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The Question Of U: 10 Prince Facts You Need To Know
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List & Guides

The Question Of U: 10 Prince Facts You Need To Know

One of pop music’s greatest enigmas, His Royal Badness made a sport of keeping fans guessing. Here are ten Prince facts you need to know.

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The very epitome of an enigma, Prince cultivated mystique at every opportunity, and relished confounding fans and critics alike. While it isn’t always possible to sort truth from fiction, or rumour from downright lie, there is enough Prince scholarship out there to piece together the life of this most extraordinary musician. Whether you’re a curious newcomer or colours-to-the-mast purple devotee, here are ten Prince facts you need to know…

Listen to the best of Prince here, and check out the ten Prince facts you need to know, below.

1: He really was called Prince

Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on 7 June 1958, Prince Rogers Nelson was named after the jazz trio his father, John L Nelson, led around the city’s nightclubs and community centres. “I called my son Prince because I wanted him to do everything I wanted to do,” John L told A Current Affair in 1991, years after his son had done all that and more.

A multi-faceted artist, Prince toyed with pseudonyms and different personae throughout his career, sometimes crediting his songwriting, production and studio work to alter egos such as Jamie Starr, Alexander Nevermind, Joey Coco and Tora Tora. “He would even dress up like Jamie Starr,” Lisa Coleman, keyboardist in Prince’s mid-80s band, The Revolution, told this author for the book Lives Of The Musicians: Prince. “It wasn’t just a pen name… He would just be these different people. It was remarkable.”

Between 1993 and 2000, as part of a dispute with his record label, Warner Bros, Prince identified as an unpronounceable glyph dubbed “Love Symbol” – but that’s another story for a whole other time…

2: One of the first songs he learned to play was the ‘Batman’ theme tune

As Prince told fans gathered at Paisley Park for the Piano & A Microphone Gala Event, held on 21 January 2016, his dad a strict house rule: don’t touch the piano. Undeterred, the fledgling musician taught himself some of his favourite TV theme tunes on his dad’s instrument, among them the Batman and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. themes. Years later, history would come full circle when Prince created a whole Batman soundtrack album for director Tim Burton’s blockbuster movie adaptation of 1989. In two of the best Prince music videos, he even channelled the franchise’s most recognisable characters, appearing in the Batdance clip as a half-Batman, half-Joker hybrid he christened Gemini, before dropping the Batman half for his anarchic Partyman promo.

3: He wrote so many hits, he had to give some of them away…

In the early 80s, Prince masterminded the careers of The Time and the short-lived Vanity 6 (later reshaped into Apollonia 6), and worked with numerous protégé acts right up until his death in 2016. But even these side projects weren’t enough to contain his relentless creativity, and plenty of other artists scored standalone hits with songs Prince wrote but never released himself, among them Sheena Easton (Sugar Walls), The Bangles (Manic Monday) and Sinéad O’Connor (Nothing Compares 2 U, originally released by Prince’s mid-80s side project The Family). George Clinton, Mavis Staples and Chaka Khan were among the early inspirations he also gave tracks to – but he drew the line at Kiss. A surprise among Prince facts, he first handed the song to Minneapolis R&B group Mazarati, when it was just an acoustic blues demo, but Prince soon reclaimed Kiss for his own Parade album, and took it to the top of the US Hot 100, Hot Black Singles and Hot Dance/Disco – Club Play charts in 1986.

4: … Many more songs remained in “The Vault”, and may never see the light of day

Even before he started recording entire albums for other artists, Prince was turning out far more material than he could ever hope to release – under his own name or otherwise. In the mid-80s, Prince’s then studio engineer Susan Rogers began organising this ever-growing collection into an archive known as The Vault. Soon to take on mythic proportions, The Vault – later a real vault, secured like a bank’s and built into Prince’s Paisley Park studio complex – would sometimes provide songs for later projects, and it now fuels the reissues The Prince Estate has released since Prince’s death – including the super-deluxe editions of the 1999 and Sign O’ The Times albums.

“When I first started working for him, he would sometimes say to me at two or three o’clock in the morning, ‘Bring me this tape or that tape,’” Rogers later explained in Double J’s Take 5 podcast. “I realised I have to know where all these things are, ’cause how would I know this obscure stuff that had never been released?” Following Prince’s death, one estimate put the number of unreleased songs he’d stowed away at 8,000 – almost enough material to release one Vault album a year through to the end of the current millennium.

5: He was the first artist since The Beatles to simultaneously hold the No.1 film, album and single spots

With the Purple Rain album, Prince not only captured the zeitgeist, he created it in real time. Despite only touring the album in the US, the movie became a global phenomenon that established Prince as a worldwide star; in his homeland, he became the first artist since The Beatles to simultaneously top the film, album and single charts – a rare accomplishment few have achieved since. He also took home an Oscar for Best Original Song Score, for the song Purple Rain itself, proving that, in the mid-80s, Prince truly reigned supreme over all aspects of pop culture.

