2016 has been an extremely difficult year for music fans. As we continue to mourn the losses of David Bowie, Merle Haggard, Maurice White, and Glenn Frey, another legend was taken far too early from this planet.
Prince Rogers Nelson, like David Bowie, not only redefined music but transcended it. He was like great composers of the past, a modern-day Beethoven, Mozart, or Bach who was able to hear every single instrument simultaneously while visualizing how a song would sound if played with different arrangements. His unique skills allowed him to be a master of funk, pop, R&B, soul, and even electronic. He’ll be remembered for his hits, but it is his back catalog where his talents truly shone. For instance, if you can get your hands on a bootleg of his One Nite Alone tour from 2002, you’ll be introduced to a completely different Prince.
For all his hits, Prince often gets overlooked as being great multi-instrumentalist. He was a classical pianist who wrote some of the greatest melodies in music. He was an immensely talented DJ and producer who dabbled in sounds and beats in ways that were surreal. If he wanted to, he could have been topping electronic charts. He was also arguably one of the greatest guitar players to ever live, although he was often overlooked by fans and critics for his unparalleled talents (cough Rolling Stone cough). His name was Prince, and he was the funkiest of the funky.
The stage, too, was where Prince separated himself from everyone else. From his elaborate spectacles to his small, late-hours concerts for select fans to his surprise pop-up shows, every Prince show was an event. His last two tours – Hit and Run tour and Piano & a Microphone – allowed the Artist to fully display his talents. Songwriter, guitar player, pianist, cosmic electronic producer, he showcased all of his skills while making an intimate affair feel like an arena-size event. Even in the weeks leading up to his passing, Prince was still blowing away fans, which makes it difficult to come to terms that the Purple Reign has ended. To us and so many fans, Prince was an immortal.
We still have his music. We still have the videos, the photos, and, of course, Purple Rain. But his legacy will last in the thousands of musicians that he influenced, the millions of fans whom he inspired, and his mark on the world. If Bowie represented the convergence of the cosmic and earth, Prince epitomized the beauty of humanity if we opened our minds. Our hearts continue to ache and our guitars continue to gently weep, but our lives are a little better for Prince having entered our lives.
To pay tribute to Prince, some of our favorite artists shared their favorite songs by the Minnesota native and wrote about how Prince has influenced them. Rest in peace, Prince Rogers Nelson. We are gathered here today to get through this thing called life, and today we celebrate yours.
AJ Haynes of Seratones
“Adore” is, in my mind, the best love song of all time. “If God one day struck me blind, your beauty I’d still see/ Love’s too weak to define. That’s what you mean to me.”
He’s speaking to a divine love, something greater than a flippant passing phrase. Prince was able to incorporate his own amorous sensuality with a clear-eyed vision of the love he wants to create with another person.
“Money Don’t Matter 2 Night”
At age 11, I received my first Compact Disc for Christmas: Diamonds & Pearls. Little did I know at the time, however, that I would later have the pleasure to work with Prince for seven consecutive shows at a popular Hollywood destination in ’07. As an early adolescent coming up with a single mom in lower-income housing, there was one particular song that helped me with my self consciousness in regards to our financial situation. Track 10 began with a lead-in drum fill, fell into a soothing groove, a comforting blues-toned melody, and the opening statement “One more card & it’s 22”, the opening verse to “Money Don’t Matter 2 Night”.
As the song continued into the chorus, It helped me become more comfortable in my skin. It revealed to me at a young age that we were not only the only ones going through hard times. In reflection, I didn’t quite comprehend the the final verse of this song at my young age. Though today, I find it prophetic in reference to our nation’s historical miscues in the Middle East and abroad. “Hey now, maybe we can find a good reason, to send a child off to war. So what, if we’re controlling all the oil, is it worth a child dying for?”
“The Beautiful Ones”
RK of RKCB
“The Beautiful Ones” is one of the first soul songs I can remember falling in love with. Everything from Prince’s intensely emotional vocal performance to the futuristic soundscape was inspiring. His approach to production and ability to push sonic boundaries blew me away and showed me that it was cool to take risks and be different. Prince wasn’t afraid to be vulnerable and let people see what he was really feeling, so he would express that however he saw fit. That is the definition of a true artist.
