Queen Elizabeth II turned 90-years old today and in a weird coincidence Niagara Falls was scheduled to be illuminated in the royal color purple tonight to honor the event. Little did the Niagara Falls Illumination Board know they’d get more interest than ever expected as Prince, and his signature color purple, took over the news after his death at his Minnesota home.
I wasn’t alive for the heyday of the Beatles or Elvis but I’ve gone back and watched video clips to better understand their popularity. To get a sense of what it was about their on-stage mannerisms or interview quirks that drove fans to frenzy. But Prince was part of the soundtrack of my adolescence, and when we heard he’d be on TV we all tuned in; because he wasn’t just a musician, he was an entertainer. Talented, unexpected, innovative, and private in a way that kept him classier than the average celebrity, he showed up ready to give audiences an entertainment experience.
With 1984’s Purple Rain Prince became one of the few artists to venture into the rock musical film format. The movie performed average the box office, but is considered a cult success. TV, on the other hand, gave Prince an audience with everyday people, and allowed fans to feel a tiny bit closer to the elusive artist. As long as appearances were scripted, controlled, and centered on the music he was fine, but watch what happens when Sherri Sheppard goes off script during his visit to The View.
Here’s a sampling of the performances that will help future generations understand Prince as a human, and an icon.
The Muppets Tonight Season 2 (2007)
In a silly segment Prince says he can write a song about anything – he just needs a better set. A comment on how environment can lead to inspiration? Or just a childhood dream to play opposite puppets? Still, it’s fun to see a gifted artist give in to Jim Henson’s magic.
The “Purple Rain” Super Bowl Halftime (2007)
During the 2007 Super Bowl Miami was swamped by a downpour of rain. When producer Don Mischer called Prince to see if he’d be OK with the rain the musician responded, “Can you make it rain harder?”
With a turban covering his hair from the deluge the group performed a medley of 10 iconic songs, including 3 of his hits, “All Along the Watchtower” and “Proud Mary”. He closed with, of course, “Purple Rain”. Rolling Stone called it the second best Super Bowl performance of all time.
In an interview with Deadline Mischer says there although there were worries over the safety, “He took that moment and turned it into this ethereal, magical halftime show. He rose above the problems of the rain. All the guitars worked, and there were droplets of rain all over the lenses. And 60 seconds in, you knew we were being blessed, and then it ended with “Purple Rain,” and we were able to turn the rain purple.”
New Girl (2014)
The cameo that was ridiculous, and completely on point. Prince reached out to the show because he was, according to E! News, a huge fan. They were able to coordinate for him to appear in the episode that aired to a huge audience following that year’s Super Bowl. He appears throughout the episode, so it’s worth catchin on Hulu if you haven’t seen it.
And then he got sucked into the vortex of silliness that is Zooey Deschanel. And debuted a new song.
Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony (2004)
In 2004 Prince stood in on guitar during a song penned by George Harrison, “When My Guitar Gently Weeps.” His blistering solo from 3:30-on displays his joy at playing live and has been referred to as one of the best guitar solos ever.
The View (2010)
Anytime someone can shut down the ladies of The View it’s got to be a good thing. Here the artist is relaxed, personable, and human, toeing the line between self-promotion and exceeding discomfort with fawning.
Larry King Live (1999)
This long-form interview with Larry King happened just after Prince changed his name to a symbol. At turns the artist is shy, awkward, confident, opinionated, thoughtful, and as always he becomes most animated and outspoken when talking about music, and the state of the industry.
At 4:00 Larry tries to pin Prince down on what people are supposed to call him. At 11:00 they return to an uncomfortable dance surrounding the issue, which causes Larry to forget his question.
Prince took over a March episode and performed several songs with his new backing band, a talented female trio called 3RDEYEGIRL. Here he brings in the New Power Generation for a throwback to 1985’s “Mutiny”.