ShortList pays tribute to the genius of the prolific Purple Rain pop star, who died last week, aged 57
Over the past few days you will have heard the incredible music everywhere, gasped once more at the outrageous photographs, watched the (scant) live performances on YouTube and mourned the man who really was the last of the truly unknowable pop-star-as-alien icons.
Less than two weeks ago, Prince was performing onstage, just him and a piano, wowing another crowd in Atlanta. In his final interviews, he was still rallying against the injustices of the music industry, fighting for what he saw as right.
Prince was a man of singular, superlative talent, staunch principles and could pull off an overcoat and briefs combo like no one else before or since. Clearly, even now he’s gone, we can all still take inspiration.
He wore what he wanted...
Silver stilettoes and frilled lace shirts. Pink suits, trousers almost nipple-high, multiple chains draped around his neck. The singer was what ‘flamboyant’ would have looked like if it swaggered out of the dictionary and picked up a gold guitar. No one has ever looked cool in yellow flares. Oh wait. Prince did.
...yet kept an air of mystery
Was he gay or straight? An eccentric extrovert or shy recluse? No one really knew, not least prying journalists who were asked to turn off their tapes during interviews. He remained unknowable until the end, or as the man himself once explained: “So much has been written about me and people never know what’s right and what’s wrong. I’d rather let them stay confused.”
He wasn't afraid to f**k with people...
You’ve got to respect a man who pushes Kim Kardashian off the stage for not dancing. He also had no qualms firing a crew member for making eye contact (“Why is that guy looking at me? Tell him to leave”), taking a pop at ex-girlfriends (“I’ve got more hits than Madonna has kids”) and turning down rival-of-sorts Michael Jackson, who offered to record Bad as a duet.
...but stuck to his principles...
Whether battling pro-censorship group the PMRC in 1985 or, last year, calling out US radio giant Clear Channel for ‘homogenising’ music programming, Prince stuck to his guns, even when it made him unpopular. In 1993, he was criticised after changing his name to an unpronounceable symbol to protest his record contract as a form of ‘slavery’ (because the label wanted him to put out fewer records). Prince refused to back down, even giving away his 2007 album Planet Earth with a Sunday newspaper in the UK.
...while being sexy (but not sleazy)
Unlike most borderline-predatory R&B lovermen, Prince's music celebrated and empowered women's sexuality. His sexual heroines weren't sylphlike and submissive, they were confident, sturdily-built (as in the video to Raspberry Beret) and ordering barbecue ribs in the afterglow (Gett Off). As freaky as he was, Prince's primary concern was making sure he showed his FWBs a good time.
He looked after his mates
To escape his warring parents, Prince moved in with the family of his neighbour André Cymone. In 1985, Prince paid him back by writing and producing The Dance Electric, giving Cymone a hit single. On signing to a major label, Prince insisted on a clause in his contract allowing him to produce other acts, which enabled him to launch the careers of Vanity 6 (namely his girlfriend and two other old friends) and The Time, featuring members of his former high-school band, Champagne, who were fronted by his childhood best mate, Morris Day.
Imitation did not flatter him
Not for Prince, the guesting with soundalike artists: something that even Bowie – with his Placebo and LCD Soundsystem hook-ups – was partial to. He turned down dozens of collaborations and the things he did endorse remained esoteric and unexpected. Only recently, for example, he was tweeting a link to a new Field Music single.
He kept his game minimal
As the studio budgets grew, all of Prince’s Eighties peers proceeded to indulge in overblown productions. When Doves Cry has no bass on it: an unthinkable concept in 1984. Meanwhile, in 1986, he was putting out Kiss – a single that is just a compressed drum beat and a brief funk guitar riff in the chorus. Now, you only have to listen to anything from Lorde’s Royals to Blurred Lines to see how prevalent this aesthetic continues to be in modern music.
He was generous
Prince was a supplier of career-making hit singles to other artists, among them The Bangles’ Manic Monday, Chaka Khan’s I Feel For You and, most famously, Sinead O’Connor’s devastatingly beautiful ballad Nothing Compares 2 U. When the latter became a global smash, though, he slipped it back into his live shows. Just to make sure the masses knew the deal.
...but didn't overshare
The Vault at the Paisley Park complex is rumoured to be filled with thousands of hours of unreleased music. He’d often tease fans, saying he’d be releasing stuff, but never did. Some tracks have, of course, sneaked out on bootleg, and the fact that among them is a song (Can I Play With U?) featuring Miles Davis, gives an indication of the treasures that sit within. Really, who doesn’t put out their collaboration with Miles Davis?