Prince’s history in terms of his unreleased vault material,shrouded in mystery as it is,does have a vital history all its own for the artist. He recorded during most of his free time. And loads of songs for each album project. One period that myself and many admirer’s of Prince’s music love to dip into is his huge 1986 production. In the early 80’s,Prince was seeking to make a name for himself as a new wave/synth pop artist with heavy rock overtones. And his funkiness would be a side dish. By 1985,Prince added The Family’s sax player Eric Leeds into the Revolution. And funk would no longer be a side dish for him.
There were two Prince projects that came and went in 1986. There was a Revolution album Dream Factory, a three album set called Crystal Ball (not to be confused with the self released 1998 outtake collection) and an album credited to the name Camille. This would feature Prince singing in a chipmunk-link voice he slowed down,then sped up. Many tracks from this album found their way onto albums and as B-sides. One,”If I Was Your Girlfriend” became a major hit later. One very exciting song I’ve heard from this album that hasn’t been widely distributed is “Rebirth Of The Flesh”.
An ultra sound like synth pulse starts out the song. And remains the primary percussive element throughout the song. Within a minutes time,Prince adds a brittle fuzzed out guitar and big,funky drums with tons of space in it as part of the mix. As the song progresses,with Prince’s vocals having a rangy and tonally complex conversation with itself,the horns of Eric Leeds and Matt Bliston accentuate the melody JB’s style. On the refrains,the deep fuzzy guitar and Leeds’ sax merge into a heavy sounding sustained melody. At the end of the song a goulish,thundering sound brings it to a halt.
“Rebirth Of The Flesh” was one of those songs that brought every element of Prince’s musical artistry together. Its got a hard driving funky rhythm-with some of the most intense horn lines Leeds and Bliston ever provided. It also has a very industrial rock tone-with some Hendrix like bluesy guitar licks. Its also got some of the melodic and rhythmic dissonances of jazz greats such as Duke Ellington. It lends much credence to George Clinton’s comment that Prince would be “one of the baddest out there if he released some of what he had in the can”. So here we have Prince’s funk at its hardest and most daring.
Filed under 1986, Atlanta Bliss, drums, Eric Leeds, Funk, funk rock, horns, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Prince, rock guitar, Saxophone, synthesizer, unreleased
Sometimes,there are songs discussed on this Anatomy of THE Groove feature that have a little extra excitement in terms of me writing about them. Many of these are songs often discussed between myself and blog co-founder Henrique Hopkins on Facebook. So many of his ideas come across in them. Today is such an occasion. Its taken a long time for me to actually locate this particular content. As with any song from Prince,it has its share of rich history all on its own. And as usual before getting into my rundown of the song,wanted to share some of that history with you.
Following the release of his second motion picture Under The Cherry Moon,Prince embarked on a year long recording session throughout 1986 and early 1987. These songs were originally intended for three separate album projects. Seems Warner Bros weren’t keen on Prince’s prolific nature forcing his albums to actually compete with each other on the charts. One of these projects was to be released under a pseudonym known as Camille-sung in a sped up voice.. It was a very funky album,a handful of whose tracks appeared on 1987’s Sign O The Times. The one I’m talking about today is called “Housequake”.
A loud,halting screech beings the song. Then the drum intro kicks in-a nine beat drum machine rhythm with the four notes after the third in a faster cluster. A live drum and a breezy synth horns come in over the call and response vocals. Then the refrain takes over for most of the rest of the song. Its the basic live drum beat with a mid range rhythm guitar playing the changes. There is also an electric and synth bass both playing the same six note line. The horns of Eric Leeds and Atlanta Bliss come in to accent on the second part. Eric solos on the bridge before playing a jazzy unison with Bliss on the jam’s outro.
