We’ve been losing some major icons in music lately and this latest loss is a big one. Two years ago I was asked about my thoughts on Prince because we were coming up on the 30th anniversary of the movie Purple Rain. This is what I wrote:
Prince is a prolific songwriter and producer having written over 300 songs for himself and artists like Chaka Khan, Sheena Easton, The Bangles and The Time. He plays a number of instruments most notably the guitar and he is listed as playing most if not all of the instruments on several of these albums.
He also has an unusually large vocal range which extends from the baritone up to soprano when he switches to his falsetto. The song “Adore” features this ability.
Prince was a rising success when Purple Rain was released as an album and a movie. His previous album 1999 was widely popular and the video to “Little Red Corvette” was on rotation on MTV. This was a huge feat back then because the only other black artist on MTV was Michael Jackson with his song “Billie Jean.”
In 1984 Purple Rain spent 24 consecutive weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 100 chart and Prince has the distinction of being the only singer to have a No. 1 single, album and movie in the U.S. at the same time.
Prince is the link between the funk era of the 1970s and the mixture of electronica, rock, dance, R&B of the 1980s and 90s. He comes from a long tradition of blues/jazz guitarists such as Robert Johnson, T-Bone Walker, Charlie Christian, Wes Montgomery, Chuck Berry, Jimi Hendrix and others. Prince’s direct influences are James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Sly and the Family Stone, Stevie Wonder, Parliament Funkadelic, Earth Wind and Fire.
When you listen to his adventurous recordings like “The Beautiful Ones” his sonic palette is ahead of its time. His use of audio effects and synthesizers with rock and funk riffs along with his intelligent, provocative and witty lyrics, grab your attention from the first time you hear them. His vocal range is astounding and his tone is malleable enough to mimic any gender and age. Known as a guitarist he can play drums, bass and keyboards as well and is more than competent on his recordings where he plays all the parts.
His influence is ubiquitous on the music that came after him. Many artists use his production techniques and instrumentation to create the electronica sound of today. Underground artists like J-Davey pattern their style and sound from Prince’s approach and more popular stars like Lenny Kravitz mimic his rock guitar playing along with his cool demeanor and swagger.
Prince also had an influence on fashion from the 1980s onward. His court dress style with ruffles and wrist-gathered sleeves included lace, silk and velvet fabrics and was indicative of the well-dressed French courtiers of the colonial period.
Prince was a unique persona all his own and he is definitely part of pop music royalty. His music, personality and style influenced a generation of artists and listeners will continue to do so for years to come.
Image by Penner