Why I Love Prince
"When you were mine
I gave you all of my money
Time after time
You done me wrong
Cause like a train
You let all my friends
Come over and eat
And you were so strange
You didn't have the decency
To change the sheets.
Oh girl when you were mine
I used to let you wear all my clothes
You were so fine
Maybe that's the reason why it hurt me so
I know, I know
That you're going with another guy
I don't care, don't care
Cause I love you baby
That's no lie
Love you more than I did
When you were mine."
Prince is an icon. A legend. A funky purple monster. I got into Prince through reading a primer in Mojo Magazine, the issue about Brian Wilson completing SMiLE. The number one album they recommended was Sign 'O' The Times, so that was the first album I bought. I remember thinking, "Hey this is good!" By the time the album reached the end of Play in the Sunshine, I was hooked forever. Prince was incredibly prolific, as if I have to tell you. He released thirty nine studio albums in his life. THIRTY NINE! He also recorded countless unreleased songs, enough to fit on a dozen albums. We will talk about some of his best work, both released and unreleased.
I saw Prince live in 2010, with my father Noel. It was the greatest concert I have ever been to. My father was not a big Prince fan at the time, but he won him over by the end of the first song. He was so electric, so powerful live. We saw Prince in Werchter in Belgium and there were thunder storms forecast. Some people were worried that the concert would be cancelled as a result. When it started raining, Prince went into Purple Rain and GOOD GOD was it incredible! The lights turned the rain PURPLE FOR FUCK SAKE! It was one of the most magical times in my life. I remember when he dropped into the mighty Housequake and I yelled at the top of my voice "BULLSHIT! LOUDER SING IT!"
Prince released his first album For You in 1978. It is a forgettable experience with the exception of the classic single Soft and Wet. Prince hit his stride on the follow up, the self-titled Prince from 1979. Here Prince established all of the characteristics that would define his music. Gone were the soppy love songs and in came hard as fuck, funky jams. I Wanna Be Your Lover... I ain't got no money. I ain't like those other guys you hang around. It's kinda funny but they always seem to let you down. And I get discouraged 'cause I never see you anymore. And I need your love, babe. That's all I'm living for, yeah. I didn't want to pressure you, baby. But all I ever wanted to do. I want to be your lover. I want to be the only one that makes you come, running. I want to be your lover. I want to turn you on, turn you out. All night long, make you shout. Oh, lover, yeah! I want to be the only one you come for... Prince was only twenty one when he recorded and released Prince. TWENTY ONE. FOR FUCK SAKE! I Wanna Be Your Lover is the first great Prince song, followed closely by Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad? Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad has one of the great early guitar solos, up there with Purple Rain and I Could Never Take The Place of Your Man.
Prince was followed up by Dirty Mind in 1980. Dirty Mind is, in my opinion, maybe the greatest Prince album ever recorded. Eight songs, tight as fuck, dirty like a motherfucker. It is the mission statement for every Prince album recorded. There's something about you baby. It happens all the time. Whenever I'm around you baby I get a dirty mind. Doesn't matter where we are. Doesn't matter who's around. Doesn't matter, I just wanna lay you down. In my Daddy's car. It's you I really wanna drive but you never go too far. The album is minimalist, thirty minutes, the only other featured players being Dr. Fink on the title track and Head, and Lisa Coleman doing the co-lead vocals for that song. As with so many albums afterwards, Prince performed and played all of the instruments himself. When You Were Mine is maybe my favourite Prince song ever. It is sweet but filthy. I think everyone has experienced the feelings described in the song. (As a by the way, Cyndi Lauper recorded a brilliant version of the song on her album She's So Unusual.) If someone wants a definition of Prince, and why he's so bloody good, look no further than this album. He was a sexual genius in a way that neither Stevie Wonder or Michael Jackson could compare with. The closest comparison is with Rick James, but even the great Rick James couldn't hold a candle to Prince. Without Prince, there would be no R. Kelly and no The Weeknd either. He liberated every person who listened to his records.
On that point, I want to get a bit into how Prince liberated me. I was terribly hung up by my sexuality when I started listening to Prince. I feared that I would be clumsy and horrible and pokey. Through listening to songs like Head, I embraced my sexual energy and found like minded people who also wanted to listen to these songs in the bedroom. I remember the first time I had sex with this music. It was magical and transformative, knowing to ask the woman I was with if she liked what I was doing and that I would do anything she wanted me to. Prince gave me confidence and maturity, where I had previously lacked both. Prince taught me that it isn't all down to your technique, it is down to your intentions and your desire for love. If you love openly and truly, you can be a good lover.
1999 was the next great album, released in 1982. Controversy, while containing some good tracks has nothing on Dirty Mind or 1999. 1999 was Prince's first double LP. It is an epic record. "Don't worry, I won't hurt you. I only want you to have some fun." This is the soundtrack for the apocalypse. Bombs dropping, Crystal Ball style, and you are busy getting it on and getting it out. 1999 has so many great tracks on it but of course I have to mention Little Red Corvette, the MTV breakthrough hit, although 1999 had previously aired on the channel. You know that great song by The Dream, Yamaha? Well, that modern classic wouldn't have existed without Little Red Corvette. Neither would the beautiful Tough Love by Jessie Ware. Shout out to DMSR and Lady Cab Driver but my last pick for essential Prince from 1999 comes in the form of Let's Pretend We're Married. "I'm not saying this just to be nasty but I sincerely want to fuck the taste out of your mouth." Sexuality ramped up. We lost so much when Prince became a Jehovah's Witness. This is the true Prince, the dirty fellow with hooks for days.
