It’s been 5 hours and 6 whole days… since I heard the news that shocked and saddened the entire planet – Prince was gone.
I was at work in Central Maine on the afternoon of Thursday, April 21, 2016, and a couple of hours away from heading 2 the Portland, Maine area 2 see Colin Hay perform. A co-worker walked over 2 my cubie and said, “Prince died.” I said, “That’s not funny.” He wasn’t kidding. And, a minute later, I confirmed it on the Interweb. I felt bad 4 not believing him, but then again, I’m still in a bit of denial about the whole thing, even though I know he’s really gone.
After the New Year, I had reset my 5th Generation iPod (the last one with the wheel), and since then, I had only put a handful of Prince songs back on there, and that’s all I had with me the day he died.
That afternoon, on my hour-plus drive 2 see Colin Hay at the Westbrook (Maine) Performing Arts Center just outside of Portland, I was going up and down the radio dial 2 see if any radio stations were playing Prince. I heard “Raspberry Beret” twice, “When Doves Cry” a few times, and “Let’s Go Crazy” too. The afternoon DJ at the “younger” station of the 2 Classic Rock stations in Portland talked about how the Portland NBC station had been there 2 talk about Prince, but did he play a Prince song after that? No! He went into a Boston song. Really? They try coming across as hip when they’re anything but… Effing commercial radio. As 4 the “older” of the 2 Classic Rock stations in Portland – I didn’t hear any Prince at all.
I even scanned the AM band 4 a bit, and came across this AM talk station (not sure where it’s out of), but they were talking about Prince, and how he wasn’t Little Richard or this person or that person. C’mon! You can’t compare Prince 2 anybody, especially on the day he died. Show some respect already! Nothing compares 2 Prince. Yet one more reason I don’t listen 2 talk radio. Effing blowhards. Did Prince have the most No. 1 songs or the most singles ever? No. What he did have was a sensational gift 4 music, and he shared that music, and is prolly the only one who could have gotten away with writing about love, sex and God – all in the same song. And there were many of those songs…
Colin Hay put on another amazing show hour after learning Prince died, and even did a little bit of “Little Red Corvette” for Prince, and for those in attendance. He said it was a “weird day,” and it was, and it still is, but seeing Colin perform that night helped get me through the day…
Prince’s first album, FOR YOU, was released in April 1978, but I didn’t learn about Prince until the next year, the year I started getting into music – 1979 (my first blog post is about that very subject). From his self-titled second album, “I Wanna Be Your Lover” debuted on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 the week of Thanksgiving 1979.
I know I’ve said this before, but one of the things I loved most about listening 2 Casey Kasem and AMERICAN TOP 40 was the music trivia. I’ve even incorporated it into my STUCK IN THE 80s radio shows on WMPG-FM and WMPG.org. One of the first things I learned about “I Wanna Be Your Lover” is that Prince was just 21 when he released that song, and did everything on that song (and the PRINCE album too) – everything was written, arranged, composed, produced and performed by Prince. I didn’t know of anyone else who did that. And he was just 21 and recorded the album in 2 weeks! Damn.
Well, it impressed me enough 2 buy the single (and later, the album too), and “I Wanna Be Your Lover” stopped at a respectable No. 11 for 2 weeks in January / February 1980 (and spent 2 weeks at No. 1 on BILLBOARD’s R&B chart).
Since I was listening 2 (mostly) Top 40 radio in the early 80s, Prince’s next 2 albums, DIRTY MIND and CONTROVERSY, weren’t even on my radar until several years later. In fact, it was Cyndi Lauper’s 1983 album, SHE’S SO UNUSUAL, that introduced me 2 Prince’s song, “When You Were Mine” (originally from his 1980 album, DIRTY MIND). I would see Cyndi perform that song as part of the 30th Anniversary tour for SHE’S SO UNUSUAL back in October 2013. It was a dream come true. I am seeing Cyndi perform songs from her first Country album, DETOUR, in May 2016. I am hoping she’ll play “When You Were Mine” in honor of Prince.
