After last nights tragic news of the sudden death of pop music icon Prince at just 57, I felt compelled to share how his contribution to music, art and design had touched my life.
Last night I tuned into one of my favorite internet radio shows and to my surprise, the station was playing back to back Prince tunes. It was out of character for this station, but I wasn’t complaining as Ive been a big fan of Prince over the years and continued to listen, wondering if the DJ had scored an interview with the Prince himself! For those of you who are not aware, Prince not only sang but also wrote many of music’s most recognised songs, from 'Nothing Compares to You', made famous by Sinéad O'Connor to The Bangles ‘Manic Monday‘ and Chaka Khan's ‘I feel for you’ (which originally appeared on his 1979 self titled album). The list of great songs written by Prince goes on and on!
As I tuned in, the aforementioned 'Nothing Compares to You' was playing, but by Prince performing the song he had written. This was of even more of a surprise to me as it’s fairly unknown that Prince wrote this tune and I often mention it to people who always look at me somewhat surprised. To this end, you seldom hear this track being played by Prince on radio. He not only wrote well-known songs for other people, making their careers, but also influenced a huge remit of musical talent, from the likes of Beck to Bruno Mars. This particular evening, the 21st April 2016, the amazing Prince tracks just kept coming and I turned up the volume and sat down to read. Suddenly the shows DJ came on the air and announces that tonight they were playing back to back tunes by the late and great Prince. It took a couple of seconds for my brain to really process what had just been said… The late Prince… He’s Dead!!!
As I said, you always know where you were when something really moves you…
It wasn’t the first time that the artist had moved me. I always remember hearing 'Purple Rain' for the first time. I was sat with my dad in the lounge of the house I grew up in the UK. It was Radio One’s top 40 on a Sunday night and the song had entered in the chart. From the moment the track started, my dad and I sat there on the living room floor, listening and without speaking. I could tell that the song had moved my dad and I remember him saying that it would be a big hit and would become a classic. My dad is a tough guy and for him to show emotion like that especially back then, meant it was something special! The song had also connected with me. Prince sang the song with such conviction but there was something more… something deep about it, the tune… the time… I couldn’t quite explain why it connected wth me in the way that it did… it just did! Seeing the effect on my father and then sharing it, added to the experience further. The song still moves me to this day and I will always have that memory. Music plays a huge part of my life and it’s not often that a song affects me in the way that Purple Rain did that day. Other songs from that album/film are also memorable, including another single ‘When Doves Cry’.
Also, going out clubbing with my best mate in the 90’s, Prince’s 'Get Off’ became something of an anthem for us. The dance floor would be packed and when I hear that song, it brings me straight back to that time growing up.
Someone like Prince, or David Bowie, who we also lost earlier this year, create music that becomes part of the fabric of our lives. As demonstrated above, their music creates memories within our lives.
So what about Princes contribution to design. Well he was a pioneer of modern text speak! 'I Would Die 4 U' was one of many examples within his lyrics, visual language and branding, long before we all had mobile phones and SMS. Lets also not forget that the man became a symbol for a while!!!
He was a great example of personal expression. From wearing suspenders and high heels in the video for his song 'Controversy', suits with clouds on for the video of 'Raspberry Beret', to the unique image he created throughout the 1980's, becoming iconic in the film 'Purple Rain'. He would often appear on album covers in a state of undress. From his self titled 1979 album 'Prince' to 'Lovesexy' where he features in a provocative nude pose, released at the height of his fame in the 1988. That was the thing about Prince, he was completely unconventional and never sold out. He was a prolific song writer that would still be able to shock and surprise whilst maintaining something that was distinctly Prince! Like Madonna he was a Chameleon, changing his style and creating trend. Reports suggest that a huge back catalogue of unreleased material remains at his Paisley Park Studio.
In the late 80’s and early 90’s I read a magazine called Sky. The magazines were basically a trend and celebrity monthly and I clearly remember one cover, featuring Prince with the tag line, 'Is he a genius or is He a jerk?' Maybe the writing of Slave on his face or hiding his appearance whilst in a legal battle with his record company (regardless of being paid millions) and becoming a symbol would probably account for such a tag as jerk or at least different, yet one could equally illustrate his genius!!! And wasn't his odd ball nature also part of his genius?
If you want to really appreciate the true lyrical genius of Prince then just listen to Sign ‘O’ the Times:
“In France skinny man died of a big disease with a little name. By chance his girlfriend came across a needle and soon she did the same. At home there are seventeen-year-old boys and their idea of fun, is being in a gang called The Disciples high on crack and totin' a machine gun...
Hurricane Annie ripped the ceiling of a church and killed everyone inside, u turn on the telly and every other story is tellin' u somebody died. Sister killed her baby cuz she couldn't afford 2 feed it and we're sending people 2 the moon. In September my cousin tried reefer 4 the very first time. Now he's doing horse, it's June.”
As I said... Genius...