A few hours after the shocking news of his untimely death, the busy social bees on Facebook were already sharing their favourite video of PRINCE performing with Tom Petty, Steve Winwood and Jeff Lynne (amongst others) on the George Harrison number “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” at the 2004 Hall of Fame Inductions.
The stock comment was something like, “My God! I knew he could play … but I’ve never really understood… until now… how good PRINCE really was…”
At the time of writing this piece the 2006 2-CD compilation album titled PRINCE ULTIMATE has already reached number 10 on the album charts. Undoubtedly sales will increase. But how does the “average listener” even begin to approach the extraordinary body of work that the American singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and record producer left us?
Prince was the pioneer of Minneapolis sound, and yet his music has always integrated — if not celebrated — a wide variety of styles, including rock, R&B, soul, psychedelia, and pop.
Even from a very early age (Prince co-wrote hits with family friend Pepe Willie aged 17) he experimented with styles. A demo recording submitted to various labels around that time led to his contract with Warner Bros.
His album “For You” was released in 1978. On that disc he performed all the vocals, played all the guitars (electric and acoustic) as well as all the keyboards, including moogs, and tumbled all the drums plus rattled a whole load of other creative percussion instruments (over 20 in all.)
Five albums were released before the “Revolution” in 1984. These were during the Purple Rain years that took us up to “Kiss” and “Manic Monday” 1986.
After Prince’s second film, Under the Cherry Moon flopped, he wound up The Revolution and he fired Wendy & Lisa. Prince went solo again. These were the “Sign o’ the Times” years. 1991 marked the unveiling of Prince’s newborn band, the New Power Generation and in 1992 they released the 12th Prince album, Love Symbol.
In 1994, Prince began to release albums in quick succession as a means of extricating himself from the tight contractual obligations of Warner Bros.
Nine albums were released before 1999. His seventeenth studio album “The Gold Experience” is often cited as one of the best R&B albums of all time and included the global-hit “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World.”
In 2000 Prince stopped using the Love Symbol moniker and returned to using his stage name “Prince” because, he says, he felt ‘free’ (from the Warner contract.) Prince was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. Rolling Stone ranked Prince at number 27 on their list of the 100 greatest artists of all time.
Rolling Stone also suggested that Prince was among the top 100 guitarists of all time (# 33)
In response to being compared with Hendrix, he said “If they really listened to my stuff, they’d hear more of a Santana influence than Jimi Hendrix…” Miles Davis, who collaborated with the Purple One towards the end of his life, said Prince reminded him of a combination “James Brown with Jimi Hendrix, Marvin Gaye… and Charlie Chaplin...”
So his discography includes 39 studio albums, 5 soundtrack albums, four live albums, compilations and thousands of other pieces. How do you even start to dip into all that?
One solution is the 2006 2-disc set “Ultimate Prince.” This covers the period from “I Wanna Be Your Lover” (1979) right up to “Cream” from the Diamonds and Pearls album.[1991.]
“Controversy” ” has that urgent twangy rhythm that grabs you by the collar before pushing you onto the dance floor. And the song-title is brilliantly paced with (and often confused as) — “Count your blessing.” Clever/Wonderful stuff!
“Uptown” has a thunderous start and then fragments of golden light. These emerge before the snake-like synth slides in and you begin to relax through the vibrations. This song addressees prejudices and racism, mixing political statements in amongst the dance beats. So we kick with the rhythm and yet we still get the ideas filtering through the soles of our feet.
The rockabilly number “Delirious” is an 8-bar blues piece with swinging horns and wild invention found in every slot.
The bump on “Gett Off” the power-single from “Diamonds and Pearls” is amazing. If you thought there were a lot of ideas on this song, you’d be right. This number was written over many years and includes the bones of at least three other songs. It’s a celebration of 1969 James Brown, and also includes some pukka brass jazz / funk as well as the obligatory rock guitar.
Listen to these songs again and you will be reminded that behind all the arousing musical confetti and the razzle dazzle sequins was a soulful man who wanted his sensitivity to be taken seriously. Prince was a master creator, a game-changing culture generator, and a true superstar & champion. And that’s why a vacuum will be left.