The key point that Henrique and I discussed so much is that if James Brown had continued innovating his 70’s era funk sound with 1980’s instrumental innovations,it would likely have sounded somewhat like “Housequake”. The horns are there,and the opening drum break was even used to open a song by Stevie Wonder in a concert during the same era. Still the production style still has Prince’s touches of instrumental subtlety. So even though the instrumentation and lyrical references to “green eggs and ham” are totally JB derived, Prince still managed to maintain his own touches on this driving funk groove.
Filed under 'Sign 'O The Times', 1987, Atlanta Bliss, call and response, drum machines, drums, Eric Leeds, Funk, Funk Bass, James Brown, Prince, Saxophone, synth bass, synthesizers, trumpet, Warner Bros.
It was during the era of Sign O the Times that Prince was by far at his most musically exploratory and vital. He had one of his greatest bands during this period-the “Revolution Part 2” as I personally tend to call them in drummer/percussionist Sheila E.,longtime keyboardist Matt “Doctor” Fink,the late vocalist/organ player Bonnie Boyer,bassist Leaver Seacer Jr. and on sax and trumpet Eric Leeds and Matt “Atlanta Bliss” Bliston along with vocalist/dancer Cat. They not only provided an exciting stage presence for Prince during this era,but also expanded his musical sound.
On the other hand? Prince was inwardly troubled. He recorded an album following the tour for his previous album. It had no title or name attached to it. And when it finally came out eight years later? It had been widely known (and bootlegged) as The Black Album. Prince apparently dream’t one night of a field with a shadow spelling out the word ‘god” written on it. Somehow this motivated him to shelve the rather profanely lyric’ed funk of that for an entirely different musical concept.
By posing on the album cover tactfully naked in front of three Georgia O’Keefe styled lilies-in the manner of Botticelli’s The Birth Of Venus? Prince not early earned a degree of censor from record stores. But also the perception his notorious narcissism had transgressed to full fledged megalomania. As with most things involving Prince? The entire conceptual tract of this album was nothing remotely that simplistic.
“Eye No” starts out by declaring “rain is wet/sugar is sweet/clap your hands/and stomp your feet”. After Prince himself declares over a psychedelic chorus that his voice sounds so clear because “there’s no smack in his brain” this intensely percussive funk groove-built around a dancing high bass line and Atlanta Bliss’s joyous muted trumpet solos. After this,with an echoed “OWW!” Prince goes into “Alphabet Street”,one of my personal favorite songs of his and this albums main hit.
Starting with some of the greatest funky drum/rhythm guitar I ever heard,a bluesy bass line introduces one of the many breaks which define the song. On the third break? There’s a brief wall of rock guitar before returning to the funk until fade out. “Glam Slam” starts out with a lightly percussive Arabic type melody with a Latin rock style guitar solo before going into a more new wave rock style melody that isn’t at all far removed from Little Red Corvette
. “Anna Stesia” is a pensive,piano based jazz/pop type number with some unexpected major/minor chord transitions.
“Dance On” has a wild,high octane funk drumming and again a wall of rock guitar and bass seeming to bubble from below,but never to the front of the song with it’s gospel/soul organ led vocal chorus. The title track itself is an instrumentally thick contemporary synth funk number-again like an updated 1999 while the tender “When 2 R In Love”,the only holdover from the unreleased (at the time) Black Album is really the only stripped down number here. “I Wish You Heaven” is a somewhat ethereal arena rocker type with a powerful chorus while the closer “Positivity” is a jazzy,cinematic psychedelic soul/funk number with a gospel-type chorus at the end.
Throughout this album? Prince is completely playing the preacher. “Lovesexy” would seem on the surface to be some sort of “sexuality being next to godliness” type philosophy. He never defines it here. Lyrically there are constant references such as “I know there is a heaven and I know there is a hell” and “Love Is God/God Is Love/Girls and boys love god above” that reflect Prince’s embrace of the soul singers conflict between the secular and the spiritual. So its nothing unique in that respect. However on a more personal level it does seem that Prince was unsure what to make of his own revelation.
