Category Archives: albums

Improvisations – Favorite Prince Albums & Singles

Prince coversImprovisations

My favorite Prince albums and singles

By Ron Wynn

Two words I strive to avoid at all times in reviews, commentaries, or analysis are best and greatest. In my view they are death traps, because they assume things that cannot be objectively proven nor verified. One person’s choice for an artist’s greatest record is just that: one person’s choice. Even if an excellent case can be made that it is a good selection, you can always find someone able to offer an alternative and make an equally compelling case, particularly if it’s an artist with an impressive and lengthy musical or literary or otherwise artistic legacy.

So I always use the word favorite in my choices, letting folks know right up front that I don’t claim these to be the end all, be all of anything. One of the reasons why I consider myself much more of an advocate than a critic these days is because I truly don’t approach music, film, or television the way a genuine critic does, which is listen or view everything and rate it up or down. I have no interest for example in seeing “The Hangover 10,” or listening to 10 records by 10 people I’ve never heard of and saying they all stink. Nothing wrong with anyone who wants to do that, and I read a lot of things from all sorts of people who do just that. I did it myself for many years. Just don’t want to do it now.

So that’s the long way of saying that whenever you’ll see on of these surveys, know ahead of time that it is strictly my selections, and I’m not arguing for anything except my own preference for the selected material, and while hoping that others will enjoy my views and/or even purchase some of the items if they don’t have them, I make no claims to them ever being the best or greatest of anything, except in some very rare occasions.

My 5 favorite Prince LPS in order:

(1) “Dirty Mind” (1980)

Equal parts erotic and rock-influenced, this came at a time when folks had prematurely decided he was mainly a funk/R&B act because “I Want To Be Your Lover” had risen to the top of that chart. He blew that notion to shreds, while tunes like “Head” and “Uptown” revealed his flair with bass lines and keyboard parts, as well as that always enticing falsetto and tendency to softly murmur X-rated invitations. Also included some spry rebellious sentiment, plus a little anti-war rhetoric, propelled by a great band that included Andre Cymone on bass, Dez Dickerson on guitar, Bobby Z on drums and twin keyboardists Matt Fink and Gayle Chapman.

(2) “Purple Rain” (1984)

The key to whether a soundtrack can stand alone is whether folks are willing to not only listen to it sans the film, but return to it after seeing it. With the LP eventually selling 13 million copies, and tons of folks walking around singing “Purple Rain” without even knowing what that meant, it’s pretty clear this one passed that test. It was also a stroke of genius to issue “When Doves Cry,” as haunting and evocative a piece as he’s ever done before or since, as a single to fuel radio play and support for the forthcoming LP. By the time “Purple Rain” hit the streets, it was already must have due to “When Doves Cry.” Incidentally, Prince did zippo pre-promotion for the film, yet it had already earned its complete budget by the end of the first weekend. Incidentally, it’s also a fine movie that still holds up reasonably well.

(3) “1999” (1982)

A double-LP with only a couple ( maximum three) songs per side, this was Prince in peak frenzy  Heavily fortified with synths, this also included a classic car song in “Little Red Corvette,” a slicing denunciation of pompous writers titled “All The Critics Love You In New York,” and more salacious material (notably “Lady Cab Driver”) that only buttressed the naughty mastermind reputation he’d later strive to make folks forget he’d ever earned. The title cut was a personal favorite. It was supposedly slated to be the first single, then held back out of fear audiences wouldn’t accept it. But while rock radio wouldn’t play it, MTV aired the video a zillion times, and even some of the hipper black stations (they still had a lot of them back then) aired it.

(4) “The Black Album” (1987 original release date; later re-released in 1994 limited edition)

As absurd and stupid as this seems now, many of the cuts on this record were supposedly recorded at various points from the mid-’80s on in response to the notion that because Prince had enjoyed rock success, he’d somehow lost connections with his blackness. So he just put together a host of high-octane, super funky and also heavily sensual (sometimes borderline vulgar) cuts simply to prove to those out there who didn’t think he could write this music that he could. Side note: I spent about $100 on this one, and had to search high and low for it before finding it. If you like edgy, erotic stuff, this is Prince at his peak in that mode.

(5) “Sign O’ The Times” (1987)

A tapestry culled from numerous other Prince projects, many of which never ultimately saw the light of production, this represents the best efforts from another incredibly fertile creative period when Prince was experimenting with jazz-funk, rock, dance music, new wave, R&B, synth pop, dancehall reggae, and whatever else was out there. All the experimenting also led to some creative dissonance though, which eventually saw such ambitious projects as an instrumental LP and three-record opus shelved, and the dissolution of the Revolution band that had been backing Prince during that time (except for keyboardist Matt Fink). Still, this has some superb singles, especially “U Got The Look,” which would be Sheena Easton’s moment of pop glory.

