He was a prodigy, a provocateur and a complete game-changer in popular music. It would be difficult to imagine, in fact, what pop and R&B would sound like today had Prince, who died on Thursday at 57, never recorded or performed.
Prince Roger Nelson
Like all great artists, Prince was himself a synthesizer of influences; his ranged from Sly Stone to Joni Mitchell to Todd Rundgren. The music he produced as a result — as a singer, songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist — defied genre, blending a mastery of pop hooks and funk grooves on singles that could be as lush as Purple Rain, as muscular and rocking as Let's Go Crazy and as ferociously propulsive as When Doves Cry — and that was just on one album, 1984's commercial behemoth Purple Rain.
The Minnesota native — who kept living and working in Minneapolis, at his Paisley Park Studios —released his first album, For You, at 19. From the start, his songs were as notable for their flouting of sexual taboos as they were for their crackling musicality, as subsequent titles such as Dirty Mind and Controversy suggested. 1982's 1999 — his first album to feature The Revolution, one of several outfits he would lead — offered the sly Let's Pretend We're Married and the charging, metaphor-driven Little Red Corvette. Not long after that, the Parents Music Resource Center (co-founded by Tipper Gore) cited Darling Nikki, from Purple Rain, in objections to content that eventually led to the use of parental-advisory labels.
The film Purple Rain introduced Prince as an actor and multi-media superstar. 1986's Under the Cherry Moon was less well-received as a movie, though its soundtrack, the album Parade, produced a chart-topping smash in the oft-sampled Kiss. 1987's Sign O' The Times, released as a solo album, marked a critical high point and yielded a few popular singles, including U Got The Look, which paired him with Sheena Easton.