Why was Prince considered revolutionary?

Don’t get me wrong; I loved his stuff from the Purple Rain era. But over and over, I’ve read music critics describe his music as “revolutionary”, “completely new”, etc., and I just don’t see it. Could someone enlighten me?


I don’t know if you were there at the time, but sometimes you have to consider the work of an artist in context, i.e. what were other people doing at the time.

I’m not too fond of Purple Rain, myself. There are many other albums which are far more “revolutionary”. Ultimately, he was a good song writer and a very clever producer, using sounds and instruments in new ways and incorporating it all in catchy tunes.

However, I have a nagging suspicion that some of the (overly positive) laudings from music critics has to do with him being black and playing a guitar, i.e. crossing the line between black music and white. As I understand it, even in the 80’s, black artist were mostly played on black stations, unless they were very mainstream, as Jacko. The way Prince refused to play along in that game might very well be an important reason so many critics loved him.

Revolutionary might be the wrong term, but if you listen to “Around the world in a day” you will find that he did take music in a very different direction than contemporary “pop”-musicians.

I don’t think he was revolutionary – just very, very, very good.

IIRC His first two albums didn’t cause much of a stir (outside of MN, at least). But when he released Dirty Mind in 1980 and then Controversy the next year, *Rolling Stone *magazine went nuts.
A lot of had to do with the fact that he wrote all the songs, played most (if not all) the instruments, and even produced the damn things. And yes, as The Gaspode stated, he was a black man playing rock. About his only peers in this respect were the guys in Living Color. Remeber, this was in the early days of New WaveTM, and there were still a lot of post-disco R&B out there.
His songs were raunchy, catchy, and really, really different from a lot of other musicians, black, white or green.

By the time 1999, was released, MTV was a firmly established pop phenom itself, and his sexy videos for “Little Red Corvette” and “1999” were incredible eye-candy, fitting right into their playlist - especially since they were looking for black artists that fit with their format.

I saw a 1999 tour show in 1982. I think I was the only white guy there, but I loved the whole evening. With him were The Time and Vanity 6. He had started branching by then, writing and producing material for those (and a host of other) acts. This also fed into his reputation as a musical force.

Prince did a lot more stuff than just Purple Rain. I think one aspect of his critical praise certainly is the fact that he was played on white radio stations, but there’s no denying the fact that the man is a musical genuis of the first order. He could just as easily write a guitar-based rock song as a groove-based funk song or Beatlesque psychedila. At one point during the 80’s, he was writing half the songs on the radio, whether it was his songs, The Bangles, Sheena Easton, etc. When he mashed together genres, it just seemed right–everything seemed to fit together. If you want an example of what it sounds like when mashed together genres don’t fit, think of the rap-metal experiments that ended up producing Linkin Park and their ilk. His instrumental prowess is absolutely second to none. When he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame he played “While My Gutar Gently Weeps” with Tom Petty and George Harrison’s son. He took the solo and it was stunning. Could Michael Jackson have done that? Could Usher have done that? Could P. Diddly have done that?

This set of skills is not unique in music history, of course. It’s actually kind of the definition of “pop”. The Beatles and Ray Charles were both very good at it.

His downfall, of course, was that he never really understood or respected hip hop. At first he ignored it, then, when it became obvious that it was the future, he dabbled in it like he dabbled in everything else, but it always came out sounding forced.

For what it’s worth, here’s what AMG has to say:

I also don’t know that I’d hold up Linkin Park as an example of genre fusion gone wrong; despite the fact that I don’t particularly care for them, I think they do the mix of hip-hop and nu metal pretty well. I know I’ve heard some failed eclecticism, but I’m having a hard time thinking of any examples that aren’t incredibly obscure.

I was in my mid-teens in the early 1980s, and had the Top 40 station on 24 hours a day.

When I first heard “Little Red Corvette” I hated it. When I saw Prince’s skinny little greasy ass lip-synching to it on “Solid Gold”, I hated it even more. The rise of Prince and Madonna was my signal that pop music was no longer for me.

Prince was seen at the time as the next generation of funk. IMO, he took funk away from its best roots, which Lenny Kravitz finally made sprout again.

I’ve grown far more charitable of him more recently, and consider his appearance on “Muppets Tonight” to be one of the great moments in late-1990s television.

