Prince: The Beautiful One

by Spencer Bateman (Computer Science/Music), published April 21st 2016

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Editor’s Note:

A discography overview feature on the expansive career of Prince was planned, written and sent to print for the forthcoming issue of Tastemakers, weeks before today’s tragic news. In light of the circumstances, we’ve decided to bring it to the web as well with a new introduction by the author.

-Ben Stas, Editor in Chief

I wrote this discography because I love Prince and the news of his death has left me at a loss for words. I can confidently state that there will never be another artist like Prince. His influence across cultures, generations and genres is unmatched, and his mastery of the pop sound is something that will be marveled at for as long as people still listen to music. His legacy is unshaken by his death. Prince shocked the world with his image, his lyrics, his performances and even his name. He forever etched his imagination into the face of pop music. In the years that followed his immense popularity in the 80s, Prince drifted in and out of the spotlight, but his lasting influence never wavered.

His death comes as a surprise and shock to all, and there is very little left to say about Prince that has not already been said countless times before. All that I can suggest is to take some time to rediscover Prince in a new light, or discover this beautiful human being for the first time by listening to his music, watching his appearances on television, his interviews, and most importantly, how other artists speak of him. You will quickly realize how much he influenced so much of our creative world.

At this point all I can say is I know two things are true.

Prince is gone. Prince is unforgettable.

Dance. Music. Sex. Romance:

A Companion to the life and times of the Purple One

Prince Rodger Nelson was born the 7th of June 1958. Hailing from Minneapolis, Minnesota he was instrumental in pioneering the Minneapolis Sound a contemporary modification of the funk moment that was characterized by an increasing electronic influence. During his career he has won seven Grammy Awards, a Golden Globe, and an Academy Award.

Prince released his first album at the age of 19, and has released his most recent album as of December of last year. He is planning to release a memoir called “The Beautiful Ones” and has been recently been touring in a solo piano show. Never has there been or will there be an artist who has had such a unique impact of the world of pop music. His obsession with sex, religion, the righteous and the divine, along with his perfectionist approach to composition, production, and performance have yielded an impressive body of work that includes and impressive 39 studio albums, 136 music videos, 104 singles, 4 films, numerous too projects. What follows is a heavily abridged guide to some of his best work.

Prince (1979)

There is no Prince album that sounds more like what Prince is supposed to sounds like. Tight funk grooves and squealing guitar permeate this record. Experimentation and strange mixing is somewhat lacking, but the songwriting is great, to the extend that a number of these songs have been covered in their own right by more contemporary artists such as Chaka Khan’s remake of this albums strongest track “I Feel For You.” In fact prince has been so favored as a song writer throughout his career – he has written for the likes of Sinead O’ Connor, Cyndi Lauper, Alicia Keys, Stevie Nicks, M.C. Hammer and Madonna.

Not afraid to show of his guitar chops whether it be the 80’s power ballad “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad” or the face melting “Bambi.” Prince makes a permanent mark on pop music with one of his best records that marks the true beginning of his career.

Key Tracks:

I Wanna Be Your Lover
Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?
I Feel For You

Controversy (1981)

Controversy is the juxtaposition of what is wrong and what is so so right. Covering sex and religion with an almost adolescent this album has many blasphemous overtones and is Prince’s real beginning in flirting with the more risqué. If anything, Controversy hints at much of Prince’s experimentation to come.

While some ideas are not fully formed, others are overdone, that’s what this album is about: the juxtaposition of religion and ‘80s pop music. Reminiscent of Zappa, this album is about the absurd, and putting things together to observe them interact.

On a more sonic level Prince is giving us a sneak peak of the future. Controversy feels like a half-baked combination of a bit of 1999, a bit of Purple Rain, and a bit Sign ‘O’ the Times, all Prince epics in their own right reduced to ideas in a single album. In some moments it feels like a demo reel.

If you want to get into Prince fast, or you want to get over him fast, you want material to say why you like him or why you hate him, or you just want to swallow the “Prince Pill” this is your album to jump into. Much like the artist himself, this album is quick, dirty, and to the point.

