Prince

Let’s take it to the stage!

Every single Prince tour remembered — and ranked

Alan Leeds, the Purple One’s one-time road manager and president of Paisley Park Records, recalls the exact moment Prince Rogers Nelson made up his mind to become the greatest live performer in the history of modern music. It was Aug. 20, 1983.

Prince was still basking in the glow of his 1982 breakthrough album 1999. The singer’s brilliant synth-rock classic “Little Red Corvette” was all over MTV and radio when MTV and radio meant everything, and platinum Prince was on the cusp of superstardom. On that August evening Prince was at Los Angeles’ Beverly Theater. His hero, James Brown, was performing. What happened next was downright surreal. The sweat-drenched Godfather of Soul called out the biggest recording star on the planet to join him onstage. Michael Jackson, immaculate in sunglasses and a blue Sgt. Pepper’s-esque military jacket, was a jaw-dropping natural. He crooned effortlessly. He shuffled his feet James Brown-style in an almost inhuman rhythm. And then Jackson did a spin for the ages. Jackson then whispered in Brown’s ear that Prince was in the house. And so Brown invited the rising talent to show off some moves. Prince, rocking a very Princely black-and-gold number, hilariously approached the stage on the back of his infamous bodyguard Big Chick. It was a disaster (see below).

“I don’t think Prince realized Michael was going to be there,” Leeds told me back in 2010. “And of course Prince didn’t really know what to do either. He went to the guitar first, but he fumbles with that because it was left-handed. He played a few licks, did some dancing and knocked over a prop by accident. I always wondered if Michael intentionally brought Prince up to put him in that position just to say, ‘Hey, you think you’re on my a–? Well follow this, motherf—– [laughs].” Prince, of course, would have his revenge. He headlined some of the most celebrated concert tours of the 1980s, eventually becoming the most complete, gifted live act of his era.

April 14 was Prince’s last concert performance. At Atlanta’s Fox Theater, just days before his tragic death at the age of 57 shook the world, an exhilarating and poignant Prince was on display. For the first time in his storied three decade-plus career, the vocalist, songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist appeared alone with no backing band. This was the plan for his all-too short Piano & A Microphone tour. Prince — a prolific visionary who has sold more than 100 million albums — still had something to prove.

How do you rank (in order!) the nearly 30 treks Prince has led? We gave it a try. Read, enjoy, and fight among yourselves. Let’s take it to the stage!


Prince on stage April 10, 1998, with the New Power Generation in New York City. Photo by Bob Berg/Getty Images.

New Power Soul Tour New Power Festival (1998)

New Power Soul Tour New Power Festival (1998)

A 39-stop American/European excursion that featured the subdued lineup of Kirk Johnson (drums), Rhonda Smith (bass), Morris Hayes (keyboards), Mike Scott (guitar) and vocalist Marva King, it was Prince’s inclusion of bassist and spiritual mentor Larry Graham who would divide fans. Right or wrong, many Prince followers blamed the influential Graham (of Graham Central Station and Sly & The Family Stone and a devout Jehovah’s Witness) for shaving the mojo from Prince. Chaka Khan and Doug E. Fresh shared the stage with Prince on some dates, but still the whole affair came off as shockingly sterile.

Diamonds And Pearls Tour (1992)

Diamonds And Pearls Tour (1992)

A period of commercial rebirth for a revitalized Prince. In ’92 Prince was 15 years deep into an iconic career and still pulling off chest-beating, stage-wrecking live performances and enjoying some of his strongest record sales since the ’80s — the Diamonds and Pearls album sold more than 5 million copies worldwide. But when it came time to go on the road, Prince’s hip-hop flirtations got the better of him. The Diamonds And Pearls European tour will be remembered for being an immense ticket-moving success including a then-record eight sold-out shows at London’s Earl’s Court. Unfortunately, it will also be remembered for showcasing corny New Power Generation crew Tony M/Game Boyz. Their presence was a nuisance.

