R.I.P. Prince: Nothing Compares 2 U

By on April 21, 2016

Along with the rest of the world, we were stunned and saddened here at Night Flight HQ to learn today, April 21, 2016, about the death of Prince at his Paisley Park estate in Chanhassen, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis. He was 57. We immediately felt the need to re-watch our Night Flight video profile on Prince — available now on Night Flight Plus — which originally aired on August 31, 1984, and we encourage you to check it out too as a reminder just how important the “Purple One” was in the 80s and for all of decades to follow.

The sad news of his sudden death comes less than a week after his private jet was forced to make an emergency landing at Quad City International Airport in Moline, Illinois, where he was then rushed via ambulance to the hospital for an unknown health emergency. He had been flying home after a show in Atlanta, Georgia, on April 15th, when he was suddenly taken ill. He’d been suffering from flu-like symptoms for several weeks.

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Below are some excerpts from Pat Prescott’s narration on that Prince profile:

“Born Prince Rogers Nelson on June 7, 1958, the ‘real’ Prince resembles ‘The Kid’ in Purple Rain. Both are the son of a musician, and like his film counterpart, family dischord led Prince to take refuge in music.

“As a teenager he left home to live with bass player André Cymone [born André Anderson] and the two soon launched the Minneapolis Sound.

On his groundbreaking album Dirty Mind, Prince, then only nineteen years old, scorched his way through songs filled with sexual references. Imitating an image on his first album cover, Prince performed onstage clad only in bikini briefs, and became a symbol of unbridled sexuality.”

“Dirty Mind” live at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, New Jersey, on January 30, 1982

After first making a name for himself in the early 70s in the Minneapolis area, he was unable to land a record deal until his demo tapes ended up in the hands of Minneapolis businessman Owen Husney, who signed him to a management deal in 1976, when Prince was just 17 years old.

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He recorded more demos, and Husney was able to interest several major labels in signing him, but it was Warner Bros. Records, based in Burbank, California, who were able to give him the kind of complete creative control he wanted for three albums, including handing him the publishing rights to his songs, virtually unheard of in the music business for a first recording contract.

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Husney and Prince moved to Sausalito, in northern California, where Prince recorded his first album, For You, at the Record Plant studios there. It was released on April 7, 1978, and the liner notes revealed that Prince had not only produced, arrange and composed all but one song, but he’d also played all 27 instruments heard on the album.

Prince’s 1979 album, the self-titled Prince, was propelled to platinum status on the success of two singles, “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?” and “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” which climbed to #11 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, reaching #1 on the Hot Soul Singles chart for a few weeks, while the album itself topped out at #4 on Billboard‘s Top R&B/Black albums, and #22 on the Billboard 200 album chart while going platinum in sales.

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He’d begun building his own studio by this point, and had formed a band he began calling the Revolution — featuring his childhood friend Cymone on bass, Dez Dickerson on guitar, Gayle Chapman and “Doctor Fink” on keyboards, and Bobby Z. on drums, who opened up for Rick James on his 1980 Fire It Up tour.

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His next album, Dirty Mind, was much more sexually explicit and most of the songs, including the title track, and a song about the pleasure of oral sex, “Head,” were indeed controversial. His music was now reaching a wide audience who wanted to know all about him — they had a lot of questions, which Prince would turn back on them in a song for his next album.

“Controversy” live at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, New Jersey, on January 30, 1982

From Night Flight’s video profile:

“In 1980, Prince asked, ‘Am I black or white, am I straight or gay?,’ in the title track to his album Controversy. Meanwhile, real controversy was brewing within his group, the Revolution. André Cymone, eager for a larger share of the limelight, split from the band in a bitter separation, to be replaced by Brownmark [Mark Brown, better known by the stage name Brownmark].”

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Controversy — released in October 1981 — paved the way for a tour with the Rolling Stones as one of their opening acts, but by the beginning of 1982, he was headlining his own tour of college towns across the U.S.

By now he was also working with new artists, writing songs for them and producing their albums, including The Time, and Vanity, who would front the sexy trio Vanity 6, which he’d created to sing racy, provocative songs of his while cavorting around onstage in skimpy lingerie and stiletto heels, dressed like high-priced call girls (based on a dream he’d concocted after apparently inspired by watching the re-make of A Star Is Born). We told you about their relationship in this recent obituary post when she died on February 15, 2016.

“Uptown” live at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, New Jersey, on January 30, 1982

The double LP 1999, released in late 1982, featured a more mature Prince, musically and theatrically, and saw him beginning his shows in dramatic symbolism, bathed in red light. The title track was actually about the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and because his first Top Ten hit outside the U.S., and another single, “Little Red Corvette,” one of first music videos by a black artist to be played in heavy rotation on MTV, would forever cement his reputation. The track “Delirious,” yet another single from 1999 also reached the Top Ten of Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart, and pushed 1999 album into the stratosphere of sales, selling as many as three million copies.

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By now, the lineup of the Revolution would feature a new keyboardist Lisa Coleman, and when Dez Dickerson left the band for religious reasons, her replacement was a childhood friend of Coleman’s named Wendy Melvoin (they would later form their own group, Wendy and Lisa). They would both feature prominently in his videos and although they weren’t initially playing on Prince’s studio recordings, that would soon change too.

