Plenty of 1980s Top 40 music has slowly mellowed into the "not so bad" category; Prince's, though, stands in the rare company of charting artists (with Madonna, Cyndi Lauper and a few others) whose work has really stood the test of time since that godawful decade.
I'm thinking here primarily in terms of composition, a realm where Prince truly shone. At an incredibly young age, he'd absorbed an astonishing range of musical styles and could employ their various tropes at will-- with a flair that eludes most musicians for a lifetime. Prince has often been derided as a gifted synthesist without anything original to offer. But I'd contend that his songwriting often achieved a deftness in league with the Stevie Wonders, Sly Stones, Lennon/ McCartneys, Hendrixes, and Joni Mitchells of the world-- in other words, he not only copped the styles of these artists, but matched their compositional prowess as well.
The multiplicity of his inspirations suggests that Prince's work was, in fact, all about blending and blurring. His privileging of androgyny and multicultural imagery mirrored a music that didn't just transcend stylistic boundaries, but declared them irrelevant and dissolved them altogether. This recombinant approach not only shed new light on the potential of American music, but on the potential of America itself. All of which, at the time, America sorely needed (and still needs).
I'd planned on spending part of this post geeking out on stuff like how cool it was that he'd often save a fancy programmed drum fill for the very end of a song, almost at the end of a fadeout-- but to hell with that. At its glorious best, Prince's music is a celebration-- an invitation to welcome joy into our hearts. It's hard for me to pick a favorite track, but I think "Mountains" will do:
Thanks for the music, Mr. Nelson. U made some wonderful things.
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