One of the things that made Prince such an indelible artist was the way he recognized the compatibility of music and art. He didn’t just wear purple (although to be clear, he wore a LOT of purple), Prince curated his album as meticulously as his beats. Let’s re-experience some of Prince’s best album art from the years before Purple Rain.
Prince’s first album had not performed up to his standards and the record company wanted another. So, Prince recorded his self-titled follow-up just weeks later. The result was a more critically accepted record that was certified platinum with three R&B dance hits. But can we talk about this cover? Prince is naked and staring into the camera. This was a preview of what Prince would eventually do to sexualize his music. The album’s hit, “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” features Prince crooning in falsetto to a woman who treats him like a child. The 20-year old cut two amazing music videos of the single. In the first, Prince wears an unbuttoned leopard shirt, with that same long hair he sports on the album sleeve. The second video has not been show on TV, because it showed Prince and the Revolution cavorting in skimpy clothing inside a painted room. The highly collectible second video was a harbinger of the sexual suggestiveness that would become his trademark.
Sexy Dancer, 1980
Naked Prince is riding a winged horse into the sky. That’s the basic description of the cover art for Prince’s 1980 single, “Sexy Dancer,” which released only overseas. The song is mostly a lyric-free funk jam, punctuated by sexy grunts and screams.
If this album didn’t make you want to watch a movie called Prince and The Last Unicorn you need to get out more.
Dirty Mind, 1981
When Prince was looking for a photographer for his album, Dirty Mind, he contacted Alan Beaulieu, who had just done an exhibition at the YWCA shooting black people standing against black backgrounds. Prince instructed Beaulieu to photograph him in bed, so the photographer found an abandoned bed spring. Prince arranged the shoot and details himself, which was always the prerogative of the Purple One. The cover shows Prince pulling back his 80’s denim jacket to reveal bikini briefs and thigh-high boots.
The choice here is appropriate, since Dirty Mind marked the time when Prince became Prince. Rather than sticking to straight R&B, Prince brought the funk and mixed it with New Wave and R&B, creating a sound uniquely his own.
Prince was back in the studio quickly and the result is Controversy, which finds Prince *gasp* fully clothed. As Blender points out, Controversy is “Prince’s first attempt to get you to love him for his mind, not just his body.” Although the songs are full of social critique set to synth, Prince still made time for a little healthy blasphemy, singing the Lord’s Prayer on the title track.
Let’s Pretend We’re Married, 1982
Prince’s 1982 album, 1999, was a smash hit. This cover is from the 7-inch record. It’s Prince climbing into bed with you. Does he really want to marry you? No, girl, but so what? You can clearly see the man who would soon dominate music thanks to 1984’s Purple Rain.