Adore him or feel indifferent towards him (it’s impossible to hate him), there’s no escaping the fact that the artist formerly known as The Artist Formerly Known As Prince is one of the most enigmatic and prolific musicians to have ever lived. I’ve been a fan of the self-titled Purple Yoda since I was 13, which is probably as good a time in one’s life as any to develop an interest in a sex-obsessed 80’s icon with a flair for overdressing, oversharing and being a bit of a rebel. I’m sure many of you do the same with the artists you cherish, I’m going through a bit of a phase at the moment where I’m constantly listening to Prince: the songs I love, the songs I don’t, and those I’ve never heard before – yes, there are still songs I’ve never heard. Well, thanks to writers’ block, Portent’s Content Idea Generator and a desire to write something, I thought I’d try and blow your mind with some “interesting” Prince facts. The originally-suggested title for this article was facts to make your hairs stand on end. Now, I’m one of the biggest Prince fans around, but even I don’t think a Prince fact could have that affect on me. Instead, here are 15 Prince facts that will make you feel…something…maybe.
1) Prince released 39 studio albums in a 38-year career
Starting in 1978 with his debut album, For You and ending with HitnRUN: Phase Two in 2015, Prince’s expansive back catalogue spans five decades and a range of genres and styles, and includes 39 officially-released studio albums. That’s almost an average of one album per year for his entire career. When you consider that he didn’t actually release an album every year in those 38 years, and he was working on other projects like his three feature-length films, concerts and writing songs for other people, it really is an incredible achievement.
And those 39 albums don’t include every song he’s ever written. Since his untimely passing in 2016, the Prince Estate has done a marvellous job of letting the world hear just a small snippet of the treasure from Prince’s fabled Paisley Park vault. Already in four years there have been four full-length albums consisting of previously unreleased material. The latest posthumous release, the reissue of 1987’s marvellous Sign “O” The Times, boasts more than 50 songs that have never been heard before.
Those 39 albums also don’t include the various different mixes of songs and the B-sides that never made it to an album. So, if this one doesn’t blow your mind, then there’s something wrong with you.
2) Prince was the only credit on his first album, For You
This one isn’t strictly true, but allow me to explain. Everyone knows that Prince was a magnificent guitarist, but he was actually a multi-instrumentalist to the point where he was able to write, record, produce and arrange his 1978 debit album entirely by himself. There wasn’t a band. There wasn’t a record producer. There wasn’t somebody mixing the tracks. At the age of 19/20, Prince did the whole album on his own.
Now, the caveats come in the form of Tommy Vicari, credited as the Executive Producer, who offered Prince some advice and guidance throughout the production process, and C. Moon, who co-wrote the track Soft and Wet. This unbelievable feat would be something that would be repeated on future albums, until he probably released he could get more down with a bigger team.
3) Prince had many alter-egos and even planned an album for one of them
Prince was a mysterious figure. Early on is his career, interviews were incredibly rare and the public knew very little about his life away from the music studio and the stage. One of Prince’s many interesting facets was his use of pseudonyms and alter-egos, which he’d often use as song-writing credits. Thanks to registryofpseudonyms.com, here’s a list of all the ones we know about:
- Alexander Nevermind
- Christopher Tracy
- Jamie Starr
- Joey Coco
- Love Symbol
- Paisley Park
- The Purple One
- The Starr Company
- Tora Tora
Camille is perhaps the most well-known and widely-used of Prince’s alter egos, featuring on a number of songs throughout his career and even having an album planned. Camille is the name given to the character who sings with altered vocals as heard in songs like U Got The Look, Partyman and Feel U Up. The album was eventually scrapped with the majority of the songs finding their homes on other projects.
4) Prince had a fierce rivalry with Michael Jackson…
During the 1980s, Michael Jackson was the unquestionably the biggest artist in the world. Back-to-back albums that were commercial Goliath in Thriller and Bad and a presence that caused wherever he went to go into complete meltdown; there really wasn’t anyone that came close to his level of stardom. Despite this, there was a perceived rivalry between Jackson and Prince. After all, there were both young black men doing something not seen in the music industry before. They both had dance moves that set the floor on fire, a fashion sense that inspired countless copycats and penchant for falsetto. I’m a fan of both Michael Jackson and Prince and I can tell you that in terms of their musical style (and ability) there really isn’t any meaningful comparison to be made, but that didn’t stop them both feeding the media frenzy and competition between the fans.
