NEW YORK – Dearly beloved, we're gathered here 2day to celebrate the music of the greatest pop musician of his generation.
Prince's music was, first and foremost, an irresistible invitation to party. From smoky, sweaty stages and behind a mystical aura of funk, he exhorted audiences to love, to make love and to go crazy. Waves of grooves, stretched masterfully by the strutting, Stratocaster-stroking preacher-slash-devil, insured that he took everyone to an erotic and ecstatic church of his own making.
"I'm so funky I can't even sleep with myself," he might tell a crowd. Or: "God is inside all of us. He just wants to come out and play."
The Prince Experience was always more than the music, but the music was the bedrock. He was the rare musician whose flamboyant spectacle never outshined the tunes. If anything, his showmanship sometimes overshadowed what an extraordinarily meticulous bandleader he was, or that he was one of the greatest guitarists ever. (Any lingering doubters should be directed to his 2004 performance of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductions.)
"I Wanna Be Your Lover," the lead track from his self-titled 1979 album, didn't just announce the then-21-year-old's falsetto-rich post-disco R&B. It was a proposition, the first in years of seduction to follow. "I want to be your mother and sister, too," he sang.
The single was Prince's first to chart. In his extremely prolific career of 39 albums, many more hits — and more playfully amorous courtship — followed. His next album, 1980's "Dirty Mind," was his fullest and filthiest expression of his amalgamation of funk, rock and new wave. It set Prince's course for years to come. Critic Robert Christgau wrote in The Village Voice of the album: "Mick Jagger should fold up his penis and go home."
"1999," off the same-titled 1983 double album, remains arguably the greatest party song of all time, a song whose synthesizer-heavy electro pop has easily outlasted the then-future year of its title. It's the great anthem of the apocalypse, a party for Judgment Day. He sings: "Life is just a party and parties weren't meant 2 last."
If "1999" was the dance track, "Little Red Corvette" was the album's pop masterpiece. In it, Prince, of all people, urges a promiscuous girl to "slow down." A drum machine keeps the tempo, building to the crescendo of the chorus: "Little red Corvette/ Baby you're much too fast/ Little red Corvette/ You need to find a love that's gonna last."
The party of "1999" continued on 1984's "Purple Rain," with the Revolution, and Prince showed slight hints of maturity and a shift toward gospel. He begins "Let's Go Crazy" from the pulpit, with church organ backing his eulogy for "this thing called life." The urgent exhortation to enjoy life, to embrace carnal passion hasn't gone anywhere, but it's a touch wiser: "We're all excited/ But we don't know why/ Maybe it's cause/ We're all gonna die."
There is, of course, the ballad side to Prince, too. The king of them is the majestic title track from "Purple Rain," the film and soundtrack (which also included "When Doves Cry") that revealed the breadth of Prince's full visionary talent. This is what quite rightly made Prince a superstar. The song, seemingly built for thousands to sing along with, is a mountain top for Prince, whose mind was, as ever, on the future: "It's time we reach out for something new," he sings. "That means you too."
In the years that followed, social consciousness continued to grow in Prince's music, most notably in 1987's "Sign 'O' the Times." Acceptance, diversity and open-mindedness were themes that played through his songs and the array of performers he played with.
Many of the songs — "two thousand zero zero" celebrations in the face of death — take on particular resonance following Prince's unexpected passing Thursday at 57. But they're also a reminder of how much his body of work — surely a naked body, with hands slithering across it — stood for life, in all its romantic and lewd glory.
What did Prince want?
"I just want your extra time," he sang on a bed of funk. "And your kiss. Ohh!"