Remembering Prince (1958-2016)

by Patrick Williams

Prince

Whether Prince was onstage, speaking out on a topic or nestled away in Paisley Park, his home and record studio in Chanhassen, Minn., he purposefully remained illusive. In the 1980s, he released hit albums like Purple Rain (1984), Dirty Mind (1980) and 1999 (1982), each of which consisted of several popular songs, mostly about sex and love. Some elicit head scratches, like the incestuous “Sister” off of Dirty Mind, and others pure romance, like “Take Me with U,” off of Purple Rain. The singles “Kiss,” off of Parade (1986) and “Raspberry Beret,” off of Around the World in a Day (1985), fared well with both diehard fans and the general public. “Jack U Off,” off of Controversy (1981), by contrast, helped that album to live up to its name. Just as Prince’s blatant sexuality and later-adopted “Love Symbol” confused some people and attracted others, his multi-octave-ranging voice and instrumental virtuosity did the same.

I began my discovery of the Purple One through a vinyl copy of Around the World in a Day. In many ways it reassured what I already knew about him—that he was playful, sexual. But he was also transfiguring. On epic album ender “Temptation,” he sensually sings, “Everybody on this earth has got a vice / And mine, little darlin’, mine is the opposite of ice / Mine is the running hot water of the daughter of morality,” in a way that is as electrifying as his theatrical spoken word ending to the song is calming. At the end, he claims in a soft yet sarcastic tone, “Love is more important than sex / Now I understand,” making it hard for anybody, perhaps even him, to buy that he means it.

Weaving through and between Around the World in a Day’s funk, pop and R&B-infused compositions, Prince’s guitar work echoes the cry of Jimi Hendrix’s, for instance on “Temptation,” and “America.” On the latter, his edgy, marching pop rendition of “America the Beautiful,” he turns an American patriotic classic on its head similar to the way Hendrix did with “The Star Spangled Banner” in 1969 at Woodstock. While Prince unapologetically borrowed writing and performance styles from Hendrix and other icons, such as the late David Bowie, he noted how their legacies acted in harmony with one another, rather than discord. Prince fittingly sung Bowie’s “Heroes” at his last full-fledged concert on April 14 in Atlanta. Since Prince’s own passing, Paste Magazine reports that artists such as Pearl Jam, Rihanna and The Roots’ Questlove have already paid tribute to him in some form or another.

It’s hard to easily stream Prince’s music online, because in his life the artist became disillusioned with the music industry, infamously breaking away from Warner Bros Records and setting up his own Paisley Park Records in 1985. Prince’s discography is available to stream on Tidal, the streaming service owned by Jay Z and a group of other artists, which formerly included Prince himself. This has allowed me to for the first time start to go through the Purple One’s classic albums, but for now I will remain enthralled with songs off of this Around the World in a Day vinyl, such as “Paisley Park,” named after the home and studio where he spent his final days. As he reminds us, “Admission is easy, just say U / Believe and come 2 this / Place in your heart.”

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