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Why Prince refused to play this classic song live

Prince was an irreplaceable beacon of creativity, everything he did was unique, and it was impossible for mere mortals to guess his next move. His Royal Badness operated firmly in his own purple universe, and his concerts were a place where almost anything could feasibly happen. However, for several years, the only thing that could be guaranteed is the absence of a classic track.

Prince was never far away from delivering a maverick stunt, and the Purple One’s insistence on staying true to his zany side led to some of the most memorable moments in modern music. After all, he was a man that officially changed his name to a logo and shelved an album weeks before its release after an ecstasy-induced epiphany.

The singer’s vast canon of classic songs that he built up across his eclectic career allowed Prince to play around when it came to his concerts. Unlike other stadium-sized rockers, Prince never went through the motions, and every night he’d play whatever he was feeling in that moment.

On December 18th, 1999, Prince recorded a spectacular concert at Paisley Park, one which aired on pay-per-view on New Year’s Eve. Moments before the clock turned to midnight, he shocked the audience before playing ‘1999’ and informing those in attendance: “This is going to be the last time we play it. We’re going to retire it after this, and there won’t be [a] need to play it in the ’00s.”

Around that time, the dawning of the new millennium had swept up the imaginations of the public. Prince was, unsurprisingly, ahead of the curve by releasing a track about the hot topic back in 1982 and decided that the song had become redundant as the world entered the year 2000. Even though it was one of his most beloved songs, Prince couldn’t bring himself to perform it when it no longer held that meaning dissipated.

Speaking to Larry King in a rare interview in 1999, Prince dived into the song’s creation. He revealed: “We were sitting around watching a special about 1999, and a lot of people were talking about the year and speculating on what was going to happen. And I just found it real ironic how everyone that was around me whom I thought to be very optimistic people were dreading those days, and I always knew I’d be cool. I never felt like this was going to be a rough time for me.”

He continued: “I knew that there were going to be rough times for the Earth because of this system is based in entropy, and it’s pretty much headed in a certain direction. So I just wanted to write something that gave hope, and what I find is people listen to it. And no matter where we are in the world, I always get the same type of response from them.”

It had to be a special occasion for Prince to bring ‘1999’ out of retirement, and for years he managed to resist the urge. It needed to be a grand stage if he was to ever dust the disco classic off the shelf, and the Super Bowl in 2007 proved to be the perfect place for Prince to party like it’s 1999 for one more night.

Following that performance, Prince made it a staple of his sets and remained so until he died in 2016. It takes courage and bravery to leave out one of your most well-known tracks, but Prince had an otherworldly stage presence which meant he could leave out every single hit and still captivate 50,000 people by his aura alone.

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