Guaranteed theatrics ... Prince performs with Beyonce at the 2004 Grammys. Photo: Getty Images
He might not be the last of the '80s musical giants still standing but at 157 centimetres tall, he is definitely the shortest.
Gone is Michael Jackson, the only man who could compete with, if not outshine, the diminutive Prince Rogers Nelson as a singer, dancer and charismatic performer (but who could never compete as a long-term songwriter or technical musician - the multi-instrumentalist Prince owned that territory).
No matter what he tries his hand at, he nails. Everything comes across polished - Julian Hamilton, the Presets.
Long since departed as a working band are Dire Straits, who once filled the Entertainment Centre for what seemed like half a year with little more showmanship than a sweatband and the unlikely claim that they got ''their chicks for free''.
Prince at the height of his purple reign in 1984. Photo: Warner Bros.
More recently, Whitney Houston exited the building. Like Prince and Jackson, Houston also crossed over from ''black'' music to pop that was so good and so universally appealing, even cloth-eared and racist radio and television programmers were unable to ignore it.
Madonna, Bruce Springsteen and Prince are the only remaining giants from a distant, all-but-forgotten age when people bought albums - real ones they could hold, not digital codes - that would sell up to 45 million copies.
The first two performers have released albums this year - she is still striving to be of the moment like the pop star she was; he is still trying to explain and define the moment for people who will never be famous.
Prince in New York in 2009. Photo: Reuters
Prince, who has released more than 30 albums (and reportedly has half as many again locked away in his vaults) isn't so sure they are worth the trouble any more. The last album he released, in 2010, was given away with copies of a London newspaper.
But he plays more gigs than Madonna and Springsteen combined, including a multiple-night run at Madison Square Garden in New York last year and 21 nights at London's O2 Arena in 2007.
The shows are lengthy affairs in which he dances in high-heeled boots, plays instruments better than many celebrated masters and sings without any real change to a voice unveiled as a 19-year-old playing and singing every note on his debut album. This month he returns to Sydney for the first time since 2003.
But Prince is 53 now and more likely to talk God than multi-platform interface. While he put out two quality albums in 2004 and 2006 (Musicology and 3121), he hasn't had a major hit since he was in his 30s and could be considered nothing more than an '80s star. Should we still care?
Julian Hamilton, one half of globetrotting Australian band the Presets, says asking musicians to talk about the influence of Prince is as redundant as asking painters to discuss Michelangelo's impact on art.
''He's that good, he's that important,'' says Hamilton, who describes seeing Prince play in Sydney at a post-show party at the Basement as one of the musical highlights of his life.
''He's had a bit of an influence directly on our new album, especially the  Controversy album songs. The way he builds his grooves - where he places his claps, snares, breaths, grunts - it's so tight and dry and very groovy. Again, it sounds so simple on the surface, but when you look closer at what he does, it's very complicated.
''It's like he took all the best bits from P-Funk [George Clinton's pioneering funk bands Parliament and Funkadelic] and James Brown, distilled it down through '80s synths, Latin percussion, [and] huge snares, then wrote some catchy-as-hell pop lyrics and melodies on top, plus some ridiculous guitar solos. The result is pure gold.''
For all of the '80s and into the early '90s, that gold was minted in almost every conceivable way. There were substantial sales: Purple Rain (1984) sold more than 20 million copies worldwide; his career sales exceed 80 million. Performances guaranteed theatrics: his first Australian tour in 1992 featured a descending king-size bed on which he writhed amusingly; his last tour had audience members paying well over the odds to sit at a ''bar'' onstage.
As well, there were two films of varying quality: the quasi-autobiographical Purple Rain, which gave him the No. 1 album, single and movie in the US simultaneously, and the indulgent Under the Cherry Moon (1986), which bombed even though its soundtrack was a gem.
And there was both fame and infamy. Almost from the start, Prince sang out loud what many in his audience were asking: ''Am I black or white/Am I straight or gay?'' The answer to the first question was both: his father was African-American and his mother Italian-American. And to the second, it was ''decidedly straight'' - the list of women he has been linked with is all but endless.
At the same time, Prince was not afraid to tweak audience insecurities and expectations of how a man should act and look. His third album wasn't called Dirty Mind for nothing.
Of course, having gone over from the dark side of rampant sexuality and provocative attire to becoming a Jehovah's Witness in 2001, including doing his obligatory doorknocking, there was a price to pay. And, no, that doesn't mean having his songs butchered on shows such as The Voice, as happened this week.
