Shut up already – damn!


We’re but four months into 2016 and Death has already snatched some big names from us: Bowie, Lemmy, Merle Haggard and today, Prince. He was 57.

You couldn’t move on the FM dial in the 1980s without striking up one of Prince’s hit singles. “Raspberry Beret”, “1999”, “When Doves Cry”, “Purple Rain” and “Kiss” – their status as classics is unassailable. Less obvious is their position as touchstones for millennials checking their imagination into an unremembered decade; their reading of Purple Rain (the movie) is anything but ironic.

Those who were there will remember that Prince was as big as Michael Jackson and, some might say, armed with a more compelling set of pop tunes. Prince’s songs straddled rock n roll, R&B and funk without cliché.

Jackson might have been the better dancer (and singer?) but Prince was the superior musician: boy, could he play guitar. A reporter is rumoured to have once asked Eric Clapton, “How does it feel to be the world’s greatest guitarist?”. Clapton’s alleged reply: “How would I know? Ask Prince.” Huge if true.

And judging by the numerous YouTube clips of his final Piano and Microphone tour (since removed), he was also one heck of a piano player. Prince was the snappier dresser too.


The big hits pre-dated his magnum opus Sign o’ The Times, equal parts playful and dark. I own not one but two vinyl copies. The insistent rhythm guitar of Lovesexy’s lead single “Alphabet Street” is where I checked out. Or maybe it was Diamonds & Pearls.

Whenever it was, it was before Prince re-christened himself as symbol and became known as “The artist formerly known as…”; before albums were released and hastily withdrawn; before his reclusiveness really kicked in; before the record label wrangling; before he changed his name back to Prince and – frankly – before quality dropped. Planet Earth? Shut up already.

Now that Prince is no more: damn.

I often hold Prince up as an example of someone who I don’t enjoy as much as I admire. In other words, it’s not about me. Better a commentator’s personal opinion of music (or audio gear) run as an undercurrent through descriptors of its sound. Telling you I’m a little ‘meh’ on Prince’s Black Album isn’t as helpful as saying it’s one of his dirtier, funkier efforts where beats jack hard under low lit raps.

“Probably my favourite producer is someone who isn’t generally regarded as such, and that’s Prince. He’s this producer’s producer.” That’s how Brian Eno described Prince to Q Magazine in 2001. High praise indeed.

I offer up two tributes to Prince, both from the leftfield. The first is a song by Bill Callahan from his 1995 Smog album Wild Love. It’s called “Prince Alone in the Studio” – I don’t have to tell you what it’s about.

At the opposite end of the serious scale, a Dave Chappelle parody. Part piss take, part tribute, the sketch – or rather the events contained therein – eventually became the inspiration for Prince’s 2013 single “Breakfast Can Wait”.

RIP Prince. There’s no doubt the man’s influence on the music world will live on. As a friend opined earlier: he came in through the out door*. I like that.

Those eyeing 2016 as some kind of freak year for celebrity passings might want to consider that this is how it will be from now on. Someone famous will die every month.


The musicians, movie and TV stars that led us through the 1970s and 1980s are getting on, their chances of death increasing each year. And if we accept popular (youth) culture was born sometime in the 1950s, it’s now at least 60 years old. More people to adore who might soon depart this earth.

It’s a numbers game: an increasing number of celebrities means we will eventually see a higher frequency of celebrity deaths. ‘Eventually’ has arrived.

Further listening: Prince on Tidal

*Raspberry Beret lyric.

Written by John H. Darko

John lives in the NOW + HERE = NOWHERE. He derives an income from the ad revenues of DAR. John is also an occasional staff writer for Stereophile, 6moons and TONEAudio.

Twitter: DarkoAudio
Instagram: DarkoAudio
Facebook: DAR


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  1. Yeah Prince owned the 80’s music scene more than anyone. Incredible talent. What a bad year 2016 is turning out to be for music. Glen Frey, Keith Emerson, Paul Kantner gone too.

  2. Yes, it seems that anybody who is anybody stands a good chance of joining the queue and shuffling off this mortal coil (is it a Tesla coil? I wonder) in the not too distant future. For every unbelieving, “who’s next?” comment we seem to get an answer or two in rapid succession. Are we at the point where members of tribute bands need to look over their shoulders as they too begin to join those who they strive to emulate?

