Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Late Great Prince

Prince Rogers Nelson, better known simply as Prince, died today at the age of 57. Earlier in the month he had postponed performances due to influenza. On April 15, while flying back to Minneapolis from a show in Atlanta, Georgia, his private plane made an emergency landing at Quad City International Airport in Moline, Illinois in order for him to receive medical treatment. The cause of his death will not be known until results from an autopsy are announced. 

Prince was born on June 7 1958 in Minneapolis. His father was John L. Nelson, a jazz pianist in the Minneapolis area. He used the stage name "Prince Rogers" and performed as part of the Prince Rogers Trio. His mother was Mattie (née Shaw), a local jazz singer who performed with Mr. Nelson. They divorced in 1966 when Prince was eight years old. Coming from a family of musicians, Prince took to music while very young. He was only seven years old when he wrote his first song, "Funk Machine", on his father's piano. He had already decided to pursue a career in music by the time he was a teenager.

Constantly shifting between the homes of his father and his mother, Prince eventually moved into the home of his neighbours the Anderson family. He became friends with their son, Andre Anderson (who eventually took the name Andre Cymone). Prince and Andre Anderson would eventually join the band Grand Central, for whom Prince's cousin Charles Smith was the drummer. Charles Smith would later be replaced by Morris Day, who would later become famous as part of The Time. Grand Central would eventually rename themselves "Champagne" to avoid confusion with the group Grand Central Station.

It was in 1975 that Pepe Willie, the husband of one of Prince's cousins, formed the band 94 East. Both Prince and Andre Cymone would serve as session musicians for the band. It was in 1976 that Champagne started recording at Moonsound Studio, a small studio owned by Chris Moon. Chris Moon noticed Prince's talent and offered him a deal: if Prince collaborated with him on songs then Prince could have as much free recording time as he desired. In 1976 Prince created a demo tape of  four songs he had created at Moonsound.

It was later in 1976 that Chris Moon introduced Prince to Owen Husney, an owner of a small advertising agency in Minneapolis who also managed musicians. Owen Husney signed Prince to a management contract. In December 1976 Mr. Husney booked Prince in Sound 80 studios in Minneapolis to record a new demo tape. Owen Husney then created a press kit to send with the demo tape to the various recording companies. Ultimately A&M, ABC/Dunhill, CBS, RSO, Warner Bros., and yet other companies expressed interest in Prince.

It was on June 25 1977 that Prince signed a recording contract with Warner Bros. The contact stipulated that Prince was to record three albums over which he would have complete creative control. Prince's debut album, For You, was released  April 7 1978. Not only did Prince produce the record, but he also arranged and composed every song on the album except for "Soft and Wet", which was co-written with Chris Moon. He also played every single instrument on the album. His first single, "Soft and Wet", peaked at no. 92 on the Billboard Hot 100 and no. 12 on the Hot Soul Singles chart.

It was on October 19 1979 that Prince's second album, Prince, was released. The album would produce Prince's first hit single. "I Wanna Be Your Lover" hit number one on the Billboard R&B chart and peaked at number 11 on the Hot 100. "I Wanna Be Your Lover" was followed by the single "Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?". It peaked at no. 13 on the Billboard R&B singles chart. The album itself peaked at no. 22 on the Billboard albums chart.

Prince's third album, Dirty Mind, would not do as well on the Billboard album chart as Prince. Released on October 8 1980, it only peaked at no. 45. That having been said, it arguably set the stage for the rest of Prince's career. The album was stylistically diverse, with songs that could be considered funk ("Dirty Mind"), ballads ("Gotta Broken Heart Again"), dance ("Uptown"), and new wave (When You Were Mine"). Dirty Mind also ventured further into sexuality than most funk or R&B artists ever had before. Indeed, the song "Head" and especially the song "Sister" dealt with subjects that were very nearly taboo when the album was released on October 8 1980. While Dirty Mind was well known for it salaciousness, songs on the album did explore other subjects. "Uptown" dealt with prejudice and societal expectations. "Partyup"had anti-war overtones.