Close:

“Controversy” (1981)

“Parade” (1986)

“Diamonds & Pearls” (1991)

“The Gold Experience” (1995)

“The Love Symbol” (1992)

“Musicology” (2004)

“Emancipation” (1996)

“3121 (2006)

“HitnRun: Phase Two” (2015)

“Lovesexy” (1988)

Favorite singles

(1) “When Doves Cry”

(2) “Cream”

(3) “Diamonds and Pearls”

(4) “I Wanna Be Your Lover”

(5) “Little Red Corvette”

(6) “Kiss”

(7) “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man”

(8) “Head”

(9) “Uptown”

(10) “Raspberry Beret”

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Filed under 1980's, albums, Andre Cymone, Bobby Z, critics, Dez Dickerson, Gayle Chapman, Matt Fink, MTV, Prince, Ron Wynn, Sheena Easton, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Control” by Janet Jackson

Janet Jackson released her third album Control 30 years ago today. Yes that does feel like it’s aging me a bit,though I was technically five years old when it first came out. Years of looking at the past,present and possible future of black American music bring out just how important Janet’s first big moment in the sun actually was. Not only did it do a lot for her career wise. But with the level of consistency producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis bought to it, the album focused attention back on full albums as a prime medium for uptempo funk and dance oriented music in the late 1980’s. Needless to say,my ongoing journey with Control is full of personal reflections as well.

First time I ever heard of Janet Jackson was a gift of the first 45 RPM records in my collection in 1987. They were Janet’s “Nasty” and “When I Think Of You” from this particular album. It wouldn’t be for another decade or so that I’d finally hear the entire album. It’s yet another in that special CD rack reserved for my very favorite albums. Am sure many of you reading this have similarly nostalgic memories of when they first heard this album. Of course I was also hearing this while almost simultaneously getting seriously into The Time. So just the idea of the Minneapolis sound meeting up with Janet Jackson let me to talk about the song “Control” itself.

Opening up with wind chime effects,whirring electronic hums and liquid guitar-like accents,the main groove opens with some brittle hand claps/drum machine percussion effects. The song’s sections is separated out by distinct breaks. The first is an instrumental chorus with Minneapolis funk’s trademark of (by this time) digital synthesizers playing the strong grooving horn lines. Janet’s vocals duet call and response style with her own harmonies on the main chorus. The bridge has a sunny melody with digitized bells. The final choruses of the song Janet’s lead and harmony vocals play in beautiful harmony with the percussion and synth horn lines with a playful synergy.

Rhythmically,this song has a very strong industrial and hard hitting sound that is right on time with the dance music coming out of Japan and Europe during that time. Yet even with the hard slamming electronic instrumentation, “Control” is still structured entirely in the mold of a James Brown style funk jam.  The big beat on the one,with it’s many breaks continues to drive the groove. Also Janet’s budding confidence in singing about if it has to do with her life,she wants to be the one in control in response Jam & Lewis’s synth horns. Whatever musician and/or producer was personally involved,this showcased how Minneapolis was a major source for revitalizing a hard funk attitude for the late 1980’s.

 

 

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Filed under 1980's, albums, drum machines, electro funk, funk breaks, Industrial funk, Jam & Lewis, James Brown, Janet Jackson, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Minneapolis, Nostalgia, synth brass, The Time, Uncategorized

Anatomy Of THE Groove for 12/18/2015: “It’s Got To Be Love” by Lakeside

Out of the same melting pot of funk from which Slave and Heatwave emerged? Dayton,Ohio band Lakeside were the premier large funk band on Dick Griffey’s Solar label from 1978 up through 1984. One key element of this band that’s come up in the conversations I’ve had with Henrique is how committed Lakeside were to being a funk band. Truthfully, I didn’t fully understand everything in that particular discussion . Still there’s no doubt that Lakeside were vital in funk’s transition between the disco era funk and the post disco/boogie sound to follow.

The one thing I always loved about Lakeside was how their album jackets (in a similar manner to the Ohio Players) helped visually conceptualize their funk. Each one featured the band members acting out a particular event related to their album titles. Their 1981 release Keep On Moving Straight Ahead is a superb example as it features Lakeside as jockey’s-at the Kentucky Derby perhaps. And that one is riding a Zebra and being chased by a black bird showcases strong Afrocentricity. What actually caught my attention most was the last song on side A of the vinyl copy I had called “It’s Got To be Love”.

It’s a groove that starts moving with a powerfully percussive rhythm,with a sunny melody played within it by a round and high pitched synthesizer. Then a heavy acoustic piano chimes in as a bass line while a playfully liquid rhythm guitar plays the changes. On the refrains of the song? The bright synth that opens the song returns as an orchestral element. The soulful growl of lead singer/composer Mark Adam Wood Jr. is accompanied by the beautiful multi part harmonies of the bands other vocalists. After returning briefly to the stripped down percussion that opens it? The melody scales up in pitch before the song itself fades out.

