Monthly Archives: October 2016

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Glad To Be Here” by Bernard Edwards

Bernard Edwards was a bassist who truly left his musical footprint in time. Even long before his best known audio footprint came along with Chic’s 1979 jam “Good Times”. This essentially showcased the exact transition from disco to hip-hop-by ‘Nard’s iconic bass line also being the basis for Sugarhill Gangs equally iconic “Rappers Delight”. Edwards style was based is economy with style,especially on his bass lines/solos on Chic hits such as “Dance,Dance,Dance”,”Everybody Dance” and of course “Good Times”. This was a major aspect in how Chic innovated their disco style through some heavy funkiness.

Some years ago,I became familiar with the first two solo albums by Chic guitarist/ songwriter /producer Nile Rodgers. I only found out that Bernard Edwards recorded a solo album in 1983 (around the time Chic ended its original run of albums)  following his death 20 years ago now of pneumonia. It was entitled Glad To Be Here. It was reissued on CD roughly around the time as they reissued Chic’s early 80’s catalog. Only recently have I began to explore the songs from by listening to them via YouTube. The tune that really epitomized the album was the closing title song.

A heavy drum kick opens the song before the Vocorder  comes in to introduce a melody. That’s when the main body of the song comes in. This consists of a tight,dripping higher pitched rhythm guitar. Edwards bass accompanies this sometimes to the letter,other times with stick slapping lines. This is accompanied by  quavering bursts of synth brass. Edwards raps seem to count down to the next section of the song. There are two instrumental bridges. One is built around a thumping synth bass solo. The other is a stiff,hiccuping higher pitched synthesizer that begins the refrain that fades out the song.

It comes as now surprise to me that,for all intents and purposes,this is still a complete Chic song. Tony Thompson provides the drums,Bernard Edwards is carrying on the bass while the guitar is from Nile Rodgers himself. The only thing it does is strip out the strings and lead/backup female vocals. So this represents Chic in its core rhythm section. And it becomes clear how funkified that sound is. This is heavy,naked electro funk. Basically what Chic might’ve sounded like going through the Minneapolis funk filter of the day. And it showcases how vital Edwards’ sound was as a part of Chic. Even on his solo material.

 

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Filed under 1980's, Bernard Edwards, Chic, drums, electro funk, Funk Bass, naked funk, Nile Rodgers, rhythm guitar, synth bass, synth brass, synthesizer, Tony Thompson, vocoder

A Seasonal Shout-Out to the Best Ghostbusters Song: Bobby Brown’s “On Our Own”

onourown

This Halloween season, my four-year-old son discovered Ghostbusters. That means I’ve spent much of the last few weeks sitting through endless screenings of the 1984 original (“Ghostbusters boys”), its 1989 sequel (“Two Ghostbusters”), and the 2016 reboot which is honestly not as bad as the Internet wants you to think (“Ghostbusters ladies”). But it also means that I’ve spent a lot of time in the car, driving to and from daycare, listening to the soundtracks of those films and pondering their respective merits. And I’ve come to a conclusion that may be controversial: Ray Parker, Jr.‘s theme for the original movie is not the best Ghostbusters theme song. Instead, that honor goes to “On Our Own” from Ghostbusters II, performed by Mr. Bobby Brown.

Now before you object, let me clarify a few things: this is not about the relative merits of the first two Ghostbusters films, between which I would probably still give the nod to the original (though I will say that Ghostbusters II is severely underrated). Nor is this about comparing the career-long achievements of Parker and Brown. I understand, of course, that Ray Parker, Jr. was a very accomplished session guitarist and songwriter; listen to his “Ghostbusters” purely on its own merits, however, and it’s…not that great. Even aside from the notorious similarities with “I Want a New Drug” by Huey Lewis and the News, the music is pedestrian at best (again, Huey Lewis), and as a singer, Parker is a very accomplished session guitarist and songwriter. The song has definite camp appeal, and the call-and-response chorus is tons of fun (just ask my four-year-old). I can definitely understand why it was a hit. But as far as listening to it outside of a Halloween party setting, it ranks somewhere below “Thriller” and above “Monster Mash.”

The appeal of “On Our Own,” on the other hand, isn’t strictly limited to its context. Sure, there’s the rap, which basically prefigured Will Smith’s whole late ’90s career by delivering a full synopsis of the film in a few rudimentary rhyming bars; but give or take a couple references to battling “Vigo, the master of evil,” it otherwise just sounds like a typical New Jack Swing song. And a pretty damn good one, at that: the track was written and produced by L.A. Reid and Babyface, who certainly knew a thing or two about crafting New Jack Swing hits. Sometimes I even suspect that “On Our Own” wasn’t written for Ghostbusters at all, but is just a repurposed outtake from Don’t Be Cruel; its themes of going it alone are, after all, pretty close to Bobby’s usual “My Prerogative” wheelhouse.

Some, of course, might argue that the wide applicably of “On Our Own” is what makes it a weaker Ghostbusters song: if you don’t pay attention to the lyrics, there’s nothing especially spooky about it. But I think it’s worth acknowledging the fact that Reid, Babyface, and Brown gave us a song that can work both as a Halloween staple and as an R&B hit more generally. Parker’s “Ghostbusters” is fun in the month of October; but “On Our Own” is a jam all year round. And besides, even if I’m wrong, then at least we can all agree that it’s better than the new Ghostbusters song. That one is straight garbage.