Prince followed Dirty Mind with the album Controversy, released on October 14 1981. Along with Dirty Mind, Controversy would define much of the course of Prince's career. While Dirty Mind was known for its sheer lasciviousness, Controversy took a more intellectual approach. The title track addressed everything from questions surrounding Prince's sexuality to questions surrounding his religious beliefs. "Ronnie, Talk to Russia" was a plea to the newly elected Ronald Reagan to make peace with the U.S.S.R. The song "Annie Christian" addressed violence, guns, and religion all in one song. Of course, Controversy also contained sex songs, such as "Jack U Off". Like Dirty Mind before it, Controversy continued Prince's stylistic diversification. "Controversy" was pure funk. "Do Me, Baby" was a lengthy ballad. "Private Joy" was bubblegum. "Jack U Off" drew upon rockabilly for inspiration. Controversy sold very well. It peaked at no. 21 on the Billboard  albums chart.

It was also in 1981 that Prince formed the funk band The Time as a side project. The Time was largely built upon a Minneapolis band called Flyte Time, to which Prince added lead singer Morris Day, guitarist Jesse Johnson, and musician and comedian Jerome Benton. Prince wrote many of The Time's early songs and even played every single instrument on The Time's first album. He also produced their first three albums.

Prince's fifth album would also turn out to be his breakthrough with regards to mainstream music. 1999 was a double album released on October 27 1982. It proved to be Prince's highest charting album yet, going all the way to no. 9 on the Billboard albums chart (which also made it his first top ten album). It produced three hit singles. The title track peaked at no. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100, while "Little Red Corvette" peaked at no. 6 and "Delirious" at no. 8. The album also saw Prince expand his subject matter beyond sex. "1999" itself touched upon the subject of Armageddon, while "Free" dealt with patriotism and  "Something in the Water (Does Not Compute)" touched up on computers. Stylistically the album ranged from funk to New Wave.

By the mid-Eighties Prince had already seen a good deal of success as a recording artist. It was in 1984 that he would see success in film as well. Purple Rain was made on a budget of  $7.2 million and shot mostly in Minneapolis. The movie did fairly well at the box office, making $68 million. Its soundtrack album proved to be Prince's most successful record up to that point. Released on June 25 1984, about a month ahead of the film, it went all the way to the no. 1 spot on the Billboard albums chart. It also produced several hit singles, including the no. 1 singles "When Doves Cry" and "Let's Go Crazy", a well as the title track (which peaked at no. 2), "I Would Die 4 U" (which peaked at no. 8), and "Take Me with U" (which went to no. 25). Arguably, Purple Rain marked the height of Prince's success. Unfortunately, while Prince would see continued success as a music artist, Purple Rain would be his only success in film despite further attempts.

Prince followed the success of Purple Rain with the album Around the World in a Day. The album was released with minimal publicity and its first single ("Raspberry Beret") was not released until a month after the album's release. Despite this Around the World in a Day went to no. 1 on the Billboard albums chart. It also produced the hit singles "Raspberry Beret" (which peaked at no. 2) and"Pop Life" (which peaked at no. 8). Around the World in a Day marked further development in Prince's style. The album was widely considered "psychedelic" and often compared to The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. While Prince dismissed comparisons to The Beatles, he did acknowledged that he thought the album could be considered psychedelic.
Around the World in a Day was followed by the album Parade, an album which also served as the soundtrack album to his film Under the Cherry Moon (more on it later). It was released on March 31 1986. While both Purple Rain and Around the World in a Day went to no. 1 on the Billboard albums chart, Parade peaked at no. 3. Parade did produce several hit singles, including number one "Kiss" as well as "Mountains" (which went to no. 23).

It was with Sign o' the Times that Prince's career went into a very slight decline. Sign o' the Times peaked at no. 6, although it did produce three hit singles. Lovesexy peaked at no. 11 and produced only one hit single. Batman, the soundtrack to the 1989 film of the same name, performed much better. It hit no. 1 on the Billboard album chart and produced the hits "Batdance" and "Partyman". Prince would end the Eighties with Graffiti Bridge, the soundtrack to the film of the same name. While the film would not do well (more on that later), the album peaked at no. 6 and produced the hit "Thieves in the Temple".

Prince began the Nineties with the album Diamonds and Pearls, which peaked at no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. The album provided Prince with another no. 1 single, "Cream". The success of Diamonds and Pearls was followed by an album that bore only an unpronounceable symbol as a name, but generally called The Love Symbol Album. The Love Symbol Album also proved successful, peaking at no. 5 on the Billboard album chart.  The Love Symbol Album was followed by Come, which peaked at no. 15 on the album chart.

