Monthly Archives: July 2016

Jazz Golden Age?-An Article From Ron Wynn

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Filed under Jazz, Kendrick Lemar, Miles Davis, Robert Glasper, Uncategorized

Prince (Protégé) Summer: Sheila E.

sheila-e-a-love-bizarre-paisley-park

Like I said last week, it isn’t really fair to describe Sheila E. as a “Prince protegé” in the typical sense of the world. Born Sheila Escovedo, she has an impressive musical pedigree all her own: the daughter of Mexican American percussionist Pete Escovedo and the goddaughter of Latin jazz pioneer Tito Puente, her professional recording career actually predates the Purple One’s; she made her debut on Yesterday’s Dreams by former Weather Report bassist Alphonso Johnson in 1976, two years before the release of Prince’s For You. Prince was, however, responsible for introducing her to a pop audience during his mid-1980s “purple reign”; the pair were also briefly engaged, which places Sheila in Prince’s long, dubious tradition of falling for his muses, only to discard them once the next one came along. Still, theirs was much more a relationship between equals than was typical for Prince, either romantically or professionally; their mutual respect was evident in their renewed collaborations over the years, with Sheila frequently joining Prince for guest appearances and touring stints well into the 2010s.

While these distinctions are important, however, in many ways Sheila’s 1984 debut The Glamorous Life is a bog-standard Prince protegé album. Though his lead artist was a world-class percussionist in her own right, Prince still micro-managed the production almost as much as he had the Time and Vanity 6; his guitar and guide vocals are more prominent on the instrumental “Shortberry Strawcake,” for example, than Sheila’s drums. Still, he does at least give her some props: production on the album is credited to Sheila as well as the usual purple shell corporation “the Starr Company,” and she co-wrote the gauzy ballad “Noon Rendezvous.” Her influence can also clearly be heard on “Oliver’s House,” which grooves almost as hard as Prince’s “Erotic City“; and of course, the classic title track–almost an Apollonia 6 song!–finally allows her to cut loose.

The following year’s Romance 1600 picked up where “The Glamorous Life” (the song) left off, with a more pronounced jazz influence–the manic introduction to opening track “Sister Fate” prefigures Sheila’s and Prince’s work in the fusion side project Madhouse–and much more prominent contributions from E. as a percussionist. One song, the preposterously-titled “Merci for the Speed of a Mad Clown in Summer,” was recorded entirely without Prince’s input. Even when Prince is clearly pulling the strings, however, Romance is a more confident and interesting listen than its predecessor, bristling with the neo-psychedelic invention of the post-Purple Rain era. And of course, “A Love Bizarre” is one of the most indelible pop-funk jams in either artist’s discography.

The next collaboration between Prince and Sheila E. didn’t actually show up on an album at all. The faux-rap “Holly Rock,” a kind of dry run for “Housequake” on Sign “O” the Times, was a loosie for the 1985 hip-hop film Krush Groove, in which Sheila starred–and where her band’s New Romantic-inspired fashions were reportedly a figure of derision for many of the real-life B-boys on set. In the meantime, she continued to keep busy as a de facto member of the Revolution, contributing to the 1986 album Parade and joining the band on tour (that’s her drumming and, er, rapping on the live cut turned album track “It’s Gonna Be a Beautiful Night”). After the Revolution split up later that year, she joined Prince’s band full time, supporting him for the Sign “O” the Times and Lovesexy albums and tours, as well as the aforementioned Madhouse project.

Sheila’s final, self-titled 1987 album on Paisley Park is also probably her most underrated. Produced by Prince and Sheila with David Z., much of it is firmly in the stylistic territory of Sign “O” the Times, with extensive contributions by members of Prince’s touring band at the time: including guitarist Levi Seacer, Jr., singer/keyboardist Boni Boyer, saxophonist Eric Leeds, and trumpeter Atlanta Bliss. Granted, parts of it are also a transparent bid for the adult contemporary charts, with tracks like “Hold Me” and “Faded Photographs” failing to distinguish themselves from most generic late-’80s pop/rock. But all of the Prince-related tracks–opener “One Day (I’m Gonna Make You Mine),” playful single “Koo Koo,” “Anotherlover”-esque pop cut “Pride and the Passion,” fluffy Klymaxx-alike “Boy’s Club,” and closer “Love on a Blue Train“–are all well worth a listen.

