So why isn’t he in the Songwriters Hall of Fame?
“Take this beat, I don’t mind. I got plenty others and they’re so fine. ”
—Prince, “I Wish U Heaven (Parts 1, 2 & 3)”
“Like books and Black lives, albums still matter,” said Prince during his final appearance at the Grammy Awards in February of 2015. These sentiments offer us a rather fitting starting point to talk about Prince, the songwriter.
Prince knew a little something about the power and profundity of albums; after all, he sold more than 100 million of them. Still, for the better part of the past two decades — an era which has been defined by file sharing, streaming services, and mobile devices — it appeared that the long play album (aka the LP) would go the way of the dinosaurs.
Most music consumers sought that one song from an artist, new or old, that they could easily download as an mp3 for 99 cents.
By way of both consumer nostalgia and corporate avarice, the re-emergence of vinyl records has given new life to the album, but it is still the hit single that drives music sales and radio airplay.
Of course, Prince knew something about hit singles as well. In fact, he landed dozens of them on the Billboard Hot 100, including five number-ones and a total of 19 top ten singles. That’s to say nothing of his impact on the R&B and Dance charts, much less about the litany of hits he composed for others or, for that matter, all the artists that have covered or sampled Prince compositions.
Many of us are familiar with Prince-penned hits recorded by Chaka Khan, Stephanie Mills, Stevie Nicks, Patti LaBelle, and Sheena Easton, among numerous others. Plus, all the notable tracks he wrote for other veterans of the Minneapolis Sound, including The Time, André Cymone, Vanity 6, and Sheila E. But did you know he also wrote for the likes of Joe Cocker, Kenny Rogers, Celine Dion, and Candy Dulfer?
Which leads me to the question I posed at the end of my previous column: “With all of his hits — over the course of nearly 40 years and across multiple genres — how is it that Prince is not in the Songwriters Hall of Fame?”
In the last decade alone, Jon Bon Jovi has been inducted, as have John Sebastian, Jermaine Dupri, Linda Perry, and Steven Tyler. With all due respect to each these individuals, none of them have any business getting into the Songwriters Hall of Fame before Prince.
Some might say, appropriately so, that songwriting is about more than the number of records sold, airplay, and chart position. And Prince would have been the first in line to agree with those people, bringing us back to why albums matter.
If you include three digital albums and three more credited to the New Power Generation, Prince composed, produced, and recorded at least 44 studio albums in his 38-year career. That figure doesn’t even include the associated acts from the early days or the rosters of artists from Paisley Park and NPG Records.
And it is on these albums, in addition to the songs that were released as singles, that you will find gem after gem after gem. For those who love Prince (and for that matter, those that don’t) but may not be as familiar with his catalogue beyond what was played on the radio, do yourself a favor and explore more of Prince’s work that cements his status as one of the most gifted songwriters in history.
For those who might like softer, soul-searching works, take the time to listen to “It’s Gonna Be Lonely,” “Condition of the Heart,” “The Ladder,” “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker,” “Anna Stesia,” or “Joy in Repetition.” If you are into political manifestos then perhaps “Annie Christian,” “Dance On,” “The Sacrifice of Victor,” “Dear Mr. Man,” and “Dreamer” are for you.
Or perhaps, you are one of those people that just love to hear Prince scream. If so, check out “Something in the Water (Does Not Compute),” “Free,” “Insatiable,” “Endorphine Machine,” and again “Dreamer” among so many others. If guitar is your thing, try “I’m Yours,” “Bambi,” “Ronnie Talk to Russia,” “Free,” and “Electric Chair,” all of which come before the 1990s.
The truth is, Prince albums have just about anything and everything you could possibly want: funk, rock, soul, jazz, deep lyrics, complex rhythms, gorgeous melodies, experimental time signatures, love, sex, humor, social commentary, and God. Some of his unreleased album tracks were so popular — “Lady Cab Driver” and “Adore” come to mind – that black radio stations went ahead and played them on air anyway.
Once again, I’m just highlighting some of the non-single tracks from his albums. There is also an array of legendary B-sides including “How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore,” “Erotic City,” “Another Lonely Christmas,” “She’s Always in My Hair,” and “Love or Money,” just to name a handful. Then there are the hundreds upon hundreds unreleased of songs that are famously housed in “The Vault.”
Prince has been called, time and time again and by numerous people, a modern-day Mozart. Maybe in a hundred years or so, once all that he composed has been heard, humanity will fully recognize the levels of his genius; the genius of not only an instrumental virtuoso, visionary producer, and electrifying performer, but one of a kind songwriter as well.
Tony Kiene’s experience in the Twin Cities nonprofit and entertainment industries includes work with Minneapolis Urban League, Penumbra Theatre, Hallie Q. Brown, and Pepé Music.
He welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.