Written by Jon WilliamsI was dreaming when I wrote this; forgive me if it goes astray.
Last week we received yet another stark reminder that 2016 has been a terrible year in terms of losing beloved entertainers far too soon. When news started coming through on Thursday that Prince had died at age 57, it seemed like it had to be a hoax; when that news was confirmed not long after, it seemed like a bad dream.
Born in 1958 in his beloved Minneapolis as the son of two musicians, Prince showed an early aptitude for music. He parlayed that into a recording contract with Warner Bros., and his first album, For You, was released two months before his 20th birthday. Displaying the full range of his talent, he wrote all the songs on the album, played all the instruments, and even produced it himself. It was with his second album, 1979’s Prince, that he started to garner the type of attention that would follow him for the rest of his life. It was his first platinum album. The albums Dirty Mind (1980) and Controversy (1981) landed him his first appearance on Saturday Night Live and an opening spot for the Rolling Stones, as well as his own first headlining tour.
Then came the period that transformed Prince from a talented and popular musician into a legend. The album 1999, released in late in 1982, contained the party anthem title track, as well as the hit “Little Red Corvette,” and achieved multi-platinum sales status. Then, in 1984, Prince starred in the semi-autobiographical movie Purple Rain. The film itself was only a minor hit; the resulting soundtrack, on the other hand, became one of best albums of the decade and, perhaps, of all time. Mixing pop and rock sensibilities, it contained the classics “Let’s Go Crazy” and “When Doves Cry” in addition to the title track. He would go on to release four more albums in the ‘80s, as well as the soundtrack to the blockbuster Batman movie starring Michael Keaton.
Because of his immense success during this period, Prince will always be associated primarily with the music of the 1980s, but he wasn’t done with movies, either. In 1986 he made his directorial debut with Under the Cherry Moon, and in 1987 he put out a concert film to accompany his album Sign o’ the Times. His final film role was in 1990’s Graffiti Bridge, a sequel to Purple Rain. And of course, he continued to put out thought-provoking, envelope-pushing music. He released twelve albums in the ‘90s, including nine after he changed his name to a symbol and could only be referred to as “the artist formerly known as Prince.” He went back to being Prince in 2000, and followed that up with twelve more albums from 2001-2010. There was a break in album releases after that point, which came to an end with two albums released simultaneously in 2014: Plectrumelectrum, with the backing band 3rdeyegirl, and the solo effort Art Official Age. Then last year came HITnRUN Phase One; the follow-up, HITnRUN Phase Two, is available on CD starting tomorrow.
Obviously, an artist as dynamic and prolific as Prince can’t be adequately summarized in a post like this. The best thing for patrons who aren’t familiar with his music, or just know the hits, would be to check it out for themselves, to discover his talent and why he had so much influence on a generation of musicians. See our website to put his CDs and movies (as well as a biography) on your shelves. If your library is like most, there’s probably quite a high demand for his music right now, with a long list of holds for his albums. Be sure to let your patrons know, if you participate in hoopla, that many of his albums and compilations are available there. hoopla is one of the only services to offer his music for streaming, and it’s available to patrons immediately, with no holds.