Act 1/Act II (1993)

Act 1/Act II (1993)

Prince at his self-indulgent, over produced zenith. Instrumentally, this tour was a solid, pro’s-pro affair as zoot-suited-and-booted guitarist Levi Seacer Jr. and powerhouse drummer Michael Bland worked the grooves until they were worn out. But there was plenty of cheese: Prince’s future wife, Mayte Garcia, played the role of a “sheik’s” daughter pulled from the audience and transformed into a sexy New Power Generation hip-swiveling, belly dancing muse. A faux-nosy woman reporter was stripped of her clothes onstage — a middle finger to the media. Oh, and more emceeing from Tony M. Good thing Prince could still destroy the guitar as if it were an afterthought.

Japan ’96 (1996)

Japan ’96 (1996)

This was a turbulent period for the Artist Formerly Known as Prince. A very public battle with longtime label home Warner Bros. over the rights to the masters of his mammoth song catalog had reached its boiling point. Prince changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol and wrote the word SLAVE across his cheek. The defiant visionary — who, looking back, was a straight-up truth teller breaking down the collapse of the music industry long before anyone else — wasn’t in the mood to play nice. Among Prince’s shortest tours, Japan ’96 represented the last gasp from the underrated blues rock-centered “The Undertaker” era. This was the moment when Prince re-embraced his guitar powers, following the R&B and rap sonics of Diamonds and Pearls and the Love Symbol. Prince was free to wild out with the aforementioned mighty tandem of Michael B. on drums Sonny T on bass. But it wasn’t all free-spirited musical excursion. Prince was often so angry while on tour, and consumed with his war against the music industry that many of these performances came off as joyless affairs.

Love 4 One Another Charities Tour (1995–1997)

Love 4 One Another Charities Tour (1995–1997)

A precursor to his spirited Jam of the Year Tour, the Love 4 One Another concerts showed Prince giving back the best way he knew how: performing for the people. By ’97, the old New Power Generation lineup — with lone holdovers Morris Hayes once again manning the keyboards, and Game Boyz background dancer Kirk Johnson making an eyebrow-raising shift to the drum kit — was basically a memory. Newer cuts surfaced. The playful naughtiness of 1996’s “Sleep Around,” one of the standout gems recorded during his post-Warner Bros. run, usually closed out the gigs before a flurry of encores. Prince was on his way back to being one of music’s most riveting live performers. He just had to work out some kinks.

World Tour 2003 (2003)

World Tour 2003 (2003)

No one ever said Prince didn’t have a sense of humor. How else could you explain the audacity of billing a nine-date outing as a “world tour”? A few years before, Prince decided to play newer material instead of the usual crowd-pleasing, chart-topping standards. It worked in the confines of smaller venues. This time, however, he rolled out a brazen greatest hits revue complete with all the novice-fan favorites — the sing-along likes of “Let’s Go Crazy,” “Kiss,” and “Purple Rain” more than did the job. But unbeknownst to the public, World Tour 2003 was just a setup for what would turn out to be Prince’s most lucrative year as a live concert draw.

Prince at the Los Angeles’ Roxy Theatre Nov. 26, 1979. Photo by Sherry Rayn Barnett/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images.

Prince Tour (1979)

Prince Tour (1979)

Welcome to the world, Kid. Prince’s first tour as a headliner kicked off Nov. 28, 1979, at the Roxy Theater in Los Angeles. It was an uneven affair. “Unfortunately, a new guitar tech mis-tuned all the guitars,” Prince keyboardist Matt “Doctor Fink” recalled in his 1999 memoir, Dance Music Sex Romance (SAF Publishing). “We hit the first chord of the first song, and the guitars and the bass were a good three or four steps out of tune with the keyboards, which were right on.” Prince took his lumps. Mixed reviews pushed the boy wonder — fresh out the studio with his self-titled sophomore release — to perfect his onstage craft. Future Revolution members Doctor Fink and drummer Bobby Z. joined guitarist Dez Dickerson, bassist/Prince childhood friend André Cymone, and second keyboardist Gayle Chapman (who soon left the band due to religious beliefs and “Head” being added to the set-list). A year later, Prince was opening up for the habitually line-stepping Super Freak himself: Rick James. Fun times.

