Folk music legend, John Prine, has sadly passed away following a short battle with coronavirus aged just 73.
Prine, seen as somewhat of a songwriter’s songwriter, was heavily revered his contemporaries with floods of artists already taking to social media to pay tribute to the prolific musician.
Taking to Twitter, Bruce Springsteen wrote “we are crushed by the loss of John Prine. John and I were ‘New Dylans’ together in the early ’70s and he was never anything but the loveliest guy in the world. A true national treasure and a songwriter for the ages.”
Born and raised on the outskirts of Chicago, Prine only picked up playing guitar and singing as a hobby during downtime as his role as a postman—where he wrote most of his classic songs. One night would change his life when, after complaining about the talent on show at an open mic night, he was challenged to do better.
Prine rounded off a three-song set which would not only gain him rapturous applause but also provide him with a $1,000-a-weekend residency and allow him to pursue music full time. It was in Chicago that Prine came across Kris Kristofferson who instantly took a liking to him.
Soon enough, when Prine was visiting New York, Kristofferson organised a small gig filled with record-label staff. The next morning, Prine was signed to Atlantic Records: “Luck has a good deal to do with it, luck and timing,” once said Prine of his meteoric rise. “But when the luck and timing comes along, you’ve got to have the goods.”
Prine wasn’t just admired by his fellow musicians, he was also critically acclaimed having being nominated for Grammy Awards 11 and taking home and claiming victory on two separate occasions. Later in his career, Prine was also awarded a lifetime achievement award at the ceremony earlier this year. Here we take a look at the five songs that defined Prine and made him such an iconic songwriter.
‘That’s The Way The World Goes Round’ (1978)
Prine’s heart and human instinct shine through with all of his music but, on this one especially, he takes a cheerful look at a not so cheerful subject leaving the listener instantly uplifted by his charm.
He sings: “That’s the way that the world goes ’round / You’re up one day and the next you’re down / It’s half an inch of water / and you think you’re gonna drown.”
‘Sweet Revenge’ (1973)
The title track from Prine’s third album in 1973 and sees the songwriter experiment with his range by shying away from his trademark stripped back-sound. The use of gospel singers adds another dimension to his work which would show he was more than just a great songwriter.
“Take it back, Take it back/ Oh no, you can’t say that/ All of my friends/ Are now dead or in jail/ Through rock and through stone/ The black wind still moans/ Sweet revenge, Sweet revenge/ Without fail.”
Back when Prine was a stalwart of the Chicago club scene, he was immensely worried that the audience which would be largely made up of the same people each week. Therefore, he felt like he needed a new song every single to keep the crowd on their toes and to stop them growing tired of him. ‘Souvenirs’ happens to be one of those songs that he hastily wrote it in his ’65 Malibu on his way to the club one night and still sounds perfect today.
“Memories they can’t be boughten/ They can’t be won at carnivals for free/ Well it took me years/ To get those souvenirs/ And I don’t know how they slipped away from me.”
‘Hello In There’ (1971)
This was the third track on Prine’s self-titled debut in 1971, the song is from the perspective of an older person who has grown lonesome. The folk landscape was uber political at this point and Prine was using his voice to shine a light on society and in this case how we neglect older people through the lens of his unparalleled storytelling.
The song would go on to be covered by contemporaries including Joan Baez, Kris Kristofferson and Bette Midler.
“Ya’ know that old trees just grow stronger/ And old rivers grow wilder ev’ry day/ Old people just grow lonesome/ Waiting for someone to say, “‘Hello in there, hello’.”
When I Get To Heaven (2018)
The final track is taken from Prine’s final record in 2018, The Tree of Forgiveness, and shows off John’s cutting lyricism to the very end. The good-hearted nature of the track personifies Prine and is as optimistic as ever which leaves you feeling gleeful, even on a day like today. Now smoke that cigarette that’s nine miles long and kiss that pretty girl, John.
Prine sings: “When I get to heaven, I’m gonna shake God’s hand/ Thank him for more blessings than one man can stand/ Then I’m gonna get a guitar and start a rock-n-roll band/ Check into a swell hotel; ain’t the afterlife grand?”
“And then I’m gonna get a cocktail: vodka and ginger ale/ Yeah, I’m gonna smoke a cigarette that’s nine miles long/ I’m gonna kiss that pretty girl on the tilt-a-whirl/ ‘Cause this old man is goin’ to town”