It’s hard to think of one single artist, dead or alive, that has had a more consistent output than Prince Nelson Rogers. In a career that spanned more than four decades, he released an album, on average, less than every two years, amassing 39 studio albums. Between 2010 and 2014, he took his largest gap ever of four years and then unleashed two albums simultaneously, as if to prove to the world that he wasn’t slowing down.
Over 35 albums, and yet every time we met Prince on a long player we were presented with something different - a different vision, a different sonic realm to explore, a different side of his multi-faceted character.
An age old saying states, “quality over quantity” and when it comes to most of music’s visionaries this is true. Michael Jackson released music sporadically over his career, Bowie carefully refined the process of releasing music in the latter parts of his career and even Stevie Wonder has slowed the rate at which he unveils LPs as his career ages. There’s an unspoken thought that as legends grow older they should slow their musical output as if to protect their legacy.
For Prince, this was of no concern. He was never going to be satisfied with protecting his back catalogue. In his mind and in the mind of his fans he was still an operating musician until the day he died. His shows, even as he aged well into his 50s, often went over two hours and explored every facet of his career from young to old. His final concert in Atlanta, a week before his death, featured three encores and covered everything from 1982’s Little Red Corvette to Black Muse off his last album HITnRUN Phase Two. You’ll struggle to find a Prince setlist that mimics another because he had as much fun rummaging through his own catalogue as listeners did.
Of course there are Prince classics; albums that resonated louder than others, but his career never lulled. He was a fan of his own music and as such, he always gave more than was expected of him. We’ve never experienced living life without Prince because he was always giving us something. There was never a Prince comeback, because he never allowed situations to arise that he would have to come back from.
Even though Prince was a creative genius with a mind unlike many, he always treated his fans with complete transparency. When he had music to release, he’d release it, when he had time to dance, he’d dance with them. He once said, "When you don't talk down to your audience, then they can grow with you.” Whether you grew with him from the start, or had the pleasure of discovering his back catalogue later on, he was there if you needed him.
Of course, if you’re releasing music at the rate Prince did, there are records that will rise to the top and some that will fade into the background. There are a string of Prince albums that will forever be essentials in any music fan’s library. In fact, to ignore Prince’s classics, would be to misunderstand the progression of modern music. Purple Rain informed contemporary funk’s collision of genres, Dirty Mind showed just how potent a force sexuality can be in pop music and Sign ‘O The Time proved music can be both politically ambitious and sonically delectable.
That’s without even crediting Prince albums for simply exuding joy. The world could be crumbling around Prince and his greatest advice would’ve been “party”. 1999’s title track ushers in the record in a sea of flaring synths and a lyric that says, “War is all around us, my mind says prepare to fight/So if I gotta die I'm gonna listen to my body tonight.” It’s almost fitting that in Prince’s last week on earth he held an all night dance party at his Paisley Park residency. Even when his music was addressing the world’s most critical problems, it was about escapism. Even in the face of death, music was his escape.
“Music is music, ultimately. If it makes you feel good, cool,” Prince said. His understanding of that was what made him so special to so many people. Music made him feel good and it made those around him feel good, so he never stopped.
There’s nothing anybody can tell you about Prince’s music to make you feel a certain way. You can cherry pick 20 of his songs in a greatest hits compilation and you’ll always be missing a key part of the collection. Whatever part of his back catalogue you land on, you’ll always move and you’ll always smile. Any other reaction is secondary.
- Sam Murphy of The Interns
You can now find Prince on Spotify/Apple Music. Stream The Hits/The B-Sides below: