To say that Prince had a profound impact on music is a massive understatement: there’s just too much. With each passing minute since his untimely death on Thursday, there’s another story, another song, another performance, another memory to remind us of his myriad contributions. Quite simply, we love what we love largely because of Prince.
Much has already been said, so, so beautifully, about his most iconic works — “I Wanna Be Your Lover” to Purple Rain to “Little Red Corvette” to 1999 to “Kiss” to “Cream.” Of course, because I see the world through smut-colored glasses, Prince — aside from being a musical savant — is synonymous with one thing in my mind: fucking. Wesley Morris’ exploration of Prince as a sexual icon — nay, a sexuality — entirely nails it. No pun intended?
But along with crafting legendary odes to bangin’, Prince also specialized in fostering talent — specifically that of female artists. And, considering my music library is largely one big ladies affair (layyyydies!), that means that some of my favorite Prince memories are tied to the music he made, or inspired, for women.
His role as a mentor proved fruitful for those of us thirst-minded ones: Vanity 6, which Prince originally wanted to call The Hookers while assembling the group’s first line-up, proved to be the prototype for the modern vampy girl groups like the Pussycat Dolls (and perhaps, to a lesser extent, Danity Kane). They are truly one of my favorite musical outfits of all time.
There they were: three sexy sirens — fronted by Vanity, one of the most beautiful women in the world, who sadly died only a few months ago herself — exuding an enviable amount of rock star confidence while gyrating in lingerie on stage and moaning unsubtly about wet dreams decades before PCD seductively purred their come-ons while stealing our men. Vanity 6’s 1982 self-titled (and, sadly, only) album is a start-to-finish solid collection of sexy, silly trash-pop of the highest quality. “If A Girl Answers (Don’t Hang Up)” is an innuendo-filled shade lover’s dream, and “Nasty Girl,” one of my absolute favorite songs of all time, still feels revolutionary to this day. “I need seven inches or more…” Just watch the way they carry themselves in the video — it’s effortlessly, hypnotically sexy.
“In the back of my mind, an animalistic ritual / Me swingin’ from a brass pole…”
It’s still hard to believe that mega-babe Carmen Electra kicked off her career in the early ’90s thanks to Prince, who discovered and shaped her into a singing, rapping, go-go dancing bombshell — even down to selecting her stage name. The music from that short-lived foray sits somewhere between fierce and tragic, although watching her early music videos over two decades later, it’s all but impossible to miss the obvious wattage and superstar potential that Prince undoubtedly saw in Carmen.
The talented Sheila E., unlike the rather short shelf life of Prince’s other side projects, proved to be an enduring force in her own right. In fact, she was already an established musician before even meeting Prince, but once the two paired up, magic struck: “The Glamorous Life,” originally penned for Apollonia 6, stands strong today as a diamond and pearl-covered cautionary tale about yearning for a fast life of material. (Without love, it ain’t much…)
Madonna‘s Like A Prayer — beyond being a legendary body of work — also boasts the rare, masterful touch of two industry icons on one album. Not only did Prince play guitar all over the album (uncredited, like so many of his contributions to other artists), but he even sang on “Love Song,” a tender duet between the two. (The lyrics of which would eventually inspire a smash years later: “Hung Up.”) The partnership led to a friendship that lasted up until his death. Only last year, Prince serenaded Madge and her Rebel Heart Tour crew in a private performance at Paisley Park — the recounting of that night nearly reads like fan-fiction.
Madonna’s manager Guy Oseary, in his grief, revealed on Thursday that Madonna and Prince were in talks to tour together. Madge’s idea for the tour name? The Royalty Tour — for the Queen and the Prince. Prince felt the world wasn’t ready yet. He was probably right.
Beyoncé was one of the artists Prince endorsed until the very end, and one of the privileged few to share a stage live on television with the legend.
Bey’s own discography, especially in recent years, boasts several songs that have Prince written all over them, even if he never directly touched the tracks. Songs like the sultry “1+1,” as well as BEYONCÉ‘s “No Angel” and “Blow,” smolder and playfully tease with Prince’s signature sensuality. My very favorite of all the songs to draw those comparisons from critics? “Schoolin’ Life,” Yonce’s fresh ‘n funky 4 bonus track packed full of life lessons — it’s her best single that never was.
