Prince and I were both nearly the same age. He was three years my senior. He and I both both shared one thing in common. We both loved Soul Music of the ’60s and the ’70s. At the time that Prince decided to get a professional contract, I had pretty much dropped out of full-time scanning of the radio airwaves for new Soul that I could fall in love with. During the late ’70’s period, it was pretty much set in concrete within my mind that the Soul and Funk that I had listened to up the pre-Van McCoy-“The Hustle” period was gone. I was resigned to a fate of only hearing a Soul song here and there that gave me some temporary enjoyment and hope. I regret that things had changed enough in music that I came to this feeling. It laid the foundation for me to miss Prince begin the process of putting Soul, Funk & Rock elements together and to do it respectfully while changing the entire musical landscape of the times that he lived in.
My doses of Prince were very small. I read and heard about the 1999 album back in 1982. In particular, I read about the attention being paid to “Little Red Corvette”. As the ’80s progressed and musicians were taking in what this guy was doing, none other than Bruce Springsteen cited “Little Red Corvette” as being a favorite of his. He would even go on to perform it at least one time (that I know of).
During Bruce’s Born In The USA Era, Price came roaring back with the Purple Rain OST and prevented Bruce from reaching Number 1 when Bruce released “Dancing In The Dark” as a single and had to compete with “When Doves Cry”. This was where I was most exposed to Prince. You could not get away from the Purple Rain soundtrack. I admired what he was doing from a distance. My personal tastes prevented me from taking a complete plunge, but I appreciated that I was hearing in his music a kind of seriousness and respect for his peers which was emanating from the craft of melding together genres to create his own blend.
So, why am I writing a tribute column to Prince this evening when I wasn’t much into his music? It’s very simple. I didn’t have to like the music completely in order to really respect him for bringing up some very important issues as an artist and to also, knowingly or unknowingly, throw a mirror in front of the radio and record industry in order to reveal to them what they really were and are to this very day.
Prince and I split into two different directions during that fateful time in the late ’70s when I saw that AM radio was tightening their playlists. Prince decided to attempt to reunify it in brave fashion while carrying the music further. It is here where I feel that Prince’s existence as an artist was most important. He revealed the hypocrisy of the radio and music industry by proving that radio only wanted hits and that both radio and the industry in general only wanted a repeat formula of anything successful. He got foot in the door airplay with 1999. And then he got massive airplay with the overwhelming success of Purple Rain back in 1984. He got cursory airplay from FM Rock radio programmers for Around The World In A Day in the hopes that the iron was still hot. Sadly, the programmers weren’t bothering to play much Soul music from both the past or the present in order to make sense for audiences of what his success meant. By the time the Parade album rolled around, Rock radio had swept him under the rug. I certainly didn’t get to more fully appreciate why the guy was creating these great heights of achievement.
Like I said, whether knowingly or not, he exposed the radio industry for what they really were. As a result, we were all made the poorer in the process. There has been a consistent and overbearing willingness on the part of the radio industry over the years since the mid-70s to shut out Black artists, both past and present, out of relevance in the eyes of a sadly musically uneducated public. And if the radio industry and the music industry is ever going to regain any modicum of respect in the eyes of the guys like me who know better, it is about to time to tell programmers that the days of boring and repetitive playlists are over and to fully integrate Rock radio to include Soul Music, R&B, Country, Jazz and even Classical elements into fully functional playlists. It’s up to the programmers to decide whether they want to concentrate on only certain time periods or if they want to include music that is being made today into the equation. But it’s time for the terrestrial radio industry (and even satellite radio) to wake the hell up and show people why people like myself pine away for the days when we lived through those days when radio really was integrated. The kids today deserve integration of music. Instead, they are being fed institutionalized racism.
The other big issue I’ve always respected Prince for was his staunch support for the rights of artists. His fight with Warner Brothers over the rights to own his masters are legendary. He reminded aspiring musicians, for what seemed like the billionth time as a result of so many musician business-end casualties, to make damn sure that you came into the industry loaded with spectacular talent and one hell of a good entertainment lawyer in tow.
It is my great hope that the vast amount of unreleased music that Prince created will be curated with loving care and presented in careful context and not haphazardly released in packages that have no organization or unity. I would hope his family, his friends, his fellow musicians, technical workers, the lawyers and record industry will do right by this man and knock heads because he absolutely stood for integrity of the highest order. Hell, I didn’t know much about his music, but the message of his integrity came through loud and clear to me over the years. The word is that the officially released music that the public got to hear in his lifetime as an artist was only a sliver compared to what he has stored away in his vault. So, be forewarned music industry people! Do it once and do it right when you begin the mining! Otherwise, the mirror will be held up to you once again.