Some words must be spent on Purple Rain, one of the certified classics of Prince's career. The film is in spite of some dodgy acting, a brilliant thing. It expresses clearly and with much verve, the sensual pull of Prince. The rivalry between Prince and The Time was a constructed thing. Prince wrote, produced and performed all of the instruments on their records. He created this rivalry to spur himself on to greater hits and successes. These are some of his greatest ever songs. Let's Go Crazy, Darling Nikki and the title track, Purple Rain. A wooooooh, a wooooooh! That guitar solo. Jesus Christ is it hot. Purple Rain, the song, was recorded live, with that wonderful reverb. A real gem. Epic as fuck.
There isn't enough time or room to discuss every Prince album so I'll just say that Around The World in a Day is brilliant, with the sublime Pop Life and Raspberry Beret. Parade has Kiss and Girls & Boys. When Prince hits Sign 'O' The Times territory though, it is when his career reaches its all time high point. Sign 'O' The Times began life as an album called Dream Factory, the very last recording sessions with The Revolution. It then transformed into a would be triple LP called Crystal Ball, which combined the side project Camille with Sign 'O' The Times. In my personal evaluation, I feel that Crystal Ball is the greatest unreleased album in Prince's career. It is also the best recorded work of his, full stop. Don't let that sway you from listening to Sign 'O' The Times however, which is undeniably the greatest released work in Prince's career. The title track is all doom and storms on the horizon. Chuck D. from Public Enemy said it was the best lyrics he had ever heard. That beat... so good. Sign 'O' The Times mess with your mind, hurry before it's too late. Let's fall in love, get married, have a baby. We'll call him Nate... if it's a boy.
Play In The Sunshine is my second favourite Prince track. It is so full of joy and the spirit of life. My favourite version of the song appears on the majestic, incredible Sign 'O' The Times live concert movie. When I first heard this song, and the closing vocals on the tag, it made me into a lifelong Prince fan. Housequake is party music. It is also music for fucking. Really? If you know how to rock say yeah! If you know how to party, say oh yeah! But if you ain't hip to the rare Housequake, shut up already, damn. Housequake, everybody jump up and down. Housequake, there's a brand new groove going round! My favourite Prince song is I Could Never Take The Place of Your Man. The guitar solo is something that transcends reality and takes you to a new and beautiful place. When the melody drops out, and he just works on that shit. Break it down. Break it down now. And then zoooooom in comes the melody again to knock you off your feet. So fucking powerful, so devastating, so immaculately perfect.
Prince had some great albums in the 1990s. Don't believe the bullshit. He never lost it per se, he just had a hard time trying to decide what his best material was. If you are looking for a few excellent, near flawless 90s records, have a go at Come, The Gold Experience and Emancipation. All of which are pretty damn incredible, especially The Gold Experience which by all rights should have been a monster hit. Endorphinmachine, The Most Beautiful Girl In The World and Shhhh... are all classics that will live forever. Come is the epoch of Prince's filth. Come. If you will so will I. When I suck you there, I don't wanna hear you scream. Don't talk or breathe. Don't cough or sneeze. Just dream, dream, dream baby my tongues gonna do things that you've never seen. Prince knew, I feel, that after Come he couldn't really top it. He had reached the top of his filthy mind. My small time, but no less compelling for it, theory is that Prince's decision to pull back from explicit filth was in some sense motivated by Come. He knew he couldn't go any more extreme. He could no longer shock, so why not separate himself from the pack by being the classy guy?
Prince's work in the 00s can be summed up in two albums. The great comeback record Musicology in 2004 and the greatest work by Prince of the last twenty years, Art Official Age in 2014. Musicology came to me pretty close to my initiation into Prince, so I will always have a special place for it in my heart. A Million Days might be the best song of his since the 1980s. It is so gorgeous, the production so tight that it also dazzles and entertains. Art Official Age is though, no nostalgia evident, the greatest goddamn album of Prince's since The Gold Experience or before. It is something that ditches all of the unhelpful and irritating tendencies to disrespect modern music to make himself feel better. Here he sings the exquisite Clouds with Lianne La Havas, one of the best new artists on the scene. You gotta love The Gold Standard and the hypnotic U Know. I just love the album from start to finish. It is easily up there with his best and proof that right up until the end, he was created new, vital work.
Prince is one of my heroes. He will always live in my heart and my mind, as someone who guides me to a better place. He taught me how to love women, and let me grow up and become a full grown human adult. His music touches me, and moves me. I want to be him. I want to be the guy who impresses all the ladies with my funky touch. Prince didn't stop being Prince just because he was a Jehovah's Witness. Yes, we lost the explicit filth but he was still sexual as all get out. I recommend getting yourself a good set of speakers and listening to late Prince and realize that it is as immediate and powerful and drop dead gorgeous as anything he did before. XO.