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Prince Rogers Nelson is known the world over simply as Prince, despite his best efforts to disavow that name and become The Artist Formerly Known as Prince in order to break free from a contract dispute. (The childhood nickname of Skipper also failed to prevail.)
Coming out of Minneapolis along with artists like Morris Day, Prince managed to sign on with a manager who eventually landed him a deal with Warner Bros. Records in the late 1970s. His debut album, For You, was released in 1978. The recording was pure Prince, as he produced, arranged, composed, and played all of the instruments.
His 1979 sophomore outing, simply titled Prince, fared better sales- and chart-wise. The album and single ("I Wanna Be Your Lover") both sold over a million copies, earning Prince an appearance on American Bandstand in 1980.
Dirty Mind, Controversy, and 1999 followed in quick succession in 1980, 1981, and 1982, respectively. The latter, a double album, went triple-platinum on the strength of songs like “Little Red Corvette,” “Delirious,” and the title track which became Prince's first top 10 cut outside the U.S.
Beginning in 1984, Prince's backing band became known as the Revolution. Consisting of Lisa Coleman and Doctor Fink on keyboards, Bobby Z. on drums, Brown Mark on bass, and Dez Dickerson on guitar, Dickerson was eventually replaced by Wendy Melvoin.
That same year, the Purple Rain album sold more than 13 million copies in the U.S., topping the charts for 24 weeks. The Purple Rain film in which Prince and his band starred went on to win an Academy Award. It was this album that led Tipper Gore to found the Parents Music Resource Center and lobby for labeling on records containing explicit lyrics.
Announcing that he would not tour or make music videos, Prince issue Around the World in a Day in 1985 and Parade in 1986. Both releases did well, as did the Prince-penned song “Manic Monday” which was recorded by the Bangles. His second film, Under the Cherry Moon, did not fare so well, however.
After a smattering of shows, dubbed the Hit N Run Tour, Prince disbanded his band. For his next offering in 1987, the three-album Crystal Ball was condensed into Sign o' the Times due to disappointing sales figures on his two prior sets. Still, not even vast critical praise could bolster Prince's faltering numbers.
The Black Album was next up, but Prince had it recalled. After another eight weeks in the studio, Lovesexy emerged, but sold only 750,000 units. Though the subsequent tour sold well, it still lost money due to the elaborate and expensive stage production.
In 1989, director Tim Burton asked Prince to contribute some songs to his Batman film. Nine songs came in response and the mini album sold more than four million copies, putting Prince back on top of the charts.
Graffiti Bridge, as a film and album, came in 1990. The album was a hit; the film was not. From 1991 to 1994, Prince worked with the New Power Generation incarnation of his backing band on Diamonds and Pearls in 1991 and Love Symbol in 1992. A greatest hits collection dropped in 1993, The Hits/The B-Sides, along with his name change to an unpronoucable symbol that combines the symbols for male and female.
So began – or continued – the war between Prince and Warner Bros. with the artist pushing for quick releases to fulfill his contract obligations. Come, The Gold Experience, and Chaos and Disorder rounded out his time on the label. He followed that with the triple-disc Emancipation set.
Always one to out-do himself, the five-disc Crystal Ball came in 1998 and featured previously unreleased material with Newpower Soul hot on its heels a few months later. After those three outings via his own NPG label, Prince signed on with Arista Records in 1999 for Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic.
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