2016 BET Awards - Show

LOS ANGELES, CA – JUNE 26: Recording artist Sheila E. (C, holding guitar) performs onstage during the 2016 BET Awards at the Microsoft Theater on June 26, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/BET/Getty Images for BET)

After an aborted followup album that remains unreleased, Sheila E. made her departure from the Prince camp in 1989–though, as noted above, she would return frequently to his orbit, making memorable appearances on Prince’s Live at the Aladdin Las Vegas DVD in 2003 and his Coachella Music Festival performance in 2008, among others. After Prince’s death this April, she was on many a fan’s shortlist to head up the inevitable award-show tributes–which indeed she did, closing out the show at the 2016 BET Awards last month with a monster medley of “Housequake,” “Erotic City,” “Let’s Work,” “U Got the Look,” “A Love Bizarre,” “The Glamorous Life,” “Soul Salsa,” “America,” and “Baby I’m a Star.” The man himself would have been proud.

Sheila E. is currently at work on her eighth studio album: a two-disc set entitled Girl Meets Boy, comprised of half dance-oriented songs recorded prior to Prince’s passing and half tributes to his memory recorded after April. The title track, released as the album’s first single the day after the BET Awards performance, is a decidedly Prince-flavored ballad featuring Sheila solo on piano accompanied by a delicate string arrangement. Sheila recently told Billboard that her mission is “to continue [Prince’s] legacy in a way that is just about his music.” She’s been doing a fine job so far, and I can’t imagine another solo artist better-suited for the task.

This time next week, I’ll be posting about a lesser-known–and much shorter-lived–Prince spinoff act, the Family. As always, feel free to keep up with my other writing on dance / music / sex / romance (my song-by-song chronological Prince blog)  and Dystopian Dance Party (my catch-all pop culture vanity blog). Thanks for reading!

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Filed under 1980's, 1985, 1987, Uncategorized

Prince Summer: “Lavaux” (2010)

Prince’s album 20Ten is celebrating its sixth anniversary this summer. It was Prince’s final album before laying low in terms of full length album released until he resigned with Warner Bros in 2014. It’s available for streaming and download today through the Tidal service. However not too many years ago,it was among the many rare Prince studio albums that wound up having a quirky distribution in terms of physical media. Personally, it’s one of the favorite Prince albums of his last decade. My favorite of that time period  being Hitnrun Phase II-initially a Tidal exclusive until it’s CD release shortly after his death.

Always one to look to the futurism of his music,Prince seldom returned back to the stripped down,synth based Minneapolis sound he helped pioneer during his salad days. Wasn’t until well into the new millennium that he started to realize just how much the style of funk he’d spearheaded was effecting contemporary music. On the 20Ten album,he showcased this very successfully on a musical level. At the same time,these MPLS grooves were accompanied by his more matured lyrical content throughout a good majority of the album. One fine result of this is a song called “Lavaux”

A two beat drum machine pulse kicks off the song. A thick slap bass line comes in as part of the songs main section. This finds the thick sheets of analog synth brass accompanied by thick bass/guitar interaction and rhythm right in the pocket of the Afro-Latin clave. The rhythm guitar is very much out of the classic Prince school-chunky and played relatively high up on the neck of the instrument. Only on the choruses does the song break-changing melodic pitch with Prince’s vocals. After another few rounds of the songs main section,it very abruptly comes to a sudden stop.

In many ways,this song could’ve been something Prince had recorded during the 1999 sessions. Especially with it’s phat analog synths and the masterful drum programming. What makes this song stand out from Prince’s early 80’s sound is its thematic content. This isn’t a young man with seemingly conservative attitudes about fearing nuclear war and indulging in hedonism. This is a song from a middle ages artist who’s travelling across Europe because being back home is “another form of slavery” and that”the cost of freedom is anything but free”. Its therefore the MPLS sound most fully realized.

