Pop sensation Prince, who died from a prescription drug overdose earlier today at age 57, isn’t just another hitmaker gone silent. Like Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston, he is irreplaceable.
Prince was no simple man, but a bundle of contradictions that found their most meaningful expression in the music he made. Like Duke Ellington, he brought a level of sophistication and savoir faire to R&B music. Unlike anyone, he crafted some of the filthiest lyrics ever conceived and fixed them to dancefloor throwdowns and unforgettable melodies.
There will be inevitable comparisons to Michael Jackson in the days to come, because both of them enjoyed their greatest success simultaneously in the mid-’80s. Their music was steeped in the black traditions of blues, jazz and pop, but evolved past simply racking up hit after hit. Upon hearing “When Doves Cry” in the studio control room. for example, he decided the bass was dragging his song down and making it sound muddier than he wanted. He removed it entirely – not something you’d do in creating typical R&B.
Onstage, his persona was yin to Michael Jackson’s yang. Where Michael seemed so asexual as to only want to grab his own crotch, Prince exuded an aura of pansexuality – that he’d bed you, your boyfriend, your parents, and maybe the family pet if the mood suited him.
Prince leaves behind a tremendous body of work (and much material that remains unheard in his personal archive that may see the light of day eventually), and he’ll always be known as the man behind “Kiss,” “Purple Rain” and “Little Red Corvette.” What’s still stupefying in its swagger are the releases immediately before “1999” made him an overnight star. “Dirty Mind” and “Controversy” are two of his best albums and anyone who loves the hit years will find these full of undiscovered treasure.
He’ll leave behind scores of people who had interpersonal troubles with him, because he could often be difficult to the point of tyranny. But he also leaves behind the kind of legacy reserved for those we remember by one name: Sinatra. Elvis. Marley. Lennon. Michael. May he rest in peace.
Last modified: September 19, 2018