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Filed under 1980's, Babyface, Ray Parker Jr., Uncategorized

Prince 1958-2016: “I Wanna Be Your Lover” (1979)

Prince is an artist whose history really fascinated me. Up until the age of 16,I was so ignorant of Prince’s history that I actually thought his career started with “1999”. It was amazing for me to learn that Prince’s recording career began in the late 70’s. Not only that,but that it still had a sound that was recognizably his own. Over the years,this late 70’s period for Prince has become a personal favorite. One that I really enjoy discussing. One of the most important things about this era was that,even in a crowded funk/soul environment,Prince got his first major crossover hit before the 70’s decade ended.

Prince first hit single “Soft And Wet”. This was rooted squarely in funk and commercially ,it landed pretty much within the R&B Top 20. But just barely crossed over to the pop listener. And as the very prejudiced anti disco movement began to gain footing in 1979,both Prince and Warner Bros understanding crossover would be necessary for his career at that point. So the solution would to find a way to create a song with heavy pop structure that would still maintain Prince’s homegrown funkiness. The solution was in his first R&B #1 and pop Top 20 hit in “I Wanna Be Your Lover”.

A pounding snare drum kick kicks off the song. For the first 2 1/2 minutes of this song,the refrain consists of a deep rhythm guitar playing on one bright,melodic chord. A high toned and bass synthesizer back this up along with the drums. On the choruses,a string synthesizer plays harmony to this. After a space funk synth on the final chorus,the song goes into a 3 minute instrumental section. This section brings in a high bass line playing a funk riff high in the mix over a similar synth backdrop. Then a higher synth brass part comes in-occasionally accompanying only the drums before the song fades out.

The first time I heard “I Wanna Be Your Lover” was the single edit,which is basically the vocal oriented first 2:50 minutes of the song. The version on Prince’s self titled 1979 album is a 5+ version that predominantly emphasizes the final instrumental section of the song. The entirety of the song is very funky. Its also where Prince was able to harness the stripped down,loose jamming funkiness that defined his debut album while introducing it with a strong sense of song craft. An element that could sung and hum. That makes “I Wanna Be Your Lover” perhaps the most important song Prince recorded in the 70’s.

 

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Filed under 1979, crossover, drums, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, naked funk, Prince, rhythm guitar, synth bass, synth brass, synthesizer, Warner Bros.

‘1999’: 34 Years Of Dance,Music,Sex,Romance

1999

1999 is celebrating its 34th anniversary today. Its understood as the album that really helped Prince cross his music over to a more pop oriented audience. A lot has been said about the album. Such as how the album was musically almost entirely the work of Prince himself. Also,how it helped establish the clearest headed example of the electronic based Minneapolis sound that he was pioneering at that time. Not to mention that it came right along with his first proteges in Vanity and (most importantly) The Time. Now I’m really realizing just how important this album was in terms of Prince’s entire musical history.

Prince debuted in the late 1970’s,fresh out of his teens as a disco era version of Stevie Wonder: a youthful funk wunderkind. As Henrique and myself were discussing at the time of writing this,he was first coming out when so much was happening around him. Stevie Wonder’s  Songs In The Key Of Life  still churned out hits,P-Funk were dropping “Flashlight” and “One Nation Under A Groove” while Dayton,Ohio’s Slave was hitting with an R&B #1 smash in their song “Slide”. And than came Prince,a young musical genius who played all the instruments and produced his own music so expertly.

When the post disco radio freeze out occurred in the early 80’s,the enormous level of pioneering and trailblazing by funk and disco artists disappeared overnight. On the other hand,it remained very present overseas in the UK with some rock and electronic elements added. This sound became known as new romantic/new wave/synth pop movement. In the very beginning of the 80’s,most black artists were integrating electronics into what was still a standard funk/soul rhythmic framework. By 1982,Prince suddenly became his own innovator as really the only black American new wave/synth rock oriented artist.

The 1999 album is endowed with some amazing funk such as the title song,the instrumentally organic “Lady Cab Driver” and the driving “DMSR”. In fact,the idea of the album being a double LP set with full,elongated mixes made it an idea format for his Minneapolis funk. At the same time,it was songs like the albums other major hit “Little Red Corvette” along with “Let’s Pretend We’re Married”,”Something In The Water (Does Not Compute)” and “Automatic” showcase Prince as doing for the synth pop/new wave sound what Little Richard  and Ray Charles did for rock ‘n roll  and soul in the 50’s.

Prince infused his rockiest music,even the rockabilly hit of “Delirious” with tons of gospel influences and attitude. And brought those same elements into his ballads on here “Free” and “International Lover”. This also began the period when Prince was concentrating heavily on developing his single B-sides as musical works of art all their own. Songs such as “Irresistible Bitch” and “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore” (covered famously by both Stephanie Mills and later Alicia Keys) represent the first time other artist realized even a Prince flip side was ripe for another artist to be really successful with them.

As of this writing,Prince enthusiasts await the official release of “Moonbeam Levels”,a well known outtake from this era. So interest in 1999 era Prince is still growing. For me,its an album that represents his finest mix of funk and rock music in terms of an album. The extended lengths gave the grooves room for a lot of expansion. For the heavy funkateer, 1999 is far more funk endowed than its blockbuster followup Purple Rain. On a personal note,it was my aunts favorite Prince album too. In many ways,1999 might be the most defining moment of Prince’s Minneapolis sound.

 

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Filed under 1980's, 1999, classic albums, electro funk, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, naked funk, New Wave, Prince, Synth Pop

Bootsy At 65: The Funky Bassology Of William Collins

William “Bootsy” Collins represents the key aspect of funk for me. He was the first “bass hero” as it were. As part of the funk process,Larry Graham developed the vocabulary for it all to happen. And it was Bootsy who became in P-Funk what most lead guitarists do in rock bands. His bass was huge and flamboyant. And he made his “space bass” sound and image the start of the show with his Rubber Band,on his own and later with different session work. Of course,the story of how the Cincinnati native found fame through membership in the JB’s is well known. His beginnings with P-Funk are another matter.

