In a year that will already be remembered for robbing the world of some of its brightest shining stars, 2016’s death knell has most recently tolled for the man born Prince Rogers Nelson, a man as chameleonic in style, musicianship and persona as the numerous name changes throughout his highly-successful and influential career would suggest.
Born in the icy-cold city of Minneapolis, Minnesota (a city he never really left right up until his death) in the USA in 1958, from an early age Prince showed a fascination with and aptitude for playing musical instruments perhaps unmatched throughout popular music. His ability with drums, guitars, bass guitars and piano, before even mentioning his spectacularly expansive vocal range were enough to earn him a three-album record deal with Warner Bros. at the age of 18.
Never someone to conform to convention, even at such a young age, Prince insisted he have complete creative control over his musical output from the outset at Warner Bros. His debut album, For You, in 1978 featured Prince playing every single instrument on the record. He wrote every single track himself, bar for one shared writing credit, and even took on producing duties too. The release, while going relatively unnoticed by critics and performing poorly commercially, served as a signpost demonstrating just how talented this up-and-coming new musician was.
His debut album, For You, in 1978 featured Prince playing every single instrument on the record
Not that commercial and critical success didn’t soon follow for the Purple One. His next four albums all went platinum, merging the brand of black funk and soul the likes of Earth, Wind and Fire were known for, with rock guitars, vocal acrobatics and often outright scandalous sexually-charged lyrics (“the way your titties bounce” from ‘Peach’, “I wanna be the only one to make you come” from ‘I Wanna Be Your Lover’, etc.) The last of these four albums, 1999, released 1982, provided Prince with his then-biggest hit, ‘Little Red Corvette’. And all of this went on as Prince, previously described by friends as an intensely shy individual, cultivated a distinctive and unmistakable style with outrageous outfits consisting of high heels, suspenders, and, of course, the colour purple.
Prince’s meteoric rise continued with the release of the film Purple Rain in 1984, transforming him from hit popstar to global superstar. The semi-autobiographical film stars Prince as The Kid, lead singer of a Minneapolis band trying to make it big whilst fighting off competition from fellow band The Time (a real band set up by Prince himself who experienced their own success in the 1980s). The rock ballad title-track from the film was a worldwide success, critically-acclaimed for demonstrating Prince’s ability to genre-hop. This happened to coincide with Prince establishing his named-backing band The Revolution, consisting of a mix of sexes and races as per Prince’s forward-thinking wish to create a sound not defined by gender or ethnicity.
The zenith of career came with his halftime-show at the 2007 Super Bowl, hailed as the greatest Super Bowl performance of all time
The 80s continued in a similarly successful vein for Prince and the Revolution, with the albums Parade and Sign O’ The Times, providing more massive hits such as ‘Kiss’ and ‘Raspberry Beret’. Prince disbanded The Revolution in the early 90s, and formed new band The New Power Generation. However, the early 90s were mired for Prince amidst a legal battle with record label Warner Bros. His contractual troubles saw him change his name to an unpronounceable symbol and daub the word ‘SLAVE’ in capitals on his face during live performances. Then followed a period where he demanded he be referred to only as “The Artist Formerly Known As Prince”.
Prince’s musical success story continued regardless, with his single ‘The Most Beautiful Girl in the World’ scoring him his first ever UK Number One in 1994. After signing a record deal with Arista, he finally changed his recording name back to Prince in 2000, and released 16 albums between then and his death in 2016. The zenith of his post-millennial career came with his halftime-show at the 2007 Super Bowl, hailed as the greatest Super Bowl performance of all time. Even the weather played ball – torrential rain lit purple by the lights hammered down as he performed ‘Purple Rain’ on a gigantic Prince-symbol-shaped stage.
Aside from his own solo career, Prince was a prolific songwriter, penning numerous mega hits for other artists, including The Bangles’ ‘Manic Monday’, and Sinead O’Connor’s heartbreaking cover of ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’. Tributes from throughout the music world have been rife following the news of Prince’s untimely death at the age of 57 – fitting for a man who transgressed so many conventions in music and beyond as a genre-hopper, director, actor, songwriter, style icon and musical genius – in other words, the true embodiment of a superstar.