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Remembering Prince Through His Least Memorable Album (Or Should I Say Cassette?)

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“All hail, the new king in town
Young and old, gather ’round, (yeah)
Black and white, red and green, (funky)
The funkiest man, you’ve ever seen”

Like most of the world, I was shocked and saddened when I heard the news that Prince, one of the great immortals of the music world, had passed away late last week.  In my lifetime, I can vividly remember a handful of transcendent musicians whose deaths, like Prince’s, have rocked me to the core:  Freddie Mercury, Michael Jackson and David Bowie, to name a few.  Since bursting onto the scene in 1978, Prince was always an enigma.  He captivated audiences young and old, in the euphonious sense, with his subtlety-overt sexually-charged lyrics and seductive stage presence. Prince was the ultimate entertainer, and like all memorable artists, he had a look which could be best described as ethereal, yet part of Prince’s uniqueness, was that he purposefully kept audiences guessing: about his age, his sexuality, even his gender at times.  He deeply despised labels and conforming to societal norms, continually redefining his appearance, always keeping an androgynous form, with a swagger and attitude, that seemed to surge beyond the constraints of his 5 feet, 2 inch frame.  But make no mistake, while you cannot separate the showmanship and the evolving look from his persona, at his core, Prince was a musical innovator, a multi-talented instrumentalist, singer-songwriter, producer, actor and baller’.  He could do it all.  And it’s this versatility that makes him an enduring iconic symbol.

In 1989, I was 14 years old, and by that time, Prince had already experienced success with major hits: “Little Red Corvette” (’83), “Delirious” (’83),“When Doves Cry” (’84), “Purple Rain” (’84), “Let’s Go Crazy” (’84), “Raspberry Beret” (’85), “Kiss” (’86), my own personal favorite “U Got the Look” (’87), and “Sign ‘O’ the Times” (’87) in the Billboard Hot 100 list.  However, it wasn’t until the release of Tim Burton’s 1989 mega-blockbuster superhero film Batman, which starred Michael Keaton in the title role and legendary actor, Jack Nicholson as the Joker, that I really became fascinated with Prince.  Now, while I enjoyed Prince’s songs, I wasn’t “seasoned” enough to really understand the whole sexual vibe he was throwing out, or the erotic metaphors embodied in his songs.  The late 80’s were a time of excess:  big hair and perms (everyone seemed to tease the hell out of their hair, the bigger the better), clothing was baggy with vivid and bold colors, suits and shirts with oversized shoulder pads, acid-washed and pleated jeans (pegged) with two levels of belt loops…I could keep going, however, some things were meant to be forgotten.  No one complemented the fashions of that decade like the flamboyant styling and wardrobes of Prince.  So when director Tim Burton and Warner Bros. asked the Purple One to record a soundtrack for the highly-anticipated film Batman you can imagine I was intrigued.  Everyone had Batman fever in the 80’s, and I was no different.  Gone was the campy, swinging 60’s version of Batman portrayed by Adam West (“Remember the Batusi?”) which my generation loathed. The 80’s Batman played by Keaton, was darker and edgier, similar to the comics of the time.

So despite only watching less than a half-hour’s worth of the film’s footage, Prince was inspired to record an entire albums worth of musical awesomeness!  The result is the “Batman” soundtrack, not to be confused with the other “BatmanOriginal Motion Picture Score” by Danny Elfman.  The album contained nine tracks showcasing Prince’s musical adroitness complete with a mixture of synthesizers, voice sampling, and soul-funk-pop sounds.  It was an album that returned Prince to the top of the Billboard charts compliments of the track “Batdance” (and you thought Batman didn’t dance anymore) which helped him end the year as one of the most successful artists of the decade  and maybe more importantly, broadened his pop-culture appeal to the masses.

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While I agree that the album “Purple Rain” is a masterpiece, its prominence overshadows other great albums (or should I say cassette tapes) namely “Batman“, which sadly, doesn’t get enough love and is often overlooked in the Prince catalogue.  What made Prince’s “Batman” soundtrack so bodacious wasn’t the funky tracks (which it had), it was the fact that the music, excluding the song “Batdance“, an ode to the classic 60’s television theme song (only funk-ta-fied), feels disconnected to the “Batman” film almost completely, and maybe that was the plan all along.  Executives eager to cash in on the massive summer blockbuster, uber-marketed the movie:  t-shirts emblazoned with the Batman logo, toys, Batman cereal, even Matt Jones’ favorite soda, Diet Coke and Drew Franklin’s beloved Taco Bell cashed in on the action.  So why not have one of the hottest names in music promote the film too?  The gamble paid off, the “Batman” album stayed #1 in the charts for six weeks in ’89.  I had both the full soundtrack on cassette tape and “Batdance” on cassingle.  The film while having massive appeal, captured the excesses of the 80’s so perfectly, and while it was considered dark for its time, looking back it seems kitschy compared to the current superhero films.

If “Batdance” didn’t hook you, then surely you’ll agree “Partyman” is a great track.  In fact, it’s one of only two songs actually featured in the film, the other is “Trust“, which Charlie Murphy would describe as slammin’.  Even as the Joker prepares to gas the unsuspecting citizens of Gotham City, he knows, that if you’re going to die a horrible death, you at least should find comfort in Prince, as his music is known to make love to your eardrums.

As we all mourn the loss of a true vanguard and remarkable pop-culture icon, let’s honor Prince by re-listening to his music, especially his lesser-known, possibly neglected tracks.  So, while you’re still feeling nostalgic, before you complete your purchase in iTunes or walk out of your local music store, don’t forget about the “Batman” album.  I learned a lot from Prince in the summer of 1989, and while I loved Batman, Prince was the actual superhero:  ageless, genderless, mysterious, a walking paradox.  With his death, he left more questions, than answers, and in life he refused to be a slave to any man, idea, genre or corporation.  He did it his way and by his terms.  Prince understood better than anyone that you have to believe in yourself, because you only get one chance and we’re “all gathered here to get through this thing called life” together, so why not live it in the most beautiful and freeing way possible.

Goodnight, Sweet Prince.

Article written by Matthew Mahone

Follow me on Twitter @M_E_Mahone