Jam Of The Year Tour (1997–1998)

Jam Of The Year Tour (1997–1998)

Finally free of his contract with Warner Bros., The Artist Still Formerly Known As Prince set out to promote tracks from his sprawling 1996 three-disc album, Emancipation. Indeed, the Jam of the Year Tour was dicey. Fans wanted to hear the favorites. Prince didn’t want to play them. But he erred on the side of caution, only including a handful of newer compositions — such as “Jam of the Year,” “Face Down” and “Get Yo Groove On.” A teasing, slowed-down version of his ’83 pop-rock masterpiece “Little Red Corvette” got the biggest roar. Which is a shame, really. The underrated songs on electric “Emancipation” deserved a wider spotlight.

Hit N Run Tour (2000–2001)

Hit N Run Tour (2000–2001)

Prince’s first string of live performances since reclaiming his name, the Hit N Run Tour was a reshuffling of the deck. A sweeping lineup change to the New Power Generation was top-lined by beastly drummer John Blackwell replacing Kirk Johnson. The difference between the two — beyond startling. The frenetic, expansive jazz chops of Blackwell lit a fire underneath a somewhat stagnant Prince, who embraced a more organic, impromptu sound.

Prince 20Ten Tour (2010)

Prince 20Ten Tour (2010)

Fifteen dates, two legs, and a revolving door of musicians that kept fans guessing. The 20Ten Tour brought Prince to the Middle East for the first time — the glitzy Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi. He opened with “Let’s Go Crazy” (duh?!!!) and closed with encores of The Time’s “The Bird” and “Jungle Love” — keeping 30,000-plus fans out of breath. Indeed, Prince was in a giving mood, spreading love to his mentor Larry Graham as well as fellow Minnesota hometown boys Mint Condition, who both served as openers. He even channeled Jimi Hendrix with a blistering cover of 1967’sSpanish Castle Magic.” Three costume changes, some throat-grabbing axe solos, and the great Sheila E. on percussion? Just another average Prince show.

Per4orming Live 3121 (2006–2007)

Per4orming Live 3121 (2006–2007)

Prince goes Vegas — on his own terms. Before it became the cool thing for elite draws like Britney Spears, Mariah Carey, and Jennifer Lopez to cake off in Sin City, Prince launched a 40-show residency at Las Vegas’ Rio. With orange Fender in hand, Prince was less Elvis and more swagger-filled ’50s-era Frank Sinatra — that is if Ol’ Blue Eyes was rock star fresh. Some shows went for nearly three hours as the relentless dynamo ran through his own arsenal of endless hits — 1986’s “Girls & Boys” (1986) blasted off with a propulsion of swampy gut bucket funk, and there were savvy covers of Chuck Berry’s 1958 “Johnny B. Goode,” the B52’s 1979 “Rock Lobster” and Wild Cherry’s 1976 “Play That Funky Music.” It was the ultimate karaoke party.

Live Out Loud Tour (2013)

Live Out Loud Tour (2013)

At this stage of his indelible career, Prince had every right to chill. Instead, he became an even more potent guitarist, and was moved to unleash his rock roots with the backing of his two-fisted, all-woman trio 3RDEYEGIRL. American drummer Hannah Welton, Canadian guitarist Donna Grantis and Danish bassist Ida Kristine Nielsen were no mere gimmick. They played harder (and louder) than an early ’70s Who assault.

Welcome 2 America Tour: Prince at Inglewood, California’s The Forum on May 29, 2011. Photo by Jordan Strauss/WireImage.

Welcome 2 America (2010–2012)

Welcome 2 America (2010–2012)

His longest-running string of gigs since 2004’s Musicology doubled as a malleable brand, allowing Prince the freedom to showcase his seemingly endless musical wealth in a variety of settings. Welcome II America’s celebrity-rich shows featured the likes of Jamie Foxx, Naomi Campbell, Whoopi Goldberg, Questlove, Cornel West, Cyndi Lauper in dance-offs. Janelle Monae popped up at New York City’s Madison Square Garden for a trippy duet with Prince of “If I Were Your Girlfriend,” and Cee-Lo belted out “Crazy” as Prince made his guitar cry.