    • With the right table, cart and phono stage (NOT entry level!), Sign o The Times sounds better than the CD for me. But I can’t comment on other title as I don’t own ’em.

  3. Time and place… Prince will always be cassette music for me. Played on a vintage gold Marantz rig


    Prince, along with Rock N’ Roll all stars playing a tribute “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” for George Harrison at the Hall of Fame ceremonies in 2004. Prince has his guitar solo at about 3.25. Note the amazing solo, played effortlessly, and the reactions of amazement from the other musicians – and some of them are pretty good guitarists.

  5. Danny, thanks for the link. Great to hear him on a Telecaster without all the effects we usually get on his albums. You’re right he played effortlessly and clean.

    John, did you notice he’s playing bass guitar in the 1st photo of your article? I’m not sure I’ve heard him play bass, but he probably lays down a great groove.


  6. no matter what anyone says about his recorded music, Prince was peerless & magical playing live. A whole lot of that magic just left planet earth. RIP brother.

  7. I know this is going to sound odd coming from the metal guy BUT…

    Michael Jackson was a lot bigger than Prince. A LOT bigger. Even in the 80s. Yeah, he had Purple Rain, but Thriller came first in ’82, which was a world wide cultural phenomenon and was selling 1 million copies a WEEK for very long period of time (Wikipedia states that it is 30+ times certified platinum compared to 13 for PR). Not to mention the “We Are the World” follow up, the Reagan visit, and the ’84 Victory Tour. By the time “Purple Rain” came onto the scene in ’84, Michael Jackson was pretty much a deity. I mean his music videos were prime time events (anybody remember the black cougar/jaguar video?).

    Yes, Prince reached Michael Jackson heights for a few brief fleeting moments, but never really sustained it as long as the King of Pop did.

    I’m not trying to disrespect Prince who I agree is an icon, and probably one of the most talented musicians in the pop/R&B/rock scene EVER, but let’s not go overboard here.

    Michael was and still is the King of Pop.

  8. WOW – what an amazing vid! That solo is amazing! I always liked Prince but never truly realised how great an extraordinary talent he was – until he was gone. Isn’t life like that? You don’t realise what you have till it’s gone……RIP Prince.

  9. Great guitar solo but a disrespectful performance. This was to honor George and for him to make it about himself by throwing the guitar in the air and strutting off the stage like the other musicians were not worthy of his presence should his complete lack of class.

  10. Prince was infinitely more talented than Michael Jackson – Jackson relied upon a producer to make his music bearable (listen to the out-takes , he can’t even sing in tune or often in the right key) and upon studio wizard for the faked vocal range. The self-styled ‘King of Pop’, was the embodiment of manufactured pop-star. It doesn’t deny his success, only Elvis is bigger as a solo-star, and I’ve enjoyed many many Jackson songs but talent-wise, Prince was the man of the 80s. Although personally, I will miss Bowie much more but in some ways there are similar, in artistic scope, relevance and talent.

    • I could not disagree more.

      Michael was singing at what, age six or seven and then as part of the Jackson Five. And there was no ProTools back then. He had a one of kind voice and no, I don’t agree he had some fake vocal range. The era in which he was singing didn’t nearly have the tools that are around today to just “fake it.”

      I’m sure as he got older it was harder for him to hit those higher octaves. But to claim that the guy couldn’t sing is just flat out wrong.

      • Vocal enhancement in the recording studio has existed since the 1950’s – The Beatles in particular were inveterate using of Varispeed for example, sometimes to present a particular effect eg Lennon’s vocal on “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” but more often to create a fake range. Paul McCartney also widely used Varispeed during his Wings days. There is little doubt whatsoever Michael Jackson’s voice was technology enhanced in the 80 and 90s to extend the range and change the timbre of his voice.

  11. The Clapton quote never happened. Was Prince the greatest guitarist? Who knows? You can make a good argument he was the best musician. On his debut album he played all twenty seven instruments.
    And maybe there will be an official release of his 1994 The Undertaker. A nice one pass guitar heavy session that deserves to be more than a bootleg.