"For You": The first album arrived amid much hype about an 18-year-old who wrote, arranged, played and produced everything himself. The youngest producer in Warner Bros. history went for multi-layered, lush, likable R&B, suggesting a Stevie Wonder wannabe. Crowning cut: The suggestive "Soft and Wet."
"Prince": Having gone over budget on his debut, Prince showed he could make commercial R&B and funk filled with emotion and falsetto. Crowning cuts: "I Wanna Be Your Lover," "Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad," "I Feel for You."
"Dirty Mind": A breakthrough in boldness, this album not only explores a wide variety of styles - from new-wave rock to unrelenting dance jams - in a raw, rudimentary sound, but the content is rivetingly Rabelaisian, discussing incest, oral sex and threesomes. Crowning cuts: "Head," "When You Were Mine," "Party Up."
"Controversy": A somewhat experimental set between two better-realized albums, it pushes the sexual envelope to a sometimes trite point and doesn't mind getting silly. Crowning cuts: "Do Me Baby," "Controversy."
"1999": A double-disc exploration of primarily synthesizer funk, this collection is slyly sexy, uncontrollably funky and perfectly playful, with seven of the 11 songs extending beyond six minutes. "1999" has lots of attitude and lots of hits. Crowning cuts: "Little Red Corvette," "1999," "Delirious," "Let's Pretend We're Married."
"Purple Rain": Playing with a full band for the first time, he expands his musical palette, rocking harder, becoming dreamier and leaving the funk behind. The bass-less minimalism of "When Doves Cry," his most personal song to date, is as irresistibly entrancing as "Purple Rain" is spiritually transcendent, and "Baby, I'm a Star" is joyous.
The movie: Ladies and gentlemen, meet the Kid. He's talented, sexy, cocksure and sure wears a lot of tight pants. Unfortunately, his arrogance as an artist, occasional rudeness to friends and mistrust of the music business threatens to sideline his career. Hmm, 20 years later, can we still call this fiction? Actually, "Purple Rain" stands up as a classic music movie in the realm of "A Hard Day's Night" and "Jailhouse Rock." Sure, the acting is workable at best, and the story is sometimes laughable. But the musical performances are exceptional, and Prince's personality - good and bad - fills the screen. And thanks to the film, Lake Minnetonka still sees more nude cannonballs than any other lake in the state.
"Around the World in a Day": Prince goes psychedelic with a few odd missteps such as "The Ladder" (co-written with his father) but several mesmerizing, multicolored tracks. Crowning cuts: "Raspberry Beret," "Pop Life."
"Parade: Music from the Motion Picture 'Under the Cherry Moon'": His third album in 20 months is a dizzying pastiche of psychedelic pop, bare-bones funk and Hollywood-flavored soundtrack fare. Crowning cuts: "Kiss," "Girls and Boys," "Sometimes It Snows in April."
The movie: A sharp contrast to the brightness of "Purple Rain" in more ways than the black-and-white footage and the scant $7 million gross (compared with $65 million at the time for "Rain"). Prince basically plays a suaver version of himself as he tries to woo a rich heiress, but the charm wears thinner than the story. He also directed the film, which was a fun attempt at making a classic romantic movie but comes off more as an excuse to hang out on the French Riviera and snuggle up to then-newcomer Kristin Scott Thomas. At least the soundtrack had less throwaway material, including "Kiss" and "Sometimes It Snows in April."
"Sign o' the Times": Considered superior to "Purple Rain" by many diehards, it's at least as good for a longer duration (two discs). "Sign" offers the most perfect balance of everything that is Prince: grinding funk, catchy pop, anthemic rock, tender balladry, thoughtful spirituality and urban realism, all spun at a thrilling, loose pace. In many ways, it's the Lennon to "Purple Rain's" McCartney. Crowning cuts: "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man," "The Cross," "U Got the Look," "Housequake."
The movie: While a few dramatic montages are thrown in, this film is essentially just a concert movie. Thank goodness for that. It helps that it is based on one of Prince's best albums, but he could be singing songs from the dreadful "Come" album, and chances are his on-stage charisma would shine on screen. This one might be more essential than "Purple Rain" in telling what the artist is all about.