 

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Filed under 2010's, analog synthesizers, drum machine, elecro funk, Funk Bass, Minneapolis Sound, naked funk, Prince, rhythm guitar, synth brass, synth funk, Tidal

Prince Summer: “We Can Work It Out” (1977)

Prince Rogers Nelson was no stranger to recording by the time he’d signed with Warner Bros. in 1977. He was barely 19 at the time. And had already had some experience in recording with Pepe Willie’s 94 East along with his own demos from 1976. Around the time he got signed by Warner’s in 1977,he,Owen Husney and Chris Moon were putting together Prince’s official press kit  (a rather unconventional one with photos and an accompanying haiku on each one) and his first proper studio recordings at Minneapolis’s Studio 80. These songs passed into legend during the years before internet.

With the advent of online music and YouTube,these unreleased songs that have been circulating for years have come to light in a whole other way.  One of these songs just leaped out at me when I first heard it. As I’ve made clear many times,I have a special affinity for early Prince. Especially as it set the stage for his greatest musical moments yet to come. The interesting thing is,it would prove quite significant in years to come,even if it was never officially released. But I’ll talk about the song first,and tell you the rest of the story later. And the name of this song is “We Can Work It Out”.

Bobby Z’s drums kick off with a chime,and maintains a percussive funkified back beat throughout. On  the chorus and refrain of the song,Prince’s processed bass/guitar/Clavinet interaction plays in an upbeat,melodic fashion as he sings both the lead lines and the breakdowns in his most ethereal falsetto. On the bridge,that same bass/guitar/keyboard interaction starts playing in a more bluesy funk style-playing in that loose jamming instrumental style typical of Prince’s songs from this era. At the end of the song,this musical into the sound of a thunder storm before fading out.

Musically this song is structurally very in keeping with the sound of his debut For You-the key difference being that his Minneapolis Sound synth brass style wasn’t present yet. It’s brightly melodic,disco era pop/funk sound has a very sunny atmosphere. Lyrically speaking,the song is almost an audio press kit as it’s essentially a love letter to Warner Brothers. Especially singing lines such as “Music for the young and old, music bound to be gold” showcasing his hopes as well as his self confidence. Still the album ends with another lyric that would tell another story.

Prince’s last line is spoken in his best DJ style voice saying “Makin’ music naturally,me and WB”. While it’s apparent Prince was excited about being signed to a major record label,the line also signifies some of the matters that would one day set Prince at odds with the company.  Throughout the song,Prince is telling the label “hope we work it out” over and over. The fact that he adds the line “Put your trust in me, I’ll never let you down/ cause  I know I can count on you to help me make it”. By ending the song with the sound of a storm,its clear even early on Prince knew his future musical road would be complex.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, Bobby Z, clavinet, drums, Funk, Funk Bass, Late 70's Funk, Minneapolis, multi instrumentalists, Prince, rhythm guitar, Warner Bros.

Grooves On Wax: Post Disco Boogie (1979-1982)

Kleer

Kleer were a band whom I’d heard about for years,but never really explored their music. This 1979 sophomore album from this New York band showcases some of the ideal elements of the post disco sound. All of the songs,even the mid tempo ballads,have a heavy funk stop to them. Still the orchestrated strings and vocal harmonies from the height of the disco era are still a big part of these very well constructed,produced and played on funk jams.

Key Jams: “Winners”,”Rollin’ On” and “Open Your Mind”

Switch II

Switch were musically speaking Motown’s closest equivalent to Earth Wind & Fire in terms of sound: big melodic sound that was filled with personality. Featuring the two elder DeBarge brothers in Tommy and the the late Bobby,as well as James Ingram’s brother Phillip,this band had the talent of being able to switch off instruments while playing. Hence their name. Everything from the ballads,funk and disco oriented numbers  on this 1979 sophomore album of their’s were full of class and talent. Including the moments group mentor Jermaine Jackson stepped in to help out.

