April 21st marked the fourth anniversary of the untimely passing of Prince Rogers Nelson. I’ve been learning a lot about Prince recently, finishing the 2019 book “The Beautiful Ones” and now part way through the biography “Prince, Inside the Music and the Masks”. To mark the anniversary the Grammy organization aired a tribute concert on network television this week, filmed in January after the Grammy Awards show.
In the same vein as last week’s post on artists who have made covers their own, I did not know till I watched the TV tribute that the Bangles’ hit “Manic Monday” was penned by Prince. When the Bangles released the song in 1985, it rose to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, just behind Prince’s “Kiss”. What we wouldn’t give for a Manic Monday right about now.
Here’s the steamy video from “Kiss”. The guitarist in the video, Wendy Melvoin, was a member of Prince’s band, The Revolution, at the time. She performed at the Grammy tribute concert: “Mountains”
When Prince’s early promotor and collaborator, Chris Moon, was trying to get Prince his first record deal in 1976, he called Atlantic Records and told the receptionist he represented Stevie Wonder. When the receptionist put the call through Moon said, “This is Chris Moon, and I’m representing Prince. If you like Stevie Wonder, you’re gonna love my artist. He’s only eighteen, he plays all the instruments …”. Prince got an audition but not the contract. That came in 1977 with Warner Records, and Prince released his debut For You in 1978 – playing all the instruments, singing all the vocals, and doing pretty much everything else. Here’s Prince’s first single from his first album, “Soft and Wet”.
If you want even more Prince, check out my blog post from 2016 featuring his guitar shredding skills.
We’ve recently had to face the shock of Rock and Roll royalty of the 60’s and 70’s, now in their 60’s and 70’s, leaving us in increasing numbers. David Bowie, Maurice White, Glen Frey, Keith Emerson and Paul Kantner – to name a few – have all received their homages and retrospectives in the first few months of this year. Prince was of a slightly more recent vintage, though, and losing him at age 57 was an especially rude shock.
I can’t add anything to what’s been written in the past few days about his amazing talent and career, but I can share a few favorite videos recalling that when it came to playing guitar, “Baby there ain’t nobody better”.
First, his guitar solo on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame tribute to George Harrison in 2004. The solo starts at about 3:30 and is worth the wait.
This next video tends to get pulled off YouTube quickly, so enjoy it while you can. It’s a performance Prince gave at a press conference in the run-up to his 2007 Superbowl halftime show. May be the purest rock guitar playing I’d ever seen from him, and I’d never seen anyone else play with his arm around a girl (5:30)! Darn he made it look easy.
Finally, from an MTV Unplugged set, his acoustic playing was a rarely seen treat.
Broken Bells is a collaboration between Brian Joseph Burton (aka Danger Mouse), one of this century’s best producers, and James Mercer, frontman for indie favorite The Shins. Their second full album together, “After the Disco”, is due to be released in early February 2014, but the track “Holding on for Life” is already out. A few versions of the tune can be viewed on YouTube, including this spare live version. But the spacey (literally) official video lets you hear the more layered album version.
The Shins have been around since 1996 and got a big boost when their song “New Slang” was featured in the movie “Garden State”. Below is a clip from the movie with Natalie Portman giving Zach Braff a listen, followed by the full album version of the song.
Over the last decade Danger Mouse has produced albums for the Black Keys, Norah Jones, Beck, and Gorillaz, and he is currently working on U2’s upcoming release. He’s probably most well known for being half of Gnarls Barkley opposite CeeLo Green. “Crazy” was the 2006 mega-hit from the duo’s first album “St. Elsewhere”. Below are two versions of the song, one featuring CeeLo and Danger Mouse in a live studio setting, and the other featuring Prince on guitar.