Prince’s Love of Colors Went Way Past Purple: 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.
Prince will forever be rightly associated with purple, but his songbook's pages were shaded with a long list of hues — and one early '90s composition penned for a Paisley Park side project delved into the meaning of color in general.
"Color," a recording Prince started putting together in the early '90s for the Paisley Park act Minneapolis, found him preoccupied with the idea of color on a couple of levels. The lyrics spend a lot of time playing off the way people often describe their emotional state using various shades, but they also touch on the goal of racial harmony, and the idea that whatever our skin might look like, we're all human beings with common feelings, experiences and dreams.
That's a lot for one song to tackle, which may be part of why Prince wasn't in any particular hurry to record it himself — or to release the recording, which was ultimately tracked by members of the family vocal group the Steeles, a frequent presence on songs he worked on from the late '80s through the mid-'90s. While the lyrics certainly make fitting use of color as a metaphor, they're more a series of observations than insights.
"Love is my color when I'm shown love in return / But when I am not, it's a bet u can guess what I have learned," reads a portion of one verse. "Color me green if I cannot have what u've got / Color me blue until I do, 'cuz the fire will sho' 'nuff be hot."
Still, however "Color" might fall wide of the mark in terms of penetrating social commentary, it still offers a fairly comprehensive catalog of the ways we communicate through color — and Prince brought it to a fitting conclusion by making a plea for unity. "What's your color? Make it love," urges the track's closing lines. "What's your color? I hope it's love."
"Color" was ultimately vaulted for years, only seeing release through 1994's 1-800 New Funk, a compilation of recordings — mostly written and/or produced by Prince — made by Paisley Park artists. Yet even as a footnote in his discography, the song reflects a career-long fascination with color that manifested itself repeatedly, from Purple Rain to "Little Red Corvette," "Raspberry Beret," "Pink Cashmere," "Computer Blue," "Black Sweat" and beyond.
It's only fitting, then, that after Prince's passing, the Pantone Color Institute — whose official shades are used as a baseline for the printing industry — worked with his estate to give him his own official color. Announced on Aug. 14, 2017, the company's "Love Symbol #2" paid tribute to an artist described by Pantone vice president Laurie Pressman as "a musical icon known for his artistic brilliance."
Calling the new shade "emblematic of Prince’s distinctive style," Pressman said in a press release, "Long associated with the purple family, 'Love Symbol #2' enables Prince’s unique purple shade to be consistently replicated and maintain the same iconic status as the man himself."
"The color purple was synonymous with who Prince was and will always be," added a representative of Prince's estate. "This is an incredible way for his legacy to live on forever."
Prince: 40 Years of Photographs, 1977-2016