Key Jams: “Next To You” and “Go On Doin’ What You Feel”

Dazz Band

As the 1980 Motown debut for the group formerly known as Philip Bailey’s pet project Kinsman Dazz, this really showcased horn players/singer/songwriter’s  Bobby Harris and Skip Martin’s talents at blending a strong post disco pop funk sound with plenty of instrumentally jazzy touches.  On this and it’s follow up Let The Music Play,the Dazz Band were not yet the electro funk juggernaut of the middle of the decade. Still their sound as evolving in another way.

Key Jams: “Shake It Up” and “Beyond The Horizon”

Invisable Mans Band

This 1981 album is actually the sophomore one of two albums released by this Five Stairstep’s spin off act. The album is full of some very saucy P-Funk influences-especially when it comes to Keni Burke’s thick,up front bass lines and the flamboyant vocals and arrangements.

Key Jams: “Really Wanna See Ya”,”Party Time” and “Same Thang”

Blow

Bobby Militello played sax with Maynard Ferguson during the height of his fusion period in the late 70’s. Apparently at the strong suggestion of Rick James,the newly rechristened Bobby M signed to Motown to record this 1982 album. Not only did it feature powerful vocals from Jean Carn on a version of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together”,but the writing and production of Jamaica,Queens musical icons Lenny White and Bernard Wright were the icing on the cake.

Key Jams: “Alto Man”,”Blow” and “Rome Tones”

 

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, Bobby Militello, Boogie Funk, Dazz Band, Invisible Man's Band, Keni Burke, Kleer, Motown, post disco, Switch, Vinyl

Betty Davis-They Say She’s Different

Betty Davis

Betty Davis,nee’ Mabry was one of the few women deeply involved in the late 60’s/early 70’s funk process. This was both on a professional and personal level. She recorded her first single in 1964,and her work with the Chambers Brothers in 1967 prompted her to take the focus off her successful modelling career because she felt singing/songwriting challenged her mind more,stating “its only going to last as long as you look good”. She also had a relationship with Hugh Masakela and a marriage to Miles Davis. By these associations she was a key figure for helping launch the jazz/funk fusion genre.

She introduced Miles Davis to the music of Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone-as well as to the people themselves. She was also as much of a fashion icon as Davis was. He produced her second major recording sessions (her first being in 1964) in the late 60’s before they divorced. Just about every liberated Afrocentric female artist from Chaka Khan,Grace Jones to Rihanna owe their persona’s to hers. Her second solo was called They Say I’m Different. Aside from the medium tempo tempo closer “Special People”,the rest of this 1974 album is hardcore uptempo funk/rock. Here’s my Amazon.com review of the album:


Betty Davis is an artist I’ve been hearing a lot of hype about for years.’They Say I’m Different’ is an album I’ve been hearing about forever as well.I was almost entirely certain there was no way that this album could possibly live up to the hype.Well when Light In The Attic records decided to put this out on CD,…..well to put it mildly this MORE then lived up to it’s long held mystique and hype.The best way to describe this music is unhinged and unpolished funk.EVERY song on it fits that description.As for Betty Davis’s singing,it lays somewhere between the the styles of Tina Turner,Sly Stone and Janis Joplin.

All of the songs celebrate her liberated spirit but there’s one that just blows you away in less then a second.”He Was A Big Freak”…….I don’t know WHAT MAN she was referring to but she really paints herself as a wild,wild funky diva BIG TIME here;she wails out about her “man” who enjoys being tied up.The Ohio Players did a lot of S&M based album art at the this time but TALKING OPENLY ABOUT IT,A FEMALE FUNK SINGER?And it never seems like a gimmick either because you actually believe she lived a lot of the “wild style” she speaks about.And the grooves on that and every other song here are as raw a funk as you’re probably ever going to hear.