Martika‘s “Love…Thy Will Be Done,” aside from “The Glamorous Life” and “Nasty Girl,” is my favorite Prince-penned song for another artist. The lyrics are profoundly spiritual and moving (imagine if Britney covered this for Britney Jean instead?), and the calming, ahead-of-its-time ambient production makes the track feel as though it’s suspended in mid-air, floating on through to the end.
The song’s been given new life in recent years — both Jessie Ware and Australian goddess Delta Goodrem covered the song. They pale in comparison to the originals, of course, but still.
Leave it to the #Beautiful Queen of Shade and Festive Moments to put a heavenly spin on her friend Prince’s “The Beautiful Ones,” a non-bedroom romp in which she begs and pleads for some sweet lovin, as Dru Hill demands “Is it him or is it me?” (Literally: “I don’t know her.”) It is a complete triumph (get ’em, get ’em).
If you haven’t seen it yet, Mimi paid tribute to her late friend” with a performance of “One Sweet Day” live in Paris two days ago. It’s hard to watch. “He was a friend to me too, and he talked me through some times I really, really needed somebody,” she told the crowd afterward.
How about a bit of (much-needed) levity, yes? The Prince Effect extends to every corner of the record shop, from bestsellers to…the bargain bin. Before loosening her buttons in PCD, Scherzy Baby and her short-lived-but-iconic Popstars troupe Eden’s Crush (#JusticeForRosannaTavarez) covered the Sheila E. classic on their spectacular 2001 flop of a debut. It’s so terrible, it’s great.
Before becoming the phuckless ANTIchrist we know and love today, Navy commander-in-chief Rihanna, too, took the song out on the road on tour years ago.
And that wasn’t Rih’s only experience with The Purple One: Her unreleased strut-fest “Sexuality” — one of her very best songs to never see the light of day on an album, sadly — pulls heavily from Prince’s “Controversy.” (That sample, almost surely, wasn’t cleared by His Highness.)
Speaking of unreleased Prince moments, Godney Almighty herself, found inspiration in Prince’s classic “Kiss” for the flirty, strange electro-funkiness of her In The Zone-era rejected jam, “Guilty.” Another sample clearance issue? Most likely.
An underage Britney and Justin — before Britney and Justin were a thing — singing about their warm feelings inside together on stage? Prophetic, really — and surely one of the very few Prince songs that they could get away with covering on the Mickey Mouse Club. Also, Vocalney!
Oh, right: and then there’s her generation-defining, Neptunes-produced “I’m A Slave 4 U,” which is not only a likely nod to Prince’s text speak as far as the title’s spelling (4, U, 2, R), but an obvious descendent of Vanity 6’s “Nasty Girl.” The song was originally meant for Janet Jackson, and while it is undeniably Jackson-esque, I’d like to consider this one the Princess paying homage to the Prince.
“If Prince was a 19 year old former Disney Club host and virgin he’d be proud to create such a record,” NME wrote.
Even Swedish hornball Robyn caught the spirit with her Rakamonie EP cover of Prince’s filthy-mouthed Controversy track “Jack U Off,” which somehow makes lyrics like “If you’re tired of the masturbator / Little girl, we can go on a date / And I’ll jack U off” sound positively adorable.
Prince’s potent brand of horniness extends right up to today’s biggest hits. Sure, Selena Gomez might pale in comparison to the mightiness of Vanity or Beyoncé, but she’s a prime representation of the sound of the radio in 2016. And “Hands To Myself,” her mumbly foray into fuck-me pop, came together because of — you guessed it — Prince.
“We had a cup, and Julia [Michaels] was banging the cup on to the desk. Then she had this Prince-y hook and was like, ‘What if we make it Prince-like?’ I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m obsessed. Let’s do that,'” Selenita said of the making of the song in the studio in an interview with TIME last year.
Although his own work is difficult to acquire in a world of streaming and YouTube thanks to his notoriously stubborn ban on all things Free Internet (and good for him, quite frankly), Prince’s enormous influence in the careers of countless others meant his nasty, glamorous, beautiful touch has shaped the sound of pop all the way until now…and will certainly continue to do so for years to come.
This stream of consciousness merely scratches the surface: there are too many massive moments that came because of this man. Like Michael, like Bowie, like Whitney, Prince will live forever in the music.
Thank U, Thank U, Thank U.