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Sprinkled Among Prince's Hits Were Underappreciated Gems

(SOUNDBITE OF PRINCE SONG, "1999")

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

If you only know Prince for hits like "1999," you're missing a whole other world. He was extraordinarily prolific. And he left underappreciated gems scattered throughout his body of work. We called on a couple of Prince scholars for their favorites.

TOURE: I'm Toure and I wrote a book called "I Would Die 4 U: Why Prince Became An Icon."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SISTER")

PRINCE: (Singing) I was only 16 but I guess that's no excuse.

TOURE: "Sister" is, I think, the first time we really saw how deep and nasty Prince's mind was.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SISTER")

PRINCE: (Singing) Oh, sister, don't put me on the street again.

TOURE: This, to me, is like - you know how, like, superheroes have that sort of a story? How did Spiderman - he gets bit by the spider and then he become Spiderman. Well, in the Prince cosmology, Prince's "Sister" is the spider that bit Spiderman and made him become Prince.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SISTER")

PRINCE: (Sister) She only wanted to turn me out. She took a whip to me until I shout.

TOURE: "Another Lonely Christmas" is just all pain.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ANOTHER LONELY CHRISTMAS")

PRINCE: (Singing) Last night, I spent another lonely Christmas.

TOURE: It is one of the saddest songs ever. She died right before Christmas, you know, and he's telling the stories about, I saw your sister skating, and she's grown up so much. And I'm talking to somebody who's not here.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ANOTHER LONELY CHRISTMAS")

PRINCE: (Singing) Your father said it was pneumonia. Your mother said it was stress.

TOURE: Your father said was pneumonia; your mother said it was stress; the doctor said you were dead; and I say it's senseless. Prince is a storyteller. And those story-songs mean so much to me and, I think, to a lot of his fans. Those are where he really, really goes to another level as a songwriter, I think.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ANOTHER LONELY CHRISTMAS")

PRINCE: (Singing) You won't hear my tears. Another lonely Christmas is mine.

ZAHEER ALI: I'm Zaheer Ali, and I'm a lecturer. I teach American history at NYU - New York University. And I've even used some of Prince's music in my classes. He has a song called "Avalanche" which questions the way we think about Abraham Lincoln. It's something that, you know, W.E.B. Du Bois would have called a sorrow song - like an old spiritual.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AVALANCHE")

PRINCE: (Singing) He was not or never had been in favor of setting our people free - oh, no.

ALI: So we're in April and, of course, this is on the occasion of Prince's very unexpected and untimely and, for many of us, tragic passing and one song the almost immediately comes to mind is "Sometimes It Snows In April." It is really an intimate song. And it is a song about loss. And it's a song about, you know, the loss of friendship and the loss of a loved one.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOMETIMES IT SNOWS IN APRIL")

PRINCE: (Singing) Tracy died soon after a long-fought civil war, just after I'd wiped away his last tear.

ALI: For many people, it's an uncharacteristic song. A lot of what people think of Prince is kind of rock person or a funk person. But this is really quiet, somber, but also healing song. And I think it's definitely appropriate for today.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOMETIMES IT SNOWS IN APRIL")

PRINCE: (Singing) I used to cry for Tracy 'cause he was my only friend.

MONTAGNE: That was black history scholar Zaheer Ali and Prince biographer Toure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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