During a James Brown concert in 1983/1984, Michael Jackson was called up on stage to do a spot of performing. In true Jackson style, he nailed the dancing and the singing. What happened next is probably what created the perceived rivalry for the rest of their careers. You know what, I’ll let you watch it instead:
5) Prince turned down working on Michael Jackson’s song Bad
This one has become something of one of music’s most well-known “surprising” facts, but nonetheless it follows on from the previous entry nicely, so I’m including it here. 1987 saw the release of Michael Jackson’s third studio album, Bad, and producer Quincy Jones saw it as the perfect chance to reconcile the two biggest male artists of the decade. If anyone’s seen the music video for Bad, you’ll notice that none other than Wesley Snipes makes an appearance and portrays Jackson’s old high school chum-turned-nemesis. The original idea was for Prince to play that character and for Bad to be a duet between the two.
When asked why he turned down the collaboration, Prince had this to say:
6) Perhaps the Prince-Michael Jackson rivalry wasn’t all it appeared…
The stories about Prince and Michael Jackson are plentiful. I’ve already covered two in this article and there are others, including how Prince and Michael Jackson were supposed to duet on soundtrack for 1989’s Batman film, and how Prince played the bass right in Jackson’s face at a private gig in the early 2000s. But perhaps the rivalry was all a bit of bravado from the two men stoked by the media’ obsession for a bit of competition between contemporaries.
There are stories of Prince being devastated at the death of Michael Jackson in 2009, spending days locked away mourning the passing of someone who he perhaps considered a friend? The below clip is from a news conference Prince gave promoting his 1999 album Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic. A reported asked him who would win in a fight between him and Michael Jackson. Prince’s response was somewhat cryptic but suggested a deep understanding and respect for a fellow artist and musician.
7) Prince was only 5 foot 2 inches tall
It’s not a closely-guarded secret that Prince wasn’t a tall man. The four-inch heels, aside from being part of Prince’s general aesthetic, weren’t just there for show. What Prince lacked in physical stature, he certainly made up for in talent, presence and gravitas. He actually acknowledged his height (or lack thereof) in 2010’s Laydown, from the album 20Ten:
From the heart of Minnesota, here comes the Purple Yoda.
8) Prince wrote one of his biggest songs in less than 24 hours and it has no bass line!
We’ve already touched on just how prolific Prince’s songwriting was (39 albums, remember?), but even for someone of his talent, this one is almost unbelievable. 1984 saw the release of arguably Prince’s Holy Grail: Purple Rain. The album was littered with hit songs, including the title track, Let’s Go Crazy, I Would Die 4 U and Baby, I’m A Star. But there’s one song that stands out for a number of reasons.
When Doves Cry was the best-selling single of 1984 and spent five weeks at the top of the Billboard Chart. As well as being an international success, the song is notably for two other reasons. The first being that it doesn’t have a bass line, and if you don’t below me, listen below. The second being that, according to interviews featured on the bonus features of the Purple Rain DVD release, the song was written in the space of a night and was to fill the silence during a montage sequence in the film. Crazy or what?
9) Prince released a brand new album for free through a UK newspaper
This one is still incredibly odd to me and I can remember it happening as though it were yesterday. In 2007, Prince released his thirty-second studio album, Planet Earth. Rather than go the normal route of releasing an album to shops, Prince decided to release it for free with the Mail On Sunday newspaper in the UK. This obviously annoyed the record industry in the UK, as music shops didn’t have new product to stock. In a bid to overcome this challenge, HMV actually sold the 15 July 2007 edition of the Mail On Sunday from their stores, and I was one of the people who got their hands on Planet Earth by buying a newspaper from a music shop.
I then got the album for free again when I went to go and see him at the O2 in London…that copy is still sealed.
10) Only the UK’s National Health Service has had a longer residency at London’s O2 Arena than Prince
Coronavirus has ruined everything, including Prince’s record for having the longest residency at London’s O2 Arena. Prior to the National Health Service’s 44-day stint at the arena, Prince’s 21-night run at the former Millennium Dome was the longest-running residency, running between July and August 2007. The Earth Tour was notable for more than just its length. As was common with many of Prince’s concert tours, he often played small intimate after shows at the neighbouring IndigO2, where he performed with artists such as Beverly Knight, CeeLo Green and Amy Winehouse.
