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Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Flashback: Prince

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Flashback: Prince

By Mike Duffy

Prince played this custom gold-leaf Fender Strat during his Welcome 2 America tour, and then auctioned if off to benefit the Harlem Children’s Zone.

When Prince arrived on the scene in the late 1970s, it didn’t take long for him to completely turn the music industry on its head.

Offering an amalgam of rock, funk and R&B, Prince was truly an originator. 

Androgynous, provocative, mysterious, sexy. All those adjectives could be used to describe the enigmatic Minneapolis native.

Prolific is another one.

While 1999, Purple Rain and Sign O’ the Times are Prince’s biggest hit albums, for sure, there are rumored to be hundreds of recordings tucked away in his private vault.

Some of these gems were released in the 1998 five-disc set Crystal Ball, which came after 1996’s Emancipation – a three-CD package – and Chaos and Disorder (1996) and New Power Soul (1998). 

To understand Prince Rogers Nelson, one has to look at his incredible background and early rise as a musician.

Coming from a broken home, Prince was fronting his first band, Grand Central, by his early teens, and had already mastered multiple instruments. By the age of 18, Prince was signed to Warner Bros., quickly showing a glimpse into his genius mind with the release of his first two albums – For You (1978) and Prince (1979). 

“I Wanna Be Your Lover,” from the latter, was Prince’s first hit, a disco-tinged love song that showed his budding promiscuousness.

He followed that with 1980’s Dirty Mind, which propelled him into the decade’s new wave sound and earned him an opening spot for the Rolling Stones’ 1980-81 tour.

At this point, however, Prince was gearing up to conquer the charts, and in 1982, he did so with the landmark 1999.  A self-produced double album, it contained three major singles, “Little Red Corvette” (No. 6), “1999” (No. 12) and “Delirious” (No. 8).

The video for “1999” and Prince’s unique and sexed-up style caught the attention of a fledgling MTV, and soon ushered his music into the mainstream. This was also around the time legendary entertainers Michael Jackson and Madonna came on the scene.

The difference?

Prince not only wrote all of his music and lyrics, but he also played nearly every instrument on his recordings.

Then in 1984, along came Purple Rain.

One of the most-important albums of the 80s, Purple Rain saw Prince rise to a new level of uber-stardom.

Unleashing singles for nearly the entire year, Prince charted with “When Doves Cry” (No. 1), “Let’s Go Crazy” (No. 1), “Purple Rain” (No. 2), “I Would Die 4 U” (No. 8) and “Take Me With You” (No. 25).

“When Doves Cry” not only topped the Billboard Hot 100, but also the Dance and R&B chart.

Purple Rain

The record was even made into a popular movie, as Purple Rain grossed $80 million and won Prince an Oscar for Best Soundtrack.

The film, set in Minneapolis, was loosely based on Prince’s life story. Prince played the lead role of “The Kid,” and there were several amazing performances by Prince and The Revolution, which included guitarist Wendy Melvoin, keyboardists Matt “Doctor” Fink and Lisa Coleman, bassist Brown Mark and drummer Bobby Z.  

Following a year when you owned the No. 1 album, single and movie would be a mountainous task for most artists. Not so for the Purple One. 

His next album, Around the World in a Day, yielded two more blockbuster hits: “Raspberry Beret” and “Pop Life.”  It was also his second-consecutive No. 1 album and the first to be released on his own Paisley Park label.

Sure, Prince miscued with 1986’s underperforming film, Under the Cherry Moon, but even the soundtrack to that, Parade, included the iconic hit, “Kiss.”

Prince didn’t falter, either. 

In 1987, he put out Sign O’ the Times, a double album that was trimmed down from an intended triple. With the well-known title track, “U Got the Look” and “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man” hitting the airwaves, Prince never missed a beat.  

That was also the year his 65,000-square-foot production headquarters – Paisley Park – opened for business.

Prince continued releasing smoking-hot singles throughout the 80s, with “Alphabet St.” coming from 1988’s Lovesexy and “Batdance” from Tim Burton’s Batman movie soundtrack in 1989.

In the early 90s, Prince put together a new band, the New Power Generation, and debuted Diamonds and Pearls in 1991.  A holographic cover offered a glimpse into the epic nature of this album. Prince again took over the radio with “Gett Off” (No. 21), “Cream” (No. 1) and “Diamonds and Pearls” (No. 3). 

20Ten

Continuing his prolific production, Prince followed Diamonds with the first appearance of the symbol that would become his formal name a year later. The name change centered around his souring relationship with Warner Bros. Prince— who was soon dubbed the Artist Formerly Known as Prince — frequently appeared in public with the word “Slave” written on his face because of what he thought of as a one-sided relationship between label and artist, and an attempt to limit his creative expression.

The symbol served as the title of the 1992 album, commonly referred to as the Love Symbol Album and it opened with “My Name Is Prince,” with “7” and “Sexy MF” serving as major highlights.

He signed with a new label in 1999, reverted back to the name of Prince in 2000, and dropped his first live album, One Night Alone… Live!, in 2002. Prince went on to release the Grammy-nominated NEWS (2003), LOtUSFLOW3R (2009) and 20Ten (2010), amongst others, in the subsequent years.

Throughout it all, however, the 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee always challenged the status quo, pushed boundaries and above all, made incredible music.

Prince has been bringing that music to the masses through his hit-spanning worldwide “Welcome 2″ tour, which has been running through North America, Europe and Australia since late 2010.

Name change or no, the golden touch of Prince will forever be on the music industry. 

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