Another artist gone too soon. There have been many in recent weeks with Prince, sadly, among the most notable and pioneering. He was James Brown meets Jimi Hendrix – a rocker who merged funk, R&B, electronica and soul as well as anyone ever did. A trendsetter and visionary. An amazing songwriter and incredible singer with range that one moment expressed emotion, another sexuality.
As a radio disk jockey as his career began and progressed, I experienced first hand how traditional radio at first shunned and then openly embraced him. When I first hit the airwaves in 1981, music from his first offerings, “Dirty Mind” and “Controversy” were too controversial for anything but Urban formatted stations to play, typically late at night and edited. At the same time, traditional “Hit” radio was the exact opposite of color and gender blind. They rarely played African American or female artists. Then came Michael Jackson and MTV.
The timing was perfect for Prince and he took full advantage – releasing his swan song, “Purple Rain” and the beautiful “When Doves Cry” to radio and MTV. The movie, “Purple Rain”, would become the silver screen’s first long-form music video since the Beatle’s “Yellow Submarine”. And the rest, as they say, is history.
What would follow, in fact, was a legendary career that would offer the eclectic (“Rasberry Beret”), the socially relevant (“Sign of the Times”) and the out-and-out fun (“Kiss”). A master marketer, he was among the first to release music free and or without promotion online – approaches later emulated to great success by Radiohead, Beyonce and Drake.
Always pushing boundaries. Always setting trends. A chameleon who was first a name and then a symbol and then a name again. At times we might have wanted to look away, but we could never take our eyes or ears off him.