It was a surprise, though, that the price was paid by us.
No doubt there was a cost for Prince if his church demanded atonement for sins of the flesh, of which he presumably had many.
After all, this is the man who, while wearing only a black jockstrap and boots under a full-length coat, sang about deflowering a bride on the way to her wedding and who insinuated into the millions of homes that owned a copy of Purple Rain a song called Darling Nikki, about a woman ''masturbating with a magazine'' who goes on to seduce the poor, unsuspecting Prince. And let's not even go near Sister or Cream, except to say that the latter had nothing to do with cakes and the former was not about sharing a cake of any sort with a nurse. Or a nun.
(Incidentally, the song Darling Nikki can be blamed or credited with kicking off the whole ''parental advisory'' sticker farce. When Tipper Gore, wife of then senator and later US vice-president Al Gore, discovered one of her children playing the song, she took her outrage and turned it into the Parents Music Resource Centre lobby group, which forced the music industry to put warnings on potentially offensive recordings.)
But having rediscovered piety and maybe even purity, Prince declared the salacious songs that had made his name would no longer pass his lips: if it was naughty, it was nixed from the concert set list.
So, for most of the past decade, his concerts have been sensual but not sexual, which, while nice and all, does deprive fans of songs such as Gett Off, Head, Sexuality and Private Joy.
Then, with the album 3121, Prince warned listeners against the ''forked tongue and the treachery of the wicked one'' in The Word. On the album's final track, Get on the Boat, he urges us to seek refuge aboard the next ark.
Luckily, while he went righteous, he was also going righteously funky on an album that often harked back to his late-'80s glory days rather than the ponderous workouts that had closed out the 20th century. But still …
While rap and the rise of R&B pop left him flummoxed in the '90s and he has said ''I personally can't stand digital music'', Prince is not a Luddite who wants the music industry to return to some golden age.
Even before he was paid a substantial sum by the Daily Mail for the use of his 2010 album as a giveaway - a move that served to circumvent radio's indifference and create superb marketing for his next tour - he was innovative. After a lengthy battle to be released from record company ''bondage'' (a fight that inspired a temporary change of name from Prince to an unpronounceable squiggle), he made greater profits from direct sales of subsequent albums online than from selling substantially more albums through the record company.
''We made money [online] before piracy was real crazy,'' he told The Guardian last year. ''Nobody's making money now except phone companies, Apple and Google.''
While fan numbers are down on the stratospheric heights Prince reached at his peak, many have stuck around, a lot even arguing for the quality of not only the recent records but also the questionable releases of the late '90s. But the sentiment can be harsh from the devoted who feel let down.
One listener, who runs an online fan site and says he has seen Prince perform more than 50 times, advises new fans: ''Don't bother with anything he has done post 1998. Get the songs that have the 'bad' words in them. Not because they are bad or naughty, but because those are the words of a man who pushed the envelope … post-1998 Prince is a watered-down, pale imitation of a man who went from creating sounds to following trends. The man that once sang Jack U Off wearing a trench coat and bikini briefs is now singing about a Future Baby Mama and wearing platform tennis shoes! Horrid!''
But Julian Hamilton is not a naysayer, saying that ''the thing that is so good about Prince is everything he touches turns to gold''.
''No matter what he tries his hand at, he nails,'' Hamilton says. ''Everything comes across sounding so confident and polished: his jazz tunes, his soul tunes, his simplest pop songs - it's all so solid.
''Plus, he always sounds like he's enjoying it. He never sounds earnest. Nothing sounds like a struggle. He makes it all sound very, very easy - but any muso will tell you what he does, everything he does, is so very difficult for most of us mere mortals to pull off.''
As Julian Hamilton and a few hundred lucky souls discovered in 2003, when on stadium tours, Prince sometimes likes to sneak away and emulate his formative years in the small, hot clubs of Minneapolis. Eight years ago, well past midnight, Prince and his full band, who had already performed a full show at the Entertainment Centre, took to the stage of the Basement for a late-night jam that ended after 3am. Entry was for those who had guessed, heard the whispers or knew someone who knew someone. Officially, there are no official plans for a similar gig this time but, as one tour insider pointed out, Prince will be in each city for two or three days at least, offering up plenty of opportunities. It might be time to stake out small bars and venues.
Prince plays at Allphones Arena on May 11 and 12 (sold out). Tickets for a third show on May 22 go on sale on Monday.