That skinny motherfucker with the high voice was the best ever.
Don’t really want to be dismissive of the stuff from the 90s onwards cos there’s some great stuff in there, but I think everyone’s aware that he was who he was because of what he did in the 80s. And what he did in the 80s was astonishing.
Coming off the back of his first two albums (tight funk/soul/RnB infused albums which are great but clearly a man finding his way through his own influences) he goes on a transcendental run from 1980-88: Dirty Mind, Controversy, 1999, Purple Rain, Around the World in a Day, Parade, Sign o’ the Times, Lovesexy. The fact that a lot of the time he was playing every instrument doesn’t make the records any better, but does make the achievement all the more remarkable. Running through the Minneapolis drum-machine funk sound, to the pop-funk-rock behemoths of 1999 and Purple Rain in the middle of the run, then psychedelic pop on Around the World and Parade, then basically everything on Sign o’ the Times (which is a magnum opus to end all magnum opuseseseses).
On top of that he’s writing/performing/producing material during this period for The Time (the self-titled album and especially the next two, What Time Is It? and Ice Cream Castle are so good), Vanity 6 (Nasty Girl obviously a huge influence on loads of RnB to follow) and others, doing jazz-fusion albums with Madhouse and throwing songs like Nothing Compares 2 U out to The Family.
People often mention the quality control of his output slipping from the 90s, but in truth he wasn’t exercising any in the 80s either - he just never needed to. Songs like 17 Days, She’s Always in My Hair, Erotic City, Scarlet Pussy and Shockadelica were appearing as B-sides, and Sign o’ the Times is a rare example of a double album that doesn’t need trimmed down.
On top of that he was making films (Purple Rain is a hugely enjoyable watch) and becoming the greatest live performer on the planet.
I was lucky enough to see him live twice, and on both occasions he was pulling off stuff outrageous enough to make me burst out laughing during the gig. Walking down the love symbol-shaped stage in high-heeled boots at the o2 playing a bass solo during Black Sweat, or in Glasgow finishing a run of Controversy, 1999 and Little Red Corvette then going up to the mic and starting the next song a capella: “It’s been seven hours and thirteen days…”. Wave after wave of euphoria at those gigs.
Just absurdly, outrageously talented. Technical ability isn’t something I generally care about, but when it’s married to that imagination, then there are no limitations. Incredible voice (him screaming e.g. at the end of The Beautiful Ones is my favourite sound in music), incredible musician (I don’t care for guitar solos generally, but I care for the Purple Rain solo), incredible showman (watch the Sign o’ the Times Live film if you haven’t seen it), incredible songwriter, incredible producer, incredibly prolific. At one stage changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol, which is 10/10 solid gold pop star behaviour. Legendary aftershows where he’d play funk jams all night. An actual locked vault inside his home/studio complex containing mythical unreleased material. Music that could be ambitious, exciting, funny, tender, aggressive and lascivious all at once. He had it all going on, in a way that nobody else ever had it all going on.
What he did between 1980 and 1988 was a creative outburst unparalleled in the history of popular culture.
His name was Prince and he was FUNKY O(+>