What a year 2016 was. We lost some of our most prolific musical talents and without denigrating other losses as inconsequential, musically, Prince’s demise was a loss that evidently left a huge chasm. It may have been the biggest lost but that is relative to your appreciation of the diminutive man who could; rock a pair of heels, wear make-up and still retain enough raw male sexual potency to take all the women within your family into his harem while back handing you for even thinking that you could bring up the fact that they are your relatives as mitigating circumstances for you requesting their prompt return!
Prince Rayon Nelson’s death saw him join musical greats like; Whitney Houston, Janis Joplin, David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, BB King and Joe Cocker for that never-ending jam session. It’s no exaggeration to state that the death of Prince marked the end of one of the most creative artists that there has ever been-who else could have Lenny Kravitz featured as a backing vocalist. Yes, it’s true, Lenny featured on his track, Billy Jack Bitch from his album The Gold Experience (1995). He was a musical force of supreme power whose career ran almost simultaneously alongside another great contemporary in the shape of one Michael Jackson.
Prince’s solo career started circa 1978, while Jackson’s solo career started circa 1971 although of course he was already well-known and prolific as part of the Jackson 5 with hits like ABC (1971). The ascent of Jackson’s solo career started in essence with his when he released the absolute classic album Off The Wall (1979) which spawned the equally classic number Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough among others.
In many respects, they were polar opposites; Jackson was a bonafide commercially hugely successful artist appealing to a middle-class US household with wholesome music that would not jar their sensitive dispositions (or at least not too much). Prince occupied a different space where he could thrust his flexible hips suggestively in; your face, your mother’s face and of course your wife’s face. He did have a period where he tried to tone that whole ‘sexy Prince’ side down due to his beliefs as a Jehovah’s Witness but the sexual side of his performances could only be contained for so long and he soon reverted to type.
While it is clear that Prince was admired and loved with equal measure when he was alive and post his death (even more so) one could argue that his contemporary, Michael Jackson was able to garner more love, accolades and world-wide popularity than Prince or at least that is how it seems taken on surface value. Surface value aside Prince was the more accomplished musician and perhaps deserved more of a standing than he might have been given. Not meaning to sound like a sycophant or some greasy individual reeling off positive superlatives about how great someone was when only last week they were the subject of said person’s venom. In years to come as we look back on this man’s astounding career delving into past footage, articles, interviews and stories from musicians it will become apparent that Prince was more of an artist extraordinaire then we ever knew.
His musical achievements are on a different scale even when we compare them to that other legend Jackson. Of course, there will be many that might dis-agree and it evidently feeds into that whole who Biggie/Tupac type of discussion. Michael Jackson’s forte from a musical perspective was ability to pick the right team or at least collaborate with talented musicians, producers et al; Quincy Jones, Rod Temperton and Stevie Wonder to name but a few. Selecting songs that had that ‘hit’ quality and then of course performing like many could only ever dream of-he was in many respects the peoples’ musician. Jackson’s ability to draw people in, touch the right emotional channels and make songs that would be ‘great’ with any mere mortal become ‘amazing’ just by the sheer force of his talent was an innate talent. Prophets of Jackson will of course point to the fact that Michael was deeply involved in his hits and even produced but his cv is littered with co-productive duties. His biggest hits were always produced with other big producers, of course Quincy Jones, then you have Dark Child, Teddy Riley, R Kelly and the list goes on. Tracks solely produced by Jackson are small in number think; Night Time Love (1980) for his sister Latoya Jackson and Don’t Be Messin Around (1980) released (2012).
Prince was a different musical animal; a multi-instrumentalist being proficient as a guitarist, bassist (check You tube for one of his bass performances) and drums among others. A ‘prodigy’ of music frequently referred to as a ‘genius’ of the music world. His early album For You (1978) bears witness to that with ALL credits for that album going to Prince. This was not a one off but rather the norm from his debut album to more well-known albums like; Purple Rain (1984) to Love Sexy (1988) Prince in his 39-album odyssey was the producer, writer and very often featured liberally on varying instruments.
