It’s been one year since Prince passed away and fans have taken to the internet today to post remembrances. In the spirit of that, we’re re-running a few articles that call attention to Prince, his life, his music, and his uniqueness.
By 1983, Prince had released five albums. The first four — For You, Prince, Dirty Mind, Controversy — all performed well. (Prince and Controversy were both certified platinum; “I Wanna Be Your Lover” off Prince hit number 11 on Billboard’s charts.) But it was 1999 that put Prince in front of a wider audience with massive radio airplay.
And it was 1999 that spawned Prince’s first music videos with a real chance of being seen. What had been primarily promotional clips – something even The Beatles were doing in the late 1960s – were now called music videos and were catching fire thanks to MTV (or, for a large amount of people who didn’t have MTV, there was Friday Night Videos on NBC and Night Tracks on what was then called WTBS). Problem was, MTV, now notoriously, wasn’t playing music videos from African-American artists.
This changed with Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and Prince’s “Little Red Corvette.” Prince had made a video for the song “1999,” but it received sporadic airplay, at least at first. (Then a lot later.) “Little Red Corvette,” a single that would peak at number 6 on the Billboard charts, was the video that introduced the viewing public to Prince.
(Note: In the amount of time I’ve been working on this piece, I’ve seen a few online versions of this video come and then be taken down. You can still find it, but I don’t want to link to it because that’s a surefire way it will be taken down.)
In I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution, Lisa Coleman of The Revolution remembers, “We were on tour when ‘Little Red Corvette’ started doing well on radio, so we squeezed in a video. A director flew in, we set up our gear at the venue in Jacksonville, and Prince threw together some choreography.”
Prince and The Revolution played Jacksonville on February 19, 1983. The director Coleman refers to is Bryan Greenberg.
Greenberg, almost strangely at that time, already had a lot of experience shooting music videos. Michael Nesmith (yes, the Michael Nesmith from The Monkees), had started a show for Nickelodeon called PopClips that ran weekly in 1979. PopClips was the granddaddy of all music video shows and introduced the idea of VJs. (It was initially supposed to have comedians in-between the videos, but that idea was quickly scrapped.) Eventually, as Nesmith became less involved, Greenberg became one of the people running the show.