Sitting at the Piano, Prince Calls Out His ‘Heroes': 365 Prince Songs in a Year
To celebrate the incredibly prolific, influential and diverse body of work left behind by Prince, we will be exploring a different song of his each day for an entire year with the series 365 Prince Songs in a Year.
On Jan. 21, 2016, Prince embarked on his first solo tour, dubbed "Piano and a Microphone." Beginning with an intimate affair at Paisley Park, the purple pajama-clad Prince performed a career-spanning show at his purple baby grand for a lucky 1,000 fans. Seated at the piano, he showed what he could accomplish on his own, while giving his ailing hips a rest.
"This is what I usually do this time of night," Prince said during the show. "It's better with you all present."
That night, he moved through a mostly chronological set, recalling his musical beginnings on the piano, and playing at least one song from each of his first 10 albums before throwing in a generous helping of covers. Without a band, without dancing and, perhaps most notably, without a guitar, Prince asserted his independence, while paying tribute to some of his heroes that night, and throughout the tour.
"I’m doing it to challenge myself, I won’t know what songs I’m going to do when I go on stage. I won’t have to, because I won’t have a band," Prince had said in a release prior to the tour.
He gave his friend and former collaborator Lisa Coleman, later of Wendy & Lisa, a nod, crediting her with her contributions to his "Raspberry Beret," and performing his renditions of Joni Mitchell's "A Case of You" and Ray Charles' "Unchain My Heart," the latter of which he recalled playing with his dad, who was a jazz pianist.
"I can't play piano like my dad. How does dad do that?" he told the audience, getting into his own childhood head and sharing tales of sneaking down to play his father's piano without permission. "I thought I would never be able to play like my dad. And he never missed an opportunity to remind me of it."
He later introduced "Free," from his 1982 album 1999, by saying it's about "the freedom to say 'no,'" and then interrupted the song to mourn David Bowie, who had passed away less than two weeks earlier. "I only met him once. He was nice to me. He seemed like he was nice to everybody," he said, wiping a tear from his eye.
Two months later at a show in Toronto, Prince surprised the crowd by banging out a cover of the title song from Bowie's 1977 album Heroes, the second in his Berlin Trilogy. Prince repeated the cover later in the tour, and above, you can see a performance of the song from his stop in Atlanta. That night, between the two shows, he also performed covers of Bob Marley and the Wailers' "Waiting in Vain" and Vince Guaraldi's Peanuts theme "Linus and Lucy." They marked his last-ever concert before his death on April 21.