First Bowie, now Prince. It just doesn’t feel real, does it?
I don’t know where to start with Prince, so if I had to say just one thing, it’s that nobody, not even Ray Charles, ever twisted up sex & religion like Prince did. Ray’s genius was recognizing that Gospel was hot, and then combining it with blues to create R&B. Prince built on that base by adding screaming rock guitar, Philadelphia rhythm, hardcore funk, folk harmonies, The Beatles-meet-disco level production values, porn, orchestral arrangements, and whatever else was lying around that he felt was right for an album or for an individual song.
The results were always energetic, often chaotic, sometimes breathtaking, and almost never boring.
Purple Rain is sometimes cited as his defining work — if someone so eclectic can be pigeonholed by a single album — but I’d argue that such an honor belongs to his 1987 double-album magnum opus, Sign O’ the Times. With just two exceptions I can think of (his duet with Sheena Easton on “U Got The Look” and a concert recording of “It’s Gonna Be a Beautiful Night”), Price wrote every line, played every instrument, and sang every vocal on the remaining 14 tracks.
Prince was also a deeply religious man, in his own way. Ray might have been the first to combine Gospel and blues, but Prince took the entire Gospel and boiled it down to an ’80s-infused three-minute love song, “I Would Die 4 U.”
I’m not a woman
I’m not a man
I am something that you’ll never understand
I’ll never beat you
I’ll never lie
And if you’re evil I’ll forgive you by and by
‘Cause you, I would die for you, yeah
Darling if you want me to
You, I would die for you
I’m not your lover
I’m not your friend
I am something that you’ll never comprehend
No need to worry
No need to cry
I’m your messiah and you’re the reason why
Prince might have been a prolific songwriter and an incredible instrumentalist and endlessly inventive vocalist and a generous coach of new musical talent and devout believer, but that’s not what drew me to his music in the early ’80s, and it’s not what keeps me listening to him today.
The fact is that Prince was so delightfully, wickedly, listenably filthy. He could be obvious and over-the-top with it, like “Lady Cab Driver” or “Darling Nikki.” Or he could go more physiological, as he did in “If I Was Your Girlfriend” and “Love 2 the 9’s.”
But no matter his approach on any given song, Prince’s music was get-naked-on-the-dance-floor hot. If you’re around my age, there’s a good chance that, like me, Prince provided much of the soundtrack for the, ah, lab portion of your high school sex ed.
Prince gave all that up when he, as rumor has it, had a bad experience on LSD and/or ecstasy. That’s supposedly when he cleaned himself up and dropped his …unique… adherence to Seventh-Day Adventism, and became a Jehovah’s Witness. But filthy or clean, he never stopped experimenting, growing, dazzling with his music.
Like the Late Great Bowie, I never missed a Prince album, and his long list of studio works contains only two duds. Well, one dud and one half-dud. 2007’s Planet Earth was Prince’s one and only boring album. I got through it once and I’m not sure I’ve heard any tracks from it since, despite it sitting in my iTunes library for nine years. The half-dud was Parade, the soundtrack to Prince’s disappointing 1986 film, Under the Cherry Moon. Sometimes great, Parade contained the stripped-down soul classic, “Kiss,” and the underappreciated “Anotherloverholenyohead,” and a couple other tracks worth keeping — but the rest is mostly silly and forgettable, like the movie.
Maybe you think the so-called “Love Symbol Album” is just too much, what with the spoken-word stuff from Kirstie Alley and the general craziness of that whole time in Prince’s career and his personal war against Warner Bros. Records — and maybe you’re right. But Prince was often at his best when he’d gone past the line, only to reel you back in with some tasty guitar riff or an unexpected juxtaposition like “You’re filthy-cute and baby you know it.”
But no more.
And we’ll try to imagine what it looks like
Yeah, we’ll try to imagine what, what silence looks like
Yeah, we’ll, we’ll try to imagine what silence looks like
Yeah, we’ll try…