Today, we lost a living legend. The man who many said floated into a room instead of simply walking. The man who proved that sex appeal is genderless, everywhere, and oftentimes in the form of something purple. The man who evolved, shapeshifted, and demanded us to express ourselves. He demanded us to strive forth, accept our vulnerability, and use it as our ultimate weapon. And in his embrace of being human, he would ultimately become a God and, quite literally, a symbol.
Prince, in all of his forms, was a true pioneer in identifying ourselves as something other than what society wants us to label us. He was omniscient when he walked into a room; his presence was immediately known and embraced. And the pain is hard in the music community – especially after the very recent death of another figure for the punks, queers, outliers, and other creatures known to us mere mortals as David Bowie. Like Bowie, Prince championed the idea of being who you want to be, when you want to be it. He defied cultural norms in the spirit of creating a ‘new normal’: an understanding that culture is a box, but a box which can be opened in more than one way and from multiple angles. Throughout his career, he morphed through the mainstream and underground consciousness seamlessly like a musical chameleon channeling different personas and attitudes to match his enormous sound (and even more enormous personality).
These are just a few of the tracks that he’s contributed to our culture over the years, but his place in music – especially dance music – will forever be present. Because Prince didn’t really die. He just became another group of weirdos who want to follow the beat of their own drum, another child who looks at himself in the mirror and sees a sex symbol, another lover who embraces their partner in the heat of passion. Prince simply became the universe.
1. “Controversy,” Prince. Warner Bros. Records, 1981.
At a time when he was continually being asked about his sexuality, race, and overall ethos, Prince released this slamming, funky guitar number which flirts with many of the ideas which would define him as an artist. Blurring the lines between funk and 80’s pop styles, like new wave, this song would actually de-throne another queer icon’s equally controversial track from the Billboard Club Play list at the time (the track in question being Patrick Cowley’s “Menergy”). Sultry and swooning as much as the bass line rollicks your soul, “Controversy” help laid a foundation for the dance punk sound almost 20 years later in New York.
2. “Batdance,” Prince. Warner Bros. Records, 1989.
The idea to have Prince do all of the original music for a blockbuster like Batman is borderline insane even though it’s been over 25 years and we have the knowledge of how well his soundtrack matched up with the film’s style and tone. “Batdance,” despite its ridiculous nature of its sheer concept, is actually a masterfully crafted tune which, in many ways, could be construed as a sign as to what we could later expect from sampling in the current dance music community. Largely constructed from samples on top of percussive dance beats, “Batdance” is a marvel of a track and one which continues to be overlooked in favor of many of his other hits.
3. “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” Prince. Warner Bros. Records, 1979.
The first real indication that Prince was set to be a legend was this track in 1979 off his self-titled debut. “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” a single about the irresistible urge to bring someone to sexual ecstasy and need to be with them, is so ingrained in the social consciousness that it’s immediately recognizable guitar hook and vocal arrangement still pulsates dance floors to this day almost 40 years later.
4. “Fallinlove2nite,” Prince ft. Zooey Deschanel. NPG Records, 2015.
Despite it’s mixed criticism, Prince’s HitNRun album gave us a peek as to what he could possibly have up his sleeve as far as a more modern Prince. And while the reviews had this album, and this specific song, on a very varied plane, one thing seemed to be common between them all: Prince will always be modern. His adoption of current genre fare was seamless showcasing his ability to weave in and out of different styles and that expertise is on full display in the super poppy, but crazily catchy, “Fallinlove2nite.”
5. “Let’s Go Crazy,” Prince and the Revolution. Warner Bros. Records, 1984.
The “Dearly Beloved” interlude is dearly beloved. Sampled relentlessly since its release, “Let’s Go Crazy” is Prince’s insane footprint in rock and roll, partying all night, and asking us to lose control of everything: bodies, minds, souls. And out at a time when Prince was truly in his prime, as this song was from Purple Rain, it marks a shining moment in is career when options were truly limitless and societal constructs were firmly his bitch.