After the awful news of Prince’s untimely death on April 21, I came to the disappointing realization that I had never featured Prince here on his own. The one time I had written directly about him was on a Cover Friday, when I posted “Raspberry Beret,” both by Prince and the Hindu Love Gods. I wish my first post featuring just Prince didn’t have to be under these circumstances. As so many have been pointing out, 2016 has been one hell of a bad year for the music world. Then again, any year that Prince or David Bowie died would have been a bad year for music. A world without the wonderful weirdness of Prince simply doesn’t seem as cool.
My sadness about Prince’s passing has only grown since finding out, rather than the opposite, as though my initial disbelief was just so great that I couldn’t quite process it at first, and only now as it really sinks in have I been able to experience the emotions. He was some sort of crazy constant in popular music that could always be relied on to do his own thing — which was nearly always the unexpected — not give a fuck, enjoy the hell out of himself, and in the process give us all an amazing legacy of fantastic music. His unique combination of showmanship and musicianship was practically beyond compare — there have of course been many great guitarists and many great physical performers, but so few have put it all together in such a complete way. He very consciously borrowed all the best elements of his most obvious influences — James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, and Sly Stone — and repurposed them to create the persona and music of “Prince,” which, minus the music that was yet to come, seemed to have been brought forth fully formed. He rarely veered from doing things that fit that persona; however unpredictable those things may have been, he always knew what he was up to.
And above all, there was the music. As a songwriter, singer, and musician, Prince was eccentric, inventive, raunchy, funky, brilliant, and mischievous (and many other adjectives that I’ve currently run out of) and blended a wide range of styles and influences to craft his best records. His best years, in my opinion, run up through the early ’90s. In later years his albums became too uneven for me to give my full attention to (although that didn’t stop me from buying almost everything through the end of the ’90s, including the 3-CD Emancipation and the 5-CD Crystal Ball), and then I kind of lost track completely of the frequent, independently released albums from 2000 and beyond. The one major exception was his 2004 Musicology album, which happened to be the tour during which I was finally able to see him live, at Seattle’s Key Arena. Even entering his late 40s at that point, Prince was an energetic, master showman, both warm and witty with the audience, and he put on a fantastic show of many of his best-known songs.
Whether he played “Mountains” at that concert, I don’t remember, but it stands as one of my favorite Prince tracks. It showed up on his great 1986 album, Parade (far better than Under the Cherry Moon, the movie for which much of the album served as the soundtrack), and while “Kiss” may be the better known of the singles from that album, I loved “Mountains” as soon as I heard it. It’s psychedelic funk-pop at its best, combining a falsetto Sly and the Family Stone-like verse with a chorus that I could imagine Jimi Hendrix feeling quite at home singing:
But I say it’s only mountains and the sea
Love will conquer if u just believe (oh yeah)
It’s only mountains and the sea
There’s nothing greater, u and me
It features a seamless blend of piano, guitar, and horns that floats along on a hypnotic beat that never slows its relentless pace, dropping out only briefly when Prince asks for “Guitars and drums on the one — huh!” The accompanying video was fun, featuring not only all the latest in green-screen technology that 1986 had to offer, but also Wendy and Lisa (my favorite members of the Revolution) and even a few somewhat pointless snippets of a young Kristin Scott Thomas in scenes from Under the Cherry Moon. But most of all, there’s Prince, doing his thing in an abbreviated matador outfit that only he could pull off, but he does it with the greatest of aplomb. Much as he did nearly everything he attempted, when it comes down to it. Prince, you will be sorely missed.