It doesn’t get any better, does it?
The latest musical star to pass away was one that definitely caught me by surprise, unlike many others in recent months who were not, shall we say, all that shocking however sad the news was. Prince has been performing live right up to the end, and it wasn’t even considered that he may have not been well. At just 57, and notwithstanding the fact he recorded music constantly, he had much more to come.
Prince, or Prince Rogers Nelson, first emerged at the end of the 1970s in the midst of the disco boom but it was in 1983 that he really broke through, first with the ‘1999’ album spawning hit singles such as the title track and ‘Little Red Corvette’ and then in 1984, with his ‘Purple Rain’ film and accompanying soundtrack album. At this time he was being put up as a rival to ‘King of Pop’ Michael Jackson, and it could be said that while 1983 was definitely Jackson’s year with his huge-selling ‘Thriller’ album, 1984 definitely belonged to Prince. Unlike Jackson, who worked extensively with producer Quincy Jones to deliver his million-sellers, Prince preferred to exact total creative control over his output. He would write, produce and perform all instruments himself in the studio, putting bands together for live work such as The Revolution and then New Power Generation.
He went on to score several more hit albums and singles throughout the 1980s, but by the 1990s he was becoming tired of what he saw as interference from his record company. They saw it differently, as they felt he had creative freedom unprecedented in the business, even having his own label (‘Paisley Park’). It was as a result of a dispute with Warner Brothers that he took to changing his name to an unpronounceable symbol (which he’d already used on his 1992 album) and painting ‘SLAVE’ on his face in protest at his perceived status. He kept that symbol as his name for several years, and the media would circumvent it with the acronym ‘TAFKAP’ – standing for ‘The Artist Formerly Known As Prince’, later being shortened to simply ‘The Artist’. Prince was of course, renowned for his eccentric behaviour already, and this merely added to the enigma.
Prince reclaimed his given name in 2000 and continued to issue albums on a startlingly frequent basis, although he never really hit the charts to the same extent again. His live reputation remained strong however, and in 2007 he played a staggering 21 nights at the o2 Arena in London. At around this time he issued an album (‘Planet Earth’) as a covermount CD given away with a Sunday newspaper in the UK. This caused a sensation in the music business and gave Prince some valuable publicity for his series of shows. As recently as 2014 he appeared in the UK once more, announcing where and when he would perform only at short notice, with one of those gigs in Manchester causing a huge scramble to see him play.
His music touched on many styles, ranging from disco/funk to rock, with many other elements. One controversial episode which he had nothing whatsoever to do with, was when he appeared on the cover of hard rock magazine Kerrang! in 1984. The title ran a feature on his live performance in Detroit, spanning several pages and, referring to his prowess with the guitar, it made the bold (at the time) statement: ‘Hendrix take heed, you have a successor’. The decision to put what was considered a pop star on the cover went down like a lead balloon with the magazine’s predominantly Metalhead readership then, but his subsequent career vindicated the magazine’s stance. He was an influence on many artists, and probably indirectly spawned the ‘funk rock’ spate of bands that appeared in the late 80s spearheaded by Dan Reed Network.
There is little available online of Prince performing, as he was infamously strict on what he allowed to appear online. He even once had a clip of him performing a cover of Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ pulled from YouTube, causing that band’s frontman Thom Yorke (the writer) to call for it to be reinstated so that they and their fans could see it. Another cover that made headlines was when he played an extract of Foo Fighters’ ‘The Best Of You’ during his performance at the SuperBowl halftime show; it was reported that he did that in answer to the Foos covering his own song ‘Darling Nikki’, but the band’s drummer Taylor Hawkins acknowledged that Prince ‘did it better than we did’.
A link to that entire performance can be seen here (courtesy NFL)
You don’t have to have been a fan of his to appreciate his huge impact on popular music, and this latest loss is one that ranks alongside Lennon, Bowie, or even his one-time chart rival Michael Jackson.