Category Archives: Linn Drum

Anatomy of THE Groove: “A Love Bizarre” by Sheila E

Sheila E has been written about so well by blogger on here Zach Hoskins,in his segment about Prince’s female protege’s. Her back story is so well known,and that pulled it all together. It was my mom who gleefully encouraged me to pick up Sheila’s debut The Glamorous Life on CD on a 1997 visit to Rochester,New York. She has never been someone too emphatic about recommending music. But on this one,she was very insistent. Hearing the song had me interesting in hearing as much Sheila E as existed at the time. And luckily within the next 6-7 years,I had all her output up to that point.

In the immediate post Purple Rain period,Prince began pursuing a far jazzier style of music. He began augmenting the Revolution with horns-starting with sax player Eric Leeds. And the music he was producing for (and with) his proteges was really starting to reflect this. The songs continued to stretch out in length too. One such song was one Prince had recorded in August 1985. And it was actually done in very close collaboration with Sheila as well. It was the final track on the first side to her 1985 LP Romance 1600. It was called “A Love Bizarre”.

Prince’s classin LINN LM-1 with the flanger filter effect starts out as the main rhythm for the entire song. Than his round,popping synth bass comes in just before Sheila’s percussion. Eric Leeds’ presence on the song takes two forms. First there’s him playing the main vocal chorus of the song pretty much by rote. Than he continues with a jazzy improvisation throughout the rest of the song. Matt Bliston joins him of a very Sly & The Family Stone pitch dip on some of the rhythmic accents of the song. Prince provides a West Montgomery like guitar solo as the song finally fades out.

The central rhythm to “A Love Bizarre” is very basically funky. But its the many instrumental touches that add the bite to this driving groove. There are musical ideas from all across the spectrum of classic funk in the 60’s and 70’s. There’s the jazzy soloing on the final half of the 12+ minute opus. Also Prince’s guitar solo starts playing the melody for “Frere Jacques” on the bridge of the song. That rounds out to this being a strong collaborative effort between Sheila E.,Prince and his growing band. At the same time,its got that Minneapolis funk touch that just never quits.

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under 1985, Eric Leeds, horns, jazz funk, jazz guitar, Linn Drum, Minneapolis Sound, Prince, Saxophone, 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.

 

Leave a comment

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 1958-2016: “If I Was Your Girlfriend” (1987)

Prince was an artist whose musical conceptualization helped me personally to view sexuality as an act of love,rather than as a profane taboo. Considering his classic soul music struggle between spiritual and carnal pleasures,that may be hard for some people to believe. But as far as that aspect of Prince’s talent,it really began to reach its peak in the mid/late 80’s. A period that I feel represents Prince’s creative peak as a musician. Prince was also on the cusp of becoming a 30 something during this period as well. This represented another stage in Prince’s emotional maturity.

Sign O The Times was the Prince album that illustrated this stage of his maturity most fully. Because of the time frame in which I heard it,the 1987 album reminds me of a long period during the 90’s that wasn’t paying attention to Prince’s new music. There is one memory from a rainy afternoon in 1994 when I was driving home with my parents from Strawberries Records. They had the radio on and this Prince song came on with a very deep and strange sound at the beginning. They shut it off before I knew what it was. When I finally heard Sign O The Times,I realized that song was “If I Was Your Girlfriend”.

That “strange sound” I mentioned begins the song over a three note LINN drum hit. Actually sounds like revving an amp’d up electric guitar at its very lowest notes. Then a thick slap bass pop breaks into the refrain of the song. Its a very slow beat accompanied by a trumpet like synth brass solo while foreboding layers of synth strings play along in the back round. On the refrains,Prince sings in a sped up falsetto along with mainly the drum and bass line of the song. Toward the end of the song,the bass line gets somewhat more intricate as Prince raps frantically with some operatic orchestration before the song stops.

Its taken me too long to realize that this is one of Prince true funk classics. The slap bass pretty much carries the entire song-one that TLC would also cover around the first time I first hear…well the intro anyway. Lyrically,this song finds Prince exploring a sexual double standard. His asking a lover if she’d undress in front of him if they were anything but lovers. Even saying by the end “we don’t have to make babies to make love/we don’t have to make love to have an orgasm”. Prince taking on romantic insecurity in this funky musical way was a major step in his evolution as a human being.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under 'Sign 'O The Times', 1987, Funk, guitar, Linn Drum, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Prince, sexual revolution, slap bass, synth brass, synthesizers

Prince Summer: “The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker” (1987)

During the mid/late 80’s,Prince was refashioning the MPLS sound into something far beyond its stripped down drum machine/synth brass based new wave style groove it started out as being.His music was becoming far more orchestral and jazzier-showcasing a more live instrumental approach and more improvisational horn charts and solos. In 1986 however, Prince was still close enough to his signature sound to expand on it with some of his newer musical ideas. This came to fruition on the unreleased album Dream Factory,which evolved into Sign O The Times.

When I first started collecting Prince CD’s,Sign O The Times was on my bucket list of albums in terms of introductions to his music. It was actually the last on this list I ended up getting. It was a 2 CD set that I actually had to listen to several times in order to gauge what each song meant to me. Looking back on it now,the album has o conceptual unity as its cobbled together from several unreleased sessions. Yet all the songs sound like they belong together. One of a handful of album tracks that really stood out for me on this particular,the top of that list would be “The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker”.

A drum kick on the Linn LM-1 starts out the song. A steady Linn drum track,with a number of call and response Afro Latin percussion accents and claps,remains the main rhythm of the entire song-save for another drum kick before another refrain. The bass line is an intricate,snaky movement sewing the song together. Prince provides a number of unique synth leads here. One is a high,pitch bent one that sounds almost out of tune. The other is a similarly toned line if a bit lower-both improvising on the series of melodies throughout the song until it ends on the same theme on which it began.

Especially since this same man sang “its time for jazz to die” in 1982,this song shows how much Prince had integrated jazz improvisation and Latin drum patterns into his one man band approach by the mid 80’s. Some of the unusual,improvised modulations of the synthesizers on this sound have a similarity to Joni Mitchell’s music,of which Prince was a major fan growing up. He even name drops her as an element in the story told by the lyrics-a rye musing on Prince being played by a cocktail waitress. In terms of his multi instrumental jazz/funk approach,this is among my very favorite Prince songs.

 

4 Comments

Filed under 'Sign 'O The Times', 1987, jazz funk, Joni Mitchell, Linn Drum, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Prince, slap bass, synthesizers

Prince Summer: “Lady Cab Driver” (1982)

Prince got away with as much on his 1982 album 1999 as he did on his budget blowing debut from 1978. For one,he managed to convince Warner Bros to release a double album at the price of a single one. Not only that but he filled it with 12 songs that were mostly between 5 and 10 minutes long. This was an approach closer to that of an early 70’s James Brown/JB’s record than a pop directed album of the early 80’s. Yet it showcased the way in which Prince was looking to have his music marketed. And also spoke to a lot of his maverick spirit on that level that would come to full flower a decade later.

My first exposure to 1999 came in…well 1997. I decided to pick up Prince’s first four albums of the 80’s (Purple Rain included) on vinyl. 1999 was the coolest visually because you could see the closeup photo of Prince’s eye spinning on the custom labels spinning while playing the album. That summer my Aunt Deb came to visit us. We began talking about our mutual admiration for Prince. We both agreed 1999 was our favorite album by him. When we discussed our favorite song on the album,she said hers was “Little Red Corvette”. I said mine was the song I’m over viewing today: “Lady Cab Driver”.

A Linn drum beat thumping along with the sound of traffic sounds begins the song,as Prince is heard hailing a cab. After this,the main groove of the song comes in. This features a live funky drum,with Prince playing the rhythmic changes on a equally funky rhythm guitar. When the lead vocals come in,each vocal part features a low toned synth brass part. There are several sections to this song. One features Prince and said cab driver involved in a vocally intense sexual encounter. The other showcases thick slap bass,bursts of rock guitar and squiggly synths before fading out on traffic sounds just as it began.

“Lady Cab Driver” stands very much in contrast to the synth based Minneapolis sound permeating the rest of the 1999 album. Its strong live drum/bass/guitar oriented funk with the MPLS synth brass used as accents only. Conceptually,it seems like a fetish setup at first. Until during the mock sexual encounter,Prince reveals his envy of his brother,his disdain for rich people who don’t know how to give,and so on. I also realize now that the main chorus of the song is also a possible origin of Ready For The World’s Prince ripoff song “Oh,Sheila”. Even today,its still one of this albums most powerful slices of funk.

 

 

 

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under 1980's, 1999, drums, Linn Drum, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Prince, rhythm guitar, rock guitar, slap bass, synth brass, synthesizers

Prince Summer: “Computer Blue” (1984)

In taking to a lot of people with a casual knowledge of Prince,Purple Rain is often their favorite album. And song. Its the period most associated with him. And it isn’t hard to see why. The man had a blockbuster album and motion picture out in a year dominated by Michael Jackson,