A Celebration (2000–2001)

A Celebration (2000–2001)

To describe A Celebration as a “short” run is an understatement. This six-date trot ranks as Prince’s shortest “tour” and yet it still sits among his more noteworthy — this because of an exceptional workout in his adopted city of Detroit at Joe Louis Arena and his dynamic homecoming at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center. Prince basked in the love. The heavily bootlegged June 12, 2001, Celebration shows at Paisley Park were equally impressive. Everyone from The Time, James Brown saxophonist Maceo Parker and Erykah Badu to P-Funk captain George Clinton, Alicia Keys and Common came through and crushed the building. Prince, the genre-mixing, hardcore music fan, was on full display.

England’s Wembley Stadium: Prince on the 1990 Nude Tour. Photo by Mick Hutson/Redferns.

Nude Tour (1990)

Nude Tour (1990)

Here’s where Prince decided to take a stripped down approach — and it wasn’t just the stage design that featured a back-to-basics philosophy. Prince’s set-list was also streamlined into a hits-laden package that at the time was quite eyebrow-raising for an artist who was anything but conventional. But the straightforward Nude Tour, which sidestepped America and ran for 56 dates in Europe and Asia, was an all-killer-no-filler success. Never mind the background dancers (this was the official intro of the polarizing Tony M.-led Game Boyz), a fired-up Prince played such standards as ’82’s “1999,” ’84’s “Baby I’m A Star,” and ’90’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” as if he was singing for his supper. Rosie Gaines assisted with “When Doves Cry,” and it may just be the strongest live take of Prince’s trademark single ever.

The Ultimate Live Experience The Gold Tour (1995–1996)

The Ultimate Live Experience The Gold Tour (1995–1996)

Beef was in the air. Prince and Warner Bros. were approaching a stalemate. The issue: His Royal Badness wanted to release The Gold Experience to the public following 1994’s overtly dark Come while the label believed their franchise star was flooding the market with an alarming oversaturation of product. Undaunted, Prince took his new material on the road without an official project to support. The artist declared that he would not be performing any “Prince” songs on the Ultimate Live Experience tour instead reveling in his, at the time, criminally underrated guitar hero greatness on freshly recorded numbers such as “Shhh,” “Gold,” and “Dolphin.” Warner Bros. finally relented, allowing fan favorite The Gold Experience to see the light of day. Soon Ultimate Live Experience became The Gold Tour — cementing Prince’s most sublime live period of the ’90s.

Hit And Run Part II (2014–2015)

Hit And Run Part II (2014–2015)

“These are performances by one of the greatest funk-rock bands ever.” That’s what the Guardian said of Prince and 3RDEYEGIRL’s Electric Ballroom show, which kicked off a series of now legendary performances in the U.K. By the time Prince and his trio of Beckys hopped across the pond for their barnstorming assault of small venues, they were a frighteningly well-oiled unit. “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man” was soaked with beautiful anguish. “She’s Always In My Hair” rumbled into a state of bliss. And the brooding “Something In The Water (Does Not Compute)” flipped into a emo-gospel hymn. Prince’s last complete tour also featured some of his most sincere and ferocious fret work, at times challenged by the youthful knockout power of guitarist Donna Grantis.

21 Nights In London: The Earth Tour (2007)

21 Nights In London: The Earth Tour (2007)

The Prince was once again king. Still, when it was announced on May 8, 2007, that the performer would play 21 nights at London’s reopened, 20,000-seat O2, it was a statement met with bewilderment. Just how would Prince, who’d just scored his first U.K. top 10 album — 3121 — since 2003’s Musicology, pull off such a stunt? Apparently, with ease. Not only was every date on Prince’s 21 Nights series a sellout (more than 350,000 would flock to see him), it’s a record that still stands to this day. Prince opened the residency with his signature “Purple Rain.” “Raspberry Beret” and “Little Red Corvette”? Played with glee on piano. “Musicology” thumped like it was being jammed at a block party. And Prince teased fans with a medley that had him playing the role of the funkiest DJ on the planet. Who knew?

