It seems extraordinary that barely three months since we were mourning the passing of David Bowie, the other great pop chameleon, Prince, should so unexpectedly depart. The media is already full of retrospectives and discussions about one of the undoubted masters of pop. I use pop in its broadest term as, like Bowie, here was a man who could fuse genres in a key change – part-rock, part-soul, part-funk, part-disco and always pop.
For what it’s worth, my favorite album is the unusual “Around The World In A Day” which in true Prince style followed quickly after the all-consuming global success of “Purple Rain” and took a complete sidestep from what had only months before turned him into a global superstar. It confused some audiences but I absolutely loved its lush orchestrations, its stunning cover and all-round psychedelic vibe – especially ints three hippy trip singles – “Paisley Park”, “Raspberry Beret” and my favorite of all his songs “Pop Life”.
Interestingly, if you’re looking for clips of Prince to show your tribute to him you’ll find them few and far between as disputes with his publishers and his record companies have necessitated much of his excellent and inventive broadcast material being pulled down.
This actually presented me with the ideal opportunity to talk about Prince’s considerable prowess not as a performer, which all of us who have seen him can gladly attest, but as a songwriter.
Prince was incredibly prolific and this ability to turn out material had the power of unsettling his audience but all artists should be provocative and the simple movement from the dance floor vibe of “1999” to the rock/pop of “Purple Rain” and then to the psychedelia of “Around The World In A Day” and the sparseness of “Parade” all occurred in a four year period. During this time, he also toured the world and made two movies. He never settled on a definable style and this genre-hopping allowed him to experiment constantly.
Everyone, will therefore have a period they prefer to somebody else’s but at an initial rate of nearly an album a year, there was little doubt that something you would enjoy from his canon would come along at some stage.
However, this paucity of existing promo material to put in front of you led me to consider the fantastic material he was able to pass on to other artists. A considerable amount of course, went to his Paisley Park coterie and here he was able to extend his band’s more recognizable sounds but always with an added twist. Whilst some preferred Wendy & Lisa or Apollonia 6, I personally always loved the dance floor beat of the work he did with his sultry percussionist, Sheila E – highlights being the duet of “Erotic City” (a B-side to “Lets Go Crazy”) is a real unplayed classic (except in Newcastle nightclub “Julies”) that hinted at what would come in the excellent “LoveSexy” era and especially, “A Love Bizarre”.
Over the years, Prince took on a variety of pseudonyms to present material to other people – so while we all know that famously he wished to change his name from Prince during his Warner Bros dispute, he also presented himself as Christopher Tracy, Jamie Starr and Camille amongst others.
In the same way, that he took on different soubriquets, he was also able to switch genres almost effortlessly either in his writing style or in creating songs that would simply allow variation and interpretation.
He had written two UK number one singles, the haunting “Nothing Compares 2 U” for Sinead O’Connor and the comparatively under-rated “I Feel For You” by Chaka Khan, several years before he finally achieved his only UK number one under his own steam, the majestic “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World”. All three of these will doubtless attract a lot of tributes in the coming days and weeks.
I also witnessed an absolutely inspiring cover version of “Purple Rain” by The Waterboys which really did play perfectly to their concept of the ‘Big Music’. But my favorite remains the track he wrote as Christopher, originally for Apollonia, but to enormous success for the Bangles – “Manic Monday”.
Legend has it that Prince was in the UK appearing (rather bemused) at the 1985 Brit Awards in London where he won the first of his six awards – famously, he strode with a huge entourage of bodyguards swiping all before them to deliver a four word speech – and caught up with the other overseas visitors to the show, The Bangles while they were traveling back on Concorde and slipped them a demo cassette of two songs of which this is one. At the time, they had not really broken through, this was to be their big chance and so they reinvented the song with some baroque touches and the rest is history.
Prince simply loved what he did – he loved music. He loved performing and he loved writing – that will feature in all of his tributes. But he was also enormously generous with his talents and affected the careers and breakthroughs of so many other artists as well.
Sadly, we lose another of “The Beautiful Ones”.