“Produced, arranged, composed, and performed by Prince” appears in the liner notes on most Prince records, with an asterisk usually located after the words `composed’ and `performed’ to indicate exceptions, in which case he lists those that have contributed to his unique musical vision. Prince Rogers Nelson, or Camille, or Alexander Nevermind, or The Kid, or Jamie Starr, or , or Christopher Tracy, or simply Prince is one of the most important and prolific artists in the history of popular music. Why? Is it because of his incredible commercial success? Is it because he was able to cross over from rock to funk to R&B to pop with ease and proficiency? Is it because he figured out a way to market his own music and maximize his profit, cutting out the record company? Is it because he is a ridiculously talented musician, able to play keyboards, guitar, bass, drums in almost an equal virtuoso manner? Is it because he has written, produced and contributed hit songs and interesting material for a multitude of other artists? Is it because he consistently challenges himself as an artist and follows the muse inside of him as opposed to satiating an audience or a corporate entity? The answer is yes to all of these questions.
Relevancy and validity define a legend. Like Bowie, Springsteen and Madonna, whether you acknowledge it or not, the world still pays attention to what these figures do artistically (and has some folly within the tabloids about them too). To have a monster album or single and then disappear into small clubs and independent releases and off the radar is still an achievement because something was accomplished, but it is not the grounds onto which an icon is constructed. From his debut album in 1978, For You, which was written, arranged produced and performed by Prince at the age of 19, to his 2006 release 3121, which debuted on the Billboard charts at number one, Prince is relevant and interesting, and by the way still making some pretty damn good music and his live shows are still worth the price of admission.
Like Neil Young, Prince makes whatever kind of record he feels like making. Young has made rock records, country records and acoustic records when he has felt like it, not necessarily what and when his audience expected it. Prince followed up his commercial and artistic apex of 1984’s Purple Rain with the experimental Around the World in a Day (1985). Around did have a couple of great pop songs in “Raspberry Beret” and “Pop Life,” but also contained songs exploring a very different soundscape in “Affair of the Heart” and the title song which feature a sparse production and arrangement with a bit of a world music feel. It was as if he was saying to the world, “This is my career and music, and I’m doing it on my terms, not on yours.” 1986’s Parade, the soundtrack to the second film Prince starred in, had a jazzier feel. “Kiss” was absolutely beautiful in its hooky simplicity while the rest of the album was further removed from Purple Rain. Other records followed exploring different ranges and feels. 1987’s double album Sign of the Times features a little bit of everything with a mastery of all, including pop (U Got the Look), funk (Housequake), balladry (“Slow Love”) and rock (I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man). 1989’s Batman soundtrack is masterful pop record. 1996’s Chaos and Disorder has a rock feel and sounds like an entire band recording.1998’s The Truth is mostly a vocal and acoustic guitar record, and in 2003, he released N.E.W.S, an all instrumental jazz album proving that he will explore where the muse takes him and not necessarily where the most commercial success is guaranteed.
He has written hit records for the Bangles (“Manic Monday”), Andre Cymone (“Dance Electric”), Sheila E. (“The Glamorous Life”) and Sheena Easton (“Sugar Walls”). Other artists’ covers of his songs have also turned into monster hits, like Cyndi Lauper’s “When You Were Mine”, Chaka Kahn’s “I Feel for You” and the Art of Noise’s “Kiss,” featuring Tom Jones on vocals. Sinead O’ Connor took a Prince penned song originally recorded by the Family and made “Nothing Compares 2 U” a smash.
His recording, producing, and songwriting history is impressive but his live performances are also legendary. Often times after he does a big concert, he sneaks into a smaller club and does another couple of hours for fun. His 2004 Musicology tour drew nearly 1.5 million people and grossed between $84 million and $91 million, depending on the source of the data.
Not everything he has touched has been great. “Under the Cherry Moon” and “Graffiti Bridge” are both artistically flawed films in which he starred and directed. 2001’s The Rainbow Children is a concept record high on light jazz and intoxicated by spiritual rapture that just falls flat. Prince defiantly moves on regardless of the commercial success or perceived artistic value of his lesser moments and continues to pursue art wherever it takes him. That journey is infinitely interesting, and that is the key to being a legend.
Prince on the Web
TV Guide: Prince
Prince Videos, Interviews and More on TV Guide's Online Video Guide
Unofficial but pretty comprehensive regarding musical output.
Unofficial source with news and discography.
Who's Prince Discography
Great source for Prince lyrics.
Comments from Prince
On the record industry:
You can always renegotiate a record contract. You just go in and say, "You know, I think my next project will be a country-and-western album."
On his fashion:
People say I'm wearing heels because I'm short. I wear heels because the women like 'em.
On the music industry:
Now there's no one to go and see. Where are the young ones coming along to whoop us up? Who is there to go and see? Fem 2 Fem?