Prince (RIP) Performs Early Hits in a 1982 Concert: “Controversy,” “I Wanna Be Your Lover” & More

Update: Neil deGrasse Tyson just put it right. Now we know what it sounds like when doves cry.

We’re just getting the sad news that the artist Prince Rogers Nelson–otherwise simply known as Prince–has apparently died at the age of 57. Here you can watch him perform some of his earliest hits, back in 1982. In the hours to come, we’ll have more on Prince and his influential career.

The empire of Prince is a tightly controlled kingdom, ruled by an enigmatic and eccentric musical genius with a legendarily contentious relationship with the music industry. For most of the nineties, he was referred to as “the artist formerly known as Prince,” having changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol to spite his label Warner Bros. “During that time,” writes Rolling Stone, “sales of his new music slowed down significantly, but he still managed to get his point across.”

You have to admire an artist—even one as wealthy and successful as Prince—willing to take a financial hit for the sake of principle. In his most recent stand (though it probably won’t cost him anything worth mentioning in streaming revenue), Prince removed all of his music this past summer from every streaming service except Jay-Z’s Tidal. So we’re very lucky to have the black-and-white taped live performance here from 1982 at New Jersey’s Capitol Theatre (released by The Music Vault), two years before he hit his 80s peak with the release of Purple Rain the film and album.

Whatever you think of Purple Rain the movie (actress Apollonia Kotero was nominated for a Razzie for worst new star, and her Prince-penned song “Sex Shooter” for worst original song), no one can deny the absolute pop brilliance of the album. It’s hard to pick a favorite; most of us can sing the choruses to “Let’s Go Crazy,” “When Doves Cry,” or “I Would Die 4 U” in our sleep. That said, Prince had already released some of the finest music of his career by the time he appeared at this New Jersey concert, including one of my personal favorites, “Controversy” (top) from the 1981 album of the same name and “I Wanna Be Your Lover” (above) from 1979’s Prince.

We don’t get anything from the year’s groundbreaking 1999, the first album to feature the Revolution, but we do get classics of the sleazy sex-god first phase of the Purple One’s career, including “Jack U Off,” above, in which Prince pulls out some classic male-stripper-does-jazzersize dance moves while the band rips through the raucous stomper of a tune at almost punk tempo and volume. These three songs represent three of facets Prince as an artist: There’s the agitated social commentator, the sensitive, pining lover, and the unrepentant horndog. He’s emphasized one or another of these persona over the course of his career, modulating them with the funked-up futurist character he evolved into as the decade progressed.

Prince’s attempts at film stardom mostly fall into the so-bad-they’re-good category, beginning with rock opera Purple Rain. But few know that he intended to release his first celluloid effort around the time of this concert. It was to be called The Second Coming, to accompany a scrapped album of the same name. Hear him sing the unreleased, gospel-inspired title song above, whose lyrics recall one of Michael Jackson’s socially conscious anthems and include the line “How many more good men must die before there’s gun control.” To learn more about that ill-fated film project, read this interview with the proposed director Chuck Statler, the “godfather of the music video,” here. And to see the full Capitol Theatre show, check it out on Youtube here, or right down below.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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