The purple reign is over: Long live Prince’s legacy
The pop icon changed music forever, influencing a generation of artists
“It is with profound sadness that I am confirming that the legendary, iconic performer, Prince Rogers Nelson, has died at his Paisley Park residence this morning.’’
With those words, publicist Yvette Noel-Schure announced the death of the 57-year-old musician in Chanhassen, Minnesota.
And just like that, another icon has gone.
It seems almost too obvious to point out that Prince changed the music world as we know it. This icon of R&B, funk and jazz went against tide and created a new context for pop music. He was a huge influence on numerous artists including, Beyoncé, D’Angelo, Madonna, Justin Timberlake, Alicia Keys, Miguel, Pharrell – not to mention the rest of the world!
Prince arrived in the middle of an 80s pop music scene that was craving sonic newness. His mix of brilliance as a songwriter, performer, improviser and collaborator was fused with a yearning to explore, and hunger for, connecting live with others.
In albums such as For You (1978), Prince (1979), and his first acknowledged masterpiece Dirty Mind (1980), he pioneered a new collision of music styles – new wave, rock, funk and jazz – and added elements of production, synth and drum machines to create the Prince DNA trademark sound, which he would go on to adapt and reinvent many times over.
He challenged art and the nature of ownership in his relationship with his various record labels, most infamously with Warner in the 1990s, which led to him to temporarily trade his stage name for a symbol. His impact, we now know, even stretched to the White House. “As one of the most gifted and prolific musicians of our time, Prince did it all – Funk, R&B, Rock and roll. He was a virtuoso instrumentalist, a brilliant bandleader and an electrifying performer,” President Barack Obama wrote on Facebook overnight.
He released an amazing 37 albums – three of those in the last 18 months – and there is purportedly a huge collection of recordings not yet released, stored in a bank vault at his Paisley Park studios.
In addition, he created music for films including Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) and received a Grammy (one of seven in his career) for his music for the film Purple Rain (1984).
He also had a knack for writing songs that would become monster hits for others – such as Manic Monday (1986) for The Bangles and famously Nothing Compares to You (1990), the song that launched Sinead O’Connor (you can hear Prince’s version here).
Like Bowie, Prince was one of those rare artists who was able to transcend the ready-made pop scene to become the creator of something genuinely, thrillingly unique. Many people know of Prince through mega-hits such as Kiss, Purple Rain, When Doves Cry and 1999, created during his golden hits period of 1985-1992 where there seemed to be no stopping this charting juggernaut.
But Prince was also a brilliant multi-instrumentalist and live performer. He is considered by many to be one of the greatest guitarists of his generation. If there’s any doubt in your mind, and there shouldn’t be, just check out his solo during a live rendition of While My Guitar Gently Weeps at the 2004 Hall of Fame Inductions.
He would often follow his long live shows with secret after-shows, performing with local musicians to a small audience. Bennett’s Lane Jazz Club in Melbourne was one of the places in which he performed impromptu sets in 2003 and 2012. He was just at home playing for 30 or 30,000 with connecting live to people always at the forefront.
Prince’s passing bookends another chapter in the history of music. He offered us all new ways of making, fusing, performing, relating and collaborating in a commercial music world dominated by stylistic conformity. In short, he changed music forever. There will be many thousands, if not millions, around the world who will be relating, even more so than usual, to Prince’s lyrics today:
Since you been gone I can do whatever I want
I can see who ever I choose
I can eat my dinner in a fancy restaurant
But nothing nothing can take away these blues
‘Cause nothing compares
Nothing compares to you
Banner image: Prince performs in a surprise appearance on American Idol at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood on May 24, 2006. Picture: Chris Pizzello/Picture Media/Reuters