Synopsis of Pop Music

“Are we gonna let the elevator bring us down?
Oh no, let’s go!
Let’s go crazy, let’s get nuts,
Let’s look for the purple banana ‘till they put us in the truck,
Let’s go!”

Since there’s nothing square about Prince, it’s impossible to box him in. He doesn’t lend himself to sound bytes or easy-to-digest biographical capsules. He won’t let music industry sorts bottle him up and then mass distribute the bottles, and he might never be the churner-out of hit singles that he once was, because he’s not interested in spoon-feeding anyone. So how can you put a finger on him? You can read about him, but he doesn’t suffer many press interviews. You could look at some of his influences for insight, but you should look with the knowledge that they also, among an infinite number of others, have become his fans: Carlos Santana, Miles Davis, Bonnie Raitt, Joni Mitchell, James Brown, Ani DiFranco, Sly and the Family Stone. But the best thing to do, and the thing he’d probably recommend himself—because he says most everything about him can be found somewhere in his songs—is to put on a record. Unleash the dancin’ goofball superstar inside of you…rhythm or no rhythm, good voice or bad…and then you’ll start to understand.

Prince Rogers Nelson was named after his father’s Minneapolis-area band, the Prince Rogers Trio, in which Prince’s mother Mattie was occasionally featured as vocalist. At the age of seven, Prince began to teach himself piano (at age thirteen, guitar; at age fourteen, the drums) and compose. He ran away from his mom and step-dad’s home, drifted from friends to his real dad for a few years—playing in bands through junior high and high school. By the time he graduated at the age of sixteen, he had already been the driving force behind the Minneapolis-local 'Uptown' sound, along with his band Flyte Tyme, which included drummer Jellybean Johnson, bassist Terry Lewis and singer Alexander O’Neal.

A year later, in 1976, a studio engineer named Chris Moon offered him recording time in exchange for a little piano session work, and with Moon’s guidance, Prince cut a three-track demo that wowed Warner Bros. record executives. So at the age of nineteen, he was offered a long-term contract and for his first record, a budget of $100,000 and total artistic control. He played every instrument on this funk-pop debut, called For You. It took five months to produce and went lavishly over-budget—little did the Warner Bros. boys know, that would probably be the least of their Prince-induced headaches. The record wasn’t a big success, but it was certainly enough to get the ball rolling. His self-titled second release, Prince, had two hit singles—“Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?” and “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” which went to number one on the r&b charts. He assembled a touring band at this point: Andre Cymone on bass, Gayle Chapman and Matt Fink on keyboards, Bobby Z on drums and Dez Dickerson on guitar.

Prince’s third album, 1980’s Dirty Mind was not an exaggerated title. One of few songs that wasn’t too naughty for the radio, “Uptown,” did well on the r&b charts. This is the record that “When You Were Mine” comes from, incidentally, which wasn’t released as a single at the time, but would go on to become his most widely covered song (Mitch Ryder and Cyndi Lauper among its coverers). For this tour, Lisa Coleman replaced Gayle Chapman on keyboards, and after it, Cymone left to go solo.

These were the shows in which Prince’s onstage, sexually explicit…um, histrionics…were coming into full effect. He had plenty of fans, but he also had plenty of people who had no idea what to make of him. When, for example, he took the stage as an opening act for the Rolling Stones in a trench coat and black bikini briefs, the dumbfounded Los Angeles fans promptly booed him off the stage. Make-up…stockings…nothing was out of the question wardrobe-wise, and 1981’s Controversy shrewdly played up all the attention he was getting for his blatant libido and androgyny. The record’s hits included the title track and “Let’s Work,” and it went gold in three months.

Prince spent a lot of time in the studio—writing, composing, jamming and tinkering—and the culmination of his efforts was showcased on 1999, his emphatic 1982 crossover into the pop mainstream. “Little Red Corvette,” “Delirious” and the “1999” of the title were this album’s splashy singles, and with them, Prince sold over three million copies of the record and plastered video-waves on the just-emerging MTV. For the 1999 tour, he and his band, the Revolution, were supported by two other Prince creations: the Time, made up of old Minneapolis cronies from Flyte Tyme, and Vanity 6, a three-girl protégée group whose album he produced under the pseudonym 'Jamie Starr.'

Dez Dickerson left for a solo career after this tour, to be replaced by Wendy Melvoin—the 'Wendy' of Wendy and Lisa. Knowing that the studio time Prince anticipated to make his next record would hamper a tour, he and his manager Albert Magnoli came up with the idea for an album and and accompanying film. 1984’s Purple Rain was a romanticized autobiography set in the Minneapolis club scene, featuring Apollonia and The Time. The film soundtrack, boasting singles “When Doves Cry,” “Let’s Go Crazy” and “Purple Rain,” sold over fifteen million copies, perched at the top of the charts for twenty-four straight weeks, and won their creator three Grammys and an Oscar for Best Score. It also won him the attentions of one Tipper Gore, who was inspired enough by the lyrics of “Darling Nikki” to launch her Parents Music Resource Center—which led to Senate hearings, which led to the record industry’s eventual 'album-stickering' warning policies. So, as only the Beatles and Elvis had done before him, he had the raised eyebrows of parents, as well as a number one hit single (“When Doves Cry”), a number one movie, and number one hit album simultaneously…and all this by the way, at the ripe old age of 26.