By the early Nineties Prince found himself at odds with Warner Bros. In an act of rebellion against the label Prince insisted that he be referred to only by an unpronounceable symbol (more or less the same as the one that appeared on The Love Symbol Album). Prince became known as "the Artist Formerly Known as Prince". Prince also began releasing albums much more frequently in order to sooner fulfil his contractual obligations to Warner Bros.

Unfortunately the albums Prince released while he was using the Love Symbol would perform increasingly more and more poorly on the charts. The Black Album, the first album on which he used the symbol, only peaked at no. 47. Chaos and Disorder and Emancipation (which featured Prince's covers of songs originated by other artists) would perform somewhat better, with the latter actually making it to no. 11 on the Billboard album chart.  Prince's last release on Warner Bros. would be The Vault: Old Friends 4 Sale.

In 1999 Prince signed with Arista Record. It was on that label that his album Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic was released on November 9 1999. It was in 2000, not long after  his publishing contract with Warner/Chappell ended, that Prince returned to using his name "Prince". Starting in 2000 much of Prince's music was released through his website NPG Music Club. NPG Music Club continued until 2006.

Throughout the Naughts and the Teens Prince released several successful albums, including Musicology (which went to no. 3),  3121 (which went to number one), Planet Earth (which went to no. 3), and Lotusflow3r / MPLSound (which went to no. 2). Both   Plectrumelectrum and Art Official Age reached the top ten of the Billboard albums chart. Hit n Run Phase Two, the final album released while Prince was alive, came out in December of last year.

Over the years Prince produced other artists and even served a a mentor to some. Over the years Prince produced records by André Cymone, Sheila E, Madhouse, Jill Jones, Chaka Khan, Sheena Easton, Patti LaBelle, and yet others. Prince's songs were recorded by artists as diverse as Alicia Keys ("“How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore"), The Bangles ("Manic Monday"), Cyndi Lauper ("When You Were Mine"),  Sinead O’Connor (“Nothing Compares 2 U“), and Stevie Nicks ("Stand Back").

In addition to his musical career Prince also had a bit of a film career, although he saw little success in movies beyond Purple Rain. Under the Cherry Moon, released in 1986, did poorly at the box office and received bad notices from critics. The film marked Prince's directorial debut. In 1990 Graffiti Bridge, a semi-sequel to Purple Rain was released. Graffiti Bridge also did poorly at the box office and faired badly with critics. It was also directed by Prince.

Over the years Prince would perform on several different shows, from The Tonight Show to Saturday Night Live. He guest starred on Muppets Tonight in 1997 and New Girl in 2014.

I was only a teenager when I first discovered Prince. It was with his album Dirty Mind, a bit before he would break into the mainstream. At the time much of the appeal of Prince for me was the fact that he would sing about things only a few other artists ever had before (namely, graphic sex). Of course, by the time Controversy was released Prince had expanded well beyond singing about sex and love. As the years passed the subject matter of Prince's songs would expand and his music would grow more sophisticated. And as I grew older I was able to appreciate the evolution of Prince's music. As I grew older I was even able to realise that there was much more to his early work than sheer salaciousness.

Quite simply, Prince could well have been the most sophisticated artist to emerge from the Eighties. With regards to genres he seemed difficult to pin down. Certainly much of his early work, as well as much of his music throughout his career, could be considered funk. That having been said, it was very early in his career that he began recording songs that could be considered New Wave, rock, pop, and R&B. Ultimately Prince would venture into genres as diverse as power pop and jazz. Indeed, at times Prince would blend disparate styles into one song.  Not surprisingly, the influences on Prince were diverse: Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Miles Davis, James Brown, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Sly Stone, George Clinton, David Bowie, Curtis Mayfield, and many others.

Of course, it was not enough that Prince seemingly transcended genres. He was both a great songwriter and a great musician capable of playing multiple instruments. On his debut album alone he played 27 different instruments. He also a very good vocalist with an impressive range. Over the years Prince was quick to adapt to new technology, adopting drum machines and synthesisers very early in his career.