In the face of a musical world where ‘ghost writers’ proliferate Prince was of course straight from an old-school mentality if you will but of course Jackson was cut from the same cloth and he was hugely prolific as a writer penning many of his solo classics as well as classics for the Jacksons; Can You Feel It (1980), Billie Jean (1983), Man In The Mirror (1988), Liberian Girl (1989). Where Prince perhaps excelled was in his eclecticism and his ability to write chart hits for different artists from different genres with consummate ease (or at least that’s how it seems). Using various aliases like Joey Cocco and Alex Nevermind– he was behind huge singles like; Sinead O’ Connor’s; Nothing Compares 2 U (1990) right through to acts like The Bangles and their 80’s classic Manic Mondays (1986) and Chaka Khan’s; I Feel For You (1979)-they are startling for their diversity. It evidently stemmed from Prince’s diversity as an artist being able to traverse with ease the genres funk, rock, soul, pop, disco and any other genre he put his mind to purely because at ground level he was a musician first and foremost.
Prince further established himself as a visionary of huge magnitude whose influence still lives on largely due to his publicised battle with one of the biggest record labels still to this day. This is in no way being reductive of Jackson’s legacy to the music world which is seen every time we watch a music video. Not only did he have hit after hit but Michael Jackson’s thirteen-minute long Thriller (1983) which premiered on MTV- a coup d’etat in itself-is widely seen as a watershed moment in music and how it is presented to music lovers. With a video directed by John Landis who had found prior fame with his cult horror movie An American Werewolf In London (1981)-the duo managed to create a spectacle that is still astounding for its audacity being a short film that is engrossing before launching us headlong into the now globally recognised riffs of Thriller. Thriller was the original template for the song and video format which remains to this day the most popular way of releasing music to fans.
While Prince’s achievement might appear less recognised it is no less important and if you are a musician in some respects it might be seen as more important in terms of maintaining control and influence over one’s creativity. Prince’s much publicised war with Warner was a telling and important moment in the career of Prince and more significantly artists. The use of the infamous symbol was a telling rebuff to Warner.
At the time, Warner had trademarked the name ‘Prince’ thus skimming the all-important cream and leaving Prince the; singer, songwriter and producer with less-it was the blatant in-balance which fuelled Prince’s anger and when ‘we’ learnt of the imbalance we too were angry. Prince’s decision paved the way for artists to think ‘independently’ a mind-set evidently powered by the greater understanding of the power of the internet to free artists from the shackles of labels and indeed free them from the misconception of the labels omnipotence. This freedom of thought which fuelled that battle evidently was central to Prince the man and musician.
Right up until his death Prince remained in many respects fresh and contemporary despite being over thirty years in the music industry. His power to capture an audience and capture what needed to be done to capture the musical audience of ‘now’ seemed as astute as ever. His gorilla live performances in the UK being a pr stunts of huge magnitude; the fact that it sold out with old and new fans killing relatives to get entry was and is a testament to the man’s legendary status.
In contrast Jackson in his later years became increasingly detached from a contemporary musical audience-while his prior hits kept him as the legend that he still is, his legendary status was confined to those years of huge productivity and infinite amount of hits. It was of course unimaginable sad to see Jackson in his last few years with again the press quick to seize on his apparent demise, his possible indiscretions and increasing frailties. Prince’s legendary status in contrast spanned all his career. Ironically while many saw Jackson as a great manipulator of press it is perhaps Prince who was the greater manipulator of the press. By and large while he was alive he kept ostensibly out of the limelight allowing his music to take the fore or at least allowing musical matters to take the fore notably when he was at war with Warner. The press never really had much to go on as he carefully managed his image by being aloof, distance and secretive.
For Prince, he like the supreme Michael Jackson will remain aurally and visually immortal but Prince will be the person orchestrating that never-ending jam session flitting between instruments while Jackson will be singing his heart out with other legendary names like Bowie et al.