Prince’s music returned 2 my life with the 1982 album, 1999. The video 4 the first single, “Little Red Corvette,” was a groundbreaking video, as it was one of the first videos on MTV 2 feature an black recording artist (along with Michael Jackson). I have 2 confess, when “Little Red Corvette” was climbing the charts (to a No. 6 peak on the Hot 100, his first Top 10 hit), I was not a big fan of the song. It was okay, but I wasn’t digging it as much as I would later in life. But I did buy the 2-album set (I think it was the first 2-album, non-hits collection set I ever knew about, and thought it was cool that someone was releasing a double album just 4 the sake of releasing a double album).
The single 4 the Cold War Classic “1999” might have been the reason I purchased 1999 the album. Loved loved loved that song. Took me years 2 learn what it was really about; not the kind of party song I took it for in my youth. “1999” was actually the leadoff single 4 the album, but it stopped at No. 44 on the Hot 100 for a quick couple of weeks at the end of 1982.
With “Little Red Corvette” still in the Top 10 in early June 1983, “1999” re-entered the Hot 100 at No. 70, and 2 weeks later, quickly landed in the Top 40. “1999” was on its way 2 the Top 10, when it got held up at No. 12 for 2 weeks in late July 1983. But that’s not the end of the story for “1999.”
In late 1998, just before the year the song is named for, “1999” was re-issued a third time, and it even landed at No. 40 on the Hot 100 for one week. I was in Washington, D.C. 4 New Year’s 1999, and it was amazing 2 hear that the song and the album, 1999, were all sold out everywhere.
For New Year’s Eve, I was at a big venue 4 a big D.C. New Year’s party, and when they played “1999” as the song turned into the actual year, I admit I was caught up in it. It’s funny, though, because “1999” the song is not about 1999 at all. It’s about the Cold War (very much happening in 1982), and was about Prince expressing himself and his fears of of nuclear war. So, “1999” the song was actually about 1999 turning into the year 2000, and 2 enjoy it, because by 2000, we most likely wouldn’t be around (“Party over, oops, out of time…”).
1999’s third (proper) single was the short but fun “Delirious,” which spent a month at No. 8 in October / November 1983. 1999 was the album that made Prince a star. But it was his next album that would turn him into a superstar…
1984’s PURPLE RAIN was a massive album, not just 4 that year, but 4 any year. PURPLE RAIN gave Prince the biggest album of the year (No. 1 for 24 weeks; no other recording artist has matched that feat until Adele’s 21 album did this decade). The album generated 5 Top 40 hits, including 4 Top 10 hits, and two of those were No. 1 songs, “Let’s Go Crazy” (2 weeks, September / October 1984) and the biggest single of the year (“When Doves Cry,” 5 weeks, July / August 1984).
PURPLE RAIN also garnered Prince 2 Grammy Awards and gave him the last-ever Academy Award handed out 4 Best Song Score. PURPLE RAIN has gone on 2 become not only one of THE biggest soundtracks ever recorded, but one of THE biggest albums of all-time, selling over 13 million copies in the U.S. alone. On a ROLLING STONE magazine list of the Top 25 Greatest Soundtracks of All Time, PURPLE RAIN was ranked at No. 2, behind The Beatles’ “Help.”
Upon hearing the news of Prince’s passing on Thursday, 4.21.2016, I don’t know why, but I had this sudden urge 2 hear “The Beautiful Ones,” the third of 9 songs on the album. 2 be honest, it was one of the songs I tended 2 skip over back in 1984, but today, I love it’s soulfulness, it’s beauty, and it’s love for, well, love. I was good 2 play it on the show again 4 the first time since my 25th Anniversary Tribute show to PURPLE RAIN back in 2009.
There was no question in anyone’s mind that Prince loved making music. Save for 1983 (unless U count the 2 albums for 1999) and 1993, Prince released an album every year between his 1978 debut through his last album 4 Warner Bros., CHAOS AND DISORDER, in 1996.
I loved the hits from 1985’s AROUND THE WORLD IN A DAY (“Raspberry Beret,” No. 2; “Pop Life,” No. 7), and even once played the full 22-minute remix of “America” (which just missed the Top 40, No. 46) on an Independence Day show on STUCK IN THE 80s.