6: He’s the reason potentially offensive albums carry “Parental Advisory: Explicit Content” stickers

If the Purple Rain movie epitomised everything about the decade in which it was released, its soundtrack album contained much that flustered the era’s conservative right. One of the lesser-known Prince facts includes Tipper Gore, wife of then US Democratic senator Al Gore. After hearing her 11-year-old daughter listening to the song Darling Nikki, she balked at its opening lines (“I knew a girl named Nikki/I guess you could say she was a sex fiend/I met her in a hotel lobby/Masturbating with a magazine”) and corralled like-minded wives of Republican Party supporters to form the Parents Music Resource Center. Armed with a list of songs they termed the “Filthy Fifteen” (which also included Sheena Easton’s Prince-penned single Sugar Walls), they took pop and rock music to court, demanding that albums be released with detailed content warnings. Frank Zappa, John Denver and Twisted Sister singer Dee Snider testified in favour of freedom of artistic expression, but, in 1985, the Recording Industry Association Of America agreed to place “Parental Advisory: Explicit Content” stickers on any albums or singles whose content could be deemed offensive. As for the record that started it all, Purple Rain received its very own “Parental Advisory” sticker when it was reissued in 2017.

7: When he wasn’t playing live or recording his own albums, he was probably guesting on someone else’s record…

Who wouldn’t want a Prince guest spot on their record? Just ask Janelle Monáe (Givin Em What They Love), Stevie Wonder (So What The Fuss), Common (Star *69 (PS With Love)), Stevie Nicks (Stand Back) or Kate Bush (Why Should I Love You?)… The list is almost as endless as Prince’s own output. He didn’t always seek credit, either. At the height of both their imperial phases, Prince made a few secret appearances on Madonna’s Like A Prayer album. It’s always been known that he and the “Queen Of Pop” co-wrote the album track Love Song, but that snatch of guitar at the start of Like A Prayer itself? Yep, that’s Prince, too. He’s also on Keep It Together and the album’s closing song, Act Of Contrition – under-the-radar performances that needed no apology.

8: He was the first artist to sell a whole album via the internet

Years before Apple Music’s iTunes download store, Spotify’s streaming service and the proliferation of direct-to-consumer fan sites, Prince pioneered internet distribution. “I remember sitting in his office in ’92, ’93, and him saying, ‘One day, music is going to be sold over the internet,’” Prince’s New Power Generation drummer Michael Bland recalled for Lives Of The Musicians: Prince. “And we hardly knew what the internet was at the time… I left the office thinking he’s crazy.”

“Visionary” would have been a better word. One of the lesser known Prince facts is that, in 1997, he began taking pre-orders for the Crystal Ball box set, a 3CD collection of unreleased material, through his Love4OneAnother.com website, as well as through his mail-order phone line, 1-800-NEW-FUNK. Lacking a robust distribution structure, the release wasn’t without its problems, but it paved the way for artists to control their own supply chain, from creating music through to delivering it into fans’ hands – or, in the digital era, onto their computers. In the early 2000s, Prince pushed this further still, launching an online subscription service and, later, a download store under the NPG Music Club banner. In 2006, The Webby Awards presented him with a Lifetime Achievement Award for recognising “early on that the web would completely change how we experience music”.

“He called that out of nowhere,” Bland says today.

9: After years of spiritual questing, he converted to the Jehovah’s Witness faith

Thogh known for the sexually explicit material that made up albums such as Dirty Mind, as early as the Controversy and 1999 records, Prince explored a worldview in which his sexual and his spiritual needs could exist in harmony. Arguably the peak of this was his Lovesexy album, which seemed to envision an entirely new plane of spiritual-sexual existence.

At the turn of the 21st century, however, Prince surprised many fans when he converted to the Jehovah’s Witness faith and began to scrub his more risqué material from the record – changing lyrics to some songs and simply retiring others. His longtime idol, former Sly And The Family Stone bassist Larry Graham, aided Prince’s religious studies during this era, and Prince’s most overt artistic pronouncements on his new faith came in the shape of his 2001 album, The Rainbow Children.

To some onlookers, Prince’s conversion wasn’t all that radical – rather, it seemed a natural progression for someone whose faith, in whatever shape it took, had always been central to his music. “I believe that the Jehovah’s thing worked pretty well for Prince, because it’s clear-cut,” Hans-Martin Buff reflected in Lives Of The Musicians: Prince. A former Paisley Park studio engineer who worked with Prince during the early stages of his conversion, Buff added, “Prince was a very black-and-white guy, so to have a religion that isn’t waffly about stuff… that made sense to me.”

10: Pantone posthumously honoured Prince’s purple reign with an official colour

Not only unique where Prince facts are concerned, but also a rarity for any artist, Pantone Color Institute, the global authority for standardised colours, have created an official shade of purple inspired by the regal hue that will be forever synonymous with The Purple One. Devised in partnership with The Prince Estate and unveiled a year after Prince’s death, the colour, dubbed Love Symbol #2, was made to match the custom-made Yamaha piano that Prince had played during his truncated Piano & A Microphone tour of 2016. “Long associated with the purple family, Love Symbol #2 enables Prince’s unique purple shade to be consistently replicated and maintain the same iconic status as the man himself,” said Laurie Pressman, Pantone’s Vice President, while unveiling the colour in August 2017.

Four months later, the company announced that the not dissimilar Ultra Violet tone would be their 2018 colour of the year. A few shades away from Love Symbol #2, Ultra Violet nevertheless channelled Prince’s purple majesty: “Musical icons Prince, David Bowie and Jimi Hendrix brought shades of Ultra Violet to the forefront of western pop culture as personal expressions of individuality,” Pantone said. Noting the “historically… mystical or spiritual quality attached to” the colour, the company added, “Ultra Violet symbolises experimentation and non-conformity, spurring individuals to imagine their own unique mark on the world, and push boundaries through creative outlets.”

A designation fit for a Prince.

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