Before Bootsy became a major player in the P-Funk arena,Funkadelic were more or less a groove acid rock jam band. And they had a slow,instrumentally raggedy approach. Especially in terms of rhythm. That gave them their uniqueness in the early 70’s. Bootsy arrived for their 1972 album America Eats Its Young. And he brought with his his profound sense of rhythm,and love of the singable melody. His personality shortly became as vital to P-Funk as George Clinton’s. In that way,he was able to change the face of P-Funk in the way he wasn’t as able to do in the strictly structured James Brown camp.

In all honesty,I haven’t yet heard everything that Bootsy has been instrumentally involved in. Especially in the 90’s,a number of musical projects in the Bill Laswell camp were  utilizing Bootsy’s talents to provide the driving groove element to them. Today,I’d like to present to you some of the Bootsy solo/Bootsy related session work that I’m personally aware of. And that are personal favorites of mine. I am excluding his contributions to Parliament and Funkadelic,since that’s an article in and of itself. So here is Andresmusictalk’s rundown of personal Bootsy favorites.


‘Ahh,The Name Is Bootsy,Baby” (1977)

The groove on this song is both super clear and super punishing in terms of the funk. The deep,descending synth bass line alone makes the song. Not to even mention the horns and call/response vocals. Pretty much Bootsy’s defining song while leading the Rubber Band.

“Very Yes” (1978)

This punchy 1978 funk ballad was one I thought was sung by a very whispery female singer at first. Turns out this slow thump’s lead vocals were the work of Robert “P-Nut” Johnson. Just the combination of funkiness and quirkiness make this a very defining Bootsy number for me.

“She Jam” (Almost Bootsy Show)” (1979)

One of the reasons I enjoy this so much is that its a thick,throbbing Bootsy funk groove,as well as being an intricately written pop song. The combination of heavy funk instrumentation and melodic songwriting really make songs like this stand out.

“Its A Musical” (1980)

Bootsy utilizing his trademarked flamboyant,revved up bass style as the basic for every other instrumental and melodic idea of a song came to fruition on songs such as this “Its A Musical” did for Bootsy at the start of the 1980’s what “Bootzilla” and “Roto Rooter” had done a few years before.

“Hyper Space” by Sweat Band (1980)

This particular song by the Bootsy spin off Sweat Band is an instrumental that showcases P-Funk at its most melodically strong. The groove is an intense mix of synth bass,Clavinet and piano. The synthesizer plays a strongly modulating,jazzy theme as the main melodic theme,one the Clavinet also repeats. Some of P-Funk’s strongest music period.

“Shine-O-Mite (Rag Poping’)” (1982)

The bass/guitar interaction and sizzling synth interludes that define this groove make this what is,to me,some of the most slept on P-Funk of the early 80’s.

“Party On Plastic” (1988)

Took Bootsy awhile to make a comeback. But he came back in 1988 with a roar on his What’s Bootsy Doin’ album,a hard hitting electro funk set that is really defined by the sound of this song,its opener. It combines electronic drums,percussion and huge slap bass.

“Love Song” (1988)

Bootsy always had a way with writing funky love songs. On this,he did so in a pounding,ultra melodic Cameo-like funk manner. Always one of my favorite Bootsy numbers.

“Groove Is In The Heart” by Deee Lite (1990)

This funky house jam by the DJ collective Deee-Lite showcases not only Bootsy’s playing and influence. But is also loaded with his attitude and presence. In particular when he comes in saying “ASK YOUR MAMA!”.


So there you have it,my rundown on personal favorite Bootsy jams. There were others that were more defining and influential to other musicians,of course. Still,one of the most important aspects of Bootsy’s talents was being able to make hard funk somehow singable and accessible to people who were not heavily instrumentally inclined. That’s a combination that takes a lot of understanding. And generally a positive attitude. And those are two of the qualities that keep Bootsy’s music moving straight ahead onto where his funk will take him on its next journey.

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, Bootsy's Rubber Band, Deee-Lite, elecro funk, Funk Bass, George Clinton, P-Funk, Sweat Band, synth bass

Prince 1958-2016: “1999” (1982)

Prince was one of those artists whose creative peak hit right around the same time as his creative juices were really flowing. He was the ultimate funk rocker of his day-doing everything he could to prioritize a hard groove while rocking out just enough for the musical demands of that era. And founds ways to challenge himself at doing both. By 1982,he was developing a reputation among musical oriented people as someone who was able to take all the elements of what he did,and strip them down to their most basic elements. Of being instrumentally simple without being musically simplistic.

Late in the year his his fifth album 1999 was released. It came out into a musical environment where MTV’s championing of music video was moving pop music ahead in the same way radio had in earlier decades. Not only was Prince’s visual flair helpful in this regard. But he also was more than aware of the social politics of the final burst of the cold war in America. Following the the USSR’s and USA’s actions in Afghanistan around this same time,the issue of atomic war was again on the map as the world contemplated a nuclear freeze. Prince drew on this impulse for the title track of his new album.

A slow,deepened voice opens this song telling us it only wants us to have some funk-eventually  to the beat of a Linn LM-1 drum machine. The Linn’s pulse is then joined by a sustained rock guitar and a dramatic synth horn. A snare heavy live drum begins playing behind this basic structure. This provides the general chorus and refrains of the song as Revolution members Dez Dickerson and Lisa Coleman trade of vocals Sly & The Family Stone style with Prince. On extended chorus at the end of the song,Prince asks “mom why does everybody have the bomb” over his funky rhythm guitar.

