A Prince retrospective
By Tony Taylor
“Electric word ‘life’ / It means forever and that’s a mighty long time
But I’m here to tell you / There’s something else / The afterworld”
— “Let’s Get Crazy” from the album “1999”
Just once in a great while, a musician emerges as a transitional megastar. The reaction to Prince’s untimely death proved that he not only transcended generations and musical genres, but his musical legacy also transcends his own mortality.
Prince died in his home on April 21 a week after the singer was hospitalized with the flu. He was 57.
Born on June 7, 1958 in Minneapolis, Minnesota to a jazz-singing mother and a pianist father, Prince Rogers Nelson began writing songs at age seven. His first commercial album debuted months before his 20th birthday. Last year he released HITnRUN in Phase 1 and Phase 2, completing nearly 40 albums in his career.
In 1984 he gained America’s full attention when he won an Academy Award for Best Original Song from the fictionalized biography film-now-cult classic “Purple Rain.” This launched his career into overdrive, and his album by the same name spent 24 consecutive weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard charts.
As a musician he was a one-man show. “Produced, arranged, composed and performed by Prince,” is listed on the back cover of his albums.
Gender-bending and unapologetically provocative, he often wore high-heels and eye-liner; a “metrosexual” before the term was coined. And pre-dating emojis, he used symbols in song titles like “♡ or $” and “👁 Wanna Melt With You.”
His fluid compositions defied sonic categories. The most successfully charted song of his career, “When Doves Cry,” is thumpy funk and kinky soul. “Little Red Corvette” balances the strong guitar riffs of ’70s light rock with the industrial sounds of the early ’80s. He played all 27 instruments on his 1978 debut album, “For You.”
Recall 1982 when he recorded “1999,” a song that owned every dance party on New Year’s Eve at the turn of the century nearly two decades later.
As a media recluse, Prince liked to be in control. In 1993, he changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol to publicly denounce his confining contracts with Warner Bros. YouTube and Spotify are devoid of Prince because he removed all unpaid streaming content in 2015.
On March 4, he made a surprise appearance in San Francisco at the Great American Music Hall. “The After-Party,” announced just hours before he played a 37-song set at Oracle Arena in Oakland, rocked and rolled its intimate 600-person capacity until 4:30 a.m.
On April 21, the day Prince died in his Paisley Park, Minneapolis home, the internet abounded with articles about the musician and laments to his loss. Google’s logo went purple, splattered in rain drops. San Francisco’s City Hall and other international landmarks were illuminated purple in remembrance.
(Laying a music pioneer to rest begs the question of who is left to carry the legacy. As the industry inundates itself with big writing teams and auto-tune overlay, the demand for true musicianship dwindles. There is one standout entertainer with a chance at the throne: Bruno Mars. As a singer, choreographer, multi-instrumentalist, and songwriter, there is potential for Bruno’s musical transcendence. Stay tuned.)
Somewhere on a stage beyond the stars, Prince is cuing up for the music medley of an afterlife-time. With David Bowie, Michael Jackson and Freddie Mercury at his side, Prince has rejoined his immortal peers.
Rest in Purple.