“There’s some talk going ’round town
…that you really don’t give a damn.
They say you really put me down
…when I’m doing the best I can.”
In today’s musical climate, an artist like Prince cannot exist. He took several albums to achieve global success with the movie and soundtrack “Purple Rain” in 1984. He exerts complete creative control over his stage show and album releases. During his tenure at Warner Brothers records, he put out some of the most innovative major label works ever concieved, including the double albums “1999” and “Sign O The Times”. He has confounded any PR advisors to go wherever his muse sends him. He spent millions building his own recording complex in his home state of Minnesota, far from the prying eyes of New York and Los Angeles. His departure from Warner Brothers Records made him the first major artist of our time to shake off the commerical world and finance his own artist statements. In other words, Prince would not have had these opportunities afforded to him in the new commercially driven climate. He never would have gotten off the ground.
We are lucky, however, that we do have access to his music. Only Bob Dylan could combat him for the title of ‘most songs written’ during a career. This makes it all the more difficult to choose unheralded songs from his massive catalog. ‘Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?’ is notable as it is an early song, from his third Warner Brothers release “For You” in 1980. While not a proven hitmaker at this point, Prince was making a name for himself with dynamic live shows featuring his trademark mix of rock, soul and funk. His songs were making waves on the R&B chart, with ‘I Wanna Be Your Lover’ being the standout hit on “For You”. Of his early songs, this is the first to truly meld his pop sensibility with true rock n roll grit. The guitar riff overpowers the keyboard, a first for a Prince single, and the solos are extended jams that turn this song into a true live powerhouse. While other songs in his catalog are more straightforward blues guitar workouts, this song was the first to go in this direction.
Prince continued to put out hits throughout the 1980’s, becoming one of the most known figures in popular culture. Today he tours to sold out arenas worldwide and releases albums on his own labels and the internet. While not always a mainstream artist, Prince makes the decisions that are in the best interest of his music. During his most successful periods, he has never conceded to popular tastes. He instead makes his audience come into his world and that becomes what is popular. That is why no matter what success he ever has had, he has never once been branded a sellout.