“1999” is one of those songs that is rhythmically stripped down but sounds extremely full at the same time. The fiery dynamics of the lead synth brass,now an iconic riff of the style,along with the layers of lead/rhythm guitars (from rocking to funky wah wah) lead this to be one of the hottest funk hits of its time. While its vocal trade offs and sunny melody come straight of the Sly styled flower power funk,it basically reflects the slightly cynical hedonism of wanting to party into the apocalypse. That combo marks this as the beginning of Prince bring his funk more and more to the masses in his musical prime.

 

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Filed under 1980's, 1999, Dez Dickerson, drums, lead guitar, Linn Drum, Lisa Coleman, Minneapolis, MTV, naked funk, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, rhythm guitar, synth brass

Prince 4Ever: His Name Was Prince And He Was FUNKY!

Prince was an artist who defined himself by seldom looking to his past musically. That ties in well  with his deep connection to the black American creative attitude. On November 22nd,Warner Bros is releasing its first posthumous Prince album 4Ever. Its a 2 CD anthology consisting of hits and B-sides that have already been released. And not in chronological order. It will however showcase one famous outtake from his vault entitled “Moonbeam Levels”-a song taken from the 1999 album sessions. Aside from the very nature of this release,the choice of unreleased song got me thinking.

“Moonbeam Levels” is a rock oriented song,recorded during an era when Prince was extremely concerned about crossover. On Sunday,my boyfriend exposed me to an iTunes exclusive music podcast called Coverville. It showcases different covers of either songs by a particular artist or theme. One covered Prince songs. Not only were most of the songs originally pop/rock oriented,but the covers were generally either rock or…even country versions of “Raspberry Barrett” and “Alphabet Street”. Still even with Prince being so well known as a rock star,at the end of the day Prince Rogers Nelson WAS a funk/soul artist.

Prince’s first two albums,1978’s For You and his self titled sophomore record a year later,were mostly funk/soul with a couple of rock tunes on them. It wasn’t until 1980’s Dirty Mind,released in time for the extremely anti black post disco radio freeze out,that Prince’s music took on a heavier rock flavor. Over the years,Prince explored many different hybrids of funk and jazz with rock guitar solos and attitudes. But it basically amounted down to his base music being funk,and him seeing rock as good for him as a guitar soloist and to get big crossover hits in the 80’s and especially the 90’s.

This idea worked well for his purposes. Still now that he’s not with us anymore? I still hear so many,even my own mother,refer to Prince as a rock based artist. Even though his music and press in his commercial prime disconnected him from musical blackness,it was always there. Now that he’s gone,the floodgates are open for album after album of unreleased music from the late Mr.Nelson. I can only hope that,as a truer understanding of his musical back round continues on,that these posthumous albums of unreleased music will focus on Prince the soulful and Prince the funky. Therefore,as the artist he truly was.

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Filed under compilation albums, Coverville, Funk, Minneapolis, Prince, Prince 4ever

4 Paisley Park’s Consideration: 14 Rarities That Need to Be on the New Purple Rain Reissue

purple-rain

One of the very first posts on my own blog, Dystopian Dance Party, was an exhaustive rundown of the bonus tracks I wanted to see on the then-newly announced 30th anniversary reissue of Prince‘s Purple Rain. Since then, a lot of things have happened–chiefly, and most tragically, Prince’s sudden death just over six months ago, leaving behind even more uncertainty in how his back catalogue would be handled. One thing that did not happen, however, was the release of that “30th anniversary” Purple Rain reissue–until, apparently, now.

That’s right: this week, NPG Records and Warner Bros. finally announced the release of the new Purple Rain set in 2017, promising an extra disc of as-yet-undisclosed bonus material. So, now that this really seems to be happening, I figured it was high time to dig up my two-year-old post and reevaluate my wish list. What follows is a slightly edited version of the original post: 14 of the outtakes, live versions, and rarities from the Purple Rain era that I’d like to see officially released. I’m aware, of course, that the reissue’s track listing has long since been set, and that there’s no possible way for everything I mention below to fit on a single compact disc. But to any of Prince’s people who might be out there reading this, when it comes time to put together the eight-disc blow-out mega-set covering Sign “ the Times/Crystal Ball/Dream Factory…hit me up. I’ve got a lot more ideas for that one than just 14.

Dez performing "Modernaire" in Purple Rain; © Warner Bros.

14. Dez Dickerson’s “Modernaire”

This one is about justice more than anything. Dickerson was Prince’s co-lead guitarist from 1979-1983, and a major influence on his more rock-oriented material–including, most significantly, breakthrough hit “Little Red Corvette,” for which he wrote and performed the classic guitar solo. By the conclusion of the “Triple Threat” tour promoting 1999, however, he was no longer able to reconcile his born-again Christian faith with his boss’s ribald public persona. In a rare moment of graciousness, the notoriously vindictive Prince not only gave Dickerson his blessing to leave, but also gave a spot in the upcoming film to Dez and his new backing band, the Modernaires.

The resulting song, appropriately titled “Modernaire,” isn’t really anything special: just a typically funky slice of Minneapolis-style electro-rock, best suited for exactly the kind of club-scene background noise it provides in the movie. It deserves to see a wide release, however, because like so many of the side projects in Prince’s orbit during the mid-’80s, it never really got the shot at commercial success it was promised. The song showed up on movie screens in Purple Rain, but not on vinyl; Dickerson and the Modernaires sank quickly out of sight, not even achieving the visibility of second-string Prince projects like Jill Jones and the Family. So let’s throw Dez a bone, and some royalties. And in the meantime, support the song’s independent release by Citinite, complete with awesome remixes by Hot Persuasion, Complexxion, DMX Krew, Faceless Mind, and even L.A. electro-hop godfather/noted Prince devotee Egyptian Lover.

