Attention, birdwatchers. Look closely at the two white doves perched up on a tree in your backyard. You may notice that they’re crying a thousand tears and singing a mournful tune. Did they lose a baby dove? No. They lost the man who turned their avian woes into an mega ’80s classic: The Artist Formerly Known As Prince.
The artist formerly known as Prince (born Prince Rogers Nelson), the driving force behind the powerful and sometimes controversial chart-topping singles like “When Doves Cry,” “Kiss,” “Little Red Corvette,” and “1999,” has passed away today at the age of 57 in his Paisley Park recording studio in Chanhassen, Minnesota. Not a lot is known about the cause of his death other than he was battling the flu since earlier this month, forcing to, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, cancel a concert in Georgia’s capital city. On April 14, he performed for his fans in Atlanta, playing the piano instead of his iconic purple guitar for nearly an hour and a half. Afterwards, Prince’s plane had to make an emergency landing so that his illness can be treated in the hospital. The pop star did recover from the flu, but just one week later, someone close to Prince found him unresponsive in an elevator at the record studio and called the medics. He was confirmed dead upon their arrival.
Prince was one of my favorite ’80s pop musicians my mother introduced me to from a very young age. He took on a multitude of creative risks, such as donning outfits in one or many shades of purple, changing his alias as he saw fit–aside from earning the nickname “His Royal Badness,” Prince also went by Alexander Nevermind, Jamie Starr, and in 1993 switched his stage name to “Love Symbol” ()–create alter egos and, to the shock of some parents of ’80s kids and teens, wrote sexually provocative lyrics in some of his songs. (“Darling Nikki” prompted Al Gore’s wife Tipper to found the Parents Music Resource Center and urge the recording industry to stamp the “PARENTAL ADVISORY: EXPLICIT CONTENT” disclaimer on music CDs containing lyrics not suitable for young children.)
Here are some of my favorite hits from the Purple One.
“When Doves Cry” (1984)
Written for the film Purple Rain and album of the same name, “When Doves Cry” tells the story of a love affair and intermingled parental difficulties (“Maybe I’m just too demanding / Maybe I’m just like my father, too bold / Maybe I’m just like my mother / She’s never satisfied”). This single earned the movie an Academy Award for Best Original Song Score and was ranked #5 on VH1’s list of “The 100 Greatest Songs of the ’80s,” making it Prince’s signature song. Every time I hear this song, I have daydreams of Dr. Eggman–or me cosplaying as Sonic’s arch-nemesis–busting out killer dance moves, and I don’t know why.
“Little Red Corvette” (1983)
As a kid, I thought “Little Red Corvette” was literally about the red low-riding sports car that some guys love to drive in. Actually, the “Little Red Corvette” Prince was referring to is a pretty but promiscuous woman with whom he experiences a one-night stand. He urges her to slow down and tells her that she “needs love that’s gonna last” because her tendency to sleep with one man after another is going to hurt her in the long run. Okay… This song was a little awkward to put in, but I heard it, so… “I guess that makes it all right”?
One of the many songs Prince performed with The Revolution, “Kiss” started out as a 60-second acoustic demo, comprised of a single 12-bar blues verse. Prince gave the song to funk band Mazarati for their self-titled debut album. After hearing the final product, which contained a stripped-down minimalist sound, Prince was amazed by the soulful funk beat and decided to take it back for himself, but was kind enough to give Mazarati credit for their backing vocals. Plus, that guitar break! “Kiss” became another signature song for Prince, earning him a Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group. This song was also featured in the film Under the Cherry Moon, which Prince acted and directed.
“Black Sweat” (2006)
A single from the album 3121, “Black Sweat” introduced a combination of minimalist funk and hip hop elements, with drums and high-pitched synthesizers the only instruments being played in the background of Prince’s falsetto vocals. I thank my former jazz teacher for introducing me and the rest of her elementary- and middle school-aged students at the time (I was 12 and in 6th Grade) to this song and giving us the opportunity to perform a dance to this song for our parents.
Thank you, Prince, for giving my mother the greatest songs for her to share with me. Now, rest in peace on the wings of doves.
P.S. The three-eyed shades really show your true creative genius.