Sunday, 1 May 2016

Songwriter Sunday: How Prince Exceeded His Initial Pop Star Status


By Gerrod Harris 


                                                          (via Treblezine

The tragic news of the untimely death of Prince has swept across the world, leaving fans in utter shock and sadness for the loss of the 57 year old virtuoso.  Over the course of his near 40 year career, Prince had released 39 studio records, a discography that even Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones have yet to top.  While Prince was certainly a definitive voice of the 1980’s dance pop, his artistry very quickly surpassed the confines of pop music, becoming a style which took from so much, that it became unrecognizable other than the fact that it was unmistakably that of Prince.

“Let’s Go Crazy”, a hit from his landmark album, Purple Rain, is a prime example of his genre bending song writing.  While the song is very poppy, featuring a synth heavy melody, also lends itself to the guitar heavy hair metal of the 80’s as heard when he shreds on a distorted guitar towards the end- a startling contrast compared to the clean tones of the majority of the song- which leads into a blues meets gospel style tag. 1987’s “You Got The Look” appears to be a bonanza of pop stimuli overtop the structure of a 12 bar blues, while portions of “When Doves Cry” seem to be a precursor to the industrial metal of the coming decade.  Examples like these two are carefully crafted and spread across his career.   His work with his backing band, the New Power Generation throughout the 90’s and 2000’s further lent itself towards funk with rock elements while his recent work with 3rdeyegirl took a hard rock approach to funk and psychedelic influences, very much in the style of Jimi Hendrix. 

What many people do not realize is just how phenomenal of a guitarist Prince was, often admiring his voice rather than everything he would do. Eric Clapton once was asked what it was like to be the greatest guitarist alive, and he responded by telling him to go ask Prince.  Upon his passing, other musicians have agreed with Clapton’s statement.  Likely the reason for this was not only his immense technical ability, but his versatility across the instrument, being able to include stylistic aspects from rock, funk, gospel, the blues, soul, jazz, and pop across his rich and expansive discography.  His slinky, sleazy, and funky style can best be heard across any of his live recordings and performances.  Often he would incorporate a weaving technique which would blend lead and rhythm parts together, jumping from chords to riffs and additional lead lines without any hesitation, allowing for him to successfully touch on a number of parts to give a fuller experience.

It was such abilities, not only on the guitar, but across a reported 20 or so instruments (the number varies depending on the source), especially the piano, drums, bass, and his voice, which allowed for such diverse and unique song writing.  In many cases, when the album is credited as just Prince, as opposed to including the Revolution, NPG, or 3rdeyegirl, Prince would actually perform every recorded part on his records.  Nearly each of his albums, such as Sign O’The Times, Musicology, Parade, Diamonds And Pearls, and The Love Symbol Album, have stretched across the landscape of all that is popular music, while never managing to seem out of place from one another.  Rather his entire discography flows seamlessly together, from the funky pulse of “Kiss” to the darker textures of “Sign O’The Times”, to the soul ballads of the likes of “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World”, to the bouncy “Delirious”, Prince has left us with an astounding collection of music which has left his peers and even his idols calling him the best musician the world has ever seen.  

Prince was a true artist in the sense that he genuinely loved music and was constantly searching for more knowledge to better his own personal musicality.  His vault, which is overflowing with unreleased recorded music-reportedly over 100 albums worth-, is a testament to that.  Because of this personal drive, Prince never lost his relevance and continued to shape the music industry through his actions, music, and performances throughout his entire career. Even within his last few months, he was embarking on his pop-up style Piano and a Microphone Tour where he had reworked a number of his classic hits, along with a few newer ones, in a solo manner which captured the spirit of Motown and 70’s funk, jazz, and piano driven rock.  

How I wish to know where he would have taken music to next; to hear him grow in his own unique direction. 

There is much that aspiring musicians can learn from Prince; from his musicianship, his adventurous nature in regards to song writing, his work ethic, drive, and artistic integrity, to his stances on the value of his music.  Prince will certainly never be forgotten, and while all of his music is more than worth cherishing, he should be remembered most, much like Bowie, as a depiction of what can happen when artistry and popular culture collide in the most perfect of ways.  

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