Category Archives: Bobby Z

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.

Prince Summer: “Partyup” by Prince (1980)

Prince’s musical mission in the years 1980-1984 are shrouded in mystery. And still open to debate in terms of who created what. What is known was that Prince and of his band really shook up the music critics and listeners in 1980 with the Dirty Mind album. It was raw, almost demo level new wave funk that apparently had one Warner Bros exec claiming “we signed the new Stevie Wonder and he’s giving us the new Ric Ocasek”. My personal opinion is that maybe the idea of a black American artist at this time,combining styles of music in this manner (at the time) threw many people off as to what they were hearing.

During his early 80’s period Prince along with Andre Cymone,Matt Fink,Bobby Z and Lisa Coleman who bringing the late 60’s musical free for all approach into the punk/post disco era-with a whole other sense of freedom and hedonism. One song on this Dirty Mind has a story that also shakes up the view of Prince as a total puppet master. It’s final song was originally by a local Minneapolis group known as Enterprise. Morris Day was a member of that group,and allowed Prince to have the song for the album. Prince in turn gave Morris position of lead singer of The Time. The song in question was called “Partyup”.

A high pitched synth squeal opens the song as Prince accompanies his thick rhythm guitar with a simple yet very funky three chord bass line. That also to the tune of him playing that same melodic rhythm on the piano. Morris Day keeps his classic shuffling groove on the drums throughout. On the choruses,Prince squeals the new wave style synth right up again along with tightening up the other rhythmic elements. The song progresses on this way until the song ends with Morris’s drumming really swinging as Prince preaches “your gonna have to fight your own damn war/’cause we don’t wanna fight no more”.

Many people credit this song is one of several examples on this album of being the beginnings of the Minneapolis sound. And that has a lot of truth. This groove blends the simple rhythmic notation of rock ‘n roll with the drum like instrumental approach of funk-all with a stripped down, raw punk-funk aestetic. Lyrically the focus of the song is similar to “1999”. It also cements Prince’s closeness to the baby boomer-Generation X sociological arc expressed in lyrics such as “because of their half-baked mistakes/We get ice cream, no cake/All lies, no truth/Is it fair to kill the youth?”.

For his own part,Prince seems to have been quite sincere in his anti war message. This goes up to his recent song “Baltimore” where he evokes a more matured invocation of Albert Einstein by stating “peace is more than the absence of war”. On this song,Prince is playing the rocking new wave/funk and singing a message that was full of  his youthful vigor,and in a certain sense narcissism. Though in stating to the hard swinging drums of Morris Day that “WE don’t wanna fight no more” strongly indicates he is already expressing a broader thematic vision with his words and music even then.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1980's, Andre Cymone, Bobby Z, drums, Funk Bass, Lisa Coleman, Matt Fink, message songs, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Morris Day, New Wave, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, punk funk, rhythm guitar, synthesizers, Warner Bros.

Anatomy Of THE Groove: “DMSR” by Prince

Prince has been gone for over a month now. And it’s now official that his death was caused by an overdose of the strong opioid Fentanyl. As the future of his music stands in the balance,it would seem as if many people suddenly realized the impact Prince’s music had on their lives. Or their own art. Some see that as cretin. Personally I see it as a good thing. Whatever motivates someone to appreciate someone with musical importance of Prince Rogers Nelson will be a pretty good thing in the end. When it comes down to it,it’s the mans funky creativity that should be remembered rather than his tragic early death.

Today will be Prince’s first birthday during my lifetime where we wasn’t alive. Therefore in discussing him today,it seemed best to search for a song that personified everything about Prince’s musical and thematic persona. Over thousands of songs released and unreleased, plus 39  available albums, the task seemed daunting. Suddenly it occurred to me it’s been there for 20 years. It was the last song on the first record on the vinyl copy of his 1982 breakthrough album 1999. It’s another of those Prince’s songs that only become more amazing to me with each listening. The name of this funk is “DMSR”.

A 2 by 2 hit drum machine beat with a nasal trumpet style synth sound gets the song started. That synth horn plays a JB’s style hard hitting riff before shaking percussion and Prince’s high pitched screech over the break brings in the main body of the jam. This adds a down-scaling synth bass kicks along with a choral synth brass part with Prince’s slow crawling rhythm guitar driving home the changes. This is the basic groove up to the last half-where the only change is a bridge with more driving percussion and Prince’s sustain,chicken scratch guitar that plays along with the final choruses before it all fades.

James Brown was a key inspiration to Prince’s approach to funk. He paid direct tribute to him throughout his career. From “Housequake” to “Sexy MF”. In the early 80’s,Prince was still pioneering his synth brass based Minneapolis sound-with it’s stripped down, electronic new wave influences. Much as with Prince alumni Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis’s  production on Janet Jackson’s song “Control” five years after this, “DMSR” takes the nakedly brittle synth funk based sound of Prince’s one man band approach of the time into the basic horn chart/drum break/rhythm guitar structure of classic James Brown funk.

This songs title as sung in it’s chorus is an abbreviation standing for “dance, music, sex, romance”. Prince boldly asks everyone (again JB style) to “get on the floor” and “loosen up” in different ways throughout the song. Lisa Coleman,Dez Dickerson,Brown Mark and Bobby Z all join him on a chorus of the song title. Even if Prince once declared this era of his music as being like being in the 3rd grade to him in retrospect,this song is still one I can pick out in terms of describing everything rhythmically,lyrically and creatively atmospheric about Prince’s classic Minneapolis purple funk style.

 

 

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Filed under 1980's, Bobby Z, Brown Mark, chicken scratch guitar, Dez Dickerson, drum machines, James Brown, Lisa Coleman, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, naked funk, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, rhythm guitar, synth bass, synth brass, synth funk, synthesizers

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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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Mountains” by Prince & The Revolution

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.

 

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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