The difference between '70s Funk master Rick James and Prince comes down to adaptability. James was a huge R&B/Urban star but he couldn't get his videos played on MTV (until long after it mattered) because he didn't fit the format. Prince, faced with more or less the same situation, modified his approach while James merely complained loudly (though rightfully) about the unfairness of the situation.
Prince (born Prince Roger Nelson) burst on the R&B/Urban scene with incredible force in the late '70s. Like James, Prince relied heavily on sex, visually and lyrically, to get across. He was rewarded with platinum sales for "Prince," "Dirty Mind" and "Controversy" albums. But despite his success most of America didn't have a clue. Nor did the U.K. A tour of England was cut short due to non-existent ticket sales. The capper came when Prince opened for the Rolling Stones. On paper, this seemed like the perfect bill. Mick Jagger, the reigning but aging sex symbol, sharing the stage with a rising star in practically the same mold. In the early '80s, the Stones were rolling into their third decade and most people thought they were about done (not realizing the group had another two decades in them). So there was a keen eye on Prince. However, a Veteran's Stadium concert in Philadelphia was a disaster with Stones' fans booing Prince's Funk Rock off the stage. Dropped from the Stones' tour he regrouped.
Prince (in the studio he played nearly all the instruments while The Revolution backed him live) produced the most Rock oriented effort of his career, "1999." The double album was his biggest commercial achievement and both the title track and the sex-laced "Little Red Corvette" went into MTV's heavy rotation and became major hits. As a prolific songwriter Prince also penned, under the name Christopher, the Bangles' hit "Manic Monday."
Capitalizing on his success, Prince made the semi-autobiographical "Purple Rain." The film charted Prince's struggle for success as he battled Morris Day & The Time for local supremacy. Unfortunately for Prince, Day was more appealing and had stage presence to burn. But when you produce the movie you don't lose. The soundtrack returned Prince to Funk/R&B though the set contained the wild Rocker "Let's Go Crazy." Prince continued to move in the Funk/R&B direction with subsequent recordings managing a hit with "Kiss" (which appeared in the lesser film "Under The Cherry Moon") was later covered by '60s Elvis wannabe Tom Jones, who also had a hit with it.
Prince might have lasted on top as long as the Rolling Stones (a very long time indeed) had he not derailed himself. Dumping his name, he replaced it with an unpronounceable graphic that worked best as a logo. Radio and the music press didn't bite and began referring to Prince as the "Artist Formerly Known As Prince" or A.F.K.A.P. The whole mess made him a laughingstock. Prince weighed in saying his new named sounded a lot like "Christopher" (interesting that name comes up again).
Compounding the misery, he then got into a nasty dispute with his record label, Warner Brothers. During this period Prince appeared on stage with the word "slave" painted on his face. Eventually breaking from the label he self-released his music. Meanwhile, Prince's reclusive behavior caused all sorts of bizarre stories to circulate (though nothing as strange as those surrounding Michael Jackson). In the end, he became Prince again and after a prolonged absence rolled back into view with '04 release "Musicology."
That set was followed by a succession of albums ('06's "3121," '07's "Planet Earth," 09's "Lotusflow3r"/"MPLSound" and '10's "20Ten") before Prince re-signed with Warner Bros. Records, following an 18-year estrangement. He gained the rights to his master recordings from the '80s, which had been a major point of contention since way back when.
"Purple Rain" was added to the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress in '12. Along with albums by Bo Diddley, the Grateful Dead and others, the set was deemed to be a "cultural, artistic and/or historical treasure."
Prince live performances became more frequent, especially fronting his all-female Funk band, 3rdEye Girl.
In '14, he simultaneously issued "Art Of Official Age," which leaned heavily on the '80s glory years, and "Plectrumelectrum," credited to Prince And 3rdEyeGirl. The set leaned toward avant garde Funk.
1978 For You
1980 Dirty Mind
1984 Purple Rain
1985 Around The World In A Day
1987 Sign o' The Times
1990 Graffiti Bridge
1991 Diamonds And Pearls
1992 Love Symbol Album
1994 The Black Album
1995 The Gold Experience
1996 Chaos And Disorder
1998 Crystal Ball
1999 The Vault: Old Friends 4 Sale
1999 Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic
2001 The Rainbow Children
2002 One Nite Alone...
2004 The Chocolate Invasion
2004 The Slaughterhouse
2007 Planet Earth
2014 Art Of Official Age/Plectrumelectrum
In the '80s Prince was one of a few performers who could keep a foot in both the Rock and Funk camps and retain credibility with each. He used Rock to broaden his audience and having successfully accomplished that he returned to where he was most comfortable and artistically commanding.
"1999" shows Prince on top (where he no doubt likes to be). On the title track, "Little Red Corvette" and "Delirious," all pop hits, Prince successfully rides the line between Funk and Rock "Purple Rain" with "When Doves Cry" and the brilliant "Let's Go Crazy" is the next choice. To catch Prince on the make as a Funk/R&B rising star check out "Controversy" or "Prince." To hear him in his full-flower Funk/Rock mode, go for '87 release "Sign O' The Times."