The Downbeat: The Prince appeal
Published: Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Updated: Thursday, March 14, 2013 01:03
During a recent snowstorm, I found myself perusing large plastic bins at Willimantic Records, a small, independently owned record shop carved into the back of an old brick building in downtown Willimantic. I found one of approximately 20 bins labeled “funk/pop/soul/R&B” (most record stores are typically ‘rock & roll’ only establishments).
A budding Prince super-fan, I tucked vinyl copies of “Parade” and “Around the World in a Day” under my arm, doubling my modest Prince collection that until that day consisted only of “Purple Rain” and “Diamonds and Pearls.”
An hour and quick Wikipedia search later told me that “Around the World in a Day” was Prince’s 1985 version of The Beatle’s “Sergeant Peppers and the Lonely Hearts Club Band”; psychedelic, experimental, bold. So confident in his product was Prince that he released the LP with limited publicity a month before the first single was announced. Prince wanted fans to listen the album in full and in order before hearing it chopped into songs and on the radio. Perhaps to everyone’s surprise but Prince’s, the album eventually would go double-platinum.
Three weeks later, I’m seduced by the raw sexuality and spunk of “parade,” excited by the energy and diversity of “Around the World in a Day” and moved by the power and polish that Prince exhibits throughout “Purple Rain.”
A friend asked me last week, “What’s the deal with you and Prince? Like, what’s the appeal?”
“Where to start?,” I thought to myself.
While each Prince album stands as an impressive body of work, Prince’s entire discography is perhaps what strikes me most. In addition to a steady flow of Prince, I’ve also listened to a large amount of Kendrick Lamar and The Weeknd recently. Not to discredit either Lamar or Tesfaye, but after listening to 30-40 tracks by the same artist, boredom sets in. The sounds become repetitive, the lyrics of one song seem eerily similar to those of another.
Yet Prince never gets boring. While each song is undeniably his, Prince never settles into patterns. He is constantly changing, evolving and experimenting with lyrics, with sound and with instrumentation.
It is estimated that Prince has written nearly one thousand songs in his life, but staleness is as rare as mediocrity or boredom. Prince’s innate ability to continue exploring the boundaries of his own genius make his appeal nearly infinite, at least for me.
Even more appealing is Prince’s ownership of his music. Open any album cover and you’re likely to see Prince listed as a writer, producer, composer, engineer, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist. Each Prince album is just that; a Prince album. While his bands provide him with necessary support, Prince’s creative control over his projects is astounding, particularly to someone more used to the “album by corporation” approach to modern popular music.
Additionally, Prince’s discography proves that popular music can be valuable culturally and aesthetically. He’s sold over one hundred million records, balanced that popularity with critical success and managed to influence fans and musicians alike for three decades.
Finally, Prince is cool. He is confident, sexy and successful, Prince is a pop-culture icon by any standard. His creativity and full-blooded, fearless approach to his music make him not only an icon, but an idol for anyone who creates, or merely appreciates, great music and art.