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A decade of Prince albums -- We grade the pop singer's best and worst releases, from ''For You'' to ''Graffiti Bridge''

A decade of Prince albums

For You (Warner Bros., 1978)
A professional, if derivative, one-man-band debut, most notable for ''Soft and Wet'' and Prince's Afro on the cover. B-

Prince (Warner Bros., 1979)
He still hadn't found his voice, but ''I Wanna Be Your Lover,'' his first pop hit, was a slither in the right direction. B-

Dirty Mind (Warner Bros., 1980)
The punchiest production and writing of his early career (''When You Were Mine,'' ''Dirty Mind''), complete with over-the-top lyrics (''Sister,'' ''Head'')-a masterwork of lewdness and desire. A

Controversy (Warner Bros., 1981)
Basically Dirtier Mind, with longer jams, one of his best pillow-talk ballads (''Do Me, Baby''), and, naturally, assorted odes to assorted bods (''Sexuality''). B+

1999 (Warner Bros., 1982)
Prince's take-no-prisoners pop breakthrough — his first album to crack the top 10 — still sounds bold and brassy, especially on ''Little Red Corvette,'' ''Let's Pretend We're Married,'' and the title cut. Excessive at times, but not even Prince could avoid the traps inherent in a two-record set. A-

Purple Rain (Warner Bros., 1984)
The album and soundtrack that made him a media sensation (No. 1 album, Oscar for Best Original Score) is one of his murkiest. Soggy ''rock'' arrangements and the overblown title track bog it down, although a few gems, namely ''When Doves Cry'' and the ballad ''Take Me With U,'' sparkle. B

Around the World in a Day (Paisley Park/Warner Bros., 1985)
Yes, he could update the sunniest feel-good aura of the '60s (''Raspberry Beret,'' the James Brown/Sly Stone vamping of ''Temptation''). But too many of these songs sound like bad acid trips. C

Parade (Paisley Park/Warner Bros., 1986)
Wallowing even deeper in self- indulgence, Prince pairs his weakest movie (Under the Cherry Moon) with his most wildly uneven album. Florid ballads and ersatz cabaret dominate, yet he salvages the record with two slinky workouts (''Girls & Boys,'' ''Anotherloverholen-yohead'') and one of his punchiest singles, ''Kiss.'' C-

Sign 'O' the Times (Paisley Park/Warner Bros., 1987)
Back in form, Prince finally delivers the goods he'd been promising in the wake of Purple Rain. From topical funk (the title track) to unabashed pop (''U Got the Look'' with Sheena Easton, ''I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man'') to glorious guitar squalor (''The Cross'') to simmering R&B (''Slow Love''), this double album was a sign that proved worth heeding. A

The Black Album (unreleased, 1987)
Pulled from release under mysterious circumstances (did Prince back down? did Warner?), the heavily bootlegged Black Album lives up to its legend with dark funk and a disturbing pimp fantasy (''Bob George''). Worth hunting down. B+

Lovesexy (Paisley Park/Warner Bros., 1988)
A somewhat reserved Prince hits 30 and confronts God, sex, and What It All Means on a confused and sometimes confusing album. More than its share of dippiness, but also some of his densest funk (''Alphabet St.,'' ''Eye No'') and ballads that ooze lust (''I Wish U Heaven,'' ''When 2 R in Love''). B

Batman (Paisley Park/Warner Bros., 1989)
Prince's first No. 1 album since Around the World in a Day is not your standard hackneyed '80s movie soundtrack. But with such piffle as ''Scandalous,'' ''Partyman,'' and the clunky hit single ''Batdance,'' it's not your standard thrilling Prince album, either. B-

Graffiti Bridge (Paisley Park/Warner Bros., 1990)
Back on track, Prince delivers his most consistent, playful, and profound music yet, in a double album (from the soundtrack of his new film) that moves in a radiant arc from distress to redemption. A+Greg Sandow

Originally posted Sep 21, 1990 Published in issue #32 Sep 21, 1990 Order article reprints