RS394-RS

13. Vanity 6’s Version of “Sex Shooter

Experienced Princeologists know that Apollonia Kotero, whose boobs costarred as Prince’s romantic leads in the Purple Rain movie, wasn’t the first pair of breasts to front his cheesecakey girl-group side project, Apollonia 6. In fact, Purple Rain was already nearing the end of pre-production, and its accompanying soundtrack had already begun recording, when Prince’s original protégée Denise “Vanity” Matthews was dismissed from the project. As far as the sole A6 track in the movie is concerned, that’s a shame: because like everything else in the Vanity-to-Apollonia transition (except, arguably, the aforementioned boobs), the original was superior.

The Vanity 6 version of “Sex Shooter” has a grittier sound, with more prominent guitar (played, presumably, by the man himself); more importantly, though, the eternal bad girl Vanity makes a much more convincing “Sex Shooter” than Apollonia ever did. No matter how many black lace teddies and fishnets Prince and Purple Rain director Albert Magnoli had her wear, Apollonia could never not come across as the wide-eyed girl next door. But Vanity was all too convincing as the steely-eyed madame of the group Prince originally wanted to dub “the Hookers”; and when she suggestively smirks “blow me away” toward the end of this outtake, she sells it. In fact, one almost wonders how different Purple Rain the movie might have been had Vanity stayed in the leading-actress role. One thing’s for sure: if the Kid had told Vanity to purify herself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka, he would have taken a stiletto boot heel to the scrotum.

Prince jacks the mic at a Time show at First Avenue, 1983; stolen from prince.org

12. Prince’s Versions of Songs from the Time’s Ice Cream Castle

At this point, it’s pretty much common knowledge that, at least until their 1990 New Jack-flavored comeback album Pandemonium, the Time existed as an actual, functioning band only on stage (where, to be fair, they often blew Prince and his band out of the water) and in promotional materials. Their first three albums were ghostwritten and, indeed, ghost-recorded by Prince himself, who even laid down guide vocals–often still audible on the final release–and required frontman Morris Day to replicate them with near-mechanical precision. (He also effectively invented the “Morris Day” persona. Seriously, find a copy of Crystal Ball and listen to “Cloreen Baconskin”: it’s fifteen minutes of Prince in character as “Morris Day,” with the real Morris on drums.) So why not let us hear the original tracks from 1984’s Purple Rain tie-in Ice Cream Castle, before Morris overdubbed his vocals? If nothing else, it would be a wonderfully surreal experience to hear”If the Kid Can’t Make You Come” as crooned by the Kid himself.

Richard Avedon, 1983

11. “Extraloveable”

Okay, now that the extended-family stuff is out of the way, let’s get serious. This one is a long shot for at least two reasons. First, it’s actually already seen an official release: first as a Canada-only online single in 2011, then on Prince’s final studio album HITnRUN Phase Two. For Prince fans who had never heard the original 1983 outtake, it was probably 21st century Prince-as-usual; maybe even a little funkier than most of his latter-day material. But for people like me, who stumbled randomly upon “Extraloveable” while surfing Spotify and promptly lost their shit because they never thought they’d hear an official version in their lifetimes, it was nothing short of a tragedy.

Now here’s the second obstacle: the song is downright offensive, and not in Prince’s usual “not suitable for Jehovah’s Witnesses” sense of the word. After about six minutes of typically slippery come-ons over a vintage Linn LM-1 drum loop (“Don’t U wanna, don’t U wanna take a bath with me?”), Prince abandons any pretense of romance, grunts “I’m on the verge of rape,” and then throws up his hands in a menacing kind of resignation: “I’m sorry, but I’m just going to have to rape U. Now are U going 2 get into the tub, or do I have 2 drag U? Don’t make me drag U.” Even in 1983, this just would not have flown; can you imagine what Andrea Dworkin, or for that matter Tipper Gore, would have had to say? And these days, when social media outrage can last for months over a Robin Thicke song that kinda sounds like it’s about rape, it’s a recipe for P.R. disaster.

Which is kind of a damn shame, because “Extraloveable” is among the weirdest and most wonderful of Prince’s early-’80s electro-funk workouts: a jam so effortless that many of its lyrics, notably “baby I know my rap is hard / but not as hard as what’s behind door…door number pants,” appear to have been written literally without any effort. Then there’s the mid-song one-man jam punctuated with callouts to band members who probably weren’t even in the studio at the time, and capped off with a searing guitar solo cheekily dedicated to the recently-departed Dez Dickerson (“Hey Dez…don’t U like my band?”). And, while I certainly don’t mean to make light of an issue as grave as sexual violence, it’s tough to take Prince’s rape talk seriously when it’s delivered in the melodramatic tones of a sexually ambiguous automaton. Let’s say include this one, but with a trigger warning.

© Warner Bros.

10. “All Day, All Night”/”The Dance Electric”

I include these two tracks as a single entry because they have a lot in common. Both are extended, electro-inspired pieces written by Prince for other artists and recorded in 1984: “All Day, All Night” showed up in remixed form on the Prince-produced 1987 debut by Jill Jones, while “The Dance Electric” was overdubbed by childhood friend and pre-Controversy bass player André Cymone for his 1985 album AC. And I guess if it came down to it, only one would have to see the light of day. But both are really good: the last gasps of Prince’s flirtations with hardcore electronic music before he moved toward the more organic, psychedelia-influenced sounds of the Revolution era.

