1989 was a year that introduced me to two icons who would become pretty significant to me. The first was Batman, who was the main character in a blockbuster feature film called Batman that year. The second was the man who created the soundtrack to that film – he was known to me only as “Prince”.
The first single released from the Batman soundtrack was “Batdance” and it received a ton of radio play. In fact, the song was a last minute replacement. Originally, the soundtrack was too feature a song called “Dance with the Devil”, but Prince decided that the song was too dark and brooding. So instead we got “Batdance”. The song is a manic, chaotic, mashup of funk and dance grooves, stuffed to the gills with snippets of dialogue from the movie. It’s pretty darn catchy. But in all honesty, it’s not a very good song. The dialogue samples grow tedious, and kind of overpower the thick funkiness that underlies the song. It’s also packed with, I think, too many ideas. Nevertheless, partially based on the blockbuster success of the film, the song became a #1 hit, Prince’s fourth.
Photo Credit: Penner, Public Domain
I became obsessed with this movie – what little kid doesn’t love Batman after all? – and all things related to it. Thus, I became interested in Prince. I bought the soundtrack, and found that I really enjoyed the deep funk on many of the cassette’s tunes. The soundtrack’s second single, for example, “Partyman” a much better tune than Batdance and featured in a significant scene of the movie, has an ear-catching infectious groove that doesn’t let up throughout the duration of the song. It’s a pretty great track and fun to jam to.
Flash forward to April 21st, 2016. I was, like much of the world, stunned to learn of Prince’s young death at just 57 years old. The world has lost quite a few musical legends this year, but Prince’s iconic status and young age make this case particularly bitter to swallow. Since learning of Prince’s death, I’ve been listening to his music pretty much non-stop. It seems like every famous musician has somehow weighed in or paid tribute to Prince. It surprised me how many musicians in so many different genres he’s touched. Even Joe Bonamassa commented:
Prince was, among lots of other things, a heckuva guitar player after all. I’ve heard some people comment that they had wished he’d put out a full on blues album. I would have absolutely loved to hear something like that. Alas, it was not meant to be for us, though he does apparently have a whole trove of unreleased material stored up in a vault. So who knows what may come of that and what lies in that collection…
Prince was the son of two musicians: his father, John L. Nelson, took on the stage name Prince Rogers, and his mother, Mattie Della Shaw, was a jazz singer that performed with Nelson’s band. Prince dove into music as a young boy, teaching himself how to play various instruments that included guitar, keyboard, and drums. He signed to Warner Brothers records when he was still only a teenager, and he had also drawn interest from both A&M Records and Columbia Records. Warner Brothers granted Prince full creative control over his first three albums along with ownership over the publishing rights – an impressive haul for any musician, let alone such a young one.
Prince’s first album, For You, was only a modest success though its song “Soft and Wet” did break the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. But his second album, Prince, by any standard, was a great success. The album peaked at #22 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart and has sold over a million copies. The album spawned the single “I Wanna Be Your Lover”, a fantastic post-disco funk piece with smooth falsetto crooning from Prince over an eminently satisfying chorus. The single reached #11 on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart and also sold over a million copies. Prince had officially arrived.
But the biggest and the best was still yet to come. Since then, Prince has become a seven time Grammy Award winner. He’s had a slew of top 10 hits that included, “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World,” “Little Red Corvette” (my favorite), “Let’s Go Crazy”, “Kiss”, and “When Doves Cry”. In addition to his own hits, he’s written huge ones for other artists, which include, “Nothing Compares to U” for Sinead O’Connor, “Manic Monday”, for The Bangles, and “I Feel For You” by Chaka Khan. His soundtrack album to his film Purple Rain netted him an Oscar and the soundtrack has sold over 13 million copies. The song “Purple Rain” itself is much beloved, and many artists have paid tribute to Prince by performing this song live since his death. Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band’s performance of the song is particularly poignant and moving.
It seems rather evident to me that Prince changed the musical landscape forever, and that nary a rock, R&B, soul, pop, or funk band hasn’t in some way touched by his influence. I would speculate that Joe Bonamassa’s side project Rock Candy Funk Party, a funk-dance-groove-jazz band of the highest order, has even been influenced and touched by Prince’s astounding music and career. The loss of this spectacular icon is heartbreaking, but I think his legend and his music will never die. Nevertheless, the doves are crying for Prince this week and, I think, so are many of us music fans. To quote Bruce Springsteen when he played “Purple Rain” live – “Prince. Forever.”
Photo Credit: Penner, Public Domain