It was my best friend from the neighborhood who first introduced me to Prince. Hanging out at his house one day, he played one of the earliest albums, either Controversy of the self-titled debut album. At that time, I was a good Catholic school boy trying to fit in, and Prince was kind of out there for me, with his erotic lyrics and a reputation for performing in underwear. I don’t remember my reaction as I listened to the songs with my friend, but my determination not to like this man’s music did not last long. Those songs stuck with me, echoing in my head.
Prince kept churning out great music, scoring bigger and bigger sales. Soon enough, even the suburban prep-school kids whose opinions I was too concerned about, were also listening. It would be hard to overstate just how popular the album 1999, released in 1982, was with the kids at my high school. In 1987 when Sign o’ the Times was released and I loved it. Most people did, even those who didn’t want to admit it. At the time our local “Album Oriented Rock” station had a hit or miss type feature in the afternoons, I think it was called “Make or Break.” They would play a new song by a new (to them) artist, and people would vote it up or down by calling in. Songs that did well entered the station’s rotation, those that didn’t were not heard again. That was how it was supposed to work, anyway.
One afternoon they tried out “I Could Never Take the Place…,” a rocking song from Sign ‘O’ the Times, that featured a blistering hot guitar solo. People calling in loved it and it got an overwhelming amount of positive votes. I’m not sure the station’s programmers expected it, and the song didn’t enter the stations rotation. In fact, I never heard it again on that station. Perhaps they decided he was just a little too eccentric for listeners of this station that played Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bob Seger, and the like. Or maybe it was because they learned that the music industry promoted his music as a Funk, Soul or R&B, and that wouldn’t do on their Rock station. Radio and the music business in general was very genre-driven at the time! Yet in his genre-defying way, Prince definitely represented everything Rock and Roll was supposed to be about, and he helped to break down those genre walls. It didn’t matter that that station never played the song again. I had it!
I spent most of the 1990s overseas, so I didn’t get a chance to see Prince in concert until the Musicology Tour came to Boston in 2004. I love live music, and go to a lot of shows. I’ve seen many great ones, but that concert was one of the best I’ve ever seen! The stage was set in the middle of the floor the Garden, and shaped like an X or cross, lit from below. The drums were set in the middle, but all the other musicians, including Prince, moved around the four arms engaging the audience on all sides. Unless one were behind a pole, there was no bad view. Prince was engaging and energetic. He did his new songs, older songs, and even a few covers. He also played an amazing extended guitar solo during a cover of a Rolling Stones song.
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I have eagerly sought out every Prince recording available and succeeded in finding most of them. I can attest that the man’s range is incredible! I would have loved to see him live again, and I’ve even dreamed of interviewing him some day. Who wouldn’t want to have a conversation with such musical genius? He was the master of every genre. Whether it is instrumental and jazzy, perky and pop, soulful and funky, or anything else, Prince’s weakest recordings are better than the hits of the auto tuned pop stars that dominate the charts today. His is one of the greatest artists of our time, and I am so very sad he’s gone!