I remember the first time I heard “The Beautiful Ones”. I was so enthralled by the beat, the voice, and its smooth swell. It is a full story from start to finish, told not only by the lyrics but through a giant arc in the arrangement. Prince delivers a crescendo in vocal intensity as the song progresses, a tool that I use in every one of my songs. It is iconic genre-bending. Rock, pop, soul, funk, R&B. “The Beautiful Ones” is a song that I love for its ear candy but even more so because it was the catalyst that pushed me directly into my style as an artist.
“Breakfast Can Wait”
Zack Cramp of Playing To Vapors
It’s hard to pick a favorite, but one Prince song that I really love is one he released fairly late in his life – “Breakfast Can Wait”. It’s a groovy, in-the-pocket ode to staying in bed just a little longer to make some morning whoopee. The tune isn’t exactly classic Prince, but it’s got everything that I love about his music: it’s funky, it’s sexy, and the lyrics showcase his sense of humor and playfulness. It definitely solidified my Prince fandom but also showed me that even after making over 30 albums, you can never run out of great songs to write. If you’re a Dave Chappelle fan, be sure to check out the single’s album art, too.
Steven of Golden Coast
Denny and I were always super fans of “Kiss” (coincidentally released the year I was born). Prince had a complete effortlessness to what he did… every note he played, every word he sang… and he somehow always managed to bring the sexy to everything. In fact, I remember hearing him comment about Timberlake’s breakout hit “The Sexy Never Left”. Ha! Not even to mention being a one-stop shop, producing and playing everything on his records. That’s always been inspiring and something we’ve sought after on all our own stuff.
CB of RKCB
“Kiss” was my introduction to Prince. And while it seems impossible to pick one out of his massively influential catalogue, this song surprises me every single time I hear it. I am constantly amazed at his deliberate choices. His vocals are so intimate yet so undeniably confident. That guitar line has become the ubiquitous “funk” guitar line. The drums snap your neck and punch your chest. Everything he put in that song is entrancing and irrefutable. Like a true classic, it has never had to grow on me nor have I ever tired of it. This is not a fine wine that opens over time, nor a bourbon that gains complexity with dilution; this song is perfect off the bat. Period. Prince’s dry, unapologetic ripping apart of lust is the most romantic thing I’ve ever heard. I need him as much as he needs her. I’m all in. Prince made this thing out of nothing. And it moves you. It shows you how to move, it tells you just how he wants you to move. He is no bullshit, through and through. His honesty won’t be touched or tainted; his artistry can’t be sold or bought. He exists. “Kiss” exits. “Purple Rain” exists. “Sometimes It Snows In April” exists. And for that we are very, very thankful.
“I Would Die 4 U”
My favorite Prince song is definitely “I Would Die 4 U.” Musically, it’s so energetic and infectious. What stood out to me the most, however, are the redemptive lyrics. I’ll spend the rest of my career trying to write a song with this much soul.
“Let’s Go Crazy”
Mike Harris of VOKES
The first Prince song I ever heard was “Let’s Go Crazy”. At the time, I was 14 years old and completely obsessed with playing guitar and Jimi Hendrix. When I heard this song in my parents’ car on the radio, everything stopped. It had a very immediate and long-lasting impression on so many different, unexplainable aspects I loved. At first, I thought of Prince as “an ’80s Jimi Hendrix”, but the longer I listened, I began to realize he was much more. From the iconic intro monologue, the main guitar/bass riff, the synths and sample drums, his one-of-a-kind vocal, the face-melting guitar solo… Safe to say, I was hooked. Factoring in the moment I found out he played all the instruments on most of his records: mind blown.
As I’ve grown up and continued to listen to Prince, I still hear different nuances with “Let’s Go Crazy” as though it was brand new. When I finally got around to seeing a YouTube video of Prince & The Revolution performing it, I was and still am blown away at the level of showmanship and truely unique virtuosity Prince held in every aspect as an entertainer, songwriter, and musician.
Over the years, when I come back to listen to Prince’s music, it always seems to inspire something, whether it’s a song, practicing/learning multiple instruments, or an excuse to experiment with multiple musical directions. To me Prince represents embracing your creativity, what makes you unique, and never compromising that for what someone “thinks” you should be or sound like.