Like AROUND THE WORLD IN A DAY, I enjoyed his hits from PARADE (songs from UNDER THE CHERRY MOON), notably his No. 1 song, “Kiss” (2 weeks at No. 1, April 1986) and the underrated follow-up single, “Mountains” (No. 23), which many folks have forgotten about I’m sure, but not me. It was nice 2 actually get a request 4 this on my first of 2 Prince tributes this past Sunday night (4.24.2016).
As much as I adore PURPLE RAIN, it was Prince’s 1987 album, SIGN “O” THE TIMES, though, that ended up being my favorite Prince album of all-time. SIGN “O” THE TIMES was another double album, which I again thought was pretty cool, and it a lot more depth and encompassed many genres – like Funk, Soul, Pop, Rock – than any other album I had ever heard from him.
The title track from SIGN “O” THE TIMES was the album’s first single, and right away, Prince was in groundbreaking mode again. Infused in this classy Funk Pop song were lyrics about serious life issues concerning gang violence, drug abuse, the Challenger disaster, nuclear war and as much as he could include in 5 minutes.
Prince was not a fan of President Ronald Reagan, and was mentioned in Prince’s Cold War Classic “Ronnie, Talk To Russia” (from CONTROVERSY), and though Reagan knew about AIDS as early as the first year of his Presidency (1981), he was reluctant 2 talk about it for years. “Sign ‘O’ The Times” was one of the first songs ever 2 mention AIDS, I think, in part, because Reagan wouldn’t. “Sign ‘O’ The Times” was the first of 3 Top 10 hits from the album 4 Prince, and reached No. 3 in April 1987.
The second single released from SIGN “O” THE TIMES was an interesting but bold choice, “If I Was Your Girlfriend.” The song is told in a male perspective 2 a woman, or, would his girlfriend open up 2 him more if he was a female friend rather than her boyfriend. TROUSER PRESS magazine said the song was one of the highlights on SIGN “O” THE TIMES, stating that the song “redefines a relationship in a surprisingly mature way.” Though the song was a Top 20 U.K. hit, it was a little too intimate 4 U.S. radio, and it stopped at No. 67 (Keep in mind this was the same year that some U.S. radio stations wouldn’t even air the word “Sex” in George Michael’s “I Want Your Sex,” if they even aired the song at all.).
“U Got The Look” was the album’s third single, and with the help of Sheena Easton, it became the biggest single from the album, reaching No. 2 in October 1987. The fourth and final single released from SIGN “O” THE TIMES was “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man,” which hit No. 10 in February 1988. 80s Alt-Rockers Flesh For Lulu and Sigue Sigue Sputnik have covered the song, as well as other bands like The Goo Goo Dolls and My Morning Jacket. The song’s B-side, “Hot Thing,” wasn’t marketed as its own single, but got enough airplay 2 reach the Hot 100 on its own, peaking at No. 63.
I think all of SIGN “O” THE TIMES is brilliant, but some other songs from the album that stand out 4 me are the lovely “Starfish And Coffee,” the funky “Housequake” (“Shut up already! Damn.”), the epic 9-minute jam, “It’s Gonna Be A Beautiful Night,” and, the stirring, guitar-driven “The Cross,” which I think would have been an excellent choice 4 a single, but that’s me.
Though I really didn’t get into Prince’s 1988 album, LOVESEXY, I did (and still do) enjoy “Alphabet St.” (No. 8) and “When 2 R In Love,” a ballad that was originally on 1987’s THE BLACK ALBUM, which was pulled so that the more radio-friendly LOVESEXY could be released instead (THE BLACK ALBUM remained a bootleg 4 many years, before finally getting a proper release in 1994; my favorite track on THE BLACK ALBUM, “Bob George,” prolly has more “motherfuckers” in it than the first DIE HARD movie).
