The most brilliantly, gloriously freaky of control freaks, Prince had zero tolerance for fans uploading and sharing his music and videos online. But since his death on April 21, a deluge of fantastic live footage has hit YouTube—and so far, most of the uploads seem to be sticking. There’s no telling if this represents a permanent planetary realignment or simply a bittersweet interregnum while his estate pulls itself together, but in the meantime, please to enjoy the enpurpling of YouTube via a sampling of clips below.
Here he is playing “Purple Rain” at the 1985 American Music Awards, the same night he didn’t show up for “We Are the World,” willing his guitar into all kinds of indecent contortions and deploying his full range of shouts, screams, growls, croons, coos, and iridescence; when the time comes, he doesn’t drop the mic—he kicks over the mic stand.
Speaking of mic stands, Prince has sex with one after performing a striptease in this spectacular nine-and-a-half-minute version of “Head.”
Here is the legendary 1983 benefit concert for the Minnesota Dance Company at Minneapolis’ First Avenue—the hometown venue later immortalized in Purple Rain—where Wendy Melvoin made her performing debut with the Revolution and where the band played several soon-to-be Purple Rain classics for the first time live as well as a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You.”
Here’s what Sam Adams in Slate called the “Dionysian revelry” of “It’s Gonna Be a Beautiful Night” from the Sign o’ the Times concert film, featuring Prince in a deep-cut fringed jumpsuit trading places with Sheila E on drums.
Here’s an insane cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” with a guitar solo that would make Jimmy Page rue the day he was born and that should get its own New York Times oral history.
Here’s his entire 1991 Arsenio Hall appearance, including “Let’s Go Crazy,” “Kiss,” “Cream,” “Purple Rain,” “Daddy Pop,” a bunch of costume changes, a full repertoire of splits, and a lot of screaming fans (Arsenio included).
Here’s one of the sweetest finds in the current YouTube trove: “Diamonds and Pearls” and “Baby I’m a Star” from the 1991 Special Olympics opening ceremonies, held in Minneapolis.
And here’s one of the simplest and quietest: Prince just playing piano during a rehearsal, the breeze blowing through his hair.