Prince: 1958-2016

Prince triumphant ©1981 Virginia Turbett

Prince triumphant ©1981 Virginia Turbett

Let’s get it right out of the way…


FUNK + NEW WAVE x GENIUS = PRINCE


I was halfway through blasting out the ABC post yesterday when my assistant was once again the harbinger of dread news;  Prince was dead at 57 years of age. Like Bowie, I sure didn’t see that one coming. For one thing, he had a clean living rep far different from most rock stars, and any glance at the guy reeked of health and vitality. I first got wind of what he was doing when I happened to see a video or two in the pre-MTV primordial era of late 70s music video from his album “Dirty Mind.” While he was coming from a R+B/funk angle, it was clear even then that he would not be pinned down for too long. He was giving off whiffs of New Wave energy that piqued my interest and by the time that 1981 rolled around and I started hearing material like “Controversy” is was convinced that this guy was the Sly Stone of his generation; able to mix multiple styles of music and cross any real or imagined “color lines” that the industry had erected.

prince - controversyUSP12AThe first Prince record I bought was a US promo 12″ of “Controversy” that was and will always be my go-to Prince track. It never fails to impress me with its hyper-taut, whipcrack funk chops, cut with buzzing New Wave energy. I used to hear this being played a lot on college radio [WPRK-FM] in 1981 and I was sold. I hit the bins at Crunchy Armadillo and started scooping up promo 12″ers and when “1999” dropped in 1982, I was right on it. I recall wanting to see the 1999 tour that came through Central Florida, but the show was at the Lakeland Civic Center; a hour away and I didn’t know any other Prince fans, so I missed getting my mind blown that night. The closest I came to a Prince concert after that was one afternoon when my wife and I were driving back from the Columbia Museum of Art 5-6 years ago, we saw an arena off of the interstate that had a Prince show listed that night on the marquee. I thought if I’d known about this show 2 hours away in the next state ahead of time, I might have gone to it. I seriously thought that one day I would see a chance and take it.

When “Little Red Corvette” became his breakthrough hit, I was thrilled that the minds at Warner Brothers had the good sense to re-release the brilliant single “1999” so that it could take its rightful place at number 12 the second time in the Top 40. Everyone needed to hear this amazing song. Prince had an uncanny knack for creating arresting  arrangements with a signature mixture of guitars, drum machines, and synthesizers more common to the New Wave palette at the time. More than any other artist, he was a genius at fusing disparate genres and forms into a fresh, new hybrid. That he could do it all single-handedly in the studio marked him as a Rundgren-esque prime mover. He was fortunate that Warner Brothers never balked at signing a 17 year old and handing him the keys to the studio.

When he moved to the next level with “Purple Rain,” it was amazing to see him connect with a huge audience and a rare instance of an artist really reaching as wide an audience as possible without compromising. As time passed, there were few styles that he did not incorporate into his body of work. It bears mentioning that his body of work is so large that after that album, he left me behind due to his prolificacy. by the time I had missed a few albums he was long gone with me in the dust. I traded in my vinyl with the intent of getting CDs; but that idea backfired since I never saw the early Prince albums I wanted most in the used bins. My cheapness worked against me there! I guess there was a good reason why one simply didn’t find used copies of “Controversy” in the used bins. The early “1999” CD was missing the track “D.M.S.R.” for unknown reasons, so I was gun-shy buying that one for decades. The 1990 remaster finally restored the full sequence to the album.

prince - ultimateprinceUS2xCDAI started complaining to my wife about not having any Prince music on CD about ten years ago, and finally, last Fall, something snapped. In rapid succession I first bought the excellent 2xCD “Ultimate Prince” collection. This was filled with 7″ edits and 12″ versions. When I saw it had the mandatory full length “Controversy” I bought it, even though “Sexuality” wasn’t part of the program. I was listening to this after it arrived in the mail during a weekend where I was in Charlotte, driving around. Listening to this felt soooo good. I hit Repo Record and saw that I could buy a new copy of “1999” for $6.00! Sold, American! That sounded even better, and the next day, I was in Charlotte’s 2nd + Charles and found a used copy of “Puple Rain.” Boom! It was a retro Prince weekend for me.

I was grateful for the “Ultimate” collection bringing me up to date with music that Prince had released after I stopped watching MTV in the late 80s, and thus even lost track of Prince’s singles. I was impressed that even this later period was shot through with some excellent work, leaving me amenable to grabbing some of those later albums. What I need to concentrate on is locking down the run of albums from “Dirty Mind” through maybe “Sign O’ The Times” and then move on from there.