Fast forward to 1989. BATMAN was the biggest film of the year. In fact, at the time, its $251 million dollar gross 4 the movie starring Jack Nicholson as the Joker and Michael Keaton as the Caped Crusader (still my favorite Batman) made it the fifth-biggest film of all-time, behind JAWS, RETURN OF THE JEDI, STAR WARS and E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (nearly 30 years later, it’s ranked at No. 95 for all-time). Prince had something 2 do with that success, as he was rightfully chosen 2 do the soundtrack.
First single “Batdance” quickly became Prince’s fourth No. 1 song (August 1989), and the soundtrack spent 6 weeks at No. 1 on the BILLBOARD album chart. Other Top 40 singles from the soundtrack included “Partyman” (No. 18) and another collaboration with Sheena Easton, the ballad “The Arms Of Orion” (No. 36). Another single, “Scandalous!” was a Top 5 hit on the BILLBOARD R&B chart. At a time where many cars came with cassette players in them, I played the hell out of the cassette version of this album. One of my all-time favorite Prince albums, even if most people don’t even remember “Batdance.”
With the advent of the 1990s, I started 2 lose touch with Prince’s music, though it wasn’t all lost – I loved 2 songs from 1990’s PURPLE RAIN sequel, GRAFFITI BRIDGE: “Thieves In The Temple” (No. 6), and, a song he wrote, produced and sang backup vocals on for 13-year-old newcomer Tevin Campbell, “Round And Round” (No. 12).
I also loved the Top 40 singles from 1991’s DIAMONDS AND PEARLS album: “Gett Off” (No. 21), “Cream” (No. 1, 2 weeks, November 1991), the gorgeous “Diamonds And Pearls” (featuring Rosie Gaines; No. 3, February 1992), and the severely underrated “Money Don’t Matter 2 Night” (No. 23).
1992’s LOVE SYMBOL ALBUM would be the last studio album 4 Prince released on Warner Bros. 2 go Platinum. It gave us the gems “Sexy MF” (No. 66), “My Name Is Prince” (No. 36), “The Morning Papers” (No. 44), and, “7,” whose peak position gave chart nerds like me something 2 get extra nerdy about – it peaked at No. 7 in February 1993.
After the LOVE SYMBOL ALBUM, much of my interest in the rest of Prince’s 90s work and beyond, much like that of the wonderful David Bowie, had waned. I did, however, enjoy some of Prince’s later work, starting with “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World” (3 weeks at No. 3, April / May 1994; to date his last Top 10 U.S. hit).
I also enjoyed his cover of The Stylistics’ No. 3 1972 hit, “Betcha By Golly Wow!” (from his first album after leaving Warner Bros., a 1996 3-CD set appropriately titled EMANCIPATION). Apparently, Prince had always wanted 2 do a cover of this song, but Warner Bros. never allowed him 2 do it. Once he was out of his Warner Bros. contract, it gave him the freedom 2 not just do that cover song on EMANCIPATION, but covers of Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make U Love Me,” “The Delfonics’ “La, La, La Means I Love You” and Joan Osborne’s 1995 hit, “One Of Us” (written by The Hooters’ Eric Bazilian).
In 1999, Warner Bros. released THE VAULT: OLD FRIENDS FOR SALE, an album submitted by Prince three years earlier, with songs recorded between 1985 and 1994. It was the last album of his Warner Bros. contract, and it appears that they wanted 2 get a jump on Prince’s actual new album that year, RAVE UN2 THE JOY FANTASTIC, with a fantastic cover of Sheryl Crow’s “Every Day Is A Winding Road.” The strategy of Warner Bros. did not work. RAVE not only charted higher (No. 18 vs. No. 85 for VAULT), but it was certified Gold.
In January 2001, I became the Music Director 4 WMPG, originally a volunteer position that turned into a University of Southern Maine job 3 1/2 years later. It was the best job I ever had, something that was truly tailored 4 me. In that time, at least 3 of his albums that decade were released to college radio – 2004’s MUSICOLOGY, his first double-platinum album since 1991’s DIAMONDS AND PEARLS. A great deal of the success of this album came with Prince’s brilliant idea 2 include a copy of the album with tickets 2 his concerts, a feature that has become more commonplace today with many artists (my tickets 2 Duran Duran included copies of the new album).
