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The Artist formerly known as a squiggle, Prince, returns with Musicology an album full of feel-good tunes.

In the 1980’s, if it wasn't Madonna or Michael Jackson, then it was Prince all over the radio and MTV. He sold nearly 100 million records worldwide during that time, churning out hit after hit that we’ve grown to know and love. And ‘The Purple One’ has provided plenty of fodder for discussion and speculation in recent years. Him changing his name to that cryptic symbol and becoming ‘The Artist Formerly Known As’, his raunchy lyrics with music videos to match, his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year, and even his recent performance with Beyonce at the 2004 Grammy’s (which provided the show's biggest buzz) has kept him forever swirling around in our minds.

So why is he famous again? Think number one songs like When Doves Cry, Let’s Go Crazy, Little Red Corvette and 1999 – some of the biggest hits of the last twenty years that helped make him one of the most successful pop singers ever. And it's not every day that a man can get up in front of a crowd of people, grab a hold of his family jewels, scream at the top of his lungs, and have women by the truckloads faint at his feet in utmost adoration. Not only that: how many men do you know who’ve dated Madonna, Kim Basinger, Kylie Minogue and Cindy Crawford to name but a few. He's an all-out lady-killer.

Raised in a 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 was fronting his own band, Grand Central. He graduated from high school at age 16 and moved out of his parents' house to live in a friend's basement. A year later, a studio engineer offered to swap him some recording time in exchange for some session piano work. After he stepped away from the keyboard, Prince added bass, drums, lead guitar, and backing vocal tracks to the same piece, stunning the studio tech and writing the script for the rest of his career. A trip to New York led to two contract offers, but also convinced the youngster that he'd left his heart in Minneapolis. Returning to his hometown, he cut a three-track demo that amazed Warner Bros. Records executives, and at 19, he was given a budget of $100,000 and total control over his debut album.

For You, released in 1978, featured Prince on every instrument, but still wound up going over budget. His next album, Prince, released a year later, increased his reputation well beyond a meager cult following thanks to the hit I Wanna Be Your Lover, which landed Prince an appearance on American Bandstand. Things slowed down slightly when 1980's Dirty Mind failed to spawn a Top 40 single (inexplicably, the album's catchiest track, When You Were Mine, was never issued as a 45), but it was the record that put critics firmly in the Prince camp. He bounced back commercially with 1981's Controversy, which cleverly capitalized on the fuss being made about his X-rated lyrics and androgynous persona. That same year, he gained his first exposure to the mainstream rock audience by opening a few shows for the Rolling Stones. Taking the stage in a trench coat and bikini briefs, he faced down nearly 100,000 Stones fans at the Los Angeles Coliseum, and was booed off the stage.

You can read the rest of our feature on Prince in the June 2004 issue of The Record Music Magazine available at your local newsagent.

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