With  the likes of Azteca’s Pete Escovedo on percussion and Graham Central Station’s Hershall Happiness Kennedy on keyboards and trumpet,this album turned out to be the second of only a trio of albums Davis released during the 1970’s. With the  documentary ‘Nasty Gal-The Many Lives Of Funk Queen Betty Davis” currently in production, the life of this influential and captivating personality may come to the fore. As it stands, Davis is a key reference point in the jazz/funk music that this blog stands for. And am happy to wish Davis a very funky 71st birthday today!

 

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Filed under 1960's, 1970's, Afrocentrism, Amazon.com, Betty Davis, Betty Mabry, funk rock, Hershall Happiness Kennedy, jazz funk, Miles Davis, Music Reviewing, Pete Escovedo, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Gratitude” by Earth,Wind & Fire

Verdine White was just 19 when he took up his brother Maurice’s offer to join his then new band Earth,Wind & Fire in LA. It may have very well been the best choice Verdine ever made in retrospect. He once discussed feeling he’d make it big for sure having met Richard Roundtree and Jimi Hendrix upon arrival. The next six year’s found the band paying their dues for the massive crossover success their funk got in 1975 with “Shining Star and the That’s The Way Of The World album. Verdine is 65 today,and sadly his brother Maurice isn’t here for the event. Still whoever lives or dies,the funk is its own reward.

During this period of working closely with Charles Stepney,EWF were on the road constantly on their first massive tour-one that included visual illusions from Doug Henning and David Copperfield. They didn’t have time to record a full studio album so they released a double album-consisting mostly of the best live renditions of their songs up to that point from their touring. There were also five new studio tracks-the two most successful being “Singasong” and “Can’t Hide Love”. The album was another major smash hit too. One track Verdine participated in as a writer was the title song ‘Gratitude”.

Larry Dunn and Verdine start off the song with a close walk down on Fender Rhodes and bass,until a muted horn breaks into the full horn charts that begin the main song. The drums have a slinky,rather slow tempo with the Rhodes,slap bass and the horn charts accenting Maurice White and Philip Bailey’s vocal turns. Al McKay plays some occasional rhythm guitar licks and,as the song progresses Johnny Graham takes turns with his amplified blues licks.Before the song fades out, the melodic pitch goes up for it’s last couple of choruses.

Musically speaking,this song is a heavy stripped down funk relative to the more filled out “Shining Star” and 1976’s “Saturday Night”. This makes sense as it was made exactly between the two. It epitomizes EWF’s funk sound while Charles Stepney was involved in their production. It had the slickest studio based variant of that ultra bluesy Chicago style funk. With the studio hits off this generally live album were huge successes,this title song seems to be a bit neglected. And that’s interesting because it’s the heaviest funk among the albums five studio tracks. Any way around it,Verdine’s bass is a major star of the show.

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, Charles Stepney, drums, Earth Wind & Fire, Fender Rhodes, Funk, Funk Bass, guitar, horns, Johnny Graham, Larry Dunn, Maurice White, Phenix Horns, Philip Bailey, Verdine White

Prince’s (Minneapolis Sound) Summer: “Play” by Jennifer Lopez

Jennifer Lopez,that Bronx born Nuyorican “Jenny from the block”,had a fabulous career as an actress in the mid 80’s. Her fame skyrocketed when she stared in the title role of the biopic Selena,the story of the murdered Latin pop pioneer. When she began her musical career a couple of years later,she still held fast by her Latina heritage in that medium as well. Over the years,Lopez’s music has drifted further into hi NRG techno pop territory. In the beginning of her musical career however,she developed a creative team who helped her fashion danceable music that became popular by being pretty daring musically.

Racially speaking,I tend to culturally identify with my own Nuyorican back around-though it was my mother who was born in Brooklyn,NYC. So even though I never followed Lopez’s career intently,songs such as “If You Want My Love”,”Let’s Get Loud”,”Love Don’t Cost A Thing” and “Jenny From The Block” were always around on the radio and TV video shows during my early rising adulthood. Many celebrities get abbreviated nicknames. And  Lopez set her’s up very early on-as the title for her sophomore album J.Lo in 2001. This album had a huge hit with what’s probably my favorite song of hers, entitled “Play”.