Prince seems to imply lyrically,throughout this album,a complete embrace of cynical paranoia where he is frightened of too much money,frightened of loosing it and frightened of the forces of evil. And those forces he combines into a character he describes in the end of the album as being called Spooky Electric. Musically speaking? Prince plays out his spiritual crisis to music that is far more loose than anything he’s done so far. His typically tight arrangements are replaced by a thick band oriented sound that can change in rhythm and melody almost on a whim.
In a way? That type of instrumentation is ideal in expressing the lyrical confusion this album seems to have. For reasons of which there are many interpretations,Prince also presented all nine songs on this CD onto one track. So the listener cannot jump between the totally different songs. Its one of his very best albums musically and is filled with memorable,highly funkified and even pop friendly songs. On the other hand,the lyrical confusion and aforementioned song presentation make this one of his less approachable albums.
Originally posted on June 8th,2014
Filed under 1980's, Atlanta Bliss, Bonnie Boyer, drums, Eric Leeds, Funk, horns, Lovesexy, Matt Fink, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, percussion, Prince, psychedelic soul, Sheila E., spirituality, Uncategorized
Prince & The Revolution were a band that truly evolved into their own name. With the announcement. With the announcement that surviving members Lisa Coleman,Brown Mark,Wendy Melvoin,Bobby Z and Matt Fink are planning on a reunion tour in tribute to their fallen bandleader,it reminded me of just how much these musicians expanded Prince’s grooves as it progressed. That progression went from the stripped down new wave of the Dirty Mind/Controversy era to the brittle electronic Minneapolis sound of 1999 and Purple Rain. Shortly thereafter,their sound made an even broader change.
During the summer of 1985,Prince and his band mates expanded. He added saxophonist,brother of his manager Alan Leeds and trumpeter Matt “Atlanta Bliss” Bliston along with guitarist Miko Weaver. The band also eschewed their flamboyantly dandy style clothing in favor of dressy,tailored clothing and slicker haircuts. This also effected their sound as they recorded for Prince’s next film project Under The Cherry Moon and it’s accompanying soundtrack album Parade. The song from the album that might best project Prince & The Revolutions evolved sound is “Mountains”.
The song starts with two by two snare drum heavy beat with right on the rhythm hand claps. A pounding drum machine introduces the up-scaling piano melody that carries the musical refrain of the entire song. It’s that same rhythm filled out with chiming guitar,percussion and high pitched,otherworldly synthesizer. On the choruses of the song,Prince plays call and response with his new horn section. The bass line of the song is equally fluid. It moves throughout under the drum as both a thoroughly percussive element while basically playing the melody of the piano.
The instrumental bridge of the song strips the music down to the rhythm that opens it. This time the rhythm guitar is playing a bluesy chicken scratch riff that Prince segues by shouting out “MOMMY I’M CLEVER!”. The following vocal shriek leads directly into the final repeat of the chorus. The harmonic horns scale down at the end of that chorus when Prince’s falsetto shouts find those horns playing a swelling evolving fanfare. An electric sitar inaugurates the refrain-a somewhat East Indian classical melody with the sitar wash holding up the James Brown style horn charts as the song fades out.
“Mountains” is a Prince song that really fascinated me from the moment I heard it. It mixed in the spiritually ethereal quality of gospel with a psychedelic airiness to the production. As my friend Henrique points out,on the other hand, the rhythmic nucleus of this song is strong galloping funk. The drums,the hand claps,the bass,the horns and rhythm guitar clop along like instrumentals hooves working their way down a heavily funky road. It’s mixture of cinematic drama with a strong ear for a phat groove showcase just how vital Prince’s musical progression was to the 1980’s.
Filed under 1980's, Atlanta Bliss, Bobby Z, Brown Mark, cinematic soul, drums, Eric Leeds, Funk Bass, hand claps, horns, Lisa Coleman, Matt Fink, Miko Weaver, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, Psychedelia, Saxophone, trumpet, Uncategorized, Under The Cherry Moon, Wendy Melvoin