There were flowers everywhere, from Scritti Politti’s Absolute to The Smiths and in addition book ending the central image of the man astride his bike on the cover of Purple Rain. It seemed strange that flowers, associated more so for the hippie movement of late sixties America, could become more prevalent as a dynamic visual accompaniment to 1984, than the austere imagery thrown up by George Orwell’s legendary literature and the electronic synth movement that supported it, yet there they were.
Prince’s odyssey is a little dated nowadays but still a force to be reckoned with and its influence at the time was vast. My knowledge of this Minneapolis maestro began five years earlier back in Wellington. I can’t remember whose flat I found myself in, possibly one of my older sister’s friends. On the radio that morning was a new song called ‘I Wanna Be Your Lover.’ Now I can’t say this had me doing cartwheels across the damp and darkened abode. In fact I don’t recall having much of an opinion on the effeminate vocal or its lite-funk, in that moment it was just ok. Nor was I aware of For You, though I may have heard Dirty Mind and 1999’s famous title track.
No it wasn’t until Orwell’s year zero – 1984 – that I became fully aware of Prince via my sister’s vinyl purchase of said Purple Rain. Of that I can remember being in awe of that guitar solo on Let’s Go Crazy, the nouveau hippie-ness of Take Me With You, still an enchanting piece today, the beauty in the Beautiful Ones, the extraordinarily sparse When Doves Cry; not that I realised it then mind, it was just pop. How the hell I failed to realise there was no bass and the first verse was a cappella is now unfathomable and then that shot of pop adrenalin… I Would Die 4U, amazing! The single would have been the first thing of his I bought in a clearance shop on a snowy day in Bristol, January 1985 if memory serves. Getting back to the album, the disco of Baby I’m a Star continued the pace and flow set by IWD4U and the most exquisite detail of the title track is its closing sequence, like the winding down of a grand opera or classical piece. It felt as if he knew he was wrapping up a significant work.
The next thing that grabbed me was probably Mountains, another which narrowly missed the UK top 40, and though Raspberry Beret charted it somehow stalled short of the top 20 (even Paisley Park managed 18). Rejoining the Parade I recall New Position’s nu-funk and the very cute Do U Lie? Sometimes it Snows in April purely for its poetic title and Kiss? Well I didn’t quite get that ’til later, it was around, it was popular and it was top 10. Onto ’87 and Sign O’ The Times. Wow! Dorothy Parker, IT, Adore, Strange Relationship, Starfish and Coffee. Amazing body of work, better than Purple Rain in my opinion. Also loved what Wendy and Lisa were doing having left the Revolution for the Honeymoon Express.
Stop the press! I still play Batdance regularly and one of the things that most amazes me is that it actually came out. Imagine the playback at Warners, you can picture the faces of record company execs which usually results in ‘no way are we putting that out!’ Happily it’s one of those miraculous examples where not only did it secure a release but gained mainstream acceptance and it’s strangeness is enduring. Thieves in the Temple was given a Middle Eastern make over by Junior Vasquez and with the release of the first HITS compilation in ’93 I found the genius and humour of his early work. Soft and Wet, Uptown, When You Were Mine, Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad, his own version of I Feel For You and the full version of I Wanna Be Your Lover; still no cartwheels but I’ve plenty of time for this version.
Somewhere in the midst of life I lost track of Prince around the time of Emancipation, so much work (for him and me), the diamonds in the rough phase of his shambolic relations with Warners. Again I was aware of him – fragments came and went; Love 2 The 9’s, Sweet Baby, And God Created Woman, Peach, Pope, I Hate U, My Computer, The Most Beautiful Girl and Dinner With Delores all peppered my life soundtrack having graduated mid-nineties. My sister however remained a bigger fan, lapping up LoveSexy, Diamonds and Pearls and would see him at the o2 in London, whereas I never caught him live. There is still a vast part of his catalogue to discover which is probably a good thing, if only I could find the time!
And now of course, the flowers are for a very different reason, the passing of a pop phenomenon and to reference Scritti, a prince among men.
RIP Prince, I Wish U Heaven.