A deep choral synthesizer starts off the jam,essentially playing what becomes the regular bass line of the entire song. Than the drum machine kicks in playing an ultra funky, kicking shuffle. The lead synth and bass line are accompanied by a higher pitched trumpet like synth accent,and another that resembled a barking dog. A thick chicken scratch rhythm guitar introduces J.Lo’s vocal choruses and refrains. After one of the longest calculated musical pauses/breaks I’ve heard in modern music,that instrumental groove plays out the song as it fades out.

In the end,what does this song have to do with Prince? Obviously,he’s not creatively involved. But the musical approach,from the synthesizer arrangements to the rhythm guitar,are based in his approach to stripped down electro funk. With it’s fast tempo and heavy emphasis on danceability,this song also furthers the collaborative nature of the Minneapolis sound by taking a nod to the sound Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis got with Janet Jackson in the late 80’s/early 90’s. “Play” showcases the durability of Minneapolis funk during the synth dominated early aughts. And is strong pop/funk for it’s time as well.

 

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Filed under 2001, chicken scratch guitar, drums, elecro funk, Funk Bass, funky pop, J.Lo, Jennifer Lopez, Latin Funk, Minneapolis Sound, naked funk, synth brass, synth funk, synthesizers

Prince (Protegé) Summer: Vanity/Apollonia 6

VANITY-6

Toward the end of last week‘s post, I called the Time “arguably the most highly-regarded of Prince’s various side projects.” So allow me to start this post with another superlative: if the Time was the most highly-regarded of the purple protegés, then their “girl group” sister project, Vanity 6, was perhaps the most underrated and misunderstood.

To be fair, though, the very concept behind the group encouraged such misreadings. Originally conceived shortly after the Time as “the Hookers”–because the Time were pimps, geddit?–Vanity 6 appeared at first and maybe even second glance to be little more than a cynical play on pornographic tropes. Every member was an obvious “type”: Vanity, born Denise Matthews (and almost, disastrously, rechristened “Vagina”), was the vampish seductress; Brenda (Bennett) was the saucy, chain-smoking “bad girl”; and Susan (Moonsie) was, most problematically, the thumb-sucking, teddy bear-toting jailbait. The “6” in their name, if you haven’t already guessed, was a sophomoric reference to their total number of breasts.

vanity6back

If the lowest-common-denominator pandering wasn’t enough, there was also a severely diminished emphasis on musical talent. Prince, while stingy about allowing the Time to play on their own albums, had nevertheless stocked the group with the hottest musicians in the Twin Cities. Vanity, on the other hand, was a Canadian B-movie actress, and Susan was Prince’s on-and-off girlfriend; only Brenda was a professional musician, having performed as a backing vocalist with the blues-rock group Tombstone in the mid-1970s. By many accounts, this led to dissension even within Prince’s camp: there was a prevailing sense that he was wasting time on a glorified burlesque act, when he could have been spending it with a more conventionally qualified group.

These criticisms would have held more water, however, if the trio (/sextet’s) self-titled 1982 debut wasn’t legitimately great. Vanity 6 is not only a stronger debut than the Time’s (yeah, I said it), but also one of the quirkiest and most interesting records in the whole extended Prince canon. In an earlier post, Andre already mentioned the funk workout “If a Girl Answers (Don’t Hang Up)“–featuring a campy vocal cameo by Mr. Jamie Starr himself–as well as the immortal “Nasty Girl,” which prefigured the sounds of everyone from the Neptunes to Peaches to Beyoncé (who, incidentally, has recently taken to covering the song in concert). But there’s also “Make Up” and “Drive Me Wild,” two of the most futuristic-sounding cuts from the Purple One’s electro period; the Dez Dickerson-penned “He’s So Dull,” a.k.a. the best song the Go-Gos never recorded; and the New Wave-flavored “Bite the Beat,” which was co-written by Jesse Johnson of the Time.

