Prince‘s music is burned into the collective consciousness of fans and musicians worldwide; which is why his sudden death at the age of 57 came as such a shock to so many. His songs and albums were innovative and important, helping to form a generation’s soundtrack via hits like “Let’s Go Crazy” and “Diamonds and Pearls;” and they showcased his remarkable artistry on fan favorites like “Joy In Repetition” and “Jam of the Year.”
Prince’s impact on the sound of 1980s pop, dance, rock and R&B music (and beyond) is almost impossible to quantify. You would be hard-pressed to name any artist who had more direct musical influence on the decade than Prince; from his use of drum machines to his combining rock riffs with funk grooves. It’s impossible to escape his musical impact on that decade, so here’s a look at why he was so important to the sound of the times–and why it’s fitting to consider him the greatest recording artist of the 1980s.
Ready For the World
One listen to the opening seconds of “Oh Sheila,” the inescapable 1985 hit from Flint, Michigan’s Ready For the World, and it’s obvious these guys had studied 1999-era Prince heavily. Frontman Melvin Riley’s vocal quirks owe a lot to Prince–as well as the distinctive drum patterns on hits like “Love You Down.”
Janet’s classic breakthrough album Control was also a sort of coming-out party for superproducers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who’d helmed hits by Change and the S.O.S. Band; but with Jackson’s 1986 album, they had a bonafide blockbuster. And there’s still lingering Prince-isms from their days in The Time, Prince’s most well-known offshoot/side group/proteges.
The Genesis frontman/drummer was a bonafide solo superstar by 1985. And one of his biggest hits was a danceable, Prince-like No. 1 hit called “Sussudio.” The catchy song with the nonsense title owed a lot to Prince’s 1982 hit “1999” in melody and production. Collins never downplayed the similarities between the two songs–acknowledging that Genesis had been listening to a lot of Prince on tour.
One of the most influential aspects of Prince’s music was his innovative use of drum programming. And one of the 80s acts who absorbed his digital innovations while adding their own catchy twists was Full Force. As artists and as a production crew, they channeled Prince-isms into a sound that was also heavily influenced by the productions of Larry Smith (Run-D.M.C., Whodini) and the result was inescapable hits like “Head To Toe” by Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam.
Stevie Nicks was blown away by Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” and it inspired her 1983 hit “Stand Back.” She was so enamored with the way he used synths, she asked him to play them on her song. Prince contributed the distinctive synths to “Stand Back” in an uncredited guest appearance. “He was there in 20 minutes and he played on ’Stand Back,’” she later told MTV. “And he was there an hour and a half, and then he left.” It was the beginning of an extended friendship between the two.
INXS had been a college rock band before their single “What You Need” catapulted the Australian band to the Top Ten in the U.S. The song features a swaggering vocal and funky rhythm guitar that positively scream mid-80s Prince and it set the stage for the band’s monster 1987 album Kick–a multiplatinum smash that featured more Prince-esque rock riffs over funky dance grooves–and an album that Atlantic Records originally feared made the band sound “too black.”
In 1984, Prince wrote and recorded a duet with his girl group Apollonia 6 called “Manic Monday.” He pulled the song from their lone self-titled album, but he would subsequently give the song to pop-rock band The Bangles. There were rumors that Prince offered the song to rhythm guitarist Susanna Hoffs because he was enamored with her, but Vicki Peterson said that his reasons for giving them the song were purely musical. “He really liked our first album,” she explained to MTV a few years later. The Bangles’ first hit, “…Monday” would peak at No. 2 on the Billboard charts in 1986–kept from the top spot by Prince’s own hit single “Kiss.”
Both in Wham! and as a solo artist, George Michael was one of the most iconic artists of the 1980s. His effortless combination of dance pop and blue-eyed soul made him a constant fixture on the pop charts, but after the retro-girl group sound of Wham’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” and saxophone-driven groove of “Careless Whisper,” Wham! delivered a funky slice of R&B that echoed early 80s Prince with his pulsing synths and catchy rhythm. Michael would also dabble in Prince-liness on his debut solo hit “I Want Your Sex” in 1987.
Chaka Khan, Kenny Rogers and Mavis Staples
One testament to Prince’s impact on popular music is how many legendary artists sought out his talents or covered his work. In addition to his collaboration with Stevie Nicks, Prince would work with everyone from Maurice White to George Clinton to varying degrees; and he penned songs for legends. He produced tracks for Mavis Staples (“Times Waits For No One”), Chaka Khan enjoyed one of her biggest 80s hits with her cover of “I Feel For You” and worked with him on her 1988 CK album; and Prince even penned “You’re My Love” for Kenny Rogers, a 1986 track that also features El DeBarge on backing vocals.
Miles Davis is a titan of 20th century music and the jazz innovator was a major fan of Prince from the moment His Royal Badness emerged in the late 70s/early 80s. Davis would record a trumpet solo on the Prince/Chaka Khan song “Sticky Wicked” from Khan’s CK album in 1988; and Davis’ 1986 album Tutu was born of his studio work with Prince. That album was a collaboration that never panned out, but Prince and Miles worked together frequently until Davis died in 1991. And you can hear Prince’s sparse-and-funky influence in a lot of Davis’ final recordings.