No one has had a greater influence over the last three decades of pop music than Prince. His influence was immediate—Quincy Jones took the opening synths of “Thriller” from 1982’s other smash hit, Prince’s 1999—and lasting. Today, more than any other artist, Prince’s influence is pretty much everywhere. Prince created a definitive post-rock sound decades before the current post-rock moment, what Hilton Als described as the “nervous synthesis of black soul beats and white rock riffs.”
Recorded music is almost always a team effort, involving producers and engineers, if not outright groups of them, but Prince was also as close as a contemporary musician can get to being an auteur—he produced his own records and often played all of the instruments himself. In this, he was the rarest of musicians: the virtuoso who also had taste, the musical genius who was able to channel his gifts where they went beyond technique.
But for all of Prince’s forward-thinking—his embrace of new recording technologies being as important as his music—there’s one anachronistic thing about Prince: He was the last guitar hero. He could absolutely shred and he loved to do it. Few of Prince’s live performances and songs are available online, but my personal favorite is this: his guest spot at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, where he joins Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, and others in “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Tribute concerts are usually staid, boring affairs, but Prince came to steal the show, which is exactly what he did.