“You have to live a life to understand it”: Prince (1958-2016)
Saturday, 23 April 2016
If anyone knew how to live life to the full, it was Prince.
Prince spent close to forty years doing what he loved the most; producing, performing and living through his music. Rock, pop, disco, funk – his music saw and had no bounds. At a time when most artists were pushing out an album every three years or so, Prince was busy laying down tracks on a weekly basis – in fact, his back catalogue is so vast that he even had a bank vault installed beneath his Paisley Park estate to store unreleased records.
Born in Minneapolis in June 1958, Prince grew up in a musical family; his father was the leader of a jazz band and his mother was the lead vocalist. At the age of seven, Prince started teaching himself to play the piano, before learning guitar at thirteen and eventually the drums. By the age of fourteen, Prince was in a band named Grand Central - fast forward four years and he would be negotiating his first contract with Warner Bros. via a local businessman Owen Husney.
Following the deal with Warner, Prince released his first studio album, 'For You', in 1978, closely followed by 'Prince' a year later. 'Prince' helped significantly raise his profile, and featured the number on hit single, “I Wanna Be Your Lover”. His third album, 'Dirty Mind', was the first to overtly explore his sexual side, and songs such as “Head” (yes, you guessed it, about oral) and “Sister” (concerning incest) were the first to push real boundaries. Shortly after he released 'Dirty Mind', Prince was to reach a whole new level of fame entirely with his double album, 1999, which went platinum and gave rise to three Top Ten singles: “Delirious”, “1999” and “Little Red Corvette” – one of the first videos to feature a black artist to be regularly played on MTV.
In 1984, the hit film 'Purple Rain' was released, a loosely autobiographical film featuring Prince. It was an instant hit and the first to feature his backing band, The Revolution. 'Purple Rain' spent 24 weeks at the top of the charts and sold over 13 million copies. Notable singles include “When Doves Cry”, “I Would Die 4 U”, “Let’s Go Crazy” and the title track “Purple Rain”.
Just two years later, Prince his second film, 'Under the Cherry Moon', an American musical drama shot on the French Riviera. Its soundtrack album would yield the number one hit “Kiss”, a stripped-down funk number that’s so hot it earned Prince a Grammy. In spite of its success, “Kiss” very nearly failed to make the cut, with Prince initially giving it to another artist before eventually deciding to include it in the album.
Perhaps the most extreme move of his career was when he changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol that acted as the title of one of his later albums. Names such as "Symbol Man", "Glyph", "The Artist Formerly Known As Prince" or just "the Artist” started circulating. Prince eventually revealed that he changed his name because a spirit told him to. Another of Prince’s most controversial moves was to ask all streaming services to remove his catalogue from their platforms, declaring that the Internet was "completely over", meaning over for any musician who wants to get paid. He also refused to sell his latest albums via iTunes or Amazon, and sought to find alternative ways to distribute his music.
A far cry from his outgoing persona, Prince managed to maintain an elusive and mysterious off-stage image throughout most of his career. He let you see what he wanted you to see, what was available to you through his music and presence on stage. Yet for most people this was more than enough. Observing the outpouring of love on social media, in the press and on the streets, it’s not difficult gauge the profound impact that Prince had on the lives of many. Now, as the tributes pour in, it’s time to appreciate the legacy of this man and remind ourselves: “life is just a party and parties weren't meant to last".