Ultimately Prince would have a lasting impact on multiple genres of music. Artists as diverse as Alicia Keys, Beck, Maroon 5, Lady Gaga, Janelle Monae, and even Muse owe a debt to him.  He is one of the very few artists to emerge after the Sixties to have an influence on rock, R&B,rap, and yet other genres.  It should come as no surprise, then, that Prince leaves behind a whole catalogue of songs that are still frequently played on the radio. "1999", "Little Red Corvette", 'Purple Rain", "Raspberry Beret", and yet other songs are still heard frequently. What is more, Prince's songs are still frequently covered by various artists. Ultimately, it seems possible that Prince might be the most influential music artist to emerge from the Eighties. While other artists from the decade might eventually be forgotten, I doubt he ever will.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Doris Roberts R.I.P.

Doris Roberts, who appeared on the TV shows Remington Steele and Everybody Loves Raymond, died April 17 2016 at the age of 90.

Doris Roberts was born Doris Green on November 4 1925 in St. Louis. Her father deserted her family and she grew up in The Bronx, New York. Her mother married Chester H. Roberts, with whom she operated the Z.L. Rosenfield Agency, a stenographic service. She adopted her stepfather's surname.

Doris Roberts made her television debut in an episode of Starlight Theatre in 1951. In the Fifties she guest starred on the shows Studio One, Suspense, and Look Up and Live. She made her Broadway debut in 1955 in a revival of The Time of Your Life. Later in the Fifties she appeared on Broadway in The Desk Set.

In the Sixties Doris Roberts guest starred on the TV shows Way Out, Ben Casey, Naked City, The Defenders, and The Doctors and the Nurses. She made her film debut in Something Wild in 1961. She appeared in the films Barefoot in the Park (1967), Divorce American Style (1967), No Way to Treat a Lady (1968), A Lovely Way to Die (1968), and The Honeymoon Killers (1969). She appeared on Broadway in Marathon '33, Malcolm, Under the Weather, and The Natural Look.

In the Seventies Doris Roberts played the role of Theresa Falco, the title character's mother on the short lived sitcom Angie. She had short, recurring roles on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and Soap. She guest starred on such shows as The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Medical Centre, Baretta, All in the Family, The Streets of San Francisco, Family, Rhoda, Barney Miller, and Fantasy Island. She appeared in the films Little Murders (1971),  A New Leaf (1971), Such Good Friends (1971), The Heartbreak Kid (1972), The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974), Blood Bath (1976), Rabbit Test (1978), Good Luck, Miss Wyckoff (1979), and The Rose (1979). On Broadway she appeared in The Secret Affairs of Mildred Wild, Bad Habits, and Cheaters.

In the Eighties Doris Roberts starred as the title character's best friend and hairdresser on the short lived sitcom Maggie. She saw much more success as receptionist Mildred Krebs on the hit detective series Remington Steele. She also guest starred on such shows as Alice, St. Elsewhere, The Love Boat, Cagney & Lacey, Perfect Strangers, and Full House. She appeared in the films Ordinary Heroes (1986), National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989), Simple Justice (1989), and Ladies on Sweet Street (1990).

In the Nineties Doris Roberts was a regular on multiple shows. She was a regular on  the sitcoms The Boys and Dream On. From 1996 to 2005 she played Marie Barone on the sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond. She guest starred on such shows as Empty Nest; The Family Man; Murder, She Wrote; Walker, Texas Ranger; Burke's Law; and The King of Queens (as Marie Barone). She appeared in the films Used People (1992), The Night We Never Met (1993), Taffy (1994), The Grass Harp (1995), Walking to Waldheim (1997), My Giant (1998), and A Fish in the Bathtub (1999).

In the Naughts she continued to appear on Everybody Loves Raymond. She guest starred on Touched by an Angel, Lizzie McGuire, and Law & Order: Criminal Intent. She appeared in the films Full Circle (2001), All Over the Guy (2001), Grandma's Boy (2006), I-See-You.Com (2006), Keeping Up with the Steins (2006), The Truth and Nothing But the Truth (2006), Play the Game (2009), Aliens in the Attic (2009), and Another Harvest Moon (2010).

In the Teens she guest starred on such shows as The Middle, Hot in Cleveland, Desperate Housewives, Major Crimes, and Melissa and Joey. She appeared in the films Margarine Wars (2012), Just Another Man's Story (2013), Zizi and Honeyboy (2015), The Manager (2015), No Deposit (2015), The Secret of Joy (2015), and JOB's Daughter (2016).

