The late and great music icon, Prince, held his cards firmly up his sleeve during his long career. Rather than letting every intrinsic last detail of his life be available for public consumption, Prince worked on his privacy to a certain degree, a factor which meant that there was always an air of mystique that loomed over him.
The Purple One never let the media get too close, but, on occasion, he did let the mask slip and over the years and spoke about some of his favourite records—some of which provide a fascinating insight into understanding the ‘real’ Prince.
The musician, speaking openly about the type of music he dug that helped inspire his creative vision, allowed us into the real life of Prince, something he tried to avoid at all costs. That said, spread over several interviews over the years, Prince did provide the occasional nugget about his record collection. Delving into the record collection of his Royal Badness is something everyone should do.
“Funky, colourful scarves fill the room: every inch of bare wall space billows with them. By the couch are a stack of CDs that Prince listens to during his infrequent breaks: Tone Loc, Soul II Soul, INXS, De La Soul, Sly’s Stand and Miles‘ Columbia Years,” a past issue of SPIN reads about a feature spending 24 hours in the company of Prince.
Despite this feature, however, which manages to share a slight glimpse into Prince’s world, it is still hard to envisage him listening to any music that isn’t his own because of the unique nature that made him such a one-off. It remains hard to picture him finding influence from anywhere apart from his own brain or, in fact, him thinking anyone else’s music meets his own lofty standards. “I haven’t had a lot of time to develop a favourite artist. I try not to listen to too many people. It’s distracting,” he said in one of his very first interviews all the way back in 1979 when he spoke to Cynthia Horner of Right On! magazine.
“I never really listened to music, either, and I still don’t very much. There’s never nothin’ I can get into. If I listen to a record, I head something that I’d like to do differently, and I become too critical of it,” he said to a Twin Cities reader around the same time — which is exactly the sort of thing you would expect from Prince. But the statement isn’t all that true, and he actually adored music as a fan as well as adoring creating it.
Later, in an interview with Rolling Stone in 1985, Prince claimed to have not fallen in love with a record for ten years since he found Joni Mitchell’s The Hissing of Summer Lawns from 1975, which he described as being “the last album I loved all the way through.”
In the same interview, however, he did give another insight into what kind of music means the most to him after he was asked about what he thought of people describing his music as being ‘psychedelic’. “I don’t mind that because that was the only period in recent history that delivered songs and colours,” he replied before praisingly adding: “Led Zeppelin, for example, would make you feel differently on each song.”
This facade lasted close to 20 years of Prince publically pretending that he was the only real artist and the only one worth listening to, a message which is exactly what the public character portrayed would think. That said, in 1997 he finally revealed that this was a faux front. “When I’m working, I’m working. I don’t have time to. You know what? It’s such a drag to have musicians claim they never listen to the competition,” he admitted to Mojo.
“They’re liars, man. I mean, I know bands who, in the press, badmouth artists they revere in rehearsal. I don’t wanna be like that. I crave great musicianship, and I don’t care who provides it. I’ve got no problems saying I dig D’Angelo. Or some of the things that Bjork does, the Cocteau Twins. Musicians, we’re family. I hope young musicians learn from me my mistakes too,” he gracefully added.
After his admission to Mojo, Prince then became more comfortable talking about other artists, knowing that he had achieved all there was to be done in music. In a chat with his hometown publication Minnesota Monthly, he opened up further about his musical upbringing, “You know the old KQ[RS] after midnight, that was the bomb station. I’d stay up all night listening to it. That’s where I discovered Carlos Santana, Maria Muldaur, and Joni Mitchell. Was I influenced by that?
“Sure I was. Back then I always tried to play like Carlos or Boz Scaggs.”
Prince was undoubtedly a near impossible man to impress, and his record collection reflects that; it mainly consists of artists that he looked up to greatly as a child who comes with the sentimentality of listening to late-night radio.
It seems like as he found himself engrossed by the music industry that he felt out of love with it as a fan and couldn’t switch off the business side of his brain, which had stopped him from being able to fanboy to the newest sounds. Or he thought these artists weren’t fit enough to lace his boots, which is just as likely.
Prince’s favourite artists:
- Carlos Santana
- Led Zeppelin
- Tone Loc
- Soul II Soul
- De La Soul
- Sly and The Family Stone
- Miles Davis
- Joni Mitchell
- Led Zeppelin
- The Cocteau Twins
- Maria Muldaur
- Boz Scaggs