When you think of Prince in 1997, what comes to mind? A man pushing through personal tragedy? An artist promoting a self-proclaimed masterpiece that floundered on the charts?
It's easy to jump to the darker moments of the period, but upon studying his performances and appearances, I found a lot more joy and jams than I expected. In fact, I believe this time in Prince's career is supremely underrated.
Here are what I consider his best moments of 1997.
Prince performs "Somebody's Somebody" on The Rosie O'Donnell Show
For years, I skipped over "Somebody's Somebody," but hearing it live has made me more appreciative of the R&B jam. This specific performance is loose and fun, with the band playing around with the arrangement. Prince's guitar tone and soloing are highlights, and you can tell he's feeling the song.
Prince appears on Muppets Tonight
This performance is so fun to watch! Everything from Prince's outfit to the band's choreography is a delight. I love how they were able to capture the energy of the incredible "Facedown" video. The music is tight, especially that crazy turnaround. His musical evolution was one-of-a-kind. At that point, he was about 20 years into his career, and he was still as captivating as ever. Plus, his bassist, Rhonda Smith, is so freakin' cool here.
“His sense of humor was humongous," guitarist Kat Dyson told me. "He was always making jokes and then he would crack himself up. … There was a lot of laughter, there was a lot of joy. It was serious business, but we laughed a lot.”
Prince rocks some seriously cool winter coats
Prince was a master of switching up his look with each musical era. Much of the Emancipation period was giving comfort and warmth. I don't know why, but seeing him in these stylish winter coats makes me remember that he's just like the rest of us. When it's Minneapolis cold, everyone needs a puffy coat. (And seeing him pump gas in the "Betcha By Golly Wow!" video also brought him down to Earth. I'm sure he did this in real life on occasion, but seeing it is cool.)
Prince surprises Bryant Gumbel on NBC's Today
Prince was leery of many folks in the media, so it was always a joy to see when he felt comfortable enough to let his guard down and have some fun on TV. Here, he not only dressed up as Bryant Gumbel, but gave a fun performance, which included an unaired rendition of "Talkin' Loud and Sayin' Nothing."
Prince launches the Love 4 One Another Charities Tour
I enjoyed watching this hits-heavy tour more than I thought. Prince appeared relaxed, happy and very much into the music. He showed off his skills as pianist, guitarist, bassist, dancer and bandleader. I actually like this concert more than the Jam of the Year show, which he launched later that year. Don't be fooled, though. That show was critically acclaimed. Vibe magazine enjoyed the tour so much that it gave Prince a "Comeback of the Year" honor.
Vibe magazine, February 1998
Prince shares some special moments with his heroes
Not only did Prince receive a special tribute from Stevie Wonder, but he also forged a musical and spiritual bond with legendary bassist Larry Graham. And he met Muhammad Ali when she showed up to support the boxing champion's "World Healing Project."
"Muhammad's my hero," he said. "He has been since I was a child."
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