-- Modern rock, pop and R&B would not be same had Prince not emerged out of Minneapolis in the late seventies.
He was a strikingly unique character who played by his own rules. He was unlike any other performer seen up until that point. He an ace arranger and writer who could play a wide variety of instruments and he often played every note on his records. He was someone who played with sexuality in ways we hadn’t really seen before and he was someone who was quite conscious of his own image and marketing even though he remained private.
Prince became one of the major three iconic performers of the '80s along with fellow hit-makers Michael Jackson and Madonna. On the strength of albums like “1999” and the soundtrack to his 1984 film “Purple Rain,” with hits like “Little Red Corvette,” “When Doves Cry” and “I Would Die 4 U,” he continued his immense hold. His song “Darling Nikki,” with its controversial and sexually charged lyrics was said to be one of the reasons why Tipper Gore co-founded the Parents Music Resource Center in 1985. (They are the organization we have to thank for those black-and-white “Parental Advisory” stickers we now see on the covers of albums.)
Not only did Prince have a lot of hits of his own, but he helped others climb the charts as well. He worked closely with Sheena Easton, producing and writing a number of songs for her, including “Sugar Walls,” which incidentally was another hit cited by the PMRC. He steered the career of short-lived trio Vanity 6, writing their music, including their hit, “Nasty Girl.” (Sadly, Vanity died in February.) He wrote “Manic Monday” for The Bangles, although in the liner-notes of their album, he is simply credited as “Christopher.”
On her debut album, “She’s So Unusual,” Cyndi Lauper did an impressive cover of his 1980 song, “When You Were Mine.” In 1990, Sinead O’Connor scored a hit by covering Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U.” It is clear that Prince’s influence was a driving force in the pop world for an extended period of time.
In the '90s, Prince began having issues with his contract and he changed his name to a symbol in protest, often being referred to as “The Artist Formally Known as Prince.” At the time, it wasn’t clear that the shift was due to contractual issues, and so the vast majority of the public probably thought it was just Prince being strange. But Prince could get away with a lot because he had an arty, other-worldly feel. Here he was, this diminutive powerhouse of an entertainer, decked out in purple and utterly fearless in his approach to just about everything.
During a particularly tense interview on “American Bandstand” with Dick Clark in the '80s, Prince proceeded to answer all of Clark’s questions with questions of his own. But tactics like this were part of his allure. He was a true enigma who didn’t accept foolishness.
In recent years, more than 30 years into his career, he became known for removing nearly every video of his work from YouTube. If you are looking for his music there, you won’t have much luck. Recently, Radiohead successfully got him to put back his live rendition of their song “Creep” and you can see a live performance of him playing “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” at a George Harrison Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame tribute alongside Tom Petty, Dhani Harrison and others, but that’s about all you can find. He was extremely protective of his legacy -- so much so that he essentially scrubbed it from the Internet.
That being said, he was known for outside-of-the-box promotional tactics. In England he once gave an album away as a freebie in a newspaper. He would sometimes bundle his albums with concert tickets. His 1988 album, “Lovesexy,” was notable for two reasons. He appeared naked on the album’s cover, causing some stores to sell it with special wrapping, and as a protest to the CD format, it was originally released as one continuous track to ensure fans would listen to the album in its entirety.
In spite of his sexed-up early image, he would later become a Jehovah’s Witness and would refuse to play some of his earlier, steamier hits. So, even though he helped awaken pop’s “Dirty Mind,” it was a legacy he tried to reverse.
Like David Bowie, whom we lost in January, Prince left his mark on a wide variety of musicians across the sonic landscape. Rock, R&B and hip-hop would all definitely not be the same had Prince not existed. He made it safer for artists to unleash their inner freaks. He made it safe to not worry about societal conventions. He was, at his core, one of the finest and most talented members of his musical generation. If you doubt this, go back and listen to any one of his numerous hits. Better yet, see if you can find footage of Prince shredding on guitar. He was arguably the best guitarist this side of Jimi Hendrix.
Prince will be greatly missed. In the coming weeks we will come to realize just how immense a blow his loss is to the world of music. Yet another legend is gone way before his time. The Purple One has sadly left the building.