The 2006 album 3121 brought Prince back 2 the top of the BILLBOARD Album chart, and included the funky “Black Sweat” and beautiful “Te Amo Corazón,” a No. 7 hit in Italy. His 2007 album, PLANET EARTH featured my favorite on the album, “Guitar,” which was a favorite in Japan as well, reaching the Top 10 there. After PLANET EARTH, Prince left my music radar again until last year’s brilliant and poignant protest song “Baltimore.”
“Baltimore” was initially a digital-only single eventually released on Prince’s HITnRUN PHASE TWO album earlier this year, and was in response 2 the fatal police shooting of Freddie Gray in Baltimore in April 2015. Six Baltimore police officers were charged in the death of Freddie Gray. I think “Baltimore” is one of THE best songs Prince ever did. He even did a Rally 4 Peace concert in Baltimore on Mother’s Day 2015. I hope those who didn’t know the song “Baltimore” existed while Prince was still alive will discover it now.
One of the things I loved about Prince was that he fought hard 2 put out the music he wanted 2 put out, even if it always didn’t work out with his record label. Prince was unwavered as he was at the top of the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC)’s 1985 list of the “Filthy Fifteen,” a list of songs (mostly Pop and Metal songs) the group, co-founded by Tipper Gore, found “objectionable.”
This is the group that gave us those “parental advisory” stickers on CDs and albums that everyone loves so much, and is pretty much irrelevant today. I’m sure such a group couldn’t keep up with all the “filthy” lyrics in today’s music. Prince’s “Darling Nikki” and “Sugar Walls,” the song he wrote 4 birthday girl Sheena Easton under pseudonym “Alexander Nevermind”) topped the list. (4 some reason, Tipper Gore must have skipped over his song, “Erotic City.” Or maybe, she really liked it and that’s why it wasn’t on the list.) Madonna’s “Dress You Up” and Cyndi Lauper’s “She Bop” were on the list as well.
Prince was so incredibly talented, a truly gifted musician, singer, songwriter and actor who never forgot where he came from. He was also very generous. He contributed countless dollars 2 charities in the Minneapolis, MN area (where he lived his entire life), he gave parties at his Paisley Park estate (on the conditions of no smoking, no drinking and no swearing), and he wrote many songs that ended up being hits 4 other recording artists, like “Nothing Compares 2 U” by Sinéad O’Connor, “The Glamorous Life” and “A Love Bizarre” 4 Sheila E., “Jungle Love” by The Time, “I Feel For You” by Chaka Khan (originally from his self-titled second album), the aforementioned “Sugar Walls” by Sheena Easton, and “Manic Monday” by The Bangles (under the pseudonym “Christopher”), which was ranked at No. 2 behind his own “Kiss” at No. 1 in 1986.
Speaking of “Kiss,” two great cover versions of that song were released – in 1986 by U.K. Alt-Rock band Age Of Chance, and the only American Top 40 hit 4 The Art Of Noise out of London featuring the pride of Wales, Tom Jones. It spent 2 weeks at No. 31 on the Hot 100 in January 1989, reached No. 1 in New Zealand and Spain, and the Top 10 in 8 countries, including the U.K.
It’s funny – I’d like 2 think I know a lot about 80s music, but it’s kinda cool 2 learn something new, even after more than 25 years since the end of the decade. After Prince died, all of these stories surfaced throughout the Internet about him, including lists of the songs he wrote that were hits for other artists. One of these songs was the Top 5 1983 Stevie Nicks hit, “Stand Back.” Stevie Nicks wrote the song, but according a ROLLING STONE piece, she says the song “belongs to Prince.”
It was the day of her wedding, and on the way to her honeymoon, she heard “Little Red Corvette” for the first time. Humming along 2 Prince’s song, Stevie Nicks wrote all of “Stand Back” that day. The day she was 2 record “Stand Back,” Stevie Nicks called Prince 2 tell him the story of how the song came about. Less than a half hour later, Prince showed up at her studio, and “walked over to the synthesizers that were set up, was absolutely brilliant for about 25 minutes and then left. He spoiled me for every band I’ve ever had because nobody can exactly recreate – not even with two piano players – what Prince did all by his little self.”
