PRINCE FEVER IS AT, ER, fever pitch following last night’s guerrilla London show, Sunday night’s post-Super Bowl cameo on Fox’s New Girl sitcom, the release on iTunes of the latest single by his three-quarter-female rock combo, 3RDEYEGIRL, and continuing UK-based activity.
PRETZELBODYLOGIC precedes the expected announcement of a release date for an album entitled PLECTRUMELECTRUM. The excitement underlines the impression that Prince is back, back, back.
Some (including Prince himself) would argue that he’s never been away. Even so, and despite extensive gigging, Prince albums have had mixed impact since 2006’s excellent 3121. However, everything around the 3RDEYEGIRL project, especially the music so far made available, including the recent single FIXURLIFEUP, suggests that anticipation is justified.
Stay alert for a special and exclusive Prince-related treat in the next issue of MOJO magazine, on sale February 25.
Meanwhile, enjoy MOJO’s 20 Reasons Why Prince Will Always Rule…
1. He Could Play Anything Better Than You Can
Guitar, keyboards, drums, singing: he could do the lot to Mozartian levels. Jimmy Jam, future superstar producer to Janet Jackson et al, remembers an encounter when they were both at school in Minneapolis: “We were at Bryant Junior High. I was a year younger than him. We were in a band to back up the choir at school. I was gonna play drums, and I knew Prince played keyboards. He showed up at practice and picks up a guitar and plays, note for note, the intricate solo from Chicago's Make Me Smile. I made the mistake of getting up from the drums, and he sat there and he killed 'em. He had the biggest Afro in the world – that wasn't fair, either.”
2. For You’s Insane Calling Card
Prince’s first album for Warner Bros, For You (1978), begins not with a funked-out jam but, with a wild unpredictability that predicted everything to follow, an a cappella overture featuring multiple Prince voices multi-tracked into a swooning choir (Roy Thomas Baker’s work with Queen – especially Bohemian Rhapsody – was the role model). Prince had arrived.
3. The Lairy Lyricism
Some stories have the young Prince kicked out of the house by his piano-player dad, John Nelson, when the latter caught him with a girl, and tales of his sexual precocity followed him ever after. Certainly, his lyrics have left little to the imagination. Do Me Baby, Jack U Off, Soft And Wet and Darling Nikki (“I met her in a hotel lobby masturbating with a magazine”) trumped all previous standards of R&B saltiness. Move over Barry White. If you can.
4. His Interview Rules
If this can truly be said of anyone who came to fame wearing women’s knickers under a flasher’s mac, there was a shyness at the core of Prince. But he turned a potential weakness to his advantage, finding ways to project the enigma via the minimum of public appearances. On Dick Clark’s make or break US pop show, American Bandstand in 1980, (from 3.45) his monosyllabic answers to the exasperated host’s very reasonable questions created a disproportionate buzz. Even as early as 1981, Prince was demanding that journalists who interviewed him did so without the aid of a tape recorder, and latterly he insisted they take no notes either. Prince claimed it was to prevent his voice being bootlegged and sold on; he also knew that anything a journalist thought he said was probably even better than what he really said.
5. Purple Rain: The Movie
There had been hit rock movies before, but surely none so ludicrous, glamorous and funny – and how better to globally promote an artist who didn’t like to be interviewed and who was already questioning, like the Beatles before him, the value of the exhaustive world tour. At one point during 1984, Purple Rain was the Number 1 album and film in America.
6. The Guitar Solo In Let’s Go Crazy
Let’s face it, Let’s Go Crazy was already a killer way to open Prince’s commercial behemoth, Purple Rain. The organ, the hilarious and exciting “Dearly beloved…” bit, the riff, the pneumatic beat, the message. Just when you think it’s over, Prince says “uh-unh” and unleashes a blistering axe assault like someone opening a fire hydrant in your face. Prince had arrived, again.
7. The Appearance At The BRITs, 1985
Prince’s mastery over 1984 was complete, and he had appeared ubiquitous. Yet a thrill still ran through a TV audience of millions when the International Artist of the year was announced and Prince bopped up to the stage accompanied by a grey-bearded Brobdingnagian freak of a bodyguard, Charles “Big Chick” Huntsberry. What wisdom would the Purple One impart? He grabbed his statuette, blurted “All thanks to God” and was gone, his theatrical reputation enhanced tenfold at a trice.
8. His Creative About-Turns
Prince read the Beatles rule book early on, and pored over the chapter headed “Never Repeat Yourself”. Still, it was daring and weird when he turned his back on the steroidal electro-pop-rock of Purple Rain and stepped back into the psychedelic hinterlands of Around The World In A Day. Instant about turns would become Prince’s MO, even at huge commercial risk, as when he canned the saturnine, funk- and rap-heavy The Black Album on the eve of its dispatch to be replaced by the sunnier, urgently patched-together Lovesexy. The really mad thing was: it was pretty nearly just as good.
9. His Fashion Coups
Top 5 Prince looks: 1) quiff, crop top and bolero pants circa Parade (1986); 2) flasher mac, bumfluff ‘tache, high-leg undies exposing bristling thigh hair for Dirty Mind (1980-1981); 3) Purple Pimpernel-style Regency frock coat, frilly shirt (1984-85); 4) afro, skintight top, golden blindfold for 3RDEYEGIRL appearances (2013); kinky policeman’s hat, veil of chains, gun-shaped microphone circa The Gold Experience (1992)
10. Kiss, For Heaven’s Sake!
Every last scintillating, minimalist judder of it. Mwah!
