Genius. Legend. Visionary. Unique. The modern day Mozart. One of the greatest artists and performers the world has ever known. The songwriter with the most songs in Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs Of All Time”. The Beatles have more, but some were written by John, some by Paul, some by George, so ya know….
Yet somehow it remains that Prince isn’t as heralded as he should be by the masses. Perhaps it’s that the general public doesn’t care too much about musicianship, about vision, about influence, about the delicate craft of songwriting, or what it takes to be a performer at that level. They just want to hear a great song - well, Prince has more of those than anyone too. That’s a fact and not debateable. We aren’t talking about hits, we’re talking about music and Prince simply has more great songs than anyone else. Partially down to his unmatched prolificness. There’s much debate about 90’s material, post Warner Bros material, but what’s indisputable is this - Prince’s 80’s output is untouchable. At least 15 discs worth of material has been released, when you include the albums released at the time, the B-Sides, and the material recorded than and released since. Every last album is considered a classic, with many of them completely flawless.
But if Prince isn’t given enough props by the public and media at large, he is by the musicians and artists themselves. ?uestlove from The Roots said that people tell him he’s a musician’s musician - ie, your favorite musician’s favorite musician. And HIS favorite musician? Prince.
He’s not alone. We could be here all day listing the artists who have gushed about Prince, or do so regularly. What’s remarkable is not so much the quantity, but the range. The aforementioned ?uestlove. Q-Tip. 2Pac. Ozzy Osbourne. Mick Jagger. Pete Townshend. Pharrell Williams. Little Richard. Maceo Parker. George Clinton. James Brown. Whitney Houston. Elton John. Miles Davis. Alicia Keys. Eric Clapton. Janet Jackson. Andre 3000. Randy Newman. Billy Corgan. Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Brandon Boyd. Freddie Mercury. Timbaland. Herbie Hancock. Joni Mitchell. Bruce Springsteen. Dave Grohl. Nina Simone. Bob Dylan. R Kelly. Lenny Kravitz. Macy Gray. D’Angelo. TLC. Gwen Stefani. Tony Kanal. Cyndi Lauper. Puff Daddy. Steve Vai. Chaka Khan. Larry Graham. Will.I.Am. Michael Jackson. Duff McKagan. Trent Reznor. Slash. Michael Hutchence. Cee-Lo. Adam Levine. Stevie Wonder. Robin Thicke. Steven Tyler. Bono. Carlos Santana. Rihanna. Tricky. Kylie Minogue. Darren Hayes. Mariah Carey. Stevie Nicks. Ice Cube. Nas. The Jonas Brothers. Beyonce. Jay-Z. Boy George. Quincy Jones. Marilyn Manson. David Lee Roth. Juan Atkins. Rob Zombie. Ne-Yo. Daft Punk.
All of the above are on record as HUGE fans. Read the list again and let it sink in. It’s not even a complete list. I’m sure I could find plenty more names. In that list alone, you’ve got the cream-of-the-crop of Pop, R&B, Hip-Hop, Rock, Jazz, Folk, Funk, Electro, House, Metal. To name a few. The music of some of these people has nothing in common with each other, yet Prince has been a huge musical influences for all of them.
That alone speaks volumes for the depths of his talents, but what’s important to remember is the sheer amount of things that are commonplace today that Prince did first. Nobody was mixing electronic sounds, synths, and drum machines with R&B before Prince. That alone describes almost the entirety of R&B and Pop music today.
Who can you name that not only produced but played every instrument on their albums before Prince? Who was manipulating recorded vocal pitches before Prince? He even gave this character a name - Camille - and recorded a whole album under that character name. Who was not only doing this for their own album but creating protege acts, producing and playing all the music for them, and releasing them at the same time before Prince? These days everybody does it. You’ll hear a Timbaland album and you’ll hear an album produced by him for whoever he’s signed to his label this year. Prince was doing that 30 years ago with acts like The Time and Vanity 6. What pop artist before or since can go in little over a year, from releasing a cold, electronic, synth funk pop record like 1999, to a searing rock album with fuzzy synths, dance beats, power pop choruses, and epic rock power ballads? In case you couldn’t tell, that’s Purple Rain - the album Entertainment Weekly voted as the Greatest Album of All Time. And it came complete with perhaps the ultimate rock movie too - still being emulated to this day. I remember a particularly accurate review of Eminem’s “8 Mile” that simply stated something along the lines of “Most people saw this movie the first time round, except it was called Purple Rain”.
Oh yeah - and that album had “Darling Nikki” too. You kids might know it as the one Rihanna started covering on her new tour. Tipper Gore’s outrage at the raw sexuality of that song and the fact her teen daughter was listening to it is what led to the creation of the PMRC - the Parents Music Resource Center… better known as the group that forced “explicit” albums to be branded with that “Parental Advisory - Explicit Content” logo that so many rappers and rockers wear as a badge of honor. Chalk that one up to His Royal Badness, too.
Multi-racial bands with hot chicks playing synths? Prince did it before y’all. Deliberate androgyny, a message of sexual acceptance no matter your orientation? Gaga’s doing it in 2011… Prince was doing it in 1980. And he simply had more great music than he could release himself, so then there’s the tidal wave of songs he gave away to others, and album cuts that others covered and released as singles. The Bangles “Manic Monday”, Chaka Khan’s “I Feel For You”, Sinead O’ Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U”, Sheena Easton’s “Sugar Walls”, Sheila E’s “Glamorous Life” (hey, another one Rihanna is covering on her new tour), Vanity 6’s “Nasty Girl” - which The Neptunes almost shamelessly ripped off for Britney Spears’ “Slave 4 U”….choreographed by Prince’s ex-wife Mayte Garcia, whose professional dancing career began in Prince’s New Power Generation band.
You simply can’t deny the influence of the Purple One. It’s literally everywhere. When even Quincy Jones walked into the studio during the “Thriller” sessions holding a copy of the “1999” album and said to all the musicians - “This is what our synths need to sound like”, and when, for the first time since Kurt Cobain died, Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic of Nirvana reunited on stage and play “Purple Rain” (random related fact, Nirvana guitarist Pat Smear was in the music video for “Raspberry Beret”), when Rihanna has a sold-out tour playing her hits, and there’s two cover songs in the entire set that were both written by Prince…. when Fall Out Boy singer Patrick Stump kicks off his solo career by releasing a video of him covering “I Wanna Be Your Lover”, when I can literally keep giving examples like this…. it’s pretty obvious. We can’t even begin to talk about the literally hundreds upon hundreds of samples and interpolations of his work in the hip-hop genre!
The musical progression of modern pop, rock and r&b owes a lot of things to a lot of people. But none moreso than Prince Rogers Nelson. And it’s his birthday today. Thank you Prince. We love you.