Vanity 6 joined Prince and the Time on the Triple Threat tour in 1982 and 1983, and were meant to appear in Purple Rain; as with the other group, however, relations with Prince hit the skids soon before shooting was to commence. There are a variety of possible reasons for Vanity’s falling out with Prince, including disputes over royalties and romantic turmoil; her growing dependency on cocaine was also a likely factor. Whatever the specific reason, however, she left the group for a solo career with Motown in late 1983, leaving Prince in the peculiar situation of having to recast both the female lead for his film and the frontwoman for his group. Her replacement, another unknown actress named Patricia Kotero, was hired after responding to a casting call. But “Patrica 6” would have been an even dumber name than “the Hookers,” and so Kotero adopted the nom de Prince Apollonia.

Due in large part to these inauspicious beginnings, Apollonia has gotten a bit of a raw deal from the Prince fanbase; I’ll be the first to admit that I was overly dismissive of her when I recorded my podcast on Prince’s side projects last month. If fronting Vanity 6 was already a thankless job, then filling in for Vanity–who Prince remembered as “the finest woman in the world” after her passing early this year–was even more so. Nor did it help that Prince seemed to be losing interest in the Apollonia 6 project by mid-1984, stripping the proposed album of many of its most promising songs: he gave “The Glamorous Life” to Sheila E., “Manic Monday” to the Bangles, and even his own “17 Days” still has Brenda’s original backing vocals clearly audible on the chorus. I guess what I’m trying to say is, yes, the Apollonia 6 record is an inarguably inferior clone of its predecessor; but the group’s signature song, “Sex Shooter,” remains a Minneapolis Sound classic in its own right, and Apollonia’s Purple Rain performance will forever be iconic (ask any person who came of age in the 1980s and has a sexual interest in women about the “Lake Minnetonka” scene, and watch them get misty-eyed with nostalgia).

apollonia6

Like the Time, Apollonia 6 dissolved quickly after the release of Purple Rain; unlike the Time, however, there was no triumphant aftermath, no series of high-profile reunions–though three of the groups’ former members, at least, seem to be leading happy and fulfilling lives. Brenda Bennett took time off from the music industry, returning only fairly recently as an independent artist. Susan Moonsie quit the entertainment business entirely. Apollonia went back primarily to minor film and television roles–though she did release one, forgettable solo album in 1988.

And then, of course, there was Vanity. Hers is one of the saddest stories in popular music: though she went on to some measure of success as a solo recording artist and (especially) an actress in the latter half of the 1980s, she also developed a crippling addiction to crack cocaine. Finally, after suffering a near-fatal renal failure in 1994, she experienced a conversion as a born-again Christian and dedicated the rest of her life to evangelism, renouncing her stage name and her past as a secular entertainer. It’s a strange feeling, to be a fan of Denise Matthews’ work as Vanity with the knowledge of the pain she was in at the time. It seems, however, that she was able to find peace later in her life; I only hope that she realized how much authentic joy she brought to the world, even in her darker moments.

So what else is there to say about Vanity and Apollonia 6? If the Time was the Prince spinoff act that threatened to upstage the headliner, then the “6” represented Prince in full puppetmaster mode: putting together a singing group comprised of two-thirds non-singers, then underlining just how disposable they were by seamlessly slotting a different frontwoman in the lead. And yet, the group had undeniable personality: one listen to Vanity and Brenda tearing “Jamie Starr” a new one in “If a Girl Answers” is more than enough to demonstrate that. And the original incarnation in particular gave Prince and his collaborators a framework in which to create some of their most unique genre experiments of the early 1980s; making them, in their own way, a precursor to more “respectable” side projects like the Family. Finally, if nothing else, the ladies could definitely fill out a camisole.

prince_and_vanity_rolling_ston_0_1461253588

Next Saturday, Prince (Protegé) Summer continues with an artist who stretches the definition of “protegé”: Ms. Sheila E. In the meantime, you can read more of my writing about Prince on my chronological Prince blog, dance / music / sex / romance; and more about whatever else crosses my mind on Dystopian Dance Party. See you soon!

