In my guest post last week, I made the case for a more definitive compilation of Prince‘s Warner-era material, combining the best qualities of the new set 4Ever (and yes, contrary to some of the Prince fans who have been yelling at me on Facebook, I do think 4Ever has some good qualities) with the best of earlier collections like The Hits/The B-Sides and Ultimate. But I also promised I’d take a slightly different tack this week and pitch another compilation analogous to 4Ever, this one covering the years after his departure from W.B. As I noted last time, such a collection is arguably even more needed than a deeper dive into the already well-covered territory of 1978-1993. The last two-plus decades of Prince’s career were certainly more vexing and uneven than the first decade-and-a-half, but they were very nearly as prolific; and somewhere amidst all that for-hardcore-fans-only chaff is a killer “Best-of” just waiting to be discovered.
So where to start? Well, that’s easy…
Step 1: The Singles
One thing about my previous post that I probably deserved to be yelled at about was the obvious fact I glossed over: that 4Ever is, at its heart, a singles collection. Even less-frequently-compiled tracks like “Gotta Stop (Messin’ About),” “Mountains,” and “Batdance” were released as singles in the ’80s. Now, in some ways, this actually hurts the argument in support of 4Ever: if Prince/NPG/Warner wanted it to be strictly singles only, they should have gone all-in and released all the damn singles from the period in question (B-sides, too!). But a singles-first approach is, frankly, a better idea for the years 1994-2016 anyway: Prince released a ton of singles as an independent artist (some of them even hits!), and shockingly, none of them have ever been collected in a “Greatest Hits”-style compilation. Hell, I probably hear 1994’s “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World”–one of his biggest hit singles ever–on the radio more frequently than any other Prince song, and the damn thing is out of print: the only place you can buy it at the moment is digitally on TIDAL, or as some vinyl picture disc of questionable provenance.
So our imaginary NPG-era comp would absolutely have to include “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World”–hell, make it disc one, track one. But there were plenty of other singles from the ’90s and 2000s that deserve to be heard by a wider audience. Come had “Letitgo”; The Gold Experience had “I Hate U”; hell, even Chaos and Disorder had “Dinner with Delores.” Granted, Prince struggled commercially during the “Symbol” era, which means many of the songs released as singles during the time aren’t going to be greeted with the same level of nostalgia as, say, “Little Red Corvette”: I’m pretty sure no one in 2017 will be clamoring to hear his 1996 version of “Betcha by Golly Wow!” But some of his post-name change, pre-comeback singles absolutely deserve another chance: like the bluesy title track for 1997’s acoustic album The Truth, which failed to chart but presented a totally different side of “the Artist” to the public; or “The Work, Pt. 1” from 2001’s The Rainbow Children, which very clearly signposted the 21st-century James Brown revivalism of 2004’s much more successful Musicology. Part of the reason why compilations exist (other than to line record executives’ pockets, of course) is to offer fresh context for previously-issued material; and few catalogues are more in need of fresh context than the singles Prince released after his departure from Warner Bros.
Step 2: The Landmarks
But the singles aren’t the only “late”-period releases that could benefit from recontextualization; as I tried to argue in my post last week, even in his most dependable years as a hitmaker, Prince’s singles only ever told part of the story. So why not use this opportunity to put 1994-era live favorite “Days of Wild” next to The Gold Experience tracks where it belongs–or, for that matter, to highlight some of the gems that got buried in the three-disc excess of Emancipation in 1996? Another reason for a compilation to exist is to tell the story of an artist’s development over time–something that 4Ever probably does better than any of Prince’s earlier collections, simply by virtue of it being (mostly) chronological. But we also mostly know the first arc of Prince’s story; an “NPG era” compilation would provide an excellent opportunity to tell a story that a lot less listeners know, one that Prince himself seemed at times to delight in obscuring. Hell, there are whole swathes of Prince fans who have never even heard important late-period highlights like 2014’s self-eulogizing “My Way Home” or 2015’s “June,” either because they’d given up on buying every new Prince album when it comes out or because they couldn’t be bothered to subscribe to TIDAL. A comp like this would be a great opportunity to bring them back in the fold.
Step 3: ???
Look, I’ll be the first to admit: this period of Prince’s music isn’t my wheelhouse, which is one reason why I really want to see it collected–unlike 4Ever, which I bought pretty much as an act of charity to support the estate, a selection of the highlights from 1994-2016 would directly benefit my musical education. I know a few tracks from the period that I would consider hidden gems–“Shy” from The Gold Experience, “The Human Body” from Emancipation, the aforementioned highlights from Art Official Age and HITnRUN Phase Two–but I would much rather hear other people’s recommendations. So what do you say? Aside from the obvious singles, what songs from the “NPG Era” do you deem worthy of compilation? Let me know in the comments, or just yell at me on Facebook. And if you want to read my writing about Prince from an era that is at least somewhat more in my wheelhouse, check out my song-by-song chronological blog dance / music / sex / romance. I’m hoping to finish 1978 by the end of the year.