In fact, seen from that perspective, there’s almost a before/after narrative to be read here. “All Day, All Night” is the closest Prince had come at that point to pure techno: a hypnotic synthesizer throb overlaid with cryptic, disassociative lyrics that could equally be about sex or MDMA (though, given Prince’s noted teetotaling tendencies, are probably just about sex). It’s also noteworthy for the immortal opening line, “Oh, what a beautiful morning…oh, what a beautiful ass.” “The Dance Electric,” meanwhile, starts from a similarly urgent LM-1 pulse but then builds with layers upon layers of neo-psychedelic guitars and chanted vocals by Prince and his Revolution cohorts/water temperature testers Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman. In fact, the more I think about it, fuck it, put ’em both on the reissue.

© Warner Bros.

9. “When Doves Cry” with Bass

By now, I would think that most people still reading this article would have heard the story behind the absence of a bass track on what is arguably Prince’s most popular and recognizable single (short version: while mixing the track he was dissatisfied, asked engineer Susan Rogers to turn the bass all the way down, and liked the way it sounded). It’s one of the more famous legends in a career with more famous legends than most. So why not give us the chance to hear the original mix, bass line and all, for ourselves? This is definitely treading into novelty curio territory, as “When Doves Cry” in its released version is as perfect a song as it can possibly be. But let’s be real here, anybody in the market for an expanded reissue of Purple Rain probably has the interest to check out at least one novelty curio.

Stolen from princevault.org

8. The Complete August 3, 1983 First Avenue Concert

This, I write with an admittedly sinking heart, is probably the likeliest bonus material to be included on the reissue: after all, three songs from the show–“I Would Die 4 U,” “Baby I’m a Star,” and yes, even the masterful title track–already made it in studio-polished form to the original Purple Rain album, and filling out the second disc of a reissue with a period-appropriate live show seems like the new thing to do when an artist is squeamish about releasing studio outtakes (see, for example, the 2010 expanded edition of David Bowie‘s Station to Station). But it’s really only a weak choice compared to the wonders we could be receiving otherwise. This isn’t just a great show–as evidenced by the fact that some of its basic tracks have been passing for studio recordings for the last thirty years–it’s also a historically significant one: the August 3 First Avenue concert marked the debut of guitarist Wendy Melvoin in Prince’s newly-rechristened backing band, the Revolution. Between the raw live versions of the Purple Rain material–played for the first time in front of an audience–and the inclusions of oddball tracks like outtake “Electric Intercourse” (more on that later) and a cover of Joni Mitchell‘s “A Case of You,” this could make for fascinating companion listening to the album (because, you know, there’s absolutely no way to hear it now). Hell, make it Disc 3 after a full disc of studio outtakes and I for one will be cheesin’. And not to push my luck, but hear me out about a possible Disc 4…

Photo stolen from Wikipedia

7. Prince and the Revolution: Live

Another thing all the cool kids seem to be doing in the deluxe-reissue market these days is releasing a disc of video content to round out the set (and, let’s face it, jack up the price). In the case of Purple Rain, Prince and Warner Bros. have it pretty easy: there already was an official release of Purple Rain-era live video by Prince and the Revolution, and it happens to be amazing. Prince and the Revolution: Live captures a typically blistering set from Syracuse, NY in March 1985, including the to-date only officially released version of classic outtake “Possessed” (again, more on this later) and an eighteen-minute (!) version of “Purple Rain” itself. And all W.B. has to do is clean up the footage that was originally transferred to VHS and slap it onto a Blu-ray disc. Yes, I realize video restoration is a costly and time-consuming process, so I’m being facetious when I say that’s “all” they have to do. But that just means they’d better get crackin’; 2017 is almost here.

Seriously, though, it will be a missed opportunity if this set comes and goes without a re-release of Prince and the Revolution: Live. It’s too perfect a document, especially if my list of demands does come true and we’re also getting the First Avenue show. Hearing (/seeing) both of these shows alongside one another would truly give us the full picture of the era: from small club to stadium, from before anyone had ever heard “Purple Rain” to after the song, movie, and album had made Prince a megastar (an exhausted megastar: just weeks after this show, he would infamously announce his retirement from live performance). Even if it’s not packaged with the Purple Rain reissue, I still think it’s high time for Live to be remastered; perhaps they could do what the Stones did with their most recent Exile on Main St. reissue and their 1974 concert film Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones, and release the two projects separately but timed for synergy.

The lyrics sheet for "Electric Intercourse"; stolen from Julien's Live

6. “Electric Intercourse”

One thing worth noting about Prince is, while I have been referring to unreleased studio tracks as “outtakes” for the sake of convenience, he wasn’t really an artist with a lot of “outtakes” in the traditional sense of the word. Unlike most artists, who enter the studio only when it’s time to record a new project and will literally “take out” tracks that don’t come together or won’t fit into the album’s running length, Prince by all accounts spent inordinate amounts of time in the studio recording just for the sake of it: sometimes for a specific project, sometimes for other artists, and often for his own personal entertainment. So while all of the studio tracks being discussed here were recorded during what might loosely be dubbed the “Purple Rain era,” beginning after the conclusion of the Triple Threat tour and through the release of the album itself, it’s unlikely that any of them were actually meant to be included on the Purple Rain album.

“Electric Intercourse,” however, is a relatively rare exception. A sensual, electric piano-driven piece with a soulful vocal performance by Prince, the backing tracks came from the same aforementioned August 3, 1983 live show that yielded “I Would Die 4 U,” “Baby, I’m a Star,” and “Purple Rain.” The following month, Prince recorded overdubs at Sunset Sound in Hollywood; just a few days later, however, he also recorded “The Beautiful Ones,” another slow, piano-heavy number that quickly took the place of “Electric Intercourse” on Purple Rain‘s track list. And really, it was the right call; “The Beautiful Ones” is a stone classic, one of the best ballads in the whole Prince corpus. But “Electric Intercourse” is no slouch, either, and hearing it for the first time in its studio-polished form would be a real thrill. Of course, if the reissue were to include the First Avenue show in its entirety, the original live performance would at least be exposed to a wider audience; an acceptable compromise. But still, the pedant in me wants to hear exactly what changed between the live performance and the studio session.