11. Two Definitively Great Double Albums
The Beatles managed one, so did the Rolling Stones, The Clash and Prince’s Minneapolitan neighbours Hüsker Dü. Hardly anyone has smashed two double albums out of the park, but Prince did. 1999, his fifth album, was a non-stop party, with extended dance mixes pre-provided. Sign “O” The Times is his mature meisterwerk: a gripping and varied box of delights, opening with the stark dystopian funk of the title track before diverting into the hipster jazz-pop of The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker, the sui generis gender-bending of If I Was Your Girlfriend and way, way, beyond. Neither double is a second too long.
12. Paisley Park
When Michael Jackson, in his imperial pomp, built his Stately Pleasure Dome, it was Neverland – a fairground/zoo to reclaim his surrendered childhood. Defining the crucial differences between them, Prince’s Xanadu was a place of work: a $10m studio/rehearsal/film/business complex in suburban Chanhassen, a half hour’s drive outside Minneapolis. Through financial thick and thin, it thrived – Prince’s centre of operations.
13. Becoming A Symbol
Prince’s issues with race were interesting: “Don’t make me black,” he told Warners executive Lenny Waronker when he signed. But his feelings about African-American history, along with his belief that Warner Bros had in effect appropriated the ‘Prince’ brand, fed into his rejection of his birth name in 1993. Being Prince (or rather, The Artist Formally Known As…), he had a stylish and abstruse alternative: a glyph you couldn’t say, derived from the astrological/alchemical symbols for male and female. Commercial self-sabotage? Perhaps – but heads turned and his first album as “Symbol” (1995’s The Gold Experience) peaked at 6 in the US, 4 in the UK, when such achievements meant something.
14. Writing ‘Slave’ On His Face
When Prince realised his contract with Warners meant they owned his master tapes (not an unusual record-contract stipulation, it should be noted) he sued for release from the label, and vowed to display the word “Slave” on his phizog until he was free. “If they made jokes I’d say, Go right ahead,” he told MOJO writer Phil Sutcliffe. “I had their attention.” Theren Was Method In His Madness, Chapter Umpteen. (PHOTO: PA)
15. Boosting For Minneapolis
For all of the City Of Lakes’ undoubted attractions (lots of lakes, er… some other things) any other mega global pop star would have upped sticks and decamped to Hawaii. Yet Prince remained, maintaining Paisley Park, playing impromptu shows in town and supporting the local talent (like blue-eyed indie-soulsters Gayngs). Still, there’s a price, as Prince told MOJO in a 2014 interview: “It’s cold in Minneapolis, haven’t you heard?” (PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES)
16. Rehabilitating Mavis Staples
When Prince liked you, he REALLY liked you, and artists he admired could expect his generous attention. The Staple Singers’ soul queen Mavis Staples enjoyed Prince’s support from the late-’80s onwards – he wrote, produced and released her 1989 album, Time Waits For No One, took her on tour and helped revive her career. Sly & The Family Stone bassist Larry Graham has also enjoyed purple patronage – a favour he returned by converting the singer to the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the early 2000s. Recently, Prince held a torch for Janelle Monaé, Lianne La Havas and Liv Warfield, and wouldn’t let anyone forget it.
17. While My Guitar Gently Weeps At The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame
In March, 2004 Prince was inducted into Cleveland’s pop Valhalla, a ceremony topped with a salute to George Harrison. A superjam versh of While My Guitar Gently Weeps ensued, with Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty delivering moving performances in tribute to their departed friend. Then it was Prince’s turn, unleashing the closing guitar salvo in the spirit of Let’s Go Crazy. At once fiercely emotional and haughtily grandstanding, it set the room aflame – just look at Dhani Harrison’s astonished/delighted face. (Not sure about the red trilby, though…)
18. Call My Name
Well past his supposed commercial peak, Prince cranked out excellent records, and although some of them failed to grab the attention of non-Prince nutters, this was often due to eccentric distribution gambits (giving an album away free with The Mail On Sunday plays to an odd constituency: Carshalton ladies with twinsets and black Labradors who jam to Jack U Off) rather than any intrinsic weakness in the material. Truth is, there’s at least one great thing on all post-imperial Prince albums (except maybe, Come). The gorgeous, Grammy-winning Call My Name, from Musicology (2004), his best pure soul song since The Most Beautiful Girl In The World (1995), is a case in point.
19. His 21 Nights At London’s 02
A classic Prince coup. Playing to his strengths: his live show. Reminding us of his worth: playing the hits (albeit, slightly disingenuously “for the last time”). Doing something extraordinary: 21 nights priced at a top-value £31.21. And your correspondent got to sit in a box next to Jim Rosenthal!
Prince’s late career was packed with value. Lots of gigs, most with his familiar New Power Generation setup, delivering classic Prince to the faithful. Plenty of recordings, too, although, again, not flattered by their distribution wheezes: Lotusflow3r sold online in a somewhat ungainly bundle with MPLSound and Elixer (the latter ostensibly a solo album by pulchritudinous protégée Bria Valente), then 20Ten free with The Mirror and other European newspapers. But 3RDEYEGIRL – a three-parts female funky rock quartet, strategically unveiled via blistering shows and TV spots and, at last, an intriguing online plan, with paid-for downloads drip-fed over 12 months – stoked the excitement levels perfectly. And the shows were bitchin’.
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