One Night Alone … Tour (2002)

One Night Alone … Tour (2002)

Prince had grown bored with the flash and emptiness of rock star theatrics. So he put on a suit and got back down to basics. The new incarnation of the New Power Generation was a powerful jazz outfit masquerading as a pop band. Prince’s serious-minded musical faction (which now included keyboardist Renato Neto and the all-star brass unit of trombonist Greg Boyer and saxophonists Maceo Parker, Najee, Eric Leeds, and Candy Dulfer) weren’t playing around. The more organic material from Prince’s back-to-form Rainbow Children was given ample space to breathe. “Avalanche” rebuked Abraham Lincoln and the devastating legacy slavery continues to have on black America. A piano medley took the faithful to church anchored by a gorgeous take on “Adore.” Prince and his band bopped hard. This was the sound of freedom.

On the Musicology tour — the Prince at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles. Photo by M. Caulfield/WireImage.

Musicology Live 2004ever (2004)

Musicology Live 2004ever (2004)

A master class in the art of the comeback. Know this: before Prince pulled this off, he was being viewed as an enigmatic, closed-off pop star resigned to obscurity. That is until he wrecked the stage with Beyoncé by his side at the 46th Grammy Awards.

He followed that up with his 2004 induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Prince grabbed headlines with his jolting, face-melting guitar solo at the end of the George Harrison-penned Beatles classic “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

The performance still stands today as a singular moment from what are yearly going-through-the-motions proceedings. And so the Musicology Tour was an unabashed celebration of a 25-year career that at times had been taken for granted. There’s 1984’s “I Would Die 4 U” and “The Beautiful Ones”, 1979’s “I Feel For You,” 1986’s “Kiss” — the hits went on and on. Rhonda Smith on bass was a revelation, keyboardist Renato Neto played with understated touch, and drummer John Blackwell again backed up his rep as one of the best percussionists on earth. Prince was hot at the box office — The Musicology trek was the highest grossing tour of that year, pulling in $87.4 million. The tour pushed the album of the same name to sales of more than 3 million, thanks to an ingenious plan that included a copy of the CD with each concert ticket purchased. You couldn’t wipe the smile off Prince’s face.

Piano & A Microphone (2016)

Piano & A Microphone (2016)

A testament to the enduring greatness of Prince — despite completing only nine performances. Nearly 40 years into his career, he was still bravely searching for new ways to pour out his music. It was his aim to strip down compositions from his vast catalog of more than just the creations on his 39 studio albums. But at a Jan. 22 preview of the stripped-down show before diehard fans at his Paisley Park complex in Minnesota, the usually fearless talent appeared unsure of himself. “This is the first time I’ve done a concert alone, ever,” he said. “And you’re here the first night … congrats to both of us.” The very few performances Prince gave — in Australia and New Zealand as well as Montreal; Oakland, California; and Atlanta — were met with ravenous fanfare as critics and longtime followers praised the visionary’s distinct ability to draw from the Great American songbook as if he’d written the entire thing. Naked versions of his well known compositions were paired with ’80s album cuts such as “Venus De Milo,” “Condition of the Heart,” and Something In The Water (Does Not Compute).” There were startling covers — “The Peanuts Theme,” Ray Charles’ “Unchain My Heart,” Joni Mitchell’s “A Case Of You,” Bob Marley’s “Waiting In Vain,” and new material such as “Free Yurself,” “Black Muse,” and the timely “Baltimore.” It seemed all the permutations of rock and jazz and ragtime and boogie-woogie and funk and soul were touched on. The public discovered Prince’s greatness all over again. Salute.

