This week (June 7, 2017) Prince would have turned 59-years-old. Here, we look back on some of the Purple One's career highlights.
In every performance genre there are artists, and then there are those pioneers who transcend and shape the art form itself. Prince and his near 40-year ground breaking career reside firmly in the latter category. From his control over his music to his image to the way he personally crafted the sound that became synonymous with the man himself, Prince will be remembered as one of the most original and influential artists in the history of popular music.
We take a look back at five ways Prince changed music forever.
1. Prince's Sound
The trajectory of Prince's career begins, of course, with his music and the famed "Minneapolis Sound," named after his hometown, that he pioneered leading into his first album, For You, in 1978. Prince's potent brew of everything from rock and funk to pop and new wave music was a revelation to fans around the world who'd never heard anything quite like it—especially coming out of the hard-rocking 1970s. His sound had such unique and wide-ranging appeal that it could rock a club and act as the soundtrack to Tim Burton's darkly sinister 1989 film Batman. "Batdance" anyone?
Prince's song "Darling Nikki" also has the distinction of being the instigator behind the movement that ultimately led to the "Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics" warnings now commonplace on the cover of albums.
Throughout his career, however, Prince never rested on his laurels, continuing to innovate and experiment with sound and music. And after seven Grammys, chart-topping singles and albums, Rock and Roll and Grammy Hall of Fame inductions and millions of fans worldwide, it's safe to say that Prince reigns as one of the greatest pop music pioneers of the 20th century.
2. Behind the Songs and Record Industry Battles
Prince not only wrote some of the most original pop music of the last 40 years, but he also played most of the instruments (he was celebrated as a brilliant guitarist) and produced and engineered the music. One of the most hands-on artists of his or any generation, Prince helped put the creative power back in the hands of artists when he assumed control over most of his musical output. From his very first album, for which he secured the publishing rights and the ability to have free reign over the creative direction of the work, it's clear Prince's influence stretched far deeper into the studio than most other artists then or now. By taking this approach Prince was also able to shape the specific, innovative sounds that ultimately influenced countless musicians to come.
But perhaps even more importantly, Prince went to bat for artists everywhere when he stood up for control over his own music. As the International Business Times wrote,"Perhaps more than any artist in the history of recorded music ... [Prince] personified the never-ending tensions between music performers and the industry that profits from them. In a four-decade career beset by legal skirmishes, Prince battled with record labels, bootleggers, streaming companies, ticket resellers and [I]nternet giants such as eBay and YouTube. He was not afraid to take adversarial stands against anyone he perceived to be a threat to his artistry or his livelihood, which to him were one and the same. That included public entanglements not only with parasitic types in the recording industry but also with advocates of free speech and even his own listeners."
While he refused to allow his music to be used by anyone from video game makers to online streaming services (except Jay-Z's Tidal streaming service) to parody artist "Weird Al" Yankovic, Prince's highest profile battle over his music came in the early 1990s, when his original record company, Warner Bros., wouldn't allow him to release his music at his own pace, resulting in the singer wanting out of his contract. When the company refused he changed his name to the infamous "Love Symbol," since Warner Bros. had trademarked the Prince name. Despite the fact that it hurt his record sales and the name "The Artist Formerly Known as Prince" became something got a punchline, Prince stuck by his principles and released music on his own record label and even became a pioneer in selling music online.
More than two decades later, as artists from Pete Townsend to Taylor Swift speak out about how unfairly streaming services and other digital music outlets treat artists, Prince's battles with Warner Bros. seem more and more justified. Like with his music, he could see further ahead than most when it comes to the business side of his craft and struck an early blow for the rights of artists for generations to come.
NEXT: Crafting "Prince"
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