U2 Over Prince? OK, Fine, Whatever You Say, Music Industry: 365 Prince Songs in a Year
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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.
None of the amazing accomplishments Prince achieved in his life ever seemed to make his competitive fires burn any less intensely.
Sometimes this drive would reveal itself in the playful swipes he took at peers such as U2. In his new book Picturing Prince: An Intimate Portrait, photographer Steve Parke recalls Prince’s reaction to hearing the Irish band’s 1997 album Pop. “Do you know what I’d do if I had a voice like that?” he asked. “Become a janitor.”
More famously, two years after U2’s The Joshua Tree was awarded the 1988 Grammy for Album of the Year over his double-album masterpiece Sign O’ the Times, Prince still seemed to be holding a bit of a grudge.
“I don’t go to awards shows anymore. I’m not saying I’m better than anybody else,” he told Rolling Stone in 1990. “But you’ll be sitting there at the Grammys, and U2 will beat you. And you say to yourself, ‘Wait a minute. I can play that kind of music, too. I played La Crosse [Wisconsin] growing up, I know how to do that, you dig? But you will not do ‘Housequake.'”
With the song “Don’t Play Me,” Prince got more serious about the inequalities facing minority artists as they grew older in the music industry. Over a spare acoustic guitar Prince asks why his new music wasn’t getting the same amount of industry support as, say, the aforementioned Pop.
Taken from his largely-acoustic 1998 album The Truth, which was given away as a bonus to fans who bought his direct-mail box set Crystal Ball, “Don’t Play Me” finds Prince listing all the possible reasons his current music wasn’t being played on the radio. “Don’t play me / I’m over 30 and I don’t smoke weed,” Prince sings. “I put my ass away, and music I’ve played ain’t the type of stereo you’re trying to feed.” Ultimately, he arrives at a seemingly simple but disturbing conclusion: I’m the wrong color and I play guitar.”
In a bit of justifiable and somewhat bittersweet bravado, he also declares at one point in the song that his only true competition is “me, in the past.” “[It’s] kind of the blessing and a curse these days that I’m competing with [my] older music,” he told Rolling Stone in 2014. “They always play Beyonce‘s latest track. But I go on Oprah and they want me to play what they remember.”
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