Controversy Tour (1981–1982)

Controversy Tour (1981–1982)

The self-proclaimed Rude Boy graduates to arenas and an expanded stage set that included an elevated catwalk, two ramps, a fireman’s pole, and a mammoth venetian blind backdrop. The newly formed The Time, fronted by the charismatic Morris Day (!!!), and the finely tuned 10-piece Zapp band opened the shows, which also included freshly-minted Revolution bassist Brown Mark. And standout Dez Dickerson, the only guitarist Prince let solo on his record, was a savage six-string assassin. Controversy’s ’81 title track crackled as our Prince recited the Lord’s Prayer with an illuminated cross hovering over the band. Nice. If Prince seemed like a driven man on the verge of something truly special, it’s for good reason. Just a month before kicking off the tour in Pittsburgh, his band had been pelted with garbage and booed off the stage during two opening act stints with the Rolling Stones at the Los Angeles Coliseum. It was ugly.

Prince on the Purple Rain Tour at New York’s Nassau Coliseum (left and right) and Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena (center). Photos by Ebet Roberts/Redferns.

Purple Rain Tour (1984–1985)

Purple Rain Tour (1984–1985)

This is what it sounds like when you are on top of the world. The Revolution’s introduction as a fully functioning band was phenomena resembling Beatlemania. Yes, this was a victory lap for Prince — he had the No. 1 album of the year with Purple Rain (eventually topping off at over 20 million copies), the No. 1 pop single of the year with the rule-breaking, bass line-less “When Doves Cry,” and a No. 1 film. It was a rare feat for any act much less an African-American performer who just two years earlier had scored his first top 10 hit with “1999.” Prince was now headlining sold-out stadiums and some of the biggest names in music — Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna — showed up to witness the coronation of His Royal Badness. And “Let’s Go Crazy” did just that. Then the fluffy “Take Me With You” merged into the chicken grease attitude of “Controversy.” Guitarist Wendy Melvoin (this was her introduction to the world) and Lisa Coleman, forever linked, became fan faves. At times it seemed like Prince was leading 100 people onstage in a never-ending dance party during “Baby I’m A Star.” And an epic 20-minute guitar solo routinely closed out “Purple Rain” — Prince seemed possessed by the Holy Spirit, and more than 1.7 million people snatched up tickets to witness him ascend. This was not a concert. This was a revival.

Dirty Mind Tour: Prince on stage at the Ritz Carlton in New York on March 21, 1981. Photo by Richard E. Aaron/Redferns.

Dirty Mind Tour (1980–1981)

Dirty Mind Tour (1980–1981)

How’s this for absurd? Prince’s uninhibited libido was too much for Rick James. Rick. James. “I can’t believe people are gullible enough to buy Prince’s jive records,” he said in 1980 of his up-and-coming rival. “[Prince is a] a mentally disturbed young man. He’s out to lunch. You can’t take his music seriously. He sings songs about oral sex, and incest.” Before embarking on this infamous tour, Prince had earned his stripes as a (show-stealing) opening act for the Slick Rick, who at that time was the most bankable R&B act on the planet. But Prince was too ambitious to care. Dangerously clad in a flasher’s trench coat, high-heeled boots, leggings, and black bikini briefs, Prince Rogers Nelson set out to put everyone on notice that the music scene would never be the same. The Dirty Mind tour was a thing of nasty beauty: Prince licked his guitar as he laid into the X-rated “Head.” “When You Were Mine,” “Dirty Mind” and “Sister” were rocking rebellious soundtracks that shot beyond the friendly confines of mainstream soul. “Uptown” preached the Minneapolis maverick’s do-what-you-want gospel: Now where I come from/ We don’t let society / Tell us how it’s supposed to be / Our clothes, our hair, we don’t care/It’s all about being there…” Utter cool.

1999 Tour (1982–1983)

1999 Tour (1982–1983)

PPrince shoots for the moon and discovers he’s a pop star. 1999 was by far his most commercially accessible album to date, so it made sense that the tour would present a more polished package for the phenomenon in waiting. Affectionately tagged by followers as The Triple Threat Tour, Prince was joined by his bombshell girl group Vanity 6 as well as The Time, who on some nights kicked the headliner’s butt with their funked-up set. Indeed, Morris Day and crew were squeezing the Kid, but it was clear that Prince was aiming for loftier summits. “Lady Cab Driver” and “D.M.S.R” fought for MVP status night after night as a sea of fanatics danced themselves into a puddle of sweat. Prince humped a bed onstage during an winking rendition of “International Lover.”

