Sunday, April 24, 2016

Prince.

Prince's death is the first celebrity death that has hit me pretty hard. He was the soundtrack to part of my childhood and my non-misspent youth, and adulthood.... He was always around.

But in the rush to memorialize him, I think we do a huge disservice to his legacy without remembering the things that made him so hard to like. I'll be clear: I love Prince. Love! Prince!

But:

  • he wasn't always great to his fans (he had a propensity of threatening litigation of the most innocuous infringements of his intellectual property by the very people who bought his music),
  • his prolificness gave us music of questionable quality (Jughead, The Most Beautiful Girl in the World), especially when he was freed from his contract with Warners that allowed him to release music as often as he wanted, and 
  • his oddness made it difficult to defend him at a certain point (I would say the no-name period was the hardest time to publicly be his fan, especially in rooms full of hipsters at parties) 

However, it was that uncompromising nature and the adherence to his own vision that made him, (*make* him), an artist for all time. It was this nature that made him a never less than interesting freak and gave us moments of incredible transcendence that left me breathless more often than not.

I first saw him in Montreal. I admit that I stopped automatically buying his new releases after 1999 (the year, not the song) and haven't bought a full album of his since the album 3121, released in 2006. In the Montreal show, the first hour was jazz noodling. He hopped from instrument to instrument and sometimes he would go to the front of the stage to watch the rest of his band play. I only recognized the song "The Ballad of Dorothy Parker" in that first hour. I'm not sure what the rest of it was, but I was pissed off.  I came for "1999" and "Little Red Corvette" and "Alphabet Street," etc.

Then, he said, "We're going to take a break. We'll be back." He walked off the stage with his band.

Lights came up in the theatre, and the set changed. After 10 minutes or so, he came back, playing (I think), "Uptown" and suddenly, we were into the hits. It was amazing. It was the Prince I wanted to see.

And then I felt guilty, because this was clearly an artist who still wanted to experiment, and all I wanted was him to be a human jukebox.

At any rate, I never knew the guy, never met him, never went to stand outside the gates of his house at the Bridle Path when he lived here in Toronto.

I am sad that we won't hear new music from him, but I am hopeful, very selfishly, that that vault of his will crack open and we'll hear as much as possible. What did his sessions with Miles Davis sound like? Is the rumoured version of Madonna's "Like a Prayer" in there? I want to hear it all.

Anyway, for the two people still reading this blog, (this unfocused, unfocused blog), here are some songs, outside the hits, that I think are worth checking out, that demonstrate the breadth of his artistry. I hate it when you go to lists like these and it seems like some guy (it's always a guy) wants to show you the depth of his record collection. I won't talk about hard to find tracks off of bootlegs or that you could only get if you joined the fan club or a hard to get live recording. These tracks are available off iTunes or by visiting a local music store.

In chronological order:

  • "When We're Dancing Close and Slow" (1979): there's something innocent sounding to me about this, like that kid had no idea how huge things would get
  • "Mountains" and "Sometimes it Snows in April" (1986) both of these are from "Parade", the soundtrack to "Under the Cherry Moon." "Mountains" was released as a single but wasn't a huge hit and seems largely forgotten in the discussion
  • "Slow Love" (1987): off of the amazing "Sign 'o' the Times" album, Prince proves he can do an old school, classic R&B ballad
  • "Starfish and Coffee" and "The Ballad of Dorothy Parker" (1987): both also off of "Sign 'o' the Times", I like the playfulness of "Starfish" and I just like "Dorothy Parker" for quoting Joni Mitchell in the middle
  • "Glam Slam" (1988): this is a track off of Lovesexy, aka the album cover with naked Prince sitting on a flower, that demonstrates Prince sticking to his vision. The whole album, which I bought on CD, consists of only one 40-minute or so track. So it's impossible to skip tracks because he wanted this album to be thought of as a whole. I had to copy the CD to my iTunes and then edit each track down to what I wanted. Frustrating. This song opens with some amazing Prince guitar though, hazy and mystical....
  • "Electric Chair" (1989): from the Batman soundtrack. The guitar sounds odd and I'm not sure why. 
  • "The Question of U" (1990): a ballad with a groove from "Graffiti Bridge," again with some nice guitar work
  • "Thunder" (1992): hardcore Prince fans think this is one of his worst songs, but it's one of my favourite religious Prince songs--there is no logic here. From "Diamonds and Pearls"
  • "Money Don't Matter 2 Night" (1992): also from "Diamonds and Pearls", one of his mellower songs
  • "P Control" (1995): Now we're in the no-name / unpronounceable symbol period. This is a song purportedly about female empowerment from the "Gold Experience."
  • "Shy" (1995): also from the "Gold Experience", this is a spare sounding story song that demonstrates Prince working with less than conventional instrumentation
  • "Chaos and Disorder" (1996): This is from the album of the same title that I believe was released as a contractual obligation to Warners, proving that Prince cast offs were still a lot of fun
  • "When Will We B Paid" (2011): a cover of a Staples Singers song. I just like it. Nothing else to it.
If you're not a fan, I'm sure there are at least a few songs that you could come to like and eventually love, and in my opinion, are well-worth the deep dive.



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