It’s a shock writing that title. Another great artist struck down. 2016 is proving to be a momentous year for the loss of some of our musical icons. Lemmy, Bowie, and now Prince. And Prince’s departing sudden, out of the blue. He was still going so strong, playing endless concerts, entertaining us as brilliantly as he ever did. I and a few friends got to see him at an impromptu gig at the Roundhouse in 2014. With Third Eye Girl. He, they were awesome. The old songs as brilliant as ever, given new, rockier treatment. I wrote a review at the time, which is here.
Prince combined genres like few other were capable of. Rock, funk, soul, dance, and downright weirdness. He was the complete artist. His heyday was the eighties, when he had a string of astonishing albums, rooted in funk, soul and rock’n’roll but path-breaking too. He was up against Michael Jackson, who influenced pop in that era like no other, but Prince’s recorded legacy is stronger, in my view. Like Bowie in the seventies, he just couldn’t stop making incredible, surprising, symbolic music: albums like “1999”, “Purple Rain”, “Parade”, “Sign o’ the Times”, “Lovesexy” to the fore. He was Hendrix, James Brown, Stevie Wonder rolled into one, but none of them. He was Prince.
From the nineties onwards he began to tread water musically. There were great tracks still, like the funky rap, “Gett Off”, but he lost his way a bit, getting embroiled in disputes with record companies, changing identity, embracing and then rejecting the internet. I eventually gave up on him – having bought 17 Prince albums! – but never lost interest in the music. And he continued to thrive, live. He put on a show. I saw him twice in the eighties, both times at Wembley Arena. The first time, in 1986, it was in the round. he emerged from under the stage in a red Corvette, he played basketball, Sheila E played the drums… and he played “Purple Rain” with a transparent guitar that was shaped like a swan. “Purple Rain”, always the highlight. The slow build up, the atmosphere and then the guitar, the astonishing guitar. Spirit of Hendrix, the virtuosity of any of the greats. Prince could do anything. In 2014, that guitar still sent a shiver down the spine, still created a sense of wonder. Pure genius.
And now we won’t see him play live again. But we have the memories, brilliant memories. In 2012, I wrote a blog about my Top Ten Prince songs. I repeat it here, because what we need to do today, and in future, is to celebrate these great songs – party like it’s 1999!
- Purple Rain
- Sign 0′ the Times
- Little Red Corvette
- When Doves Cry
- Let’s go Crazy
- Gett Off
- Alphabet Street
- The Cross
Near misses: Life Could be so Nice, I Wonder U, Girls and Boys, If I Was Your Girlfriend, U Got the Look, Take me with U, I Would Die For U, Raspberry Beret, Pop Life, Around the World in a Day, DMSR, Cream, Lemon Crush, Sexy MF, The Morning Papers, Jam of the Year.
So that’s a Top 26 then! Always the Jam of the Year…
so when is the wake John? Need to get my hands on some vinyl. And we could watch some videos.
How many wakes can we have?
Yep, I gave myself a bit of a purple blitz last night with the concert film of Sign O the Times (and a bottle of claret). A brilliant record of the guy in his purple pomp – and the extraordinary thing is that it looks so contemporary, but is actually nearly thirty years old. This says a lot about what he was doing, and how he was innovating, in so many fields – music, dance, design, fashion…..
I like your tribute, John. I’m still reeling. The loss of Bowie was huge, and I would say much bigger for me on a personal basis. But Bowie was nearing seventy, and there was to some extent the sense of a life fulfilled. Prince, at 57, still looked, and rocked, like a teenager – I remember that Roundhouse show so vividly – and you really could have imagined him startling us for another twenty years.
What will be interesting is whether he gave instructions regarding the legendary Paisley Park “vault”, which, as you know, is said to contain vast amounts of recorded, but unreleased, material.
If there is some sort of eventual programme for release, he could be entertaining us anew for years beyond the grave.
See you at the wake some day!
Paisley park always sounded fascinating. I wonder if it will become open to the public. A pilgrimage could ensue…
Thank you for this tribute post, John! My fave Prince song is “When Doves Cry”- 2nd fave is “Kiss”.
“He was Hendrix, James Brown, Stevie Wonder rolled into one, but none of them. He was Prince.” – loved this.