Question: Why did Prince change his name to a symbol?

Answer: Prince was known as both a symbol (the love symbol) as well as “the artist formally known as Prince” by the media beginning in 1993 while fighting Warner Bros. Records for control over his name as well as complete artistic control of his music.

Header Image Credit: Creative Commons

During one week in 1984, Prince simultaneously held the number one spots for film (Purple Rain), album (Purple Rain), and single (When Doves Cry).


Prince Rogers Nelson, popularly known by the single word “Prince”, is considered to be one of the greatest musicians and guitarists of his generation. The Oscar-winning soundtrack to “Purple Rain” remained locked at the top of the Billboard 200 Album Chart for 6 consecutive months straight in 1984.

Known for playing all the instruments on many of his recordings, Prince was a creative soul, never afraid to experiment with unique sounds, incorporating multiple genres within one release.

Having signed his record deal in his teens, Prince found that his label (Warner Bros.) owned the copyright to his name, prompting him to later change it to an unpronounceable symbol while contracted to record for them. When the contract expired, Prince immediately reversed the name change.

With over 150 million records sold worldwide, Prince is among the best-selling musical artists of all time. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, won 7 Grammy awards, and numerous other industry awards along the way.

On April 21, 2016, at the age of 57, Prince died of an accidental overdose of fentanyl at his Paisley Park home in Chanhassen, Minnesota.


KISS (1986)

Paisley Park

Kicking off our list is this lead single from “Parade”, Prince & the Revolution’s eighth studio album. In his eccentricity, Prince used adapted vocals from a 1959/1960 Brenda Lee hit (“Sweet Nothin’s”) and a spare arrangement devoid of bass to bring this tune to life. Julia Roberts lip synching to the song in her 1990 breakout role in “Pretty Woman” only further solidified this track as a smash. Believe it or not, Warner Bros. originally didn’t want to include it on the album and definitely didn’t want to release it as a single. Success is the best revenge. 9/10

Peak Position in the: US – #1 UK #6


Warner Bros.

Lifted from the soundtrack of 1984’s “Purple Rain”, this was the first number one single from Prince, remaining at the top of Billboard’s Hot 100 for 5 weeks (keeping Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” from reaching the chart’s summit). “When Doves Cry” featured all vocals and all instruments performed and/or played by Prince. Following his death in 2016, the song returned to the Top 10 for the first time since September 1, 1984. Rolling Stone ranked “When Doves Cry” at #37 on its list of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”. 8/10

Peak Position in the: US – #1 UK – #4

1999 (1982)

Warner Bros.

This is the song by Prince that you just assume was bigger than it really was. Because of the futuristic slant of the lyrics, the single hit the charts multiple times in multiple decades, reaching as high as #12 in the US and #2 in the UK. In their review, Billboard stated that “the apocalypse never sounded this danceable before.” 8/10

Peak Position in the: US – #44 (original release) UK – #25 (original release)


Warner Bros.

Mixing rock, gospel, and r&b into a soaring power ballad, this third single from the “Purple Rain” soundtrack is ranked at #18 on Rolling Stone’s list of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”. The most interesting aspect of the song is that it was originally a country instrumental that Prince asked Stevie Nicks to write the lyrics for. When she felt it was too much to write, the song was fleshed out with his backing band into the tune we know and love today. 9/10

Peak Position in the: US – #2 UK #6


Warner Bros.

Personally, one of my very favorite songs recorded by Prince, the opening organ and the echoing eulogy-speak are subtle until the doors get blown off within the first minute or so. With two guitar solos both performed by Prince, this track literally rocketed to the top of the charts amid it’s mysterious Christian messaging and metaphor for the devil (“if de-elevator tries to bring you down, go crazy, punch a higher floor”). Go crazy indeed. 9/10

Peak Position in the US – #1 UK – #7


Warner Bros.

Following up “1999”, this single was Prince’s first to hit the top 10 and was written in the midst of a number of catnaps due to an exhaustive all-night recording session. Using car imagery as a double entendre for sex amid Prince’s steaming vocal delivery, the controversy of the song only propelled it faster up the charts. 7/10

Peak Position in the: US – #6 UK – #2


Paisley Park

Featuring an uncredited lead vocal from Scottish singer Sheena Easton (“Strut”, “Morning Train”), this single from “Sign o’ the Times” featured a video filmed in Paris and in the parent video-album, the song is the result of a dream sequence. 7/10

Peak Position in the: US – #2 UK – #11


Warner Bros.

“Little Red Corvette” propelled “Delirious” into the top 10 in the fall of 1983, partly due to DJs playing the first three tracks back-to-back from Prince’s “1999” album, which happened to coincide with their single order of release. With an infectiously driving beat and melody, this bluesy number just gets better after subsequent listens (and is great for the gym!) 8/10

Peak Position in the: US – #8


Paisley Park

Flirting with teenage romance and first sexual experiences, Prince takes us on a journey detailing his love for a girl who wore a raspberry-colored beret. This track, from “Around the World in a Day” (which also features the top 10 hit “Pop Life”), sounds amazingly similar to the countdown intro on “Paisley Park”. 7/10

Peak Position in the: US: #2 UK – #25

CREAM (1991)

Paisley Park

Heralded as the final #1 single from Prince (with the New Power Generation), “Cream” is filled again from start to finish with double entendre lyrics accompanied by a bluesy, Bonnie Raitt-esque dirty rhythm line. Did I mention it also sounds a lot like T-Rex’s “Get It On”? 7/10

Peak Position in the: US – #1 UK – #15

Because this is a “casual” listener list, it consists of hits by the artist. There are so many great songs by Prince that it truly is hard to narrow them down to ten. What are some of the other songs we “should” have included? What album tracks should have been singles? Here’s our secondary list:

  • I Wanna Be Your Lover
  • Dirty Mind
  • Controversy
  • Let’s Pretend We’re Married
  • I Would Die 4 U
  • Take Me With U
  • Paisley Park
  • Pop Life
  • Sign o’ the Times
  • If I Was Your Girlfriend
  • I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man
  • Alphabet St.
  • Batdance
  • Gett Off!
  • Diamonds and Pearls
  • Sexy MF
  • 7
  • The Most Beautiful Girl in the World
  • I Hate U

So, there you have it. Our Ten. What would “Your Ten” look like? Leave your thoughts via a comment on the page!

Before you leave, please check out our previous entries in the “Our Ten” series here on Moteventure!

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