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It’s a tough year to be a music fan. In January, we lost David Bowie. Today, just as suddenly, honourary Torontonian Prince–who once called North York neighbourhood The Bridle Path home–died at his Chanhassen, Minnesota estate at age 57. We’re still shocked by the fact that the legendary artist played his last Toronto show less than a month ago.
Prince Rogers Nelson (yep, Prince is his real name—always has been, except for that blip in the mid-’90s when he went by the love symbol) wrote his first song at age seven. He called it “Funk Machine” as though he already knew the exact path his career would take. A seven-time Grammy-winner, the music he created blends funk with pop, rock, R&B, soul, hip hop, disco and jazz to form a genre that’s probably best described as just “Prince.” As the multi-instrumentalist, music-making machine behind 39 studio albums, four live albums, and a pile of greatest hits records, we’d say his discography contains more than enough material to earn its own category.
With that kind of output, you’d think there’d be a few misfires in Prince’s collection. There were some, many of which came from the period where he was cranking out a tonne of records in order to shake his label. Some of his experiments with music didn’t always work, but so many of them did. “When Doves Cry,” “Diamonds and Pearls,” “Cream,” “Thieves in the Temple,” “Purple Rain,” “Kiss” and at least two dozen other gems are the kind of hits you know all the words to even if you don’t know you know all the words to them.
Prince was so prolific that he when he wasn’t writing music for himself, he was writing or performing for other big-name artists. He wrote “Manic Monday” for The Bangles. He wasn’t credited with playing guitar for Madonna’s “Like a Prayer,” but he’s on the track. When Tim Burton asked him to record a couple tracks for his 1989 version of Batman, Prince came back with an entire album. Both the album and its single, “Batdance,” topped the charts at number one.
Even most millennials know Prince also wrote party anthems that gave us permission to act like it was the last night on earth.
And then there’s this cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” that will make you want to do the opposite, given today’s news.
Prince blew other seasoned guitar players off the stage (skip to 5:30 to see him school Tom Petty and ELO’s Jeff Lynne in this clip). He sold more records than Bob Dylan, Cher and Beyoncé, while still finding time to hang out with the Muppets and guest star on New Girl. Coincidentally, Zooey Deschanel and Jake Johnson’s characters’ reactions to a chance encounter with the singer perfectly capture how many fans feel about Prince: like freaking out.