Doris Roberts was an immensely talented and very prolific actress who did much more than Everybody Loves Raymond. I remember her best from Remington Steele, where as Mildred Krebs she was as effective a detective as she was a receptionist (if not more so). She appeared in several films, many of which she gave impressive performances, even when her roles may not have been that big. She was quite good in such films as A New Leaf, The Hearbreak Kid, and Used People. She was a regular on several shows, probably due to her combination of talent and professionalism. While Doris Roberts may be best remembered for Remington Steele and Everybody Loves Raymond, she did much more.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Anne Jackson Passes On

Anne Jackson, who often collaborated with husband Eli Wallach, died on April 12 2016 at the age of 90.

Anne Jackson was born on September 3 1926 in Millvale, Pennsylvania. She was seven years old when her family moved to Brooklyn. Anne Jackson trained at the Neighbourhood Playhouse and The Actor's Studio. She made her Broadway debut in 1944 in The New Moon. In the late Forties she appeared in such productions on Broadway as The Cherry Orchard, King Henry VIII, What Every Woman Knows, John Gabriel Borkman, The Last Dance, Summer and Smoke, and The Lady from the Sea. She met Eli Wallach when the two of them were appearing in Tennessee Williams’s This Property Is Condemned. They married in 1948.  Anne Jackson made her television debut in an episode of The Actor's Studio in 1949. In the late Forties she also appeared in an episode of Academy Theatre. She made her film debut in 1950 in So Young So Bad.

In the Fifties Anne Jackson guest starred on such shows as Danger, Armstrong Circle Theatre, Lux Video Theatre, Kraft Theatre, The Web, Suspense, The Doctor, Robert Montgomery Presents, The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse, and Studio One. She appeared in the films The Journey (1959) and Tall Story (1960). She appeared on Broadway in Arms and the Man, Never Say Never, Oh, Men! Oh, Women!, Middle of the Night, and Major Barbara.

In the Sixties Anne Jackson appeared on Broadway in Rhinoceros, Luv, The Exercise, and Inquest. On television she guest starred on such shows as General Electric Theatre, The Untouchables, The Defenders, and CBS Playhouse. She appeared in the films The Tiger Makes Out (1967), How to Save a Marriage and Ruin Your Life (1968), The Secret Life of an American Wife (1968), Zig Zag (1970), The Angel Levine (1970), Lovers and Other Strangers (1970), and Dirty Dingus Magee (1970).

In the Seventies Miss Jackson appeared on Broadway in Promenade, All! and The Waltz of the Toreadors. On television she guest starred on Gunsmoke, Marcus Welby M.D., Great Mysteries, Play for Today, and Rhoda. She appeared in the films Sticks and Bones (1973), Independence (1976), Nasty Habits (1977), The Bell Jar (1979), and The Shining (1980).

In the Eighties Anne Jackson was a regular on the show Everything's Relative. She guest starred on the shows The Equalizer, The Facts of Life, Out on a Limb, Worlds Beyond, and Highway to Heaven. She appeared in the films Sam's Son (1984), Dear Papa (1986), and Funny About Love (1990). She appeared on Broadway in Twice Around the Park and Cafe Crown.

In the Nineties she appeared in the films Folks! (1992), Man of the Century (1999), and Something Sweet (2000). She guest starred on the TV show Law & Order. She appeared on Broadway in Lost in Yonkers and The Flowering Peach. In the Naughts she guest starred on The Education of Max Bickford and ER. She appeared in the films Vote and Die: Liszt for President (2008) and Lucky Days (2008)

Anne Jackson was a very versatile actress who could play a wide variety of roles. Whether working with her husband Eli Wallach or without him, she had a gift for playing complicated women. She played Abigail Adams in Independence. In The Bell Jar she played Dr. Nolan, the psychiatrist who treats Esther Greenwood. In the Untouchables episode "Cooker in the Sky" she played the wife of a lackey for the mob who starts feeding Eliot Ness information about the mob's brewing operations. Throughout the years, on television, in film, and on stage. Anne Jackson gave a number of great performances. Even when the material was not particularly good, Anne Jackson always was.