I never got to see Prince perform live. But every time the eccentric musical genius and consummate guitarist performed live on TV (instead of lip-syncing on TV, aside from earlier appearances on The Midnight Special and American Bandstand), it was a can't-miss event, even whenever I had to sit through a bunch of unfunny SNL sketches just to watch that SNL episode's purple-loving musical guest, who died yesterday at the too-young age of 57.
Sure, it would have been dope to attend a Prince concert or better yet, rock out to one of his even more legendary surprise sets inside smaller and more intimate venues. But I didn't have to check out Prince live to know that he was tremendously skilled when it came to both putting on a show and making a song (whether it was one of his own songs or another artist's) sound even more alive and vibrant than the original recording of it, especially when he shredded on his electric guitar like there's no tomorrow. On stage, nothing compares to Prince.
Inside both my MacBook and my phone, I have a good-quality mp3 of a terrific Prince cover of Radiohead's "Creep" from Coachella 2008 that I've never removed. Prince, who hated encountering footage of his music he had no control over, assigned one of his techie goons to wipe out all traces of his live "Creep" cover. That goon clearly sucked at attempting to wipe them all out.
I love Prince's epic take on "Creep" more than Radiohead's original version. Even Thom Yorke himself agrees that Prince improved upon "Creep."
|(Photo source: Prince Vault)|
My preference for a lot of the live versions of Prince songs over the original versions goes further back than "Creep" and as far back as "I Would Die 4 U" and "Baby I'm a Star." My first exposure to those two classic Purple Rain tracks wasn't through radio or the R-rated 1984 movie itself, which I was too young to watch in the theater at the time (it was also a movie I didn't watch until 1998). It was through a Purple Rain Tour concert special MTV aired repeatedly in 1984 and 1985, back when everyone who wasn't either Tipper Gore or an uptight white parent from the town in Footloose loved every Purple Rain track and didn't care about any of Prince's racy lyrical content because they were too busy either singing along with Prince or dancing to give a shit.
The showstopper of the shot-on-videotape Purple Rain Tour special was the "I Would Die 4 U"/"Baby I'm a Star" medley. The Purple Rain Tour special made me love the combo of "I Would Die 4 U" and "Baby I'm a Star" even more than "When Doves Cry," "Let's Go Crazy," "Purple Rain" or Tipper Gore's favorite song, "Darling Nikki," and I disliked so much how the Purple Rain album sequencing (and radio stations) separated "I Would Die 4 U" from "Baby I'm a Star" that when I used to run a film score music radio station on the Internet and I added a few Purple Rain tracks to rotation, I opened Adobe Premiere and fused "I Would Die 4 U" and "Baby I'm a Star" together so that they were always one. That 1984 MTV special was a trip. Prince was clad in a strange white lace top and a stranger pair of white lace pants. He looked like the world's funkiest and naughtiest Egyptian mummy.
The medley and Prince's outfit are all I remember of the MTV special because the last time I saw it on MTV or anywhere else was 1985. And if somebody posted a digitized version of their VHS copy of the special on YouTube, I never got the chance to revisit the special on YouTube because Prince most likely sent one of his online goons to immediately get rid of it as if he were a Bond villain sending a henchman to garrote 007 inside a spa. Did I mention the dude was eccentric?
The control Prince exerted over anything that contained his likeness must have also been one of the reasons why his concert film Sign o' the Times remains out of print in America long after its '80s VHS release, while the film has been released on DVD in Canada and other countries. Maybe Prince was dissatisfied with his own concert film, a combination of actual concert footage and reshoots of the footage that were directed by Prince inside a Paisley Park soundstage because much of the original concert footage was poorly recorded and unusable.
But Sign o' the Times' out-of-print status appears to be more related to rights issues, the same kind of issues that caused the '60s Batman TV show, whose Neal Hefti theme music was, in fact, the first melody Prince taught himself to play on the piano, to take such a long time to debut on DVD and Blu-ray. The film was released in America in 1987 by a Canadian company that was later bought by Alliance Atlantis, the now-defunct Canadian company that was best known for co-producing the CSI franchise with Jerry Bruckheimer. I wish one of the forensics experts from CSI could sort out who currently owns the American home video rights to Sign o' the Times.
It's a film I've been dying to watch in its entirety ever since I became a fan of the Sign o' the Times album in the early '00s, and that album made me go from admiring Prince the producer to admiring Prince the songwriter, the same wordsmith who came up with the words "creamy thighs" for "Erotic City." What exactly is a creamy thigh? It doesn't make much sense, but who gives a shit? The phrase beautifully conveys how irresistible Prince's woman is. Prince made you want to get a taste of her creamy thighs.
Genius as "the greatest of the (relatively few) 'not tonight, baby' songs in all of rock n' roll." I haven't heard that version since the late '80s, back when MTV used to put into rotation the "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man" number from the film, and that lively number would pull you out of whatever doldrums you were stuck in at the time.
Prince's death is bound to revive interest in the 1987 film, and if that does lead to a new American home video release of Sign o' the Times, it's about damn time. Generations of teens ought to get to know Prince as an extraordinary live performer. He shouldn't be known to them only as the quirky old Magic Negro who cheered up Zooey Deschanel with a rom-com clothes-shopping montage during the Super Bowl episode of New Girl.