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Filed under 1980's, Apollonia, Denise Matthews, Dez Dickerson, Jesse Johnson, Minneapolis Sound, Prince, Purple Rain, Sheila E., Time, Vanity

Grooves on Wax, Prince Summer Edition-Zach & Andre’s 12″ inch Prince Singles Collection

Normally I guest post on Saturdays, but Andre wanted to do a Grooves on Wax of all Prince 12-inches and I was only too happy to participate. So below are some highlights from both of our collections. I’ll be back tomorrow, as previously promised, with a post on Vanity/Apollonia 6!

Zach’s Wax

letspretendweremarried

The last single released from the 1999 album in November 1983, “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” isn’t actually a “maxi cut” in the traditional sense; just a repackaging of the seven-and-a-half-minute album version, in all its filthy electro-funk glory. But the real reason to own this is the B-side, “Irresistable Bitch”: an amazing (if just a tad misogynist) quasi-rap with a cavernous drum sound that clearly inspired the likes of the Egyptian Lover. Plus, it marks the earliest recorded appearance on a Prince track of Wendy Melvoin, who had replaced Dez Dickerson as the Revolution‘s second guitarist just a few months earlier.

iwoulddie4u

Now this one is all about the A-side. “I Would Die 4 U” has always been my choice for the funkiest song ever written about Jesus, but the 12″ version’s extended rehearsal jam (featuring percussion by Sheila E., with her band members Eddie M on sax and Miko Weaver on guitar) takes you straight to church. At ten minutes and 15 seconds, it’s actually edited down by about two-thirds (!) from the uncut version circulating on bootlegs; that one’s for devotees only, but in the right frame of mind, it’s an appropriately religious experience.

mountains

1986’s Parade is one of my favorite Prince albums and eras, and part of the reason for that is the amazing run of 12″ singles it produced. The best of the bunch, in my opinion, is “Mountains,” which gives the funkiest song on the album ample room to breathe. Once you hear it, there’s no going back. This is also the only place to hear the extended version of “Alexa de Paris,” a grandiose instrumental from the Under the Cherry Moon soundtrack that stands as one of Prince’s most successful experiments with jazz fusion.

anotherloverholenyohead

Another Parade cut, “Anotherloverholenyohead” is actually one of the few Prince singles where I prefer the regular version to the extended (another one, actually, is “Kiss”). I just think the tighter construction of the album version works better for the song’s wiry funk-rock, and the closing jam (“there’s gonna be a riot if you don’t clap yo’ hands…”) doesn’t really take off on the 12″ like I wanted it to. Still, it’s worth picking up if you can–if only for this dope picture of Brown Mark on the flip side, which I actually had hanging on my living room wall for a while (yes, I know, I’m a weirdo).

anotherloverbrownmark

Andre’s Wax

Let's Go Crazy 12'

In the film Purple Rain the song “Let’s Go Crazy” had an extended drum sequence and a chromatic piano walk bridge. It was played in the continuity scenes that introduced Morris Day and Jerome Benton, as well as Apollonia arriving at First Avenue and stiffing the cab. And that version is what the extended mix of this song is-my favorite version of it actually. On “Erotic City”,the song is extended by showcasing the instrumental synth exchanges to an even greater degree. That makes this a definitive Prince 12″ inch single.

Prince+Kiss+-+1st+Issue+3336

“Kiss” was a 45 that I remember being one of only two Prince songs my parents had in their record collection when I was growing up. On this extended 12″ version,the middle of the song is extended into a drum and synth brass heavy funk breakdown-very James Brown style. “Love Or Money” is one of my favorite Prince B-sides next to “Erotic City” and “17 Days“. It’s got a great gated drum machine line, rhythm guitar and Prince’s Chipmunk’d Camille voice. On this extended version,it all gets even better when the horn solos really interact on the extended instrumental bridge.

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Filed under 12 inch singles, 1980's, 1986, Brown Mark, James Brown, Jerome Benton, Miko Weaver, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Morris Day, Prince & The Revolution, Purple Rain, Sheila E., Uncategorized, Under The Cherry Moon, Wendy Melvoin