This is a very strong representative of the type of funk I tend to be drawn most to. And again? Have noticed how much of it derives from either Ohio or California. It’s both a very singable,hooky song and a strong groove all at the same time. It mixes the churchy vocals,harmonies and melodies of the Philly sound with the bright,optimistic late 70’s/early 80’s boogie approach. Yet the live instrumental end is much more prominent here. So in the end? It’s the post disco era’s equivalent of the funky soul sound. One that was actually used often,and seldom discussed.At the end,it’s one of Lakeside’s finest and more unsung jams.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1980's, Afrocentrism, albums, Boogie Funk, dance funk, Dayton Ohio, Dick Griffey, Funk, funk guitar, funky soul, Lakeside, Philly Soul, post disco, Solar Records

Prince: His Music & The Art Of Understanding

Prince art

One of the keys to my personal understand of Prince would be flexibility. Expansion of ones tastes and thoughts would seem to be vital in order to have the appropriate appreciation for the art of Prince Rogers Nelson. Having reviewed and done at least two blog posts about the man already? It feels like exactly the right time to acknowledge the fact my experiences with his music spans across four decades-give or take a year or five. So on the man’s 57th birthday? I am going to run down,decade by decade, just where my path growing up intersected with his purple life.

1980’s

There’s always a vague memory from a child’s point of view. But hearing “When Doves Cry” on my mom’s 45 RPM record of it,when it was brand new,was a very unusual musical experience for me. At the time? I didn’t know what I was hearing. On the beach near where we had a summer camp? The ground was littered with flat,slate like rocks with a red/indigo color that my mom referred to as “purple Prince rocks”. These rocks were collecting heavily in my room by the time I heard my next Prince song-a very choppy VHS recording my dad made me of the video to his song “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man”. This was Prince’s commercial prime-his public decade as an artist. I knew of him,but perhaps took him a little for granted.

1990’s

 When Prince elected to change his name (amid record company hassles) to an unpronounceable symbol in 1994? My first reaction was actually laughter and eye rolling. By that point? Most of the artists I deeply admired were involved in some very public scandal. I felt the media were unfairly projecting Prince as being insane. Naturally this attracted me to his music. First came The Hits/The B-Sides. After that,while revisiting the salad years of this back catalog up to that point? My first experience with new Prince music came via multi CD sets such as Emancipation and Crystal Ball. If the 80’s were Prince’s prime decade? Then the 90’s were the prime decade of my personal experience with his artistry.

2000’s

Becoming an adult was a happy time for me to be an admirer of Prince’s music. Mainly because he was calling himself Prince again. Of course another aspect of being an adult during the immediate post 9/11 years kept me from the latest news on the man. While Prince was at last a creative free agent? I was personally experiencing a great deal of difficulty managing life on my own. Issues I still face,to some degree, to this very day. Interestingly enough? Being able to delight in the exciting funkiness emerging from new Prince releases of the time such as Musicology,3121 and MPL Sound had me rooting for the man’s success as an example to myself: that an artist could be successfully and creatively free at the same time.

2010’s

It’s been an interesting six year journey with Prince by this point. One had has yet to be complete. This decade started off with me being very disappointed,annoyed and angry with Prince’s business choices. Not only was he electing to release little to no music. But his live shows never came close to reaching my area. Not to mention him turning his nose up at the internet. Which was at this point becoming an enormous aspect of my own creative expression on every level: literately,artistically and photographically. This has all changed within the last year or so. Prince has re-signed (on his terms) with Warner Bros. and released two new albums. With the promise of more. Also he’s released a single to raise awareness for the BlackLivesMatter initiative with his racially charged single in “Baltimore” as well.


One element that has been enormous in my understanding of Prince during the past decade and a half or so has been the enormous presence of third person perspective. Facebook friends such as Brandon Ousley,Henry Cooper and in particular Henrique Hopkins have been instrumental in providing often illuminating insights into the creative and personal character of the often elusive Minneapolis native. One element of Prince’s recent character I appreciate is his public advocacy of albums as a vital musical concept. Especially in the retro 50’s/post MP3 attitudes of single songs again being the main source for popular music. If Prince and my own life progress forward along a similar clip to this? I might at last achieve a full appreciation in my art of understanding of the artist and his motivations.

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Filed under 1980's, 1990s, 3121, 45 records, albums, BlackLivesMatter, CD's, Crystal Ball, Emancipation, Facebook, Funk, MPL Sound, Musicology, Prince, The Hits/B-Sides, When Doves Cry