His follow-up to the storm of Purple Rain was the psychedelic-leaning Around the World in a Day. After this record’s somewhat tumultuous release, he formed a new Minneapolis-based label and studio, called Paisley Park. His management announced Prince’s retirement from performing live, a hiatus that would last two years. The art-rockish Parade came next, which had the perfect little funk single called “Kiss” up its sleeve. “Kiss” was heard in his second movie, and his directorial debut, Under the Cherry Moon. Just below it on the charts at the time was the Bangles’ “Manic Monday,” written by Prince under yet another pseudonym.

Sign O’ the Times, in 1987, was done sans The Revolution. On it, he duetted with Sheena Easton in “U Got the Look,” and instead of touring the U.S., he concentrated energies in Europe and released a concert film that was shot in Holland. The next band he assembled featured his latest protégée, percussionist/singer Sheila E, the daughter of Santana percussionist Pete Escovedo. Late in 1987, rumors circulated about a record called The Black Album, but Prince put it on hold and the project didn’t see the light of day until much later—the legal light of day that is (it’s one of the most widely bootlegged LP’s in music history).

In The Black Album's place came Lovesexy the following year. This was the first record since 1981’s Controversy to not enter the Top-10, and the naysayers did what naysayers do best. But Prince re-entered the chart limelight with his soundtrack for director Tim Burton’s Batman, which spent six weeks at number one. Sinead O’Connor topped the charts herself in 1990, singing yet another Prince composition, “Nothing Compares 2 U.” Graffiti Bridge, Prince’s third film and a quasi-sequel to Purple Rain, also hit the screens in 1990. Then, with a new band called the New Power Generation, he released 1991’s Diamonds and Pearls; its single “Cream” went to number one.

In 1993, Prince announced his retirement from studio recording and on his 35th birthday, changed his name to an unpronounceable glyph—an amalgam of both the male and female gender symbols and which endlessly frustrated Warner Bros. and his friends in the fourth estate. When a British journalist dubbed him “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince,” the long moniker thankfully stuck—anything was easier for typesetters than that rascally glyph. The Artist went head-to-head with Warner Bros. about possession of his master tapes and about not letting him release as much music as he wanted to. He then appeared at an awards show and in photo sessions with the word “Slave” written on his face, and vowed never to record new material through the label. The dispute finally wound down in 1994, when he released two albums, The Gold Experience and Chaos and Disorder, to fulfill legal obligations. To commemorate his exit from the Warner Bros. legal quagmire, he released the declaratively-titled triple album Emancipation, in 1996.

Lest you think he’s too intense, in 1997 he guest starred on the season opener to The Muppets Tonight (“Raspberry Beret” became “Raspberry Sorbet”). See, Tipper…not all the lyrics are nasty. He sold a forty-track box set of unreleased material called Crystal Ball, first on the Internet and then in stores; he re-released the remixed 1999 (The New Master) for the millennium, largely because his old friends at Warner Bros. were trying to cash in on the old “1999”; and he signed with Arista and released RaveUn2 the Joy Fantastic in 1999.

So we’ve got albums, movies, production and writing credits for himself and for many, many others; we’ve got the 'Minneapolis Sound' from the early days, and his hybrid funk-pop-rock-soul from the rest of the days; we’ve got angry politicians, delighted Muppets, and a staunch fight for all artists’ rights; fans who have been mesmerized at his live shows and mesmerized at home, with just the headphones on and hopefully, the aforementioned break-out show of dance; we’ve got overt sex and overt spirituality and everything in between. There are a lot of musicians who won’t get out of bed unless they’re compensated, but it’s written that to see Prince perform is to see a guy who would be playing even if you, the fan, were nowhere near. The passion and the integrity, the experimentation and the soul—he plays for himself, and if you like (and if you’re smart), you can take part.

“I got grooves and grooves up on the shelf,
Deep purple concord jams.
Whatever U can’t do, Daddy can.
The one and only Daddy Pop...”

Artist Release History

1978 - For You
1979 - Prince
1980 - Dirty Mind
1981 - Controversy
1983 - 1999
1984 - Purple Rain
1985 - Around the World in a Day
1986 - Parade (Music from Under a Cherry Moon)
1987 - Sign O' the Times
1987 - The Black Album
1988 - Lovesexy
1989 - Batman (Motion Picture Soundtrack)
1990 - Graffiti Bridge
1991 - Diamonds and Pearls
1992 - Love Symbol Album
1993 - The Hits 1 & 2
1994 - Come
1995 - Gold Experience
1996 - Chaos & Disorder
1996 - Emancipation
1998 - Crystal Ball
1998 - New Power Soul
1999 - The Vault.Old Friends For Sale
1999 - Rave U2 the Joy Fantastic

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Essential Music Albums

The Hits 1 & 2 (Paisley Park)

Band Members

Prince guitar, vocals

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