been called "His Royal Badness" and "His Purple Highness," and for
severla years he was simply called by an pronounceable symbol, or as the
"Artist Formerly Known As Prince." Reclusive man of mystery,
self-proclaimed messianic zealot, sex symbol, flamboyant rock star,
Prince--when he was Prince the first time around--was at the top of the
music world, giving Michael Jackson a run for his pop dollars. Although
completely unpredictable, highly controversial, and self-indulgent,
Prince is also an extremely accomplished musician, producer and
composer, one of the 1980s' true musical originals.
virtual one-man band, Prince sculpted and created the Minneapolis Sound
through his keyboards, screeching, almost pleading, vocals, erotic live
shows, and explicit sexual lyrics. Named after his father's jazz group,
the Prince Rogers Band, Prince Rogers Nelson had music in his blood from
birth. When his parents divorced, his father left his piano behind, and
at the age of 7, Prince began mimicking television themes on the keys.
As a teenager, he ran away from home, moved in with a friend, formed a
band, and taught himself how to play bass, guitar, and drums. By the age
of 18, he had recorded several demos, and by 19, he had struck an
amazing deal with Warner Bros. Records, one unheard of by an unknown;
the artist, dubbed a prodigy, was not only given a six-figure,
several-album contract, but also an inordinate amount of freedom--as a
songwriter, musician, and producer.
In 1977, Prince became the youngest producer in Warner history. Not too
surprising, Prince's debut, For You, in 1978, was over-budget and
over-ambitious (he played a reported 23 different instruments on the
record). While the music covered a broad spectrum of styles, from
acoustic to rock to R&B, appearing like he couldn't decide which was his
style, Prince knew lyrically where he was comfortable; "Soft And Wet"
oozed sex and slithered its way onto the singles and black charts. Back
in Minneapolis, he gathered some old musicians together and played his
first solo show in January 1979. His early shows were tame, but in
support of his self-titled sophomore outing, Prince was parading and
strutting around the stage in tight-ass pants (or no pants, only
zebra-print butt-hugger undies) and high-heeled boots, beginning a
decade of lavish and erotic performances with lingerie-clad women and
oddly-attired musicians at his side.
With a hit album, Prince, and single, "I Wanna Be Your Lover," Prince
was already making headway with black fans, but was determined to
establish himself with rock and new wave audiences; he combed his hair
out, stripped down to teeny-weenie black bikinis, and tossed about on a
bed onstage. Then he stripped the music down to raw sex for 1980's Dirty
Mind and the songs "Head" and "Sister," and 1981's Controversy, which
actually sparked little controversy.
But with the 1982 release of the ambitious (as well as remarkable)
double-album 1999, Prince's music finally crossed over charts and
demographics, uniting a growing audience and landing himself in the top
10 and on MTV (he became one of the first black performers on the
network); his achievement came thanks to more melodic, pop-intense songs
such as the title track and "Little Red Corvette." Although once again
produced, arranged, and composed solely by the master, this record
marked the first time Prince allowed members of his band (primarily
guitarist Dez Dickerson) to play occasional bits; but true recognition,
in the form of the Revolution, was to be saved for his next album.
Prince's impact was also felt in other Minneapolis-based bands, most
significantly with the Time, behind which he was rumored to be the
controlling figure and genius, as well as a fluffy-female-fronted-folly
called Vanity 6. His role with these bands, as well as his own musical
career, was played out in the semi-autobiographical 1984 film Purple
Rain, which, along with the accompanying soundtrack, vaulted the Purple
One to superstar status; portrayed as sensitive, wild and sexy, Prince
and his Edwardian wear became all the rage. The record sold a phenomenal
number of records the first day of its release in the U.S., and produced
several hits, including "When Doves Cry," "Let's Go Crazy," "Purple
Rain," and "I Would Die 4 U." Prince also received two Grammy Awards as
well as an Oscar (for the score--not his acting).
The artist, soon to be known as the Artist, released album after album
over the next 12 years, but none that had the impact of his earlier
efforts, except perhaps the single "Kiss" in 1986 and Sign O' The Times
in 1987. Although many of these records achieved some success and he
continued to play major arenas to screaming audiences, his
eccentricities and self-indulgence ultimately alienated him from U.S.
fans. During that decade-plus, he went through numerous stylistic
phases--even experimenting with the psychedelic on Around The World In A
Day--starred in a movie that flopped, opened his own studio and record
label (Paisley Park), fired the Revolution, hired the New Power
Generation, made a another movie that flopped and a concert-type film,
opened a club, grew his hair long, cut his hair short, and changed his
name to a symbol.
Through it all, His Royal Badness remained a royal mystery--until his
1996 triple-CD Emancipation, which he released after getting out of his
long-term Warner Bros. deal, the Artist never granted extensive
interviews. He released not one but two albums on his own in 1998,
Crystal Ball and New Power Soul, and Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic in 1999;
in 2001, after converting to the Jehovah's Witness faith, he also
released the religious album The Rainbow Children over the Internet.
Then--surprisingly, considering his bitter fallout with Warner Bros.--in
2004 he signed to another major label, Columbia, and released Musicology
under his re-adopted name of Prince. The album racked up big Soundscan
numbers when copies of it were included with the price of tickets to his
2004 sold-out tour, and many fans and critics considered it an artistic
comeback as well.