I have kept my finger on the pulse of the Prince fan forum, trying to see when and if and DLX RMs of his canon would filter down to the masses. When he re-signed with Warner Brothers a year or two back, the thought was that in 2014, the 30th anniversary of “Purple Rain” that a commemorative edition would be forthcoming. Prince even coyly alluded to this, though he seemed to backpedal rapidly when the recent flow of new material with 3RDEYEGIRL took precedence in his eyes. The Artist himself seemed to be notoriously reluctant to release a DLX box of “Purple Rain” with all of the requisite B-sides/12″ remixes and heaven-help-us live shows even though it would have sold a lot of copies. With him gone, it remains to be seen how and when his canon will get the curation that every other superstar’s discography has gotten in recent years. On the other hand, his refusal to kowtow to expectations and “demands” was what helped to make him such an interesting artist. One who lived with integrity from day one to the last.

Now listen to some Prince today!

– 30 –

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | media design • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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15 Responses to Prince: 1958-2016

  1. Steve says:

    Thanks, PPM! This is a wonderful remembrance of the incredible artist known as Prince. Here’s my tribute to PRN: http://duffguidetoska.blogspot.com/2016/04/the-duff-guide-to-ska-remembers-prince.html.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Steve – That was a great post! You certainly have a lot of great backstory with Prince. I was just telling a <30 year old co-worker about the notion of "black stations" and "white stations" [cue M+M!] in backwater Orlando, Florida in the 70s and he was incredulous that such things were common back then! It's partially down to Prince at first, and then the rise of hip hop soon afterward that this is a distant memory for old hacks like us and foreign to the new breed. But having your father deliver a sermon on your t-shirt; man that’s cold! I guess he was “just doing his job.” I loved your [admittedly painful] concert anecdote. At least you go to experience him under poor conditions. It beats “not at all” on occasion. [though I still regret that first Simple minds concert – my particular bete noir, you understand!]

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      • Tim says:

        We didn’t have MTV for a lot of the earlier years so any press he received there passed me by entirely I had a rather conservative musical upbringing and even in mid teenage years was well behind musical tastes, mainstream or otherwise I had two friends who were the go-to guys for new music and one of them had 1999 and urged me to buy it It’s going to be big, he told me, or something along those lines, so buy it now before the price goes up. Our main local record store was selling the double vinyl for $5.99 regular price, I think most double lp vinyls were at the time more around $7.99 or $8.99. I bought it and really enjoyed it, to date it’s my favorite Prince album.

        Btw, Steve, if you read this comment, I’ve never been to your blog before and liked it quite a lot. I think I’ll be spending some hours over there in the next few weeks catching up on posts.

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  2. Echorich says:

    I think, aside from Funk fans, New Wavers were the first audience to really get Prince. His hyperactive nature was in line with the New Wave. With each release up to Purple Rain you could hear the movement forward. I love Dirty Mind and Controversy. Those albums have really stuck with me. 1999 is a wonderful record and it’s mass appeal is wholly deserved. Purple Rain transcends both the soundtrack and normal artist release. It is a soulful work of art. All through the 80s and into the early 90’s his music still spoke to a New Wave sensibility and much of it still sounds fresh and alive.
    I got off the Prince express train after Lovesexy, although I have the film canister release of the Batman soundtrack. But he was a noble, enigmatic, artist, a music icon. The music world is a lot less colorful today.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – You are so right there. It was no mistake that the first Prince I heard on the radio was on a 100 watt college station in 1981! It made sense. By the late 70s, new wave was moving in disco/funk directions. It would be folly not to imagine disco/funk reciprocating.

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      • Tim says:

        Over on the Guardian I think it was, maybe Superdeluxedition, I read a write up by someone who, like a couple of folks here (myself included) left the Prince train at the end of the 80’s. What was interesting was a comment that the writer on the other essay made, that he would try some of the 90’s Prince and a lot of it he was indifferent to and then as resources became more robust to research things he would find that the 2-3 tracks on these albums from the 90’s that he really liked were things that Prince had written in the 80’s and kept in the legendary vault and used to pad out the album.

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        • postpunkmonk says:

          Tim – Fascinating! But not what I want to hear. I liked the newer material on “Ultimate Prince” enough to consider buying those albums. I still need more Prince though. I’m sure having his complete canon to review would be interesting and rewarding.