Lovesexy Tour (1988–1989)

Lovesexy Tour (1988–1989)

This outing featured Prince’s most talented band from top to bottom. It was an expensive rollout — but Lovesexy’s dream team featured superstar band director and drummer Sheila E., Revolution holdover Doctor Fink, keyboardist Boni Boyer, guitarist Miko Weaver, Seacer Jr., and the exceptional horn duo of saxophonist Eric Leeds and trumpeter Atlanta Bliss. Beyond all the shiny new objects — the tour featured elaborate props such as full-scale replica of a Ford Thunderbird, an elevating basketball hoop, and a fountain — Prince never got lost in the spectacle. His guitar playing was astonishing on the dangerous “Sister.” “Alphabet St.” popped with glee and “Blues in C (If I Had a Harem)” made a strong case that Prince would have been at home jamming with the likes of Muddy Waters and B.B. King.

Prince on the Hit N Run-Parade Tour, Wembley Arena, London, August 1986. Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images.

Parade Tour (1986)

Parade Tour (1986)

The Revolution’s last hurrah could have easily topped this list. What made this tour a worthy Prince fan obsession is the sheer rawness of it all. Imagine the James Brown revue enhanced for the ’80s Technicolor era. Prince barely touched his guitar. This was a straight-no-chaser rhythm and blues show with the Revolution leader dancing, spinning, and splitting like a maniac. The psychedelic ’60s rock inspired 1985 Around the World in a Day got turned out until it resembled a torrid funk vamp. Live horns added a new muscular dimension to Prince’s poppy pursuits. And Parade album tracks such as Anotherloverholenyohead, and Mountains filled up arenas with bombastic energy. At that moment, Prince knew that he had the baddest mofo on the planet.

Prince on the Sign ‘O The Times Tour in Stockholm May 9, 1987. Photo by Rob Verhorst/Redferns

Sign ‘O The Times Tour (1987)

Sign ‘O The Times Tour (1987)

Prince at his peak artistic powers — an overwhelming presence. Couple that with the murderer’s row of musicians that backed him up during the tour and you have undoubtedly the crown jewel of his stellar live performance résumé. Yet with even world-class talent surrounding him (the same devastating lineup of players would later back Prince up on the Lovesexy Tour), the boss man shined brightest. There’s never been a more powerful opening to a Prince concert than “Sign O’ The Times,” a perfect display of glorious feedback guitar and goose bump-stirring social consciousness. Cat Glover was a study in perpetual movement as Prince at times found himself just trying to keep up with his infectiously dancing foil. Sheila E. made drum solos cool again.

The tour stands out as the live show high-mark for Prince because it displayed his genre-jumping, Sly Stone-like instincts in their most uncut form. When he launched into the splits like a man out of time during “Housequake,” Prince wasn’t merely giving a nod to James Brown, he was channeling Mr. Dynamite. When he got on his knees for the romantic burner “Slow Love,” it was easy to imagine Marvin Gaye doing the sensual honors. For the lustful, incendiary “Hot Thing” stomped Mick Jagger’s antics easily: Prince and Cat humped one another onstage like they were in heat. All this, and Mr. Nelson could still stick the landing on guitar (“The Cross”) and take it to church as if were a member of the Staple Singers (“Forever In My Life”). And yet all of it was still pure Prince.

What other “pop star” would have the swag — the nerve — to launch into a frenzied version of Charlie Parker’s seminal “Now’s The Time” when he knows that the audience mostly wanted to get down to the hits? Short answer: The Purple One. One of the biggest missteps in Prince’s career was not taking this exhilarating European production to America. A 1987 concert film was released documenting the magic of the Sign ‘O The Times Tour. Thankfully, Prince’s unpredictable genius is never lost in translation.

Keith "Murph" Murphy is a senior editor at VIBE Magazine and frequent contributor at Billboard, AOL, and CBS Local. The veteran journalist has appeared on CNN, FOX News and A&E Biography and is also the author of the men’s lifestyle book "Manifest XO."