Profile of '80s Superstar and Pop Music Wizard Prince

Prince performs on stage on the Hit N Run-Parade Tour, Wembley Arena, London, August 1986.
Michael Putland/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Born:

Prince Rogers Nelson on June 7, 1958 in Minneapolis, Minnesota

Died:

April 21, 2016 in Minneapolis, Minnesota

Overview:

The eclectic '80s pop artist known exclusively as Prince during his peak commercial and artistic period released an amazing total of eight studio albums during that decade, not even including his 1989 Batman film soundtrack. But the singer, songwriter, guitarist and multi-instrumentalist was more than merely busy during this time, churning out high-quality music inspired directly by funk and R&B but also laced with inflections of guitar rock, pop, psychedelia, and dance music, to name just a few forms.

Beyond the '80s Prince maintained a solid if less sparkling music career.

Early Years:

As the son of local musicians named flamboyantly after his father, perhaps the young Prince was destined for an artistic career of his own. Still, he first had to overcome his parents' long-time estrangement and eventual separation to start his own band amidst instability of permanent residence. After moving in with friend Andre Anderson and his family, Prince soon became part of a band called Grand Central that specialized in instrumental pieces. Morris Day soon joined the band, thereafter called Champagne, and Prince began to demonstrate leaps of musical growth and interest.

Prince Quickly Goes Solo:

As his talent and status as a teen prodigy began to gain more attention, Prince moved toward maximum creative control. He cut his teeth as a lyricist, composer and instrumentalist during 1976-1977 working with others, but this all seemed to point toward Prince's concept of himself as a solo artist.

His debut record for Warner Bros. - For You - appeared in early 1978 and would set the stage for one of the artist's trademarks, stated clearly on the album sleeve: "Produced, Arranged, Composed & Performed by Prince." 1979's self-titled follow-up would show improved sales, with the help of first hit "I Wanna Be Your Lover."

Flair and 'Controversy' Mark '80s Ascent:

By the 1980 release of Dirty Mind, Prince's highly sexualized lyrics and outrageous stage get-up began to command their share of public attention. Meanwhile, critics continued to receive his albums well, as a workmanlike approach to recording led to yet another release, 1981's Controversy. This was all building up to a breakthrough that seemed ultimately inevitable even if it would be achieved on Prince's own particular terms. With a now-solidified lineup of his performing band, the timing was perfect for Prince to become a major force in the emerging video age hastened by MTV.

'1999' and 'Purple Rain' - Prince Rules:

Though the sexually explicit nature of his recordings began to wane somewhat as the pop hits multiplied, Prince stayed true to a ferocious artistic vision with his next two platinum smashes, 1982's 1999 and 1984's Purple Rain. Even in the midst of the massive success of Michael Jackson's Thriller, Prince made sure the pop charts had room for the likes of both albums' title tracks as well as the ubiquitous tunes "Little Red Corvette," "When Doves Cry," and "Let's Go Crazy." Critics and audiences alike couldn't get enough Prince, which helped his debut film, also titled Purple Rain, become a hit also.

Fiercely Autonomous, Prince Inspires PMRC Formation:

The hits may have been relatively clean, but Prince's trademark sexual frankness and daring would refuse to die out completely, especially on album tracks like "Let's Pretend We're Married" from 1999 and an ode to female masturbation "Darling Nikki," from Purple Rain. When Tipper Gore overheard her daughter listening to the latter, she moved to form the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), a group of congressmen's wives who shined a judgmental spotlight in famous 1985 hearings on pop music deemed to possess explicit lyrics or themes. Record warning labels soon followed, which must have amused Prince at least a bit.

Prince and the Revolution Press On:

Having officially named and credited his band for the release of Purple Rain, Prince and his cohorts maintained one of pop/rock's most consistent and persistent careers into the second half of the decade, delivering Around the World in a Day in 1985 and Parade in 1986.

The success of singles "Raspberry Beret" and "Kiss" kept Prince firmly on the radar, not to mention his continuing tendency to lend his songwriting talents to other artists, exemplified by The Bangles' "Manic Monday." However, Prince's solo bug bit again when he disbanded the Revolution for his subsequent '80s offerings.

Prince Returns to Solo Status, Finishes Decade Strong:

Even though his last two releases had shown only a slight decline in sales, Prince decided to dismantle the Revolution prior to the release of his next album, the double LP Sign o' the Times. However, this didn't stop the slow decline, as neither the album nor singles charts were quite as kind to the artist as they once had been. Still, "U Got the Look" (a duet with Sheena Easton) and "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man" became solid Top 10 hits. Lovesexy followed in 1988, recorded in mere weeks after Prince scrapped a completed album for apparently spiritual reasons.

Last Hurrah Before Prince Becomes a Symbol:

Prince remained a hot commodity at decade's end, working with Madonna on Like a Prayer and then accepting filmmaker Tim Burton's invitation to contribute music to his highly anticipated Batman adaptation. The resulting soundtrack returned the singer to the top of the Billboard album charts, after which he still found his popularity potent enough to make a fourth and final film (with accompanying album) in Graffiti Bridge. Amid rising tensions with his record company, Prince would release one album with a new band, the New Power Generation, before things got substantially weirder.

The Artist Formerly Known as Prince:

Prince's behavior had grown increasingly bizarre since his mid-'80s peak, and his unhappiness with Warner Bros. led him to shed his stage name completely by 1993, when he adopted the marking eventually known as the Love Symbol as his official moniker. Over the next few years, the Artist Formerly Known As... worked to satisfy his contractual obligations, releasing several more records to somewhat dwindling audience interest and sales. A notable exception to this trend was 1994's Top 5 single "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World," a vintage-sounding tune of high quality that also stands as Prince/Symbol Guy's last Top 10 hit.

Still Cranking 'Em Out Until the End:

Regardless of any career strife he may have been experiencing through the '90s, Prince (he reverted to his original stage name in 2000, to the relief of many music writers, I'm certain) remained not only active into the new millennium but also an occasionally major force in music. Albums of this latter period including Musicology and 3121 kept Prince on the pop music radar as he continued to age gracefully but not passively. Most recently, 2009's Lotusflow3r hit No. 2 on the Billboard album chart, proving that Prince more than retains his musical royalty. Sadly, fans were shocked to hear of Prince's sudden, untimely death on April 21, 2016 - which occurred in the middle of an ongoing intimate tour. The loss of yet another music legend will continue to reverberate indefinitely.