It’s easy to be cynical about an extremely popular and over played song. The consensus being that you’ve heard it so many times; you’ve been robbed of its original power and meaning. But the mark of a truly great song, transcends that cynicism.
“Purple Rain” is such a song. On the surface, you might think, “yeah ok, I’ve heard that song a ton of times. I don’t need to hear it again.” But those angelic opening chords can change even the iciest of hearts. Even before Prince sings the famous opening lyrics, you know the song is going to bring an emotional wallop. Somehow, Prince is able to create a universal feeling of forgiveness, sadness empathy by stringing together two words that don’t have anything in common originally. But now, we all know what those two words mean and where they can take us. Great music is able to do that.
And Prince’s catalogue contains tons and tons of great music. Purple Rain might be his culturally defining album, but 1999, Sign O’ The Times, Dirty Mind, Controversy are all straight up masterpieces. Even some of his weirder albums are worth pursuing. In the last decade, albums like Musicology and 3121 proved that the past was behind him. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, because apparently, he tucked hundreds of unreleased songs in his infamous vault.
Prince is probably one of the last great musicians who was universally loved and revered by nearly everyone. Even those who aren’t huge Prince fans have at least two of three songs of his that they absolutely adore. His ability to play R&B, Funk, Rock among others, meant that he could have the widest audience possible. And by doing that, he was also exposing his own audience to other genres that they might have otherwise overlooked.
For myself, listening to 1999 and Dirty Mind were a gateway for Funk, Disco and even Dance music. Those genres seemed to make a lot more sense to me after hearing it through Prince’s lens on such songs as “Lady Cab Driver”, “D.M.S.R.” and “Uptown” to name a few. “D.M.S.R.” reminded me about the carnal and physical power that music can have with just four words: dance, music, sex and romance.
Dirty Mind might be my favorite Prince album, simply because it sounds so completely different to what was being made at the time. New Wave and Punk were completely against Dance Music and this dude had the audacity to combine all of those into one giant statement, while also singing the most lewd lyrics you’ll ever hear put to wax. Dirty Mind’s mix of New Wave, Disco, Rock and Roll and Soul is so effortless and stunning. The Beatles, The Clash and The Rolling Stones may have tried out several genres throughout their careers, but they limited those experimentations to specific songs. I can’t think of another artist who weaved so many genres into one singular song and made those sounds into his own.
But when I really think of Prince, one of the things that comes to mind first, is unity through music. This was a guy who would have music parties at his mansion all the time, simply because he wanted to play music for people. Reports of his philanthropy are now making the rounds on the internet. He used his music and influence to better the world. He played in my hometown of Baltimore last May, not long after the unrest, to unite and show support for a healing city. It’s pretty clear to me, that he didn’t just talk the talk.
My wife and I chose “Let’s Go Crazy” as the closing song for our wedding because we didn’t want to end the night on a slow note. I always knew it was a good idea, but even I was surprised at how big the reaction was from everyone on the dance floor. Everyone, young and old, knew that song and sang along to the famous intro and screamed the chorus in unison. It’s one of my favorite moments from the wedding, seeing everyone together like that. That was three years before Prince’s death. I can’t think of a better tribute to a man whose music touched so many.