“What’s missing from pop music is danger.” - Prince
This is a self indulgent quasi musical-quasi biographical thought I have been meaning to write for some time … it is also kind of my nod to an influential 50something.
A 50something who while being curmudgeonly in his older years … was also curmudgeonly when young … as well as he has reinvented himself and his music several times … never losing what was at his core <danger> … and remains relevant today as he was back in 1980.
This is about Prince.
To me Prince is a musical genius and an incredibly talented guitar player and musician. It’s hard to argue that Prince is one of the most talented and versatile musicians to ever set foot in a recording studio <even if you have not acquired a taste for his music>. Since 1978 he has over 30 albums and had dozens of hit singles and even had a few movies.
“No child is bad from the beginning, they just imitate their atmosphere.” – Prince, Sexuality
and Prince as a live act? <which I have been fortunate enough to see him twice> Stupendously memorable.
Just go back and watch the movie Purple Rain again <and grit your teeth to get thru the horrendous acting> to see and listen to the music.
Prince and the Revolution are spectacular.
Computer Blues may be one of the most overlooked songs of all time.
Let’s go Crazy is an almost perfect song beginning to end.
And Darling Nikki remains one of the rarest of rare good “fuck you” songs of all time. Good enough that it pissed off Tipper Gore so much she formed the Parents Music Resource Center which – unfortunately – began the whole “parental advisory” stickers on explicit albums <thanks Prince>.
And then there was Sign O the Times album. Two words … ‘Oh my’.
Created from remnants of three abandoned albums <Crystal Ball, Dream Factory and the untitled “Camille project”> Sign O The Times is a wonderfully crafted album. Some call it his masterpiece.
It has a little of everything for everyone … funk, pop, rock, blues and soul.
“In this life, things are much harder than in the afterworld. In this life, you’re on your own.” – Prince, Let’s Go Crazy
“Everybody gets high, everybody gets low, these are the days when anything goes.” – Prince song <Sheryl Crow, Every Day Is A Winding Road>
His band, The Revolution, was also a crazy – sometimes under appreciated – good band <Wendy and Lisa going off and doing some really good stuff on their own>.
Morris Day and the Time may truly be the the hidden gem associated with Prince <seen in Purple Rain>. A good band in their own right … they also were spectacular live.
Live <I was fortunate enough to see The Time as well as Prince> their choreography <which you can see some of in the movie> in combination with their music was a funk non stop musical party. Band members Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam went on to be one of the best producer teams ever <they produced Janet Jackson’s first albums and you can see them in her Control video> and Jesse Johnson went solo.
All this brings back some memories.
So you can skip this part if you would like because I am going to digress. So bear with me … give me a moment and let me reminisce.
It begins in Tampa Florida in the early mid 1980′s. The Time song The Bird was a mainstay at my favorite bar at the time <and I met a future girlfriend dancing on the bar to Jungle Love one night>.
That place was called The Yucatan Liquor Stand.
Some people say that music is the soundtrack of life … so Prince and The Time was a part of my 20something soundtrack.
And that time certainly centered around that place called the Yucatan Liquor Stand.
And a best friend who we did so many things together that my parents, separated from my life by distance and my typical non communicative self, had to ask if we were gay.
<please note: which was an incredibly funny but incredibly uncomfortable phone conversation to have with parents … I will come back to this later>.
And a really special young lady who, for over 3 years of my life, played a significant role.
Yucatan Liquor Stand was THE Tampa bar/dance club at that time. My best friend and I probably went at least one night every weekend for almost 2 years.
Oh … and ‘her’ … the special young lady.
Yucatan is where I first saw her as she was dancing on the bar. She was a waitress working her way through college. As the waitresses typically did every time Morris Day & the Time ‘Jungle Love’ came on the speakers … she was there on the bar … and it was one of those ‘boy, I need to meet her’ moments. And when I did … The Time’s role? I am fairly sure our first dance together was to Jungle Love.
Uhm <picture head hanging with some embarrassment here>.
While there is no photo proof I am fairly sure I was on the bar dancing several times afterwards <doing the Fresh Prince Swerve I am sure>.
<different story and different post>.
Thanks to The Time that dance led to hearing my first real ‘I love you’ <not a puppy love one> several years later … over a phone as I stood in the Columbus Ohio airport on a Halloween night.
That dance led to a Christmas trip that began with a Christmas Eve plane trip with diamond earrings in my bag. Led to a return flight having learned that love between two people isn’t always enough <timing matters>. Led to a scar, that remains today on my hand, from where I had gouged a significant portion from my hand on the corner of a highchair as I desperately dove to keep Tyler, her infant rambunctious son, from falling <note: being a manly man … with all its insecurities … I hid the gouge the entire visit because I feared disappointing her after she permitted me responsibility for her child as she slept late and I almost failed miserably … but I am fairly sure her mother knew>. Led, lastly, to learning that it could be worse than leaving love behind … as I, in my own misery, flew on a puddle jumper small plane home with a 300+ pound Texan, wearing a 10 gallon hat, across the aisle from me who was flying home from gambling in Atlantic City over Christmas … all by himself.
Anyway. Back to Tampa.
This was also the time of my best friend, who abhorred Prince’s music, who put up with the music … focusing more on his overall love of MTV <when the station actually played music videos> … and nights at the Yucatan <although I am not sure he ever danced> playing pool upstairs and talking with women.
But most importantly … this was two guys in a time of our indestructible 20’s.
I remember as we sat together in lawn chairs with coolers of beer watching the sea water rise closer and closer to the top of the sea wall at our apartment complex as the largest hurricane in a decade made its appearance <please note that we were smart enough to get up once the water began creeping over the sea wall>.
He was the guy who listened to me babble on about the Yucatan waitress.
