Singer, songwriter and sex-fuelled androgynous man-cat, Prince defined the 'Minneapolis Sound' and explored the outer reaches of truly bizarre celebrity behaviour.
A 17 year old Prince Rogers Nelson submitted a demo tape to Warner Brothers in 1976. Handing over his work as an eager teenager is perhaps something he would perhaps come to regret later. Warner Brothers agreed to surrender total creative control to him; something they would almost certainly regret later. Throughout his career and prolific output, Prince has entertained through a combination of music, movies, and the increasingly bizarre sideshow that is his personality.
Prince attributes his 'innovative' sexuality to allegedly finding a stack of pornographic novels in his mother's bedroom as a child. Though she denies this ever happened, Prince claims to have devoured all the novels and even started writing his own once he had tired of them. The effects are fairly apparent, some of his song titles read like things you would find written in a bathroom stall, as fragments of larger, deeply disturbing tracts: "Soft And Wet", "Do Me, Baby," "Sleep Around," and the heartfelt ballad, so popular for first dances at weddings - "Jack U Off"
After the piano and guitar, Prince mastered confusing imagery.
Many artists have fallen foul of the "obscenity" accusations, but Prince seemed to get away with it for longer than most before the hammer fell. It may have the fact that it was the 80s, and parents had more important things to worry about, like impending nuclear annihilation, or just who shot JR?
It may have been that his petite effeminate appearance may have caused more reactionary parents to quickly assume that his lyrics must be harmless. Or, it may have been the fact that many parents considered Prince to be "lighter" than some of his "darker" contemporaries - if you pick up on the clumsily concealed subtext...
Tipper Gore, wife of Al, overheard her twelve year old daughter listening to "Darling Nikki" from 'Purple Rain' (a song so filthy, it appears to leave a greasy residue on the walls and ceiling of rooms in which it is played.) Disgusted, she promptly set up the PMRC, a collective of like-minded shrieking reactionary harridans, determined on having all media sanitised to the point of Osmond-itude. The next time you buy a CD, marred with a 'Parental Advisory' sticker - thank Prince.
That said, Prince once took the unusual step of banning one of his own records, just before it was released in 1897. The reported reasons for him shelving "The Black Album" vary, some say that following a bad experience on Ecstasy he became convinced that the record was an evil portent. Others say he had second thoughts about the graphic sex and violence in the lyrics, which seems less likely, from the man who brought us the charming "Scarlet Pussy."
In fact, Prince's CDs may eventually be the only ones in the store, since the tiny funk machine has refused to have any dealings with online providers. In a "Visionary" (read - "utterly boneheaded") move, Prince explained why he would not be releasing any music via iTunes or Amazon, or any of the other hugely popular online retailers -
"The internet's completely over. I don't see why I should give my new music to iTunes or anyone else. They won't pay me an advance for it and then they get angry when they can't get it...all these computers and digital gadgets....just fill your head with numbers and that can't be good for you."
This statement perfectly sums up the level head and shrewd business sense that have made Prince world-famous as a sheltered maniac can't be trusted with a rusty penny superglued to the floor. Known for making such shrewd business descisions as cancelling sell-out shows days before they occured, costing himself and his label millions of dollars, he once also attempted to order dozens of identical custom guitars, using a record label advance he had yet to receive, which, as it happened, wouldn't actually cover the cost of the bill.
It was this kind of behaviour that resulted in one of the most surreal and entertaining disputes between label and artist ever seen. Fearing that Prince's prolific output would saturate the market and slow down sales, Warner Brothers advised him to "reign it in a little" - having been told 'No' for the first time in his career. Prince went crazy, in a way that can only be executed by a man who spends 90% of his time already totally deranged.
He began appearing in public with the word 'Slave' written on his face, and changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol. (Warner Brothers stopped short of sending out a press release advising everyone that the symbol was pronounced "Halfwit") After a confusing period of mutating titles and acronyms. Warner finally dropped Prince, who was once again legally allowed to refer to himself by his legally given birth name.
The weirdness has continued right up to the present day, Prince has appeared in public with sheets and towels over his head, and given away his 2009 album "Planet Earth" to be included free with a British newspaper, without the label's consent. Rest assured, as long as there are a leigon of dedicated fans to fling money at the "skinny motherf*cker with the high voice" as he's been known to call himself, Prince will keep being as weird as he can muster. It's what he does.
You'll all be wearing it next year.