I became a fan of Prince after watching Purple Rain at around the age of 11. I was obsessed with the fashion first and foremost, and, of course, I loved the music. Prince was a very beautiful, strange being to me. I loved his ridiculous ego.
My favorite Prince song, however, is probably “Gett Off” (with The New Power Generation). When I first heard it in my early teens, it made me feel very sexy, which is weird because I was probably too young to be feeling that way. I loved / still love the feeling I get of being an empowered, foxy mama whenever that song comes on. All that heat in his moaning at the beginning just speaks directly to my libido and sparks a deep internal groove within my soul.
Prince was a huge inspiration to me as an aspiring artist because he just always did what he wanted, wore what he wanted, played the music he wanted, and blurred fashion and gender lines. He gave ZERO fucks, and for me being so young who gave a lot of fucks at the time, this was very inspiring and motivating.
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“Little Red Corvette”
For me personally, all of Prince’s songs represent something much more than just music. He had the undeniable ability to create something that was orgasmic to the ears. Lyrics and melodies grabbed your attention and titillated your senses, which undoubtedly resulted in bedroom rendezvous for many. A few of us may very well be a by-product of a Prince song.
It’s hard for me to pick a favorite song from his work, but if I had to it would be “Little Red Corvette”. This song in particular takes its time and is extremely well written. It was all about “space” in a song for him. He never seemed to be in a rush while making his music. That is a priceless skill that I’m trying to learn more and master. I would have given anything to just have sat in a room with him one time and to witness his creative process. To watch how in the moment he was, whether he was humming a melody, coming up with a progression, writing down lyrics, or just expressing himself freely in whatever direction he felt like going in. It’s sort of ironic, but this all brought to mind a particular moment I had walking into the studio that I work in a few months back. The first words that came out of my mouth were, “Cameron, I want to make something that’s giving a vibe of Prince mixed with Empire of the Sun. Something that shows another side of me in the next song I release.” As it turns out, the song we started writing that day is going to be my next song release at the end of May which is amazing!
Regrettably, I never had the honor to see him play live in person. That, however, could never negate for me what an incredible musician he was, on top of being an amazing singer-songwriter, entertainer, and humanitarian. He was the ultimate showman. Most importantly, the way he’s influenced me with my own music is something I can never forget. Watching and listening to him has taught me how to push the boundaries creatively. To never be afraid of pushing myself into something I may be uncomfortable with at first and to never put myself in a box. I don’t ever want to be confined to one specific sound. He’s inspired me to be confident in who I am musically and to trust my instincts. I remember him saying that he didn’t like his music to be put in “Categories”, and over time I’ve realized I don’t either. My love for music is about showing different aspects of personality to people in hopes that we all can identify with the music and go on a journey together. Whether it’s about heartbreak, love, sexual experiences, depression, etc., I just want my music to be real and authentic and to share my story. Prince has paved the way for us all to be unapologetically creative. I’ll be forever grateful for his endless courage in breaking the mold and being a master creative trailblazer. I will never stop being fearless with my music because of him.
Thank you, Prince, for your irreplaceable influence and the huge imprint you’ve left on music for the world and myself. RIP.
My producer Andy Rosen is the biggest Prince fan. I remember us listening to a lot of his music in the studio while making Hawk Fly Tiger Run, which has Prince-inspired funky guitar grooves. That was the first song of mine that really clicked, and it set the tone for where I wanted to go musically. “Little Red Corvette” is my favorite song of his.
“Nothing Compares 2 U”
Prince is every artist’s and musician’s absolute hero figure to look up to. From songwriting, musicianship, performance, to his image and artistic spirit in general, he is the ultimate role model, leader, and a true legend of the modern music world. Given his countless contribution in music, what I can relate to the most is his songwriting, and the quintessential song for me is “Nothing Compares 2 U”, which I consider to be one of the best songs ever written. And this is only a small portion of his genius…
“Sign ‘O the Times”
My selection is “Sign ‘O the Times”, the opening track of the album of the same name. For me, this is indicative of Prince’s ability to evolve and to tell a story in a unique way. The comparatively minimal arrangement with drum machine still retains funk sensibilities, but these are combined with elements of electro-pop and blues, together with dark social commentary. What remains is something hypnotic, raw and emotive. It’s really the moment where I went from seeing Prince as a straight up pop star to an artist with a huge creative palette, capable of tackling real social issues in a totally new musical context.
