Prince Rogers Nelson, the consummate singer, songwriter, performer, musician, artist, and musical genius, passed away on Thursday at the age of 57.
With a talent as ubiquitous as his name, Prince was the sound of several generations as music leapt from the disco era to the MTV era. His true contemporaries could be counted on one hand; when Prince was on top, no one was better.
Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Prince recorded his first demos in 1978 at the age of 19 for what would become his first album, For You, released that year. On the album, Prince played every instrument, from the vocals and drums to the clavinet and Moog synthesizer.
The next year his follow-up album, Prince, brought his first platinum success and began a string of albums and singles that owned the charts and the airwaves. Through the 1980s, his only rivals in both circles were Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, neither of whom released half as many records s Prince did through this time.
In addition to his scores of classics like “1999,” “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?,” “Raspberry Beret,” “Kiss,” he was a dedicated filmmaker, scoring films like Batman as well as his own film, Purple Rain. He gave song after song to artists he appreciated and worked in other influences into his live sets. Prince represented not simply himself – though that would have done just fine – but he represented music itself.
Prince’s sound began as a cool pop with a heavy funk/soul vibe, the root of disco’s prevailing trend, but expanded quickly to encompass harder Rock’n’Roll, New Wave, Quiet Storm-like Jazz, pure Art-Pop, Singer-Songwriter confessionals, and of course Blues.
The recently deceased David Bowie traversed genres just as often, but departed one for the next quickly and rarely recycled. Rather than switching sounds, Prince added, an ability that really only few could have done. By the time Purple Rain hit in 1984, he was blending styles and sounds that hadn’t been heard since maybe Parliament-Funkadelic or The Beatles, jumping from romance to rock to ballads, all in a romantic tizzy.
Ultimately, Prince was simply his own genre of music. No term can encapsulate it.
After the ‘80s, Prince continued his tremendous pace of recording and performing even as Rap, Brit-Pop and Grunge Rock stole the airwaves; controversy swirled as he briefly changed his name to the “Symbol,” referring to himself otherwise as “The Artist Formerly Known As Prince” mostly as an effort to escape his contract with Warner Bros. Music. Tragically for a time the news made more press than the music, even though he was still atop his game.
Despite the stories, Prince never entered into hiatus as he settled in as an elder statesman of Pop music. Whereas attention faded, he continued to produce and explore sound. He made more appearances in public and on others’ records.
In 2007, he performed the Super Bowl Halftime Show to the best reviews it’s ever received. To this day, it’s near-universally considered as the best one ever played. It was an incredible public reminder that this person was just as just as talented and brilliant as he’d always been.
To the day he died, he was still selling out concerts on his “Piano & a Microphone” tour, performing with just that instrument and his voice. Far removed from the elaborate bands and stage productions of tours passed, Prince never needed anything more than himself to create something memorable and everlasting.
Matt Shirley is a producer for The Heat at CCTV America. This appreciation of Prince is his personal reflection.
PHOTO Gallery: Prince – A life in music