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  3. Tim says:

    NPR had a good interview with his first manager (the one who was promoting him to Warners at the age of 17 and trying to see him as a prodigy) & you can find that here: http://www.npr.org/2016/04/21/475161524/his-music-does-the-talking-manager-owen-husney-on-princes-legacy

    Not everyone is Facebook friendly so I hope that you don’t mind the length of what I am going to cut and past for those who may be adverse to going there. It’s a memory from Jim White, who, if you have not heard his album (which he defined at the time as “hick hop) “No Such Place” you are really, really missing out on something special His FB feed is more stories of his life and travels and I look forward to each new post by him. Mr Monk, if this is too long for your taste as a comment please feel free to trim it and ask me to post a link instead This is Mr. White’s Prince story:

    I have two Prince stories. While touring with Ani DiFranco I befriended her security head. Interesting guy, martial arts expert, transcendental warrior type. Super control freak and very good at his job. He said he worked for Prince before Ani, and that no one on the tour was allowed to make eye contact with Prince. Additionally crew members were forbidden to have any form of logo on any of their clothing. No Levi’s sticker, no size tags on T-shirts. Etc. So, clearly Prince was a person in significant pain, to make such esoteric demands on others around him. A few years prior to that when Luaka Bop signed me to their label the label head Yale Evelev told me the Warner Brothers executives up in Rockefeller Center wanted me to come in a play a few songs for them so they could evaluate my potential as an up and coming artist. I was a novice performer at the time, hardly able to play guitar and sing simultaneously. To make things worse, at that point I was having some psychological problems that were causing me to wonder if singing was a real thing. At times I would open my mouth to sing and think, “Is singing even possible? How does it happen?” I think the philosophical term for this is Ontological Breakdown. This was just after I made Wrong Eyed Jesus and I was not in such great shape mentally. So that was my mindset when I dragged my busted pawn shop guitar into the Warner Brothers offices. We had to wait a while as another artist performed for them, then I was ushered in. Big oval table. The big wigs sat at one end, I sat at the other. I kicked things off by telling a funny story about riding this raggedy old bike I found in a garbage pile on a blustery winter day a few weeks earlier down around Cooper Union Square and how in the midst of struggling against a huge gust of freezing headwind, I’d snapped the handlebars off mid pedal push, and, for a moment at least, couldn’t quite figure out the physics at hand. The bike stalled, and I instinctively tried to correct it by moving the disconnected handlebars, which were above my head at that point. I spun them one way, then another, but the bike of course did not respond. Then I fell over and busted my ass. I summed things up by saying, sometimes you just have to understand that no matter how much you think you’re in control, when the handle bars are disconnected, the steering is out of your hands, at which point I suggested that on the musical career bicycle I was riding, the handlebars were in their hands, not mine. The Warner Brothers executives were not amused by the story. Nor were they entertained by the three uneven songs I sang about my mental struggles and life in the underbelly of the South. After leaving the room, I said to Yale, “That didn’t go especially well did it?” Yale who is terse and to the point as a rule, replied, “Nope.” So I asked, “What could I have done differently?” His reply, “You could have chosen a different day to come here.” I was puzzled by this, so he added, “The guy who was playing before you when we got here was Prince. Hard act to follow.” Indeed. RIP Prince. I hope somewhere you’re steering your bicycle with great skill, unconcerned about logos or eye contact, happy and free with the wind at your back.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Tim – I’m not scared of long comments! Hah! I welcome them! After all, I got the idea for having this blog when making extremely long comments at my friend Ron’s blog seven years ago. The electrons are free, so everyone do your worst.

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      • SimonH says:

        Love Jim White and would expect a great anecdote from him, as this one is.
        Great headline Monk, sums things up well. My first exposure to Prince here in he UK was Controversy, and clearly the new wave elements ensured it fit into the amazing range of great stuff around then, but I didn’t buy it! Must have been a lack of financial resource thing as was common in those days.
        Saw him once about nine years ago when he did a crazy number of shows at the O2 in London. Not my kind of venue but still a great gig.

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  4. Tim says:

    Interesting memorial/self promotional (corvette) ad here.

    http://www.superdeluxeedition.com/news/saturday-deluxe-23-april-2016/

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  5. Pingback: When You Were Mine – dance / music / sex / romance

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