© Warner Bros.

5. The Extended Version of “Computer Blue”

Remember the scene in Purple Rain where an emotionally disturbed Kid performs “Computer Blue,” bare-chested and oiled up with his eyes covered by a black lace mask, while Wendy mimes fellatio on his guitar? Now remember how you wished that scene was ten minutes longer, with more Wendy and Lisa sexbot voices and some bizarre, Jim Morrison-esque spoken-word poetry? Oh, and also more guitar solos and dirty electro-funk-rock grooves? I don’t know about you, but that’s one of my favorite parts of the movie, and I love “Computer Blue” even if it is basically just a weirder rewrite of 1999‘s “Automatic.” And while on the original album it comes across as an extended introduction to “Darling Nikki,” the unreleased full-length version gives it much more of an opportunity to let its freak flag fly.

1984 press photo; stolen from Lansure's Music Paraphernalia

4. “We Can Fuck” (“We Can Funk”)

Another long shot, because for better or for worse our beloved former “Rude Boy” seemed averse to dropping “F”-bombs later in life. But if his family could find it in their hearts to look the other way, this could be a much-needed salvaging of one of Prince’s most mistreated songs. “We Can Fuck” is, of course, the original version of the song eventually released on 1990’s Graffiti Bridge as “We Can Funk,” and like most things related to Graffiti Bridge, it was a missed opportunity of the highest order. Prince resurrected his 1983 backing track for the remake, but used it as a showcase for P-Funk godfather and recent Paisley Park signee George Clinton; while this might sound like a good idea on paper (“Funk” is right there in the title!), and while Clinton did his best with the material–the recurring chant “I’m testing positive for the funk/I’d gladly pee in anybody’s cup” is vintage Brother George–the darkly sexy groove is engineered for Prince’s sultry croon, not Clinton’s stoned-cartoon rasp. And while there is a transfer circulating of “We Can Fuck” in its original 1983 incarnation, it’s both incomplete and terrible quality. So please, NPG/Warner, throw us a bone; let us pretend, even for a few glorious minutes, that Graffiti Bridge never happened. We won’t even mind if you change the title again.

© Warner Bros.

3. “Possessed”

The real crime when it comes to this song is that it technically already was in Purple Rain: listen carefully during a scene between Morris Day and Apollonia in First Avenue (the one where Morris is boasting about his brass waterbed), and you can hear an instrumental re-recording of “Possessed” playing in the background. The instrumental version is interesting–a synth and sequencer experiment that demonstrates Prince’s broadening sonic palette in 1984 and points the way toward the future explorations of 1985’s Around the World in a Day and 1986’s Parade–but it’s also seven minutes long, has no vocals aside from a classic Prince groan at the beginning, and doesn’t really go anywhere. The original 1983 version is where it’s at: almost nine minutes long, but boy does it go places, with another great LM-1 beat, some muted funk guitar, strategic synthesizer stabs, and one of the Purple One’s most seductive vocal performances.

It’s also among his most frankly sexual lyrics of the ’80s, which makes the cynical side of me wonder if an unexpurgated version will see the light of day in 2016: toward the end of the song, Prince doesn’t just assure a lady that if he doesn’t give into his temptations her “pussy puts up quite an awful fuss”; he then proceeds to spell out exactly what he means by “putting up a fuss,” making it less a double entendre than a delayed single one. There’s also an instrumental breakdown proceeded by the callout “me and the boys would like to jam,” which, considering the fact that two of the six members of the Revolution were women, I’m pretty sure is actually meant to be a reference to Prince’s royal jewels. So yeah, it’s dirty. But if Prince’s people can bear to release it, we will finally have a definitive version of one of his most essential lost gems.

 

© Warner Bros.

2. “Erotic City (‘make love not war Erotic City come alive’)”

I know what you’re thinking: “Erotic City” isn’t a rarity. It’s one of Prince’s most famous B-sides (hell, one of the most famous B-sides, full stop), George Clinton covered it in P.C.U., why waste valuable reissue space on something everyone’s already heard? Well, here’s my argument: the real “Erotic City,” the 12″ version that stretches like elastic to a glorious seven and a half minutes, hasn’t seen official release since its original issue in 1984; and the fact that a whole generation has now theoretically grown up, can in fact now go to war and die for their country, while hearing only the weak-ass three-minute version included on The Hits collection, makes me sick. It’s hard to clarify in words what makes the long version of “Erotic City” so much better than the edit. The edit hits all the highlights, it doesn’t sound awkward or remove any major elements, but the 12″ mix just feels right; it builds at the perfect pace, its subtle rhythmic variations a masterclass in modular groove construction. Put another and perhaps more àpropos way, “Erotic City” is better at seven and a half minutes than three minutes in the same way that actual sex is better at seven and a half minutes…or, you know, longer.

1. Something We’ve Never Even Heard About

Yeah, I’m kind of cheating on this one. But the fact is, this list is being assembled from scraps. Prince is one of the most heavily bootlegged artists out there–right up there with the Beatles and Bob Dylan–and it’s a testament to the obsessiveness and tenacity of his fans that we know as much about his unreleased material as we do. But the whole reason why the idea of Prince “opening the Vault” has been such a tantalizing one for the last 30-plus years is because we don’t know what else there is to hear. If any artist has the capability to surprise us with something completely out of left field, some unreleased masterpiece we’ve never heard about, Prince is the one. And now his estate finally has the chance to do that.

