The 70s were a very sex-crazed time, no doubt, but the 80s saw that influence seeping into alternative lifestyles and bohemian subcultures, thanks to the pioneering of David Bowie and other glam idols. Race and class barriers were also being broken; indeed, the newly profitable genre of hip-hop consisted mostly of down-and-out black MCs and rappers who slowly worked their way up through the game. In the midst of this cultural tumult, one performer wove together all this social significance, coupled with his considerable talents, to become an androgynous, provocative musical icon. And his real name actually was Prince – Prince Rogers Nelson.
Pulling in crazy influences from all over – a little Michael Jackson, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder, Funkadelic, and Otis Redding – Prince came up with a multiplatinum concoction. His musical achievement definitely consists of consolidating disparate material, rather than pulling something new out of thin air. But make no mistake, it’s a slick, impressive one-man circus.
The Purple One (so named after his favorite color, in case you didn’t know) did pretty much everything by himself on the technical front, in addition to coming up with the music and lyrics to some of the 80s’ most indelible tunes. This is his most consistent record, offering up plenty of ambitious ideas and catchy melodies. Michael Jackson was another omnipresent performer bridging cultures in the 80s with poppy R&B, but Prince was a lot more innovative and in control of his own artistic product, so I’m giving him the edge here.
Key track: “Darling Nikki”
See also: Off the Wall – Michael Jackson (1979), Controversy – Prince (1981), 1999 – Prince (1982), Thriller – Michael Jackson (1982)