The following is the Prince section from my copyrighted book, Everything Is on the One: The First Guide of Funk. While most of it was written some time ago, I had been in the process of updating and making it available in its entirety on funknstuff.net. Given the shocking news of his death, I thought I would post it now in tribute. I believe him to have been the greatest musical genius/performer of our lifetimes, and he meant a great deal personally to my family as you can read about in another post on this site.
RIP to the once and forever Prince.
PRINCE (born Prince Rogers Nelson, June 7, 1958, Minneapolis, died April 21, 2016)
The musical genius of his generation (and possibly of all time), the mysterious, multitalented Prince has exerted an immeasurable impact on popular music forms. With the heart of Mozart; elegance of Ellington; style of Miles; little of Little Richard; pelvis of Elvis; beat of the Beatles; sound of Brown; tone of Stone; tricks of Hendrix; swagger of Jagger; kick of Funkadelic; showiness of Bowie, wonder of Stevie; and spirit of Parliament, Prince is an amalgam of musical history’s greatest innovators and performers ― and yet he is an original unlike any other.
This classification encompasses Prince’s prodigious recording history as well as his work with protégé acts such as the Time, Vanity 6 and Apollonia 6, Sheila E., the Family, Carmen Electra, T.C. Ellis, the New Power Generation, Madhouse and Mavis Staples. Even more so than George Clinton, Prince has contributed as producer and/or songwriter to more albums for more diverse artists than any other musician of his era.
Some of the countless projects that Prince has had a hand in but fall outside the scope of this category include Madonna; Miles Davis; Patti LaBelle; Earth, Wind and Fire; Tevin Campbell; Chaka Khan; George Clinton; Joe Cocker; Cyndi Lauper; the Bangles; Sheena Easton; Paula Abdul; Stevie Nicks; and Kenny Rogers. The dozens of songs Prince has released only as B-sides of singles and the hundreds of unreleased tracks (many of which can be found on bootlegs) he has stored away in his vault are likewise beyond the scope of this section. However, if you have access to these songs, most are worthwhile and many provide additional insight into the infinite realm of Prince’s musical personalities.
With doe-like eyes and a bushy afro, Prince strutted onto the scene in 1978 with his debut For You. Promoted as the new Stevie Wonder, Prince’s staggering gifts as a writer, arranger and producer are displayed on the nine-song, love-oriented collection. In addition, he is credited with playing 27 different instruments. Unfortunately, For You was light in the song department. The breathy synth single “Soft and Wet” and the jazz-rock fusion of “I’m Yours” were exceptions on an otherwise run-of-the-mill first effort. Prince’s limited falsetto singing further hindered the project.
Having fine-tuned and broadened his technique, Prince was rewarded with his first hit via his self-titled second album. The insistent guitar strumming that opened Prince and served as the driving force behind the gold single “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” made it immediately apparent that he was an artist to keep an eye on. That tune along with the rocker “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?” and the nasty funker “Sexy Dancer” got the LP off to a blistering start.
Alas, Prince only got it half right that time around as the rest of Prince, excluding the hard-rocking “Bambi” and the breezy “I Feel for You” (later made into the biggest hit of Chaka Khan’s career) faltered. “Bambi,” on which Prince pleaded with a lesbian that “it’s better with a man,” was a precursor to his racy new direction.
Prince made the first of what would be many controversial artistic statements with the sexually themed Dirty Mind. The LP came by its demo-like quality honestly as it was Prince’s management who convinced the artist and the label to release the material in its raw form. The album’s explicit lyrics and rock n’ roll attitude and sound contrasted sharply with Prince’s previous, more R&B-oriented outings.
By assimilating what new wave and punk had to offer and then marrying those emerging rock subgenres to funk, Prince had exhibited more growth and a greater willingness to take risks than any of his peers. In addition, Prince changed the face of dance music by using stabs of synthesizer, rather than horns, to punctuate the grooves. And, he did it without compromising the music’s gritty integrity. This technique was dubbed “The Minneapolis Sound.”
Prince’s racial and sexual ambiguity underscored music that defied categorization. From the hypnotic repetition of the pulsing title song to the closing anti-draft anthem “Partyup,” Dirty Mind rose to a feverish lather and never settled below a sultry steam. The LP, which made Prince a critical darling, included the hit “Uptown,” the much-covered (Cyndi Lauper, John Mellencamp) “When You Were Mine” and one of the 1980s’ greatest funk jams in the lascivious “Head.”
It was during this time that Prince began dazzling audiences with his live show, which was backed by an early configuration of the Revolution that featured Lisa Coleman and Matt Fink on keyboards, Bobby Z on drums, Andre Cymone on bass and Dez Dickerson on guitar. Prince also unveiled his first side project, the Time, which he produced under the first of many pseudonyms, Jamie Starr.
Composed of Morris Day (vocals), Jesse Johnson (guitar), Jimmy Jam (keyboards), Terry Lewis (bass), Jellybean Johnson (drums) and Monte Moir (keyboards), the Time were one of the baddest, tightest and amusing bands of all time. Although Prince is believed to have nearly singlehandedly constructed the Time’s eponymously titled debut before he assembled the band, the Time proved their mettle with a knockout stage show. Highlights of their act and jamming LP, which was like a looser, funkier version of Prince, included “Get It Up,” “Cool” and “The Stick.”