“Take Me With U”
“Take Me With You” was one of the first songs that I had ever heard by Prince, and it really pulled me into becoming a fan. The song (and Prince in general) have inspired me to try new things with my music and to push myself as a musician and composer. I don’t think there is anyone out there that could deny how special and unique everything he touched turned out.
“I Wanna Be Your Lover”
Julian Taylor of Julian Taylor Band
The Prince song that had the biggest influence on me is actually his very first release “I Wanna Be Your Lover”. It came right out of nowhere. In fact I don’t actually think that it was a hit song in the United States, but it was a huge hit abroad. European audiences were a little more open at the time. Perhaps they still are? Anyway it floored me back when I was a kid. Here was this stranger who made stance feel okay.
This particular song was one that I rediscovered not too long ago when forming the Julian Taylor Band. As an experiment, our keyboard player and I decided to try out a song in the same vein as Prince. We came up with a collaboration that we titled “Never Gonna Give You Up”. It seemed to work and comparisons to the Purple One and some of the great soul/pop contemporary artist such as Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye started to happen. It was and has been very flattering.
Prince was a brilliant performer, producer, and well-rounded artist. It’s important to note that he wasn’t an artist who stuck to just one genre. He was outside the box. A leader in a world of followers who fought to keep his artist freedom not only from the outside world but inside himself. He was a huge influence on me, and I still can’t believe that we live in a world with out him. It seemed like he’d be around forever, and he will be sorely missed. I am thankful to him for helping to show me and so many others the path. He was simply the best. I honestly can’t think of anyone better.
Chris Hess of SWIMM
When I think of Prince I almost always have this vision of him playing the drums. This is weird because I have never seen video of him playing the drums, but I watched a Prince documentary years ago and was blown away to learn he played all the instruments on his albums. Yup.. when he first got signed he just waltzed into the studio that was full of the label’s hired studio guns and said, “Nah, I am gonna play everything, and this is exactly how it is going to be.”
When you hear these pop dance songs from Prince, there is a reason you can’t help yourself. No matter the set or setting, it is as if you MUST BOOGIE! Even if just a little. I think the reason for that is because the groove is so tight. Prince is known for many things but the coolest part about him to me is what he is not known for. To this day, many people consider Prince that weird, somewhat ambidextrously, erotic pop star with the symbol thing. And this essay is supposed to be about a song, so I don’t want to go down the hugely inspiring trail of his transcendence of sexuality… so I won’t.
But what I was getting at was that the average person probably doesn’t know he was one of the best guitar players in the game until they stumble across the George Harrison tribute video of him taking the reigns on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”. I also found a rare video of him taking a solo at one of his concerts where he just played a tight funk pattern for a few bars and then turned and did pelvic thrusts to the snare for the rest of the ‘allotted solo time’. The crowd couldn’t contain themselves. Equally as impressive. But maybe it is because I, like a lot of singers, wish I could play drums in a band that I get almost giddy over the image of Prince in the studio playing a fat groove on the drums. Yes, I’m even gonna say fat because I’ve overused the word “tight” already and, well, that is what his beats are. Fat and tight.
The song that embodies this Prince groove to me is “I Wanna Be Your Lover”. It just has everything. He carries the song with a subtle falsetto, and I think it is because everything underneath those vocals is so….. well, fat and tight! It even has the quintessential Prince scream. You wait for it the whole song and when it hits it feels like a panther sneaking up all sexy like on its prey and pouncing at just the right moment.
Dammit! Even as I’ve been writing this, my heart has started to race with excitement. I have found so many times in the last week upon hearing about his death that I will talk about something he did to the point where I am giddy and can’t contain my silly grin. And just then is when it really hits me that he is gone and I will never get to see him do any of it in person. I write this with a lump in my throat and that weird, confusing weight of sadness over someone you never knew but so tangibly feel the loss over. I have felt that way too many damn times this year.
Thank you Prince. For fuck’s sake, thank you, you wild, sexy genius.
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