Key Tracks:

Controversy
Private Joy
Jack U Off

1999 (1982)

End of the world album. 1999 contained some of Prince’s most brash tracks and daring songwriting. Unforgivingly focused on sex (even more than the majority of his other work) Prince began to drift more towards an arena rock style than his traditional dance song writing. This fusion is what defined the majority of his body of work after 1982.

Similar to Controversy in its explicit, sexual style. D.M.S.R. is a thumping power groove, and lady cab driver sounds like the precursor to the entirety of Sign O’ the Times. But what makes this record strong is the fiery dance party that it incites. Even as prince moves to a style involving more distorted electric guitar and less syncopation he maintains an earthly groove, with all its talk about the end of the world. These songs make you forget about the past and the future, and make you think about the now.

Key Tracks:

Little Red Corvette
D.M.S.R.
Lady Cab Driver

Purple Rain (1984)

Purple Rain is Prince’s magnum opus. It defined a generation of popular music, spawned debated about music censorship that was brought before congress, and contained some of the finest pop songs the world has ever heard. Similar to scope to Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Purple Rain was accompanied with a full length feature film that starred Prince, starting his acting career.

Purple Rain, much like Prince, hangs on it’s image. The timeless cover of Prince on a modified Honda motorbike, gazing straight into the listener’s soul is an image as timeless as the Album itself. The sexual overtones of this album were so powerful that they actually spawned one of the first debates on music censorship which involved the testimony of both John Denver and Frank Zappa before congress and eventually resulted in the parental advisory labels that you see on a lot of music packaging.

As much a movie soundtrack as a stand alone album. The production on this thing is just unbelievable. For new comers this album may be a little difficult to get into, it’s production is some of the strangest that Prince has ever employed but it is also his most effective use of his weirdness. Purple Rain is the perfect marriage between pure dance tunes, searing rock n’ roll and experimental electronic music. Here it is, all of it curated by Prince and brought to a fabulous conclusion on the album’s title track. Nothing else exists quite like this album and nothing ever will.

Key Tracks:

Let’s Go Crazy
When Doves Cry
Purple Rain

Sign O’ the Times (1987)

Prince’s mellow soul work is full of surprises. With interesting twists all over and less of a consistent form, Prince takes the opportunity to take new form after his career defining Purple Rain. Sign O’ the Times is more laid back and it feels like a moment when Prince turned his head to look at his early work as inspiration. In a lot of ways, Sign O’ the Times sounds a lot like a finished or more polish version of his debut album For You, potentially even a sequel.

Released as a double album, Sign O’ the Times contained some fiery tracks like, “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man” and “It’s Gonna Be a Beautiful Night” reminiscent of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” or Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” released only a few years earlier. These songs exist more out of obligations to Prince’s past and his reputation as a hit maker and dance master. His real creativity shines through with “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker”, “Starfish and Coffee”, and “If I Was Your Girlfriend” three songs that are unforgiving in the dreamy weirdness. The opening detuned synth on “Dorothy Parker” immediately transports you to another world and “If I Was Your Girlfriend” is allegedly sung by Prince’s female alter ego, Camille.

From front to back, Prince continues to push the envelope of Pop music with Sign O’ the Times.

Key Tracks:

The Ballad of Dorothy Parker
If I Was Your Girlfriend
I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man

Hit n’ Run Phase Two (2015)

Since Prince’s revival and his slow return to the spotlight, he has released a smattering of albums. Hit n’ Run Phase Two is not only his most cohesive but also his most adventurous and modern. There are a number of classics on this record including “BLACK MUSE” and “LOOK AT ME, LOOK AT U.” This album also contained “BALTIMORE,” which is a song about the racial tension in Baltimore and the Black Lives Matter movements. This album was also recorded around the same time as Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly which he was said to have recorded some songs with Prince on.

Hit n’ Run Phase Two brings Prince’s slickness back with a new refined edge and modern tools. Prince returns to hit making, something he was always quite good at. This album almost feels like a remake of some of Prince’s early work, track’s like “XTRALOVEABLE” and “STARE” sound like could be straight off of his first or second record, which is truly amazing. There are few artist who can write albums when they are old the way the did when they were young, what makes Prince incredible is that he can do it better.

Key Tracks:

LOOK AT ME LOOK AT YOU
XTRALOVEABLE
BLACK MUSE

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