Prince: Purple Rain of tears

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Vale Prince Rogers Nelson (June 7, 1958 – April 21, 2016

One of popular music's most gifted and prolific figures – Prince – has died in circumstances as mysterious as himself.

He was 57.

Born Prince Nelson Rogers in Minneapolis, Minnesota on June 7, 1958, the artist was found unresponsive at his Paisley Park Studios compound following media reports that he had suffered a drug overdose and influenza a week before his death. Authorities said an autopsy was underway to determine the exact cause of the Grammy and Oscar winner's demise.

Prince, who shot to fame in the 1980s, became obsessed with music at a very early age and wrote his first song at seven. He released his debut album For You in 1978. A self-titled album went platinum the following year on the strength of the sexually charged hits 'Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?' and 'I Wanna Be Your Lover'.

Prince parlayed his success with three more albums in the same vein. They were 'Dirty Mind' (1980), 'Controversy' (1981) and '1999' (1982), which featured an iconic title track that became the centrepiece of Millennium Eve celebrations in 2000. It was actually a protest against nuclear proliferation and became one of the first songs by an African-American artist to enjoy heavy rotation on the American popular music network MTV.

In 1984, Prince and his backup band, The Revolution, did something that nobody thought could be done. They knocked rival Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' album from the top of the charts, where it had reigned triumphant as the best-selling album of all time. 'Purple Rain', one of the most perfect albums ever produced, featured the stand-out track 'When Doves Cry'. This topped the U.S. Billboard charts for five weeks and was the top single of 1984.

Another stellar track from Purple Rain was the dance floor filler, 'Let's Go Crazy'.

However, it was 'Darling Nikki' that grabbed most of the headlines, on the strength of lyrics such as:

"I knew a girl named Nikki, I guess you could say she was a sex fiend. I met her in a hotel lobby, masturbating with a magazine."

The author can recall buying a copy of Purple Rain from Tower Records in San Francisco on the way back to Australia after living in the U.S. for several years. She took it to a party in Newcastle, where it was promptly stolen. She bought another copy and took it to another party in Canberra, where it was similarly stolen.

Every time I bought a copy of this album and other people got a load of it, they stole  it. I must have replaced the album four or five times, back in the days when albums cost a lot of money.

It is still one of my favourites.

From 1980 to the end of 1999, Prince had 44 top 100 hits — more than any other artist. He was also renowned for being an elusive figure who loathed the media and rarely gave interviews.

In 1985, Prince announced that he would discontinue live performances and music videos after the release of his next album, Around The World In A Day. However, ultimately, Prince did not follow through with this threat.

Around The World In A Day featured the wholly original 'Raspberry Beret'. The single, which incorporates Middle Eastern finger cymbals, stringed instruments and a harmonica on the extended version, is a classic example of how Prince enjoyed experimenting with eclectic musical styles.

The period following Around The World In A Day was extremely prolific for Prince, as the artist pumped out scores of albums at a rapid pace to remove himself from contractual obligations with Warner Bros. In 1986, Prince released one of his most innovative singles, 'Kiss', which was the feature track of 'Under The Cherry Moon' and was later covered by Tom Jones.

In 1991, Prince formed a band called the New Power Generation and released the phenomenally successful Diamonds and Pearls album. One of the feature tracks was 'Gett Off', a blistering piece of pure funk that left zero to the imagination.

The more accessible – and equally sexually explicit – 'Cream' was another stand-out track from the New Power Generation period.

In 1993, Prince changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol that perplexed fans and the media alike. He released five albums between 1994 and 1996 before signing with Arista Records in 1998.

In 2000, the artist began referring to himself as "Prince" again. He released 15 albums after that, and his final album, HITnRUN Phase Two, was first released exclusively on the Tidal streaming service.

Throughout his career, Prince sold more than 100 million records worldwide and won a slew of awards, including seven Grammys, an Academy Award for Purple Rain and a Golden Globe. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004 and was ranked 27 on Rolling Stone's list of the greatest artists of all time.

As well as writing and performing his own songs, Prince wrote numerous hits for other artists. These included 'Manic Monday' for The Bangles in 1986 and 'Nothing Compares 2 U', a worldwide smash hit for Sinead O'Connor and the top selling single in Australia in 1990.

In addition, Prince nurtured the popular artists Sheena Easton, Sheila E and Martika, for whom he produced 'Love, Thy Will Be Done'.

Prince's mysterious death prompted a flood of tributes from characters as diverse as U.S. President Barack Obama, director Spike Lee and pop superstar Madonna, who was born two months after Prince.

She described Prince as a

"... true visionary who changed the world."

'What a loss,' Madonna tweeted. 'I'm devastated.'

Obama said:

"Few artists have influenced the sound and trajectory of popular music more distinctly. Prince did it all. Funk. R&B. Rock and roll. He was a virtuoso instrumentalist, a brilliant bandleader, and an electrifying performer."

Lee described Prince as

"... a funny cat with a great sense of humour."

Recording Academy president Neil Portnow described Prince as

"... one of the most uniquely gifted artists of all time."

Portnow added:

"Never one to conform, he redefined and forever changed our musical landscape. Prince was an original who influenced so many, and his legacy will live on forever."

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