Prince’s record would have been beaten sooner than 2020; Michael Jackson’s This Is It residency was set for 50 nights. Unfortunately, Jackson passed away just three weeks before opening night.
11) One of Prince’s greatest ever performances didn’t even involve a microphone
In 2004, Prince attended the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductions and joined a star-studded lineup of famous guitarists to perform a cover of George Harrison’s/The Beatles’ While My Guitar Gently Weeps. Prince played an absolute stonker of a solo towards the end of the performance, not coming close to a microphone even once throughout the whole piece. He simply rocked up, plugged his guitar in, shredded like hell, and then left. It doesn’t get much more Prince than this.
12) Prince legally changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol
This one is pretty well-known but still deserves to be featured on this list. In the early 1990s, Prince fell out with his record label, Warner Bros. The resulting fallout led to Prince often appearing in public with the word “Slave” written on his face and changing him to the famously unpronounceable “love symbol”.
Prince released a host of new music under the moniker TAFKAP (The Artist Formerly Known As Prince), including The Gold Experience, Emancipation and Chaos and Disorder. It was never as commercially successful as his earlier material, but it was certainly true to his musical and artistic vision at the time.
In 2000, after his contractual obligations with Warner Bros. expired, he reverted back to his birth name. But the Love Symbol was already emblematic of everything Prince stood for and would become instantly recognisable as his unique mark.
13) Prince was the first artist to use the Internet to release an album, but would go on to hate the Internet, and then love it again…
Nowadays, the majority of us get our new music from the likes of Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer or Tidal. The Internet has revolutionised the music industry with streaming services being the biggest channel for music listens; physical releases make up only 25% of the industry’s revenue.
Before it was popular to sell music on the Internet and when cassette tapes were still being sold at Our Price, Prince saw the opportunity the then-new technology presented. He released 1997’s Crystall Ball exclusively online, which earned him a Webby Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006. This love-affair with the Internet would continue up into the early part of the new century, as he launched the NPG Music Club, through which he continued to release web-exclusive albums such as The Slaughterhouse and The Chocolate Invasion.
Sadly, Prince’s enthusiasm for all-things Internet quickly wained. His understandable desire to protect his art from copyright infringement overtook his ambition to use the Internet to distribute new music and began a period of hostility towards digital music.
It was short-lived though, as in 2015, Prince signed an exclusive deal with Jay-Z’s streaming service, Tidal. The deal would see Tidal become the sole place to get Prince’s music online.
14) Prince released a song specifically for a group of fans he was trying to sue
Yes, really. In 2007, several Prince fan sites received cease and desist orders from Prince’s legal team. The requests were to prevent fans sharing anything relating to Prince, including photos, lyrics, album covers, officially-released music and bootlegs. Prince’s lawyers claimed that the sharing of anything in Prince’s likeness amounted to copyright infringement; the fan community responded by forming a group called “Prince Fans United”.
Later in the year, a song entitled PFUnk emerged on the Prince Fans United website. It was revealed that it was “gifted” by Prince to the group as a response to their complaints. It was later released on iTunes as F.U.N.K.
15) Prince wrote more than 600 songs…and those are just the ones we know about
If I check my Spotify playlist of all the Prince songs that are on the streaming service and those I’ve added from my collection (they’re not available to stream), there’s 641 songs. Take out a few that might be different versions, remixes or live performances, and that still leaves more than 600 songs – all unique with different arrangements, different lyrics, different titles. How one person could be so creative goes beyond anything I could explain. Sure, not all of those songs are brilliant, but the sheer volume of musical output surely makes Prince one of the most exceptional songwriters in history.
Oh, and those 600 songs are just the ones we’ve been allowed to hear. Who know how many others are hidden away in the fabled vault?
So, there you have it…
15 facts about Prince that hopefully made you feel something, be it delight, inquisitiveness or boredom! Compiling this list has certainly made me think and reflect on how much Prince means to me an artist, musician and icon. I’m so incredibly grateful that he existed, if it was for a shorter time than I would have liked.
If you’re not a fan of Prince or haven’t really ever listened to him, I’d really recommend you go and dip your toes. Once you’re immersed, it’s like you’ve been transported to a whole other world.