Prince Rogers Nelson was born today, 54 years ago. He was funky. He maintained that funkiness until the age of seven, at which point it leapt forward along the evolutionary scale in a way the race of man had not seen before, and would not see again until he turned 20 and released For You, his debut album. At that point, Nelson worked tirelessly to hone and refine the funk, his weapon of choice, into an apocalyptic missile of music, deploying multiple payloads upon an unready populace for most of the '80s and '90s.
Unlike most fallouts, this purple precipitation was welcomed as it descended from the clouds, spattering against the barn roof, slicking up the wheels under the little red Corvettes tooling down Alphabet Street. That period is still celebrated, even now: There's The Prince vs. Michael Experience at Ted's on June 9th (by the way, there's no question - Prince wins that fight), and Jackpot Records is screening the ridiculous 1984 comedy/melodrama Purple Rain at the Bagdad Theater on June 15th & 16th.
Of course, in the '90s, dude got super-fucking weird, became kind of a self-parody and fell the fuck off in alarming fashion while stashing a stockpile of tantalizing funk bombs behind the doors of his oft-referred to vault.
But after the jump, we can ignore all that. We can, instead, remember, via the miracle of YouTube, some of his finer moments, at least until his crazy ass orders his army of lawyers to pull any and all evidence of his former majesty from the internet.
For example, this is one of his biggest hits, Kiss. But the extended version below is a little more obscure, which is a shame because the song becomes this goofy, towering funk opus after the three minute mark, complete with Prince as a grumpy old man getting in a fight with his girlfriend over watching himself on the television.
Prince was also very generous with his funk: The Time were a band built specifically to deliver jams Prince considered maybe a little too musically nasty to go on a "Prince" record by the time 1999 had come around, as he'd established a "sound" for himself. On The Time's first album, Morris Day's vocals were the only thing that Prince hadn't already recorded. That had changed a little by the second album, but songs like 777-9311 were still pretty much 100% Mr. Nelson.
Two more examples of his songwriting generosity: Sheila E's A Love Bizarre, where you can still hear Prince still singing backup.
And The Bangles' Manic Monday.
Which brings us to Prince's softer side. He's really well known for ballads such as Purple Rain and The Beautiful Ones, and for Nothing Compares 2U, which a bald Irish chick turned into a massive hit. But maybe one of his most memorable songs ever is a bluesy little falsetto b-side called How Come You Don't Call Me Anymore, featuring Prince on piano, stomping the floor for percussion, and that's it.
For the sake of being kind, we're going to skip that weird period in the early '90s where he was somewhat confused/entranced by hip-hop, and thus made some pretty embarrassing musical choices. Instead, lets represent most of that decade's output via this live performance from 1991's MTV Music Video Awards
Prince - Get Off [Live] by Vilosophe
Which finally brings us to an aspect of Prince that seems to always surprise people, even though it shouldn't if you ever heard Let's Go Crazy - Prince can shred. In fact, Prince might be one of the best to ever play the guitar, and is possibly the finest guitar player alive right now. The argument can be made, and it usually starts with this performance at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony from 2004. Watch for Dhani Harrison's facial expression when he realizes his face is being melted off, and pay close attention to Prince's exit, where he throws his guitar skyward, and walks away without waiting for it to come back down. Which of course, it never does.