One of the many things I admired about Prince is that he did extended remixes of his B-sides, like “Erotic City” (the B-side of “Let’s Go Crazy”) and “La, La, La, He, He, Hee” (the B-side of “Sign ‘O’ The Times”). I can’t think of anyone else who did that!
4 a short time in late 2005 and early 2006, I owned a copy of an authentic Recording Association Industry Association of America (RIAA) Gold record 4 PURPLE RAIN. I had just quit a longtime job in Portland, cashed out my 401K (which I don’t recommend) at the end of the year (which I especially don’t recommend), and it was an impulse purchase while i was inbetween jobs. But, when I couldn’t find another job right away, I needed the money, and basically got my money back. I don’t even have a picture of it, though the small picture included here is what it would have looked like. Now some people online are selling their gold records similar 2 this 4 thousands of dollars. Greedy bastards.
I’m doing 2 tribute shows 2 Prince (called 4 U). The first tribute show aired this past Sunday (4.24.2016) and it was weird, mainly in the sense that I was constantly getting choked up and jamming 2 the music at the same time. Never had a feeling like that before, not even with David Bowie. But, the show was well-received, a lot of people tuned in and contributed. Some folks commented on how I played songs they hadn’t heard of before (prolly like “Baltimore” and “4 The Tears In Your Eyes,” a song that originally appeared on the WE ARE THE WORLD album in 1985). There was even a Prince song I had forgotten about that was requested by a listener – “Good Love,” from the 1988 soundtrack 2 the Michael J. Fox film, BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY.
This week, the outpouring 4 Prince’s music has been phenomenal. With just a half-day of tracking 4 the charts, Prince is now at No. 1 with the 2001 compilation, THE VERY BEST OF PRINCE, and No. 2 with PURPLE RAIN.
And, six of his Top 40 gems are back on the Hot 100, led by “Purple Rain” at No. 17. With just that half a day of tracking, I’m betting he’ll have an even bigger week next week. I always thought that Prince’s signature song, “Purple Rain,” should have reigned at No. 1 in late 1984, but was denied the top spot by Wham!’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.” Wouldn’t it be something if “Purple Rain” could be his last No. 1 song? At the very least, it was the No. 1-selling song of last week, which is pretty impressive 4 a 1984 song in a 21st-century digital world…
On the day Prince died, my dear and über-talented friend, Hope, put out a short but fitting post on her amazing blog, HEXBREAKER (hexbreaker9.wordpress.com), which included a cool quote from Eric Clapton I never knew existed until her post: When asked what it feels like to be the best guitarist alive, Eric Clapton said, “I don’t know. Ask Prince.”
My goal was 2 have this blog post out over the past weekend. When I started on Sunday, 4.24.2016, it had only been 0 hours and 3 days since Prince had passed away. But, as it turned out, I had a lot 2 say; I couldn’t stop writing. 4 those folks who have been kind enough 2 read through 4,000+ words of my love 4 Prince, I thank U. I’ll be back 2 regular posts soon, but I wanted 2 get this one 2 U first, and remember Prince in the best way I know how.
We’ve lost a lot of heavy hitters in the music world this year. I had just gotten my David Bowie tattoo 8 days before Prince’s passing. While I won’t get be getting a tattoo of Prince, or a “Little Red Corvette” anytime soon (budget won’t allow it), I’m betting my next car’s color will be purple. Perhaps I’ll name her Nikki too. Maybe Prince would have like that.
R.I.P. Prince and thank U, 4 your music, your generosity, your energy, and 4 standing up 4 what U believed in. I believe at some point it’s going 2 finally hit me hard that U R gone, and when that happens, I’ll cry, I’ll say a couple prayers, and I’ll thank U again, 4 being a part of my life 4 all these years. Peace and love 2 U, wherever you are.
P.S: Chevy was right – “Baby that was much too fast…”