Prince: A Look Back at His Life and Biggest Hits

Watch an in-depth interview, plus 5 things you might not know about the rock star

Prince, the flamboyant pop star who revolutionized music in the ’80s, died today. Blending funk, pop and rock into his own personal sound, Prince could do it all: He was unparalleled as a singer, guitarist, songwriter, producer and showman. And Prince, like David Bowie who also died this year, was just as well-known for his gender-bending look (and outrageously lascivious lyrics) as for his genre-bending sound. After his hit-making prime, he continued making brilliant music and astounding audiences lucky enough to see him perform, which he did last week.

5 Things You Might Not Know About Prince

1. Prince was his real name. He was born Prince Rogers Nelson in Minneapolis, Minn., in 1958. (The same year, incidentally, as Michael Jackson and Madonna.) “I named my son Prince because I wanted him to do everything I wanted to do,” said his father John, also a musician.

2. Prince was a multi-instrumental virtuoso. Though best known for his flashy guitar work, he often played every instrument on his albums, from the drums on up. On his second LP, For You, he was credited with playing 27.

3. Many artists’ best-known songs were written by Prince. He gave Manic Monday to the Bangles, The Glamorous Life to Sheila E and Sugar Walls to Sheena Easton. Chaka Khan covered his song I Feel for U and Sinead O’Connor had a huge hit with Nothing Compares to U.

4. Though now universally beloved, Prince’s hilariously lewd lyrics made him an intensely controversial figure in the ’80s. Darling Nikki was so dirty it caused Tipper Gore to form the Parents Music Resource Center, which successfully lobbied the music industry to sticker albums with Parental Advisory warnings.

5. Prince was fiercely protective of the rights to his music. He memorably battled Warner Brothers to regain the master tapes of his recordings. He kept his music off streaming services like Spotify, choosing instead to align with the more artist-friendly Tidal. And he worked diligently to keep his music off YouTube (which is why, sadly, other than the movie trailer for Purple Rain, there are no video links below).

Prince’s 10 Biggest Hits (According to Billboard)

  1. When Doves Cry (1984) No. 1 for five weeks
  2. Let’s Go Crazy (1984) No. 1 for two weeks
  3. Kiss (1986) No. 1  for two weeks
  4. Cream (1991) No. 1 for one week
  5. Batdance (1989) No. 1 for one week
  6. Purple Rain (1984) No. 2 for two weeks
  7. Raspberry Beret (1985) No. 2 for one week
  8. U Got the Look (1987) No. 2 for one week
  9. Diamonds and Pearls (1991) No. 3
  10. The Most Beautiful Girl in the World (1994) No. 3

2009 Interview

In a 2009 exclusive two-part conversation with Tavis Smiley, Prince talked about his childhood epilepsy and the relationship with his father. In the second part, he talked about the genesis of several of his songs.

By Keith Harris

Keith Harris has written about music and pop culture for more than 20 years. His work has appeared in publications such as Rolling Stone, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Slate and Salon. He lives in Minneapolis and blogs at usefulnoise.wordpress.com.

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