He was the inseparable sports and drinking buddy. He had an unfailing schedule of taping Miami Vice <which was on Friday nights>, driving to Yucatan <which we clearly remembered> and driving home <which was not as clear in memory … fuzzy at times> and being up and playing some sport and starting all over the next morning.
Which leads me back to the ‘are you gay?” parents question.
Because I must have mumbled about enough about he & I doing shit over the phone with life updates to my parents that on one hungover Sunday morning they brought me wide awake with the question … “hey, it’s okay with us … but … well … you talk about you guys so much … well … are you gay? … hey … it’s okay with us … we have gay friends.” Insert silence here.
<between the silence shock factor and the smothered immediate loud laugh … I knew I had a story I could tell for the rest of my life>.
The shit he and I did and the fact we lived to tell others about it is a testament to the indestructibility of the 20’s.
Ok. I am back to Prince.
Sorry. I digressed. Prince can do that to anyone I imagine.
I guess I write this because music IS the soundtrack of our lives. We can all remember moments and songs and singers and the role it all played in the moments of our lives.
In this case it was Prince and his music. Was Prince’s music integral to my life? Certainly not.
His 50th birthday made me think about times and moments I hadn’t remembered for quite some time.
And you know what?
If Prince <or The Time> does that for other people as well … that is a really nice legacy to leave behind.
Anyway <another personal story>.
I also remember visiting First Avenue, the Prince club most known from the movie Purple Rain, when in Minneapolis on a business trip <only to see Prince … the littlest waifish guy I have ever seen … slide through the crowd flanked by two trucks in the guise of human bodies>.
And watching him play?
Despite Prince’s reputation for being incredibly sexual and raunchy on stage … the dude could play an amazing guitar and he wrote some intricate wonderful songs.
He was also a darn good <if not slightly controlling> producer for other artists like his former bandmate Morris Day’s new band The Time, Vanity, Apollonia, The Family, and Sheila E.
<another personal note: I have a good editor friend Charly who worked with him at his Minneapolis Paisley Studios and told me Prince was a detail nutso freak in the studio … but an amazingly talented editor, producer & writer>
In the end … I always thought Prince was at his best with The Revolution:
Prince on lead vocals, guitar, and piano
Wendy Melvoin on guitar and vocals
Brown Mark on bass guitar and vocals
Lisa Coleman on keyboards, piano and vocals
Matt “Doctor” Fink on keyboards and vocals
Bobby Z. on drums
And the Time?
By 1981, he had built The Time out of a Minneapolis funk band, “Flyte Time” which featured Jellybean Johnson on drums, Jimmy Jam and Monte Moir on keyboards, and Terry Lewis on bass.
To this base group were added Jesse Johnson on guitar and a lead singer and childhood friend named Morris Day as well as Jerome Benton who was a promoter drawn from another local band called “Enterprise” <Jerome was awesome as Day’s personal comic foil>.
Morris Day – Lead Vocals, Backing Vocals
Jesse Johnson – Guitar, Backing Vocals
Monte Moir – Keyboard, Backing Vocals
Jimmy Jam – Keyboard, Backing Vocals
Terry Lewis – Bass, Backing Vocals
Jerome Benton – Backing Vocals, Percussion
Jellybean Johnson – Drums, Guitar, Backing Vocals
<THAT was a band, my friends, all doing quite well on their own>
Let me end with My top 5 favorite Prince songs <by the way … this was difficult … he has a bunch of very very good songs>.
Note that I would normally have lots of youtube or vevo videos here … but Prince has gone after YouTube for allowing users to post his copyrighted videos up without his permission and video material of how work is difficult to come by.
- “Computer Blue” http://www.jukebo.com/prince/music-clip,computer-blue,x088xv.html
The chord shift <I think> at about the 2;00 mark is brilliant. This is a crazy good song.
- “Money don’t Matter”
Good luck trying to find ‘Money don’t Matter’ anywhere on the internet … but it is a fabulous song.
- “Let’s go Crazy”
Probably the most iconic rock pop song Prince ever did. It is non stop musical joy. The guitar riff will last for eternity in music legend.
- Pop Life
In 1985, Prince followed up the massive success of the Purple Rain album and film with Around The World In A Day, a psychedelic pop record that only someone as weird as Prince could make. Despite its many nods to psychedelia, one of ATWIAD’s best songs was “Pop Life,” a song that addresses social issues like the dangers of drugs.
The layered piano riffs, some swirling strings mixed with some sarcastic lyrics like “… what’s that underneath your hair? … is there anybody living there?“ make this a top 5 Prince song.
- “Nothing Compares 2 U” <done by Sinead O’Connor in 1990>
Prince has written many female vocalists’ songs including Chaka Khan, Sheila E. (“The Glamorous Life”), Vanity (“Nasty Girl”), Apollonia (“Sex Shooter”), and The Bangles (“Manic Monday”).
But no other singer ever managed to take a Prince song and so fully make it her own as Sinead O’Connor did with “Nothing Compares 2 U.” Originally written for side project The Family, the song was all but ignored until O’Connor tore through the opening salvo (“It’s been seven hours and 15 days since you took your love away”) against producer Nellee Hooper’s spare piano-and-drum backdrop. The result is unforgettable.
I struggle to think Prince could have ever performed this song better than Sinead but if I could ask him to try … this would be the song I would put in front of him.
I almost included When Doves Cry which was the last song written for Purple Rain and is a musical masterpiece. The opening guitar riff grabs your attention and doesn’t let go until the sparsely arranged song comes to an end.
And Raspberry Beret remains my personal favorite Prince song of all time … but it is not a particularly spectacularly written song so I aimed for the better written songs.
Happy 50something Prince.