Many years ago, I took a job as a wedding DJ for a few months to knit ends together in college. Whatever you picture about the job of a wedding DJ, I can assure you that it’s even less glamorous than that. But among the late hours, low pay, and endless schlepping lay at least one pearl-like perk—at every function, when the mood began to ebb along with my sanity, I would put on Prince’s “Controversy,” turn up the speakers as loud as I could, and for the next seven minutes, all would be well. (See him play the song in 1982, above, to a suburban New Jersey audience who resemble my onetime clientele.)
For the rest of the night and the rest of the week, I’d be lost in mid-nod to that perfect distillation of funk, the greatest distillation of funk to include the Lord's Prayer that was ever put to tape.
Prince wrote perfect party songs---dozens of them, including the definitive party song, “1999,” which Martin Schneider at Dangerous Minds calls “a supreme signifier for a Sixteen Candles level blowout celebration"... for a certain cohort at least.
An entire mixtape of Prince tunes would do right by any party, but what would the man himself put on? Surely he didn’t just play his own music, although… why not? We do know he kept it raw and funky for Paisley Park gatherings. In a playlist he provided to the TV show The New Girl in 2013 for an episode featuring a fictional Prince party, he opens with the midtempo stomp of The Staples Singers’ 1974 Stax Recording "City in the Sky.” Before long we’re onto the stone cold groove of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” and the dirty funk of Ohio Player’s “Skin Tight” a song about a “bad, bad missus” in “skin tight britches.”
The Prince party playlist (available on Spotify, YouTube, or stream it all below) has just the right mix of erotic, romantic, and spiritual---with the psychedelic funk of Shuggie Otis thrown in, naturally---some of the most finely-tuned soul the seventies produced. One of the latest recordings on the playlist, Chaka Khan’s “I Was Made to Love Him” came out in 1978, the same year as Prince’s first album, so we can take a fairly good guess at what he was listening to when he made his debut. In fact, we might look at the playlist as a snapshot of the funk-rock-soul genius from Minneapolis’ original inspirations, which still resonate like cosmic radiation in his late digital-era recordings.
With the Prince vault opened and hundreds of never-before-heard songs set for release, we’ll have years of opportunity to play spot-the-influence. In the meantime, get some people over and put on the mix above. If you sense a lull, drop “Controversy” and watch the most awkward guests come alive with moves they never knew they had.