By Gary Bogers
Prince has died. Three words the world never saw coming, yet that’s exactly what happened on the morning of April 21, 2016 at the singer’s Paisley Park estate in Minneapolis.. It is hard to believe that an artist so prolific and so captivating, at a prime time in his life, would live such a short existence, considering the man had already been through his share of creative “lifetimes” over his nearly four decade long musical career.
I always felt that Prince would go on to record and perform up until his elderly years got the better of him, but like the rest of the world, his death was a rude awakening in a long list of unexpected musical deaths to occur in the first four months of 2016. Lemmy Kilmister, Glenn Frey, Sir George Martin, Merle Haggard and, of course, the legendary David Bowie have all passed away this year, resulting in some of the most devastating losses the music world has seen in quite some time.
However, there was something truly horrific regarding the passing of “The Purple One” that made his death so difficult to bear; he was not just a pop star, he was a great musician.
Arguments could be made for any of the artists mentioned above as to whether they were necessarily “great” musicians. After all, each artist changed the musical landscape in their own special way, and helped pave the way for what made the musical output of the 20th century so brilliant.
Martin was widely regarded as the fifth beatle due to his startling contributions to the “Fab Four’s” music. Haggard brought the Bakersfield sound to Nashville airwaves. Frey helped make The Eagles one of the most wildly successful bands of all time. Lemmy helped pioneer the Thrash/Speed Metal genre. Bowie dabbled in a wide variety of genres and lent his talents primarily to his songwriting and vocal abilities. However, take all of the abilities of the artists mentioned above and you get one result…Prince.
His ability to produce for a wide variety of artists (Martin), write indisputable pop juggernauts (Frey) while maintaining his great storytelling abilities (Haggard), seamlessly sailing through a wide variety of genres (Bowie) and absolutely blowing the roof off the place with his axe wielding abilities (Lemmy) are what made him not just a musical icon, but possibly one of the greatest musical geniuses to ever live. Thousands tried to imitate him, some wanted to “be” him, but they all failed because of one indisputable fact: there was only one Prince.
As any of Prince’s fans could tell you that his creative output was absolutely stunning, and rivaled that of his contemporaries. Releasing over 30 albums throughout his career, Prince’s musical styles tended to shift from multiple genres.
From the sparse funk of “Prince,” the pop domination of “1999 “and “Purple Rain,” all the way up to his sprawling masterpiece, the mind bending, genre defying “Sign O’ the Times.” Never did it seem like he was trying too hard to copy the sounds of his influences or fellow musicians. He simply took the artists that inspired him the most and infused them into a sound that was, and still is, completely new and original.
In “When Doves Cry” (the biggest, and best, hit from his blockbuster album “Purple Rain”) he decided to eliminate the bass line to create a sparse, funky little number that changed the face of 80s music. It was like nothing anyone had ever heard before, as was “Purple Rain,” which is widely regarded as the greatest film soundtrack of all time (winning two Grammys and an Oscar in the process).
So, it’s not just the fact that Prince was able to make music that was legions ahead of its time that made him such an indisputable genius. It’s that he was able to bring his work to the masses and give people a sound that kept the world under one catchy, sexy, ultraviolet (or in this case, purple) groove. Pure genius.