"Not The Prince, not A Prince, and not Prince something -- just Prince." I vaguely remember that day and that clarification when I first heard one of Prince's song's on the radio and asked someone else in the room who it was. The song was Sexuality and the only reason I even heard the song was that I was in Germany, the only other country besides Austria where the song was released. It was probably a bit too blatant to get airplay in the US. That's okay, it was quickly followed by 1999 and Little Red Corvette, which was released in the US, and quickly blasted Prince into serious airplay. Now he is gone.
Too many great musicians leaving us -- among the things that I admired Prince for was his ability as a musician. He played all the instruments on his first 5 albums --- check out his solo during a performance at the R&RHoF induction in 2004, starts at 3:30. George Harrison would have been impressed.
His song writing skills were equally admirable. I have always appreciated any writer that can turn phrases to play with the words -- double and triple entendre and even just saying things straight out. Prince's lyrics were never toned down or censored. Instead they were openly and unapologetically sexual; they were meant to illicit emotion on a sensual level and not merely for shock value. Darling Nikki is my favorite Prince song -- the music paints a carnival sideshow image -- while the lyrics are full on explicitly sexual -- all of which plays out in your imagination. Not for kids, but such a great work of what music can be when approached on multiple levels without restraint.
He also wrote songs for others, which is really hard to do while keeping the honesty in the sentiment. I once competed for a job as speech writer; up to that point I had no idea how difficult it could be to find someone else voice and then to produce words using that voice while suppressing your own from becoming dominant. That was in a fact based environment, the difficulty on channeling that way for an emotional environment has to be mind-bending. Sheila E's Glamorous Life, The Bangle's hit Manic Monday (originally written for Apollonia 6), and Sugar Walls by Sheena Easton were all Prince penned songs.
Prince also co-authored or contributed to some great songs as well, which is tremendously difficult as you have to bend to another's input while trying to champion your own. Prince's collaboration with Stevie Nicks created Stand Back and he shared writing credits with Madonna for Love Song. A successful cover is also the sign of the universality of a song as a new performer puts their own spin on his words and music to take it to a new audience. Listen to Sinead O'Conner sing Nothing Can Compare 2U, I Feel for You by Chakka Kahn, or When You Were Mine performed by Cyndi Lauper - each is done in their own style but the composer shines clearly through.
The most memorable characteristic of Prince's music was the multiple layers of style he placed within every song. During the first MTV Video Awards, Michael Nesmith (The Monkees) won an award for something and during his acceptance speech he made a comment that the categories of music should not be separated as "Soul" and "Rock & Roll" but just a single category of "Rock". To me Prince said the same thing with his music. He blended styles. You could find R&B, Funk, Rock and more all blended in the same 3 minute tune. Prince was part of the transformation to a purer rock & roll, one based on a culmination of styles rather than a labeling of them.
A friend recently said that he felt Prince's death was not the end of music and that many other music legends are still among us plus new music is constantly being created. Nice reminder of both the music that is still here and the music to come. Every day, some child somewhere picks up his first instrument and plays his first note. To some it will be a significant addition to their own life and internal peace. Others will share those notes and it will contribute to all of our lives. We all need to support and encourage music in education and in life.
We are gathered here today;
To get through this thing called life.
His music makes getting through better. Wish I could have seen him perform live during my Summer of Live Rock & Roll -- but alas -- no.