Of course, I am under no illusions that any of this is actually going to happen. I have fully prepared myself for the fact that whatever reissue of Purple Rain makes it to stores next year will probably be a disappointment; in a way, it couldn’t possibly live up to 30 years of bootleg- and speculation-fueled anticipation. This will, almost certainly, end in tears. But at least Prince had the foresight to give us the perfect soundtrack.

© Warner Bros.

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Filed under 1980's, 1984, Apollonia, Lisa Coleman, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, Purple Rain, Uncategorized, Vanity, Warner Bros., Wendy Melvoin

‘Prince’@37: A Sophomore Album That Wasn’t Treated So Bad

Prince 1979

Prince really did create a technical and musical marvel with his debut album For You. Still out of Prince’s two albums of the late 1970’s,its his second self titled effort that proved to be his commercial breakthrough. That is in the sense he had a tremendous hit with it. That hit was “I Wanna Be Your Lover”. This was late 70’s sophistifunk at its sauciest-with a sleek groove that’s both sweetly melodic,but has a full on chunky bass/guitar groove about it. It started off this album. And its also the song that many mainstream pop music listeners pre 1980 might cite as the very first Prince they’d remember hearing.

I first became aware of this record through a handful of its songs making the cute of Prince’s first anthology set The Hits/B-Sides. So its probably best to discuss those songs first. “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad” is a very mainstream rock tune with some glistening,melodic power chords from Prince on this song written by Andre’ Cymone. The other is a classic Prince one man band version of “I Feel For You”. This is the first version I heard. And due to that reason,much as I love Chaka Khan’s far more famous cover,that’s pretty much its own thing next to this version.

Whats so interesting about this album for me is 3/4 of it is slow ballad oriented. When I first picked up the CD pre-owned,all there was to listen to CD’s were undependable bar code scanners some stores had. So it was a surprised that some songs such as “When We’re Dancing Close And Slow” and “Still Waiting” were rather country western/pop flavored ballads. “With You” has a 1950’s doo wop flavor to its slow ballad flavor. Of the slow songs on the album,my personal favorite is “It’s Gonna Be Lonely”-which has a then contemporary progressive soft rock flavor about it with its processed guitar reverb.

My favorite song on this album of course is “Sexy Dancer”. This is almost an instrumental. Prince’s panting becomes a percussive element to this lean,mean bass/guitar extravaganza that points to Prince’s signature early 80’s funk sound. Not to mention the jazzy Yamaha electric piano solo he takes on the bridge. “Bambi” is the other rocker here. This is a crunching hard rock number too. The focus of the song is on Prince having a crush on a woman who turns out to be a lesbian-spending the chorus trying to convince her “its better with a man”-seemingly for his own physical benefit only.

In the end,I have to agree with Prince on this album. It served its function very well in getting more people interested in his music.  And as he implied,it did what it he intended it to do by featuring some strands of late 70’s pop music. On the other hand,Prince’s frank take on the sexual revolution of disco era and the albums general emphasis on funk made it clear the type of musician Prince would be. He would make melodies,rock out but never totally give up on the funk. In as much as it laid the blueprint for his commercial approach of the early 80’s,this album is a very significant one for Prince.

 

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Filed under 1979, ballads, classic albums, Funk, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Music Reviewing, Prince, rock and soul, rock guitar

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Weave Your Spell” by Level 42

Level 42 are one of those bands along with Earth Wind & Fire,Heatwave,Sly & The Family Stone,James Brown and Kool & The Gang where I could write about their songs for a month. And not get board doing so. Even though Level 42’s identity didn’t become known to me until 12 years ago or so,their four piece jazz/funk sound was approached in such a wonderful way. And one that was very suited for its time as well. This is especially true with Level 42’s first six albums-from their self titled debut in 1981 to 1985’s breakout album World Machine.

Right around the time I was first getting into Level 42,Polydor reissued Level 42’s first eight studio albums on four 2 CD sets. These sets not only included informative notes,but also the addition of unreleased demos and 12″/7″ single mixes of some of the songs. The most fascinating of these sets were the first two-especially the second volume. That one began with Level 42’s second proper studio release The Pursuit Of Accidents. This particular album represents the height of the band’s instrumentally inclined,contemporary jazz/funk approach. A perfect example is its opening track “Weave Your Spell”.

Mike Lindup’s synthesizer and Phil Gould’s cymbal kick provide the intro to the song. After that the rest of the band,especially Mark King’s bass,enter the mix in full musical motion. On the refrain,the percussive drums and King’s bass provide an ultra phat rhythm. Lindup’s different synths provide both high and low call and response to his and Mark’s vocal harmonies. This is especially true on the musically and vocally thick chorus. There is a musical bridge where King’s slap bass becomes the star of the show-with Lindup assisting on synth brass before the chorus fades out the song.

“Weave Your Spell” might be the definitive musical example of Level 42’s general sound. At its core,its an uptempo jazz funk song filled with a lot of dancability. Mike Lindup’s synthesizer’s have that strong new wave quavering reverb about them too. King’s slap bass and Phil Gould’s progressive fusion drumming give this song its own kick. The loose jamming feel of it,especially on the instrumental bridge,remind me of a sleeker version of Prince’s approach to funk-especially with the synth horn responses. So over the years,this has become one of my very favorite Level 42 grooves.

 

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Filed under 1980's, drums, jazz funk, Level 42, Mark King, Phil Gould, slap bass, synth brass, synthesizer, UK Funk