"The Black Album": Not released until 1994, it was shelved days before it was supposed to be shipped to record stores, which, of course, led to widespread bootlegging and rumors of greatness. They were half-true. Silliness reins, from the uber-sexual "Le Grind" to the Prince-mimicking-himself ballad "When 2 R in Love." Crowning cuts: "Cindy C." (an ode to Ms. Crawford), the terrific jam "2 Nigs United 4 West Compton."
"Lovesexy": Lacking the grandiosity and swiftness of "Sign o' the Times," this CD was largely dismissed upon release — in part because of Prince's nude cover pose — but has proven to be more pivotal. He starts seeking love instead of sex and peace to go with his religion. He also cuts several new sonic paths and infuses hip-hop like never before. Crowning cuts: "Alphabet Street," "Anna Stesia."
"Batman": This soundtrack is inspired less by Prince's vision than by the characters in Tim Burton's dark interpretation of "Batman." The quickie album includes a little funk, a slice of pop, a sappy Sheena Easton ballad duet, an oversexed pant and a catchy collage of film dialogue and music. Crowning cuts: "Batdance," "Scandalous."
"Graffiti Bridge": This 17-song, double-disc is a fully realized, mostly funk-rock exploration of the dichotomy of sensuality and spirituality, performed by the Time, George Clinton, Mavis Staples, Tevin Campbell and Prince. Crowning cuts: The Time's "Shake," Staples' "Melody Cool," Prince's "Can't Stop This Feeling I Got."
The movie: (1991): OK, so maybe movies weren't his thing. Prince's last-gasp effort at reviving his big-screen career fell flat, thanks largely to a lame story about the characters in "Purple Rain" battling over control of Glam Slam nightclub. Prince's penchant for melodrama as an actor didn't help. A half-great soundtrack picked things up, as did the "West Side Story"-like sets and all-star appearances by George Clinton, Mavis Staples and the reunited Time. Alas, the writing really was on the wall.
"Diamonds & Pearls": His most blatantly commercial album since "Prince," it lacks innovation, excitement and emotion. He has switched from leader to follower, adding trendy but forced rap to his repertoire. Crowning cuts: "Diamonds & Pearls," "Money Don't Matter 2 Night," "Cream," "Gett Off."
(Symbol Album): His most derivative disc, this glyph gaffe comes across like a PG-13, hip-hop-oriented sequel to 1987's boldly sexual "The Black Album." Some of the lyrics are ridiculous, but you sure can dance to this disc. Crowning cuts: "My Name Is Prince," "Sexy MF."
"The Hits 1 & 2/The B-Sides": This 56-song collection is a testament to his musical range, inventiveness and boldness. But it was assembled by Warner Bros., not Prince, so the choices are safe and predictable - long on pop, short on funk and rarities.
"Come": Released to fulfill his contract with Warner Bros., it's a batch of forgettable songs whose one-word titles ("Orgasm," "Loose!") hint at the disinterest involved.
"The Gold Experience": His most fun and cohesive album since "Sign o' the Times" is held together by a female narrator with a computerized voice. Crowning cuts: "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World," "Billy Jack Bitch."
"Girl 6": This soundtrack for Spike Lee's forgettable phone-sex movie compiles some of Prince's best between-the-sheets romps — including one each by the Family and Vanity 6 - around a couple of new songs. Crowning cuts: "She Spoke 2 Me," the Family's "Screams of Passion."
"Chaos and Disorder": His swan song on Warner Bros. is a slapped-together throwaway that sounds like mid-'80s Prince. It's not as bad as the title suggests. But he hits his recorded nadir on "Into the Light" and "I Will."
"Emancipation": This bedazzling three-hour, three-disc collection is his most adult, mature and jazziest effort. Each CD is themed — old-school pop-soul, a lushly romantic symphony, and street-wise social and spiritual commentary. Prince even does covers of four well-known songs on a package that both summarizes and advances his career. Crowning cuts: "Sex in the Summer," "I Can't Make You Love Me," "Holy River."
"Crystal Ball": This four-disc compilation of outtakes and leftovers has its moments of funky fun, but it's mostly for completists. The all-acoustic "The Truth" is a sonic change of pace. Crowning cut: "Days of Wild."
