In the summer of 1984 I spent every Sunday afternoon listening to Kasey Casem running down America’s Top 40 on Radio Nova. It remains my favourite summer. First girlfriend, first year in secondary school, and the first year I can say I became truly obsessed with pop music.
It was also the year I first heard Prince. ‘When Doves Cry’ was the song. It’s still my favourite song. Such an unusual song too, its lack of bass-line (Prince removed the bass track at the last minute to make it sound different) somehow forming the backbone to an absolute classic. I bought Purple Rain, I saw the film, and man I wanted that motorcycle. He could dance as well as his great ’80s rival Michael Jackson, he could sing so many musical styles, and what a guitarist.
Remember the Brit Awards in 1985 when this diminutive figure strode purposefully through an audience who still didn’t quite know what to make of a skinny dude who thanked God and said little else in his acceptance speeches? There were comparisons to Hendrix and Little Richard but Prince and his band The Revolution had already moved from rock to psychedelic pop with 1985’s Around The World In A Day. When pop’s major players of the time – Madonna and Jacko – were taking two or three years to make records, Prince was releasing an album every twelve months. Not only that, but he was writing number ones for The Bangles and Chaka Khan in his spare time.
When I first saw the video for ‘Sign O’ The Times’, probably the first lyric video ever, I was knocked out by the lyrics and how they fit within the structure of the song. It tackles AIDS, drug deaths and gang warfare and that’s just verse one. It’s one of the greatest songs of all time. The album and concert movie of the same name is as pure an expression of genius as one can get. At this point I was becoming more aware of his many talents, not just songwriting and singing, but producing, arranging and playing all the instruments he could lay his hands on. Does anyone remember the Lovesexy concert from Germany that Channel Four screened one night in 1988? Do yourself a favour and dig it out on YouTube. It’s one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen.
Pairc Ui Chaoimh, 1990. I had done the Leaving a few months earlier and Italia ’90 had us on a high as we hitched to Cork to see Prince for the first time. I won’t pretend to recall the gig because I was tired and emotional but I’m happy I was there. It was notable for being possibly the first time ‘Ole Ole Ole’ was sang outside of a football match. And Prince responded in kind. “Whose stage is this anyway?”, or something like that. I didn’t see him play live again until a rather disappointing show in the Point in 2002. It was a performance punctuated by quarter songs, half songs and jams. By this time, Prince had gone through the Symbol and Artist Formerly Known As controversies, his material was perhaps not as strong as it had been pre-1992 and even though he was more prolific than ever, it was seemingly a case of quantity not quality.
My good friend Bernard, the biggest Prince fan I know, dragged me to London to see Prince play one of a staggering 21 nights at the O2 in 2007. He rehearsed 130 numbers for these shows. A Croke Park show the following year was famously cancelled six days prior amidst promoter/ artist disputes, claims and counter-claims. His last show on these shores was at Malahide Castle in 2011.
100 million records, seven Grammys and an Oscar. Genius.
Prince Rogers Nelson, 1958 ~ 2016.