The clincher is the pure confidence evident in Prince’s face that says “Here I am in an open studded jacket, a bandana, and a banana hammock. If Sex were a person, I would have sex with it.”

Album Highlight – Uptown – Fun, funky, hedonistic, and features one of the most quintessentially Prince lyrics in his entire discography:

“What’s up little girl?”
“I ain’t got time to play.”
Baby didn’t say too much
She said, “Are you gay?”
Kinda took me by suprise
I didn’t know what to do
I just looked her in her eyes
And I said, “No, are u?”

1999 – 1982

The worst part? This is the best cover that Prince will have for the next ten years. Kudos to his ten year old cousin who I’m assuming did the art. On DMT.

Album Highlight – Let’s Pretend We’re Married – I’m skipping the obvious title track and Little Red Corvette for the nod, due in part to their popularity and also because this song is so damn fun and catchy that I can’t believe it hasn’t reached the same level of popularity as its contemporaries off the rest of the album. Also worth noting is that the first five songs on this album make for the strongest opening of any Prince release, in my opinion.

Purple Rain – 1984

Hey, you know what’s really masculine and filled with testosterone? Motorcycles. You know what ruins the effect? Virtually everything else about this cover. Triple points for the inexplicable Grandma’s wallpaper backdrop/frame. The fact that THIS was one of the defining albums and images of the 80’s should tell anyone that didn’t grow up in the 80’s anything they need to know about the 80’s.

Album Highlight – Purple Rain – This is the song for every momentous occasion in your life. This is the song for your first kiss, your last goodbye, and finding the last beer in the fridge. From the second the gospel chorus kicks in you realize that Prince is giving us a catharsis in the only way that Prince knows: echoed semi-messianic messages of philosophy, the most subtle but beautiful guitar lines in pop history, and a wailing falsetto at the 2/3 mark that has been known to restore life to coma patients. Fuck the Star Spangled Banner. This should be our National Anthem.

Lovesexy – 1988

True story: I was involved with an argument with my roommate Tallis regarding Prince’s sexuality a week ago. She accused him of being “androgynous”. I strongly contested this statement, citing his rape-tastic early album covers. As I was trying to cycle through his discography on Spotify to make my case, I passed this album. I saw the cover, immediately stopped whatever I was saying, and left the room. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so a picture like this would probably require several whole new languages just to deal with. Argument over.

Album Highlight – Anna Stesia – One of those great Prince songs that tread the line between sexy and spiritual that you’re not sure if he’s actually worshipping God or whatever woman is God to him that night. Also proof that Prince still knew how to write a catchy-ass chorus.

Graffiti Bridge – 1990

Theory: If a Prince album is going to be good, then Prince MUST be eye-fucking the camera somehow. In this one, we’re only getting half an eye-fuck. Hence, a half-assed album.

Album Highlight – We Can Funk (ft. George Clinton) – OK, this is kind of cheating but this album kind of blows. Small wonder Prince brought in a Justice League of other funk and R&B artists to guest with him on this one. The 90’s weren’t great everyone.

Planet Earth – 2007

Prince spent the next decade and a half playing it pretty safe with his album covers, only really exploiting that weird male/female symbol thing for most of his releases throughout the decade. He redeemed himself with the Planet Earth cover in which he compensates with his lack of eye-fuckery in years past by LITERALLY EYE FUCKING THE ENTIRE GLOBE IN A HAZE OF ORANGE FUNK. If you aimed the camera lower, it would show the world resting on his dick.

Album Highlight – Guitar – That scream at the beginning, though….

Thirty years of producing music. Countless shitty pieces of art to show for it. Let us all pray that Prince stays around much, much longer than his somehow-even-more-fucked-up contemporary Michael Jackson and continues to power the world with his fancy suits and mascara funk for another twenty years.

His latest release. The man is a treasure.
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