But, overall, I have about 50 artists at least that I like better than him.

Chalk another one up for “musical genius, wrote in many styles, etc…” I would add:

  • took electronic music and instruments - e.g., LinnDrums and other early technology - and made it sound organic and natural in a way that most other artists on the pop scene couldn’t dream of. I remember reading one respected female musician (can’t remember who, sorry) who said “Prince could make electronic drums sound like fucking”

  • crossed over in the new wave genre - whereas Michael Jackson was more R&B cross over, Prince’s stuff was more new wave and electronic dance crossover. It was legitimate in club circles, African American circles and pop circles.

  • Other than maybe James Brown, he is pretty much the most influential non-hip-hopper in the world of hip hop, IMHO, in terms of how he wrote and produced his music and the beats he used. Every hip hopper I have ever read about holds him up as the Man.

The man is a musical genius.

His Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame bio says it all, really:

  • In my mind, he is one of the Top 5 songwriters of all time.

  • He is the best stage performer/showman I have ever seen.

  • Little Red Corvette is the best pop song I have ever heard.

  • Adore is the best R&B song I have ever heard.

  • Sign O’ the Times is the best album I have ever heard.

  • He is probably the most underrated guitar player of all time. His 5-minute guitar solo in Just My Imagination (Small Club, The Hague, 08/1988) is the best guitar solo I have ever heard.

Yeah, but then he had to go and release “Batdance.” Something that made me long for the days of the “Batusi”.
I agree he was revolutionary. But by the time Under A Cherry Moon rolled in, he was just cruising on his reputation, and hasn’t done anything to change my opinion of his work. He alienated most of his fans - I don’t give a damn what the press reported about his life or personality - with his musical antics. Growth is a good thing, but changing his output a radically as he did messed it up. There’s no way anything done after Purple Rain is as consistantly good track for track as Controversy, Dirty Mind or 1999.

The soundtrack to Under the Cherry Moon is the albumParade which contains “Kiss”, which is, to this day, his biggest hit. His next album was Sign o’ the Times, which is considered to be his masterpiece. The aborted Black Album was next, which has some incredible tracks and some stinkers. Lovesexy is solid–it has “Alphabet Street” and “When 2 R in Love”, which are both incredible songs. Then came the Batman soundtrack, which, although much and rightly maligned, still had a couple of interesting songs on it. (“Party Man”) His 90’s output wasn’t up to the glory days of the 80’s, but every album (except for Graffiti Bridge) had three or four worthy songs. To say that he never did anything worth a damn after Purple Rain is just wrong. Hell, 2004’s Musicology is a pretty good album!

Well said vibrotronica. I would also add Diamonds & Pearls (1991) to that list as well.

For a relatively brief period of time in the mid-90s.

He’s back stronger than ever with a great new album and tour. His 2004 Musicology Tour was the Top Draw of 2004: 1.47 Million tickets sold! *

  • Source: Billboard

It was considered revolutionary because it put into words all the conniving, underhanded tricks that royal families do to one another, and suggested ways in which they could even improve their chances for dirty, underhanded success.

Or weren’t you talking about the well-known book by Machiavelli?

… and don’t forget that, according to Eddie Murphy’s brother, Prince got some serious game on the basketball court, too.

Revolutionary is a little strong but my goodness was a he a great musician. Purple Rain is still a great albulm and doesn’t really sound dated at all. Ok, so perhaps he lost the plot a little with some of his movies and he can be accussed of self-indulgence to the extreme but so what! He produced some great music so I can forgive Under the Cherry Red Moon.

Also, isn’t his mother white so he’s actually a mullato (is that the right term?) or half-black/half-white.

No, both of his parents are African-American.

This was going to be my angle. :slight_smile: Prince was an early adopter of samplers and sample-based instruments, like the aforementioned LinnDrum (the first drum machine to use samples of a real drum kit rather than making “bleeps” and “bloops” from an internal synthesizer). He lent legitimacy to these techniques and sounds, often by using them in a non-novelty context (contrary to the way many new wavers presented them) like any other instrument. His studio, Paisley Park, was instrumental in pushing these new technologies, and was a precient precursor to today’s moder digital studios.

Also - incredible songwriter. MC Hammer’s “pray”, Sinead’s “nothing compares 2 U”, and a million others. :wink: