Something Wrong with the Machinery: How Prince Created and Was Doomed by the Sound of the ’80s

English: The Roger Linn LM-1.

While he’s grown into an internet-hating technophobe, in the ‘80s, Prince embraced new technologies with enthusiasm. He was one of the first to buy the LM-1, a $5,000 drum machine innovative for its use of sampled sounds.

The LM-1, designed in part by the drummer from Toto, was a revolutionary device. Previous drum machines made drums with electronic waveforms and white noise. The LM-1 offered different sounds and the chance to customize them (except for adding a crash symbol; that was another $3,000. No joke). The drums on “1999” and “Purple Rain” probably blew peoples’ minds.

Then everybody went out and bought an LM-1, and it became the drum sound of the ‘80s. There seems to be a signature Prince setting for it, too: a distinctive echo-ey mix of handclaps and percussion for the snare and a second line of electronic conga-like percussion that counterpoints the main beat.

Now, the “Prince beat” sounds like every single drum beat from the 1980s.

The one glaring exception is “I Would Die 4 U,” which has this pulsing electronic snare sound that would sound at home on a Daft Punk record.


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