"New Power Soul": Although credited to the New Power Generation, this 10-track funk fest has Prince all over it. Like most of his jam-filled sessions, however, the funk isn't as well conveyed on CD as it is live. Crowning cut: "The One."
"Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic": Clive Davis had this crazy idea that an all-star cast could revive a genius' fading career. It worked for Santana but not so well for Prince, who allows only minimal help from guests Sheryl Crow, Chuck D, Ani DiFranco and Gwen Stefani. At least it sounds as if he had a good time. He also had several strong songs. Crowning cuts: "The Greatest Romance Ever Sold," "Tangerine."
"The Rainbow Children": Although this is steeped in jazz and soul to great effect, its weird voiceovers and indecipherable religious messages make it far too obtuse. If you can get around the head-scratching moments, you'll probably agree the guy still has it. Crowning cuts: "The Everlasting Now," "Family Name."
"One Nite Alone . . . Live": This hugely rewarding, three-CD boxed set captures the brilliance, indulgence and frustration of a Prince concert — and the superfunky after-show. This one is all about musicianship and spirit of the highest order. Crowning cut: "Nothing Compare 2 U."
"N.E.W.S": Four 15-minute instrumental jams with the "One Nite" band, it's Prince's version of background music. Crowning cut: The John Blackwell rhythm showcase "East."
"Live at the Aladdin DVD": Taken from the final "One Nite" dates, the concert DVD offers visual proof of the fun Prince had on the tour, with many odd workouts not on the boxed set. Crowning cuts: "Push and Pull" with Nikka Costa and "The Ride."
"Musicology": This could be labeled: "Suitable for all adults — for a change." A strikingly mature celebration of marriage and monogamy, it's his most focused and consistent album since "Lovesexy." While the music isn’t groundbreaking, the songwriting displays some of his most fully developed ideas in years. Crowning cuts: "A Million Days," "Musicology."
"3121": Like Prince’s last album with a four-digit title ("1999"), this is a party record, with a throwback vibe that evokes such Prince faves as Carlos Santana, James Brown and Earth, Wind & Fire. While this has some intriguing concepts, one wishes he’d hook up with a younger musical genius like Questlove of the Roots. Crowning cuts: "Black Sweat," "Satisfied," "Boat."
"Planet Earth": Musically, this harkens back to the mid-1980s psychedelic and formal pop of "Around the World in a Day" and "Parade." At the same time it signals a renewed commitment to social commentary, with a title track that’s an opulently orchestrated antiwar, pro-green opus. Crowning cuts: "Guitar," "Future Baby Mama."
"Lotusflow3r"/"MPLSound": Part of a three-disc Target exclusive (including a solo disc by protege Bria Valente), these albums echo familiar Purple sounds but on current topics, including Wall Street bailouts, the Obama presidency and issues of race. The one-man-band "MPLSound" focuses more on party funk while "Lotusflow3r," recorded with a band, is more eclectic. Crowning cuts: "Chocolate Box," "Dance 4 Me," "$."
"20Ten": A more appropriate title might be "Nineteen80." Released only in Europe as a giveaway, it exudes the synthesizer minimalism Prince purveyed then, but it was his slightest effort since 1996’s contractual obligation "Chaos and Disorder." Crowning cut: "Lay Down."
"Plectrumelectrum": Recorded with his new backing trio 3rdEyeGirl, there are palpable sparks on this exciting disc, one of two released the same day, and his first for Warner Bros. since 1996. The recording balances heavy-rock workouts with lighter, more crafted pop pieces. Crowning cuts: "Boy Trouble," "Whitecaps," "Funknroll."
"Art Official Age": Seemingly a one-man effort, this half-baked concept album about life, happiness and the afterlife ("artificial age," get it?) sounds a bit like early Prince. Crowning cuts: "Way Back Home," "The Gold Standard."
"HitNRun Phase One": Billed as experimental, this EDM-minded collaboration with programmer Joshua Welton is more like a hodgepodge of one-off tracks, leftovers and remixes. Crowning cuts: "1000 X’s & O’s," "June."
"HitNRun Phase Two": Backed by members of the New Power Generation and a 16-person horn section, Prince combines numbers from recent live sets with a few singles. At least this is funkier than Phase One. Crowning cut: "Baltimore."