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Given the sheer volume and varying quality of his recorded output, not to mention his weird behavior, it is easy to overlook the fact that Prince is one of the greatest musicians of the last quarter century. Prince ruled pop music in the '80s, thrilling audiences with his risqué performances and his sexual lyrics. Purple Rain didn't just visit the top of the charts, it spent a staggering 24 weeks there, good enough for the fourth-longest stay in history by a pop album. And when he wasn't turning out his own top 10 hits, he was spinning gold for others like Sinead O'Connor, The Bangles and Chaka Khan. Currently, with a brand new album 3121 riding high at number one on the charts; there’s no better time to look back at his evolution from wonderkid to artistic genius to icon:

Prince Then:
Born Prince Rogers Nelson; he was raised in a poor and troubled home where his father was a struggling piano player. Prince's escape was, from an early age, his music. A genuine musical prodigy, he taught himself to play more than 20 different instruments by ear alone, and as early as thirteen, he was fronting his own band, Grand Central. After he cut a three-track demo that amazed Warner Bros. Records executives; at 19 he was given a budget of $100,000 and total control over his debut album. The result, For You, released in 1978, featured Prince on every instrument, but still wound up going over budget. The first record didn't sell as well as expected, and Prince was threatened with an outside producer if he didn't go more commercial. He rose to the challenge, and the second self-titled album was far from being a soulless sell-out record, he actually managed to express his distinctive personality far better than before. The tuneful radio hits I Wanna Be Your Lover and I Feel For You, increased his reputation well beyond a meager cult; and Prince was well on his way to becoming a household name.
With a successful tour and an album perched in the Top 10, 1983 was a great year for Prince, but it couldn't hold a candle to what he would achieve the following year. With the release of Purple Rain, Prince moved into territory only Elvis Presley and the Beatles could relate to: at the age of 26, he simultaneously had a single (When Doves Cry), an album, and a movie in the No. 1 spot on the Billboard and box-office charts. It even won the Oscar for best score. Since then, he has sold nearly 100 million records worldwide; churning out hit after hit that we’ve grown to know and love.

Prince and His Music:
Prince can turn it on just as well in a soulful plea for love with tracks like When Doves Cry or Nothing Compares To You as he can pen a biting protest about nuclear proliferation like 1999. Number one songs like Let’s Go Crazy, Little Red Corvette and The Most Beautiful Girl In The World are just a few of the biggest hits of the last twenty years that helped make him one of the most successful pop singers.
1980’s Dirty Mind was his first major work and the record that put critics firmly in the Prince camp. Filled with love songs, sex songs and pseudo-political anthems that were originally recorded as demos, mostly at Prince's home; He decided to release the demos rather than beautify the songs in an LA studio, paving the way for the 80’s punk funk movement. Lyrically he pushed the envelope to the extreme, with the incest-themed Sister for one. When You Were Mine; which is inexplicably the album's catchiest track; was never released as a single but has been covered by everyone from Cyndi Lauper to the Pet Shop Boys.

Prince Now:
In the summer of 1994, he released a single under his non-name on a new label imprint, NPG. The first single of that album The Most Beautiful Girl In The World became a surprise hit, giving him a UK number one. Climbing to No. 3 on the Billboard charts, it also gave the artist leverage over Warner Bros. by showing that he could deliver without the company's help. Upon its release; the parent album The Gold Experience was greeted with rave reviews; and was hailed as his best work in decades. A deal with Arista Records paved the way for his 1999 album Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic - a return to form of sorts for Prince. His next effort was signing with Sony music; which yielded 2004’s Musicology ~ his strongest effort in years. The album debuted at # 3 on The Billboard 200; and managed to sell two million copies in the US alone. Prince produced an album of intelligent sound that had less appeal for screaming teenagers, but all the more for his peers.

You can read the rest of our feature on Prince in the April 2006 issue of The Record Music Magazine available at your local newsagent.


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