Before explicitly sexual lyrics became prevalent in pop music, before the black and white “Parental Advisory” sticker on albums, and definitely way before twerking, there was Prince Rogers Nelson.
Masturbation, cunnilingus, coitus, and everything before, afterwards, and in between were the man’s musical bread and butter. You could say Prince paved the way for overt sexuality in popular music today—new artists who get raunchy with their music can thank him for that. But stereotyping Prince simply as a funky, rocking, soulful, singing lothario would do him injustice. The man was a musical genius. He just happened to like keeping things risqué.
I found out about Prince’s passing last night, before going to bed. What followed wasn’t a particularly fitful sleep or anything like that; maybe because it was late, I was tired, and the news was something my brain didn’t want to fully acknowledge. But waking up to the reality that one of the world’s greatest musicians was no longer among us felt pretty raw. The loss of a one-of-a-kind instrumentalist, composer, and musical savant can do that.
Known to write, produce, record, master, and play all the instruments on his records (and allegedly on the records of other artists he took under his wing, too), Prince’s talent was out of this world. With over 30 albums to his name, and a musical career that spanned 40 years, it’s easy to see how this man was music personified. His influence in modern-day music spreads to artists such as Kanye West, Justin Timberlake, Jay-Z, Beyonce, Justice, Lil Wayne, Tre Songz, Chromeo, who have all sampled Prince’s music.
Today, the whole world mourns the loss of an unbelievable artist. As someone who’s enjoyed performing to a crowd with a guitar slung over my shoulder or with a mic in my hands, Prince’s death is significant. I consider music to be part of my soul, too. And with Prince’s passing, it’s like a huge part of that musical quilt just unraveled.
I found myself going through YouTube most of the day listening to Prince’s music, just to remind myself that his work, his legacy, lives on. And I found it strangely comforting that a lot of his songs weren’t readily available or had copyright restrictions, rendering them un-playable. It’s like the mystery of Prince, aka The Artist, aka The Purple One, aka Jamie Starr lives on. Of course it does.
I found some, though, and realized that these are ones that each has a little personal anecdote. So this article and this short playlist—this is how I shed my tears and pay tribute to a legendary musician.
I was a year old when this song came out. To claim that I knew this song then would sound pretty implausible. But even though I couldn’t exactly communicate properly then, I’ve confirmed that this was the song my older siblings were singing around me in ’86. Maybe that’s also why the guitar riff right before Prince coos “kiss” is so unmistakable for me.
“When Doves Cry”
(Purple Rain, 1984)
Ginuwine’s remake was the first version of this song I ever heard. It was cool already, but immediately got a million times cooler when my older brother let me hear Prince’s cut. Removed from the smooth, RnB treatment, Prince’s no-bass, stripped-down, hard-hitting original sounded off the hook in 1997. I also remember making a comparison between his high pitched shrieking on the track to another musical genius gone too soon—Michael Jackson.
“The Most Beautiful Girl in the World”
(The Gold Experience, 1995)
Deep into RnB and watching lots of MTV on cable, this was one of the songs I always felt lucky to catch when it came on. Beautiful melody, and a hook that can melt even the iciest of female hearts. On this song I realized that Prince, despite the heavy makeup and frilly blouses, had mad game when it came to the females.
“I Wanna Be Your Lover”
During college, some close friends and I got into turntables and collecting vinyl. This was back when thrift stores in Cubao-X were practically giving records away, at P25 a piece. Two of my most prized finds were “Prince” and “1999.” And while the latter is touted as his more pivotal work, this track from his eponymous second album stands out. It’s college, playing gigs, and enjoying the rush of being on-stage all over again when I listen to it.
“Muse 2 the Pharaoh”
(The Rainbow Children, 2001)
Introduced by my friend and fellow musician Paolo Garcia (aka Pasta Groove), this track was, for me, a real surprise. It’s always a challenge to make sexy music that isn’t blatantly so, and on this track Prince knocks it out of the park. That he goes really far out, creating the tale of a woman in another time, place, and space, is a testament to his uncanny songwriting chops.
The soul, the music, and the sexiness live on. Rest in power, Prince.
*BONUS: No disrespect to the other amazing musicians on this tribute, but Prince totally stole the show here. Wait for it at the 3:27 mark.