An interview with Prince on TV’s “The Arsenio Hall Show”

Prince’s next album, 1984’s Purple Rain, would prove to be his biggest yet, propelled by two number one hits — “When Doves Cry” and “Let’s Go Crazy” — and the title track would end up at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, helping to sell more than 13 million copies of the album.

There would also be a melodramatic rock bio of a movie of the same name, Purple Rain, directed by Albert Magnoli, his manager, and written by Magnoli and William Blinn, and would feature performances by Prince (aka “The Kid”) and his band, the Revolution, at a nightclub called First Avenue. The other groups consist of Morris Day and the Time and his former bandmate, Dez Dickerson, with his band, the Modernaires.

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Prince’s protégé Vanity had actually inspired the role of his leading lady in early versions (and she claimed to have helped him script her part in the movie, to be based in Minneapolis, which was based in part on her own life story).

By the time cameras were rolling, she’d decided to split to California to begin her solo recording career, and so her co-starring lead role eventually went to Apollonia Kotero, starring as (what else?) “Apollonia,” and she also got the job of fronting Vanity’s old group, who were now re-christened in the script and in real-life as Apollonia 6.

By the way, although Prince doesn’t appear, we thought we’d share one of the stranger Prince-related videos we found on Youtube: an unfinished workprint, shot in 1985 on an L.A. film soundstage, for an abandoned Apollonia 6 video EP planned to promote their album, featuring, no kidding, appearances by Edy Williams and Buck Henry. Part 2 is here.

There were embarrassing scenes in the movie — like when Prince punches Apollonia — but it was supposed to have been a representation of his real home life.

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From the video profile:

“Set against the sub-culture of the Minneapolis music scene, Purple Rain tells the story of a struggling musician, searching for love and self-awareness. Much of Purple Rain is based on Prince’s own life.”

“Maybe I’m just like my father,” Prince would sing in “When Doves Cry,” one of his best songs, although it would not be performed in the movie Purple Rain, which would despite its flaws earn Prince his first Oscar for Original Song Score at the 57th Academy Awards, taking in more than $80 million at the box office in the U.S. alone.

Prince — accompanied by Wendy and Lisa — wins the Oscar for the Original Song Score for Purple Rain at the 57th Academy Awards.

When the Purple Rain crowd threw Vanity a farewell party at the now-famous First Avenue Club in Minneapolis, Prince’s little purple heart was still broken, and he did not attend.

The film would also earn a couple a Razzie Awards (one for Apollonia’s performance as “Worst New Star” and one for Worst Original Song for the Apollonia 6 track “Sex Shooter), but we find it hard to fault any film that would include one of the very best performances of the title song, “Purple Rain,” a song that Prince would come to define Prince at his peak. He would continue to perform it for the rest of his career.

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As our video profile from 1984 ends around this same time, when he was at the height of his powers, we will also begin to wrap up our post here too, although if you’re a fan you must certainly know that this is not where his story ends.

Many more new albums were released over the course of the rest of his career (including quite a few post-80s highlights), and there were even more movies too: Prince would take advantage of Purple Rain‘s commercial success to direct three more films himself: Under The Cherry Moon, Sign O’ The Times and a less successful semi-sequel to Purple Rain called Graffiti Bridge, released in 1990, but none were as successful as the original, b-movie that is was.

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There were amazing recordings too, like the mysterious Black Album, which he set aside while recording in order to record what many believe to be his masterpiece, the double LP Sign o’ the Times. There were squabbles with his record companies, too, but he’d only recently returned to Warner Bros. Records after 18 years with a deal that will see him regain ownership of his catalog. His classic Warner albums like Dirty Mind, Controversy and 1999 will now continue to be licensed through Warner Bros as part of a new global agreement.

As part of the deal, Prince’s classic Purple Rain album will be re-released in a remastered deluxe version in time for the 30th anniversary of the album and movie. Other planned re-issue projects will follow.

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At the time of his death he had also recently announced he was writing his memoirs, which was tentatively to be titled The Beautiful Ones, after a track off his 1984 album Purple Rain.

The memoirs were expected to, according to the publishing house Spiefel & Grau, an imprint of Random House, would “take readers on an unconventional and poetic journey” and span most of his entire life from his very first memory up to his performance at the Super Bowl XLI Halftime Show in 2007 (the setlist included: “We Will Rock You”, “Let’s Go Crazy”, “Baby I’m a Star”, “Proud Mary”, “All Along the Watchtower”, “Best of You”, and he closed with “Purple Rain”).

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In this clip, you can hear the backstory about how Prince, learning that he was to be performing in a rain and wind storm at that Halftime Show in 2007 had asked, “Can you make it rain harder?”

You will no doubt have plenty to read about if you’re searching now for Prince stories, but we enjoyed reading about some of his best TV appearances here today (AV Club), and this cover story written by Rolling Stone‘s Kurt Loder (published on August 30, 1984), which captures what it was like in 1984, at the zenith of his meteoric career.

The Beautiful Ones was to include stories about his family, and about specific songs he’d written and performed throughout his career.

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We’ve learned today that our friends at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas have announced that all of their theaters in Austin will be screening Purple Rain tonight (check the link for theater names and showtimes), with proceeds from these screenings will be donated to Anthropos Arts, which offers free music lessons, workshops, and performance opportunities to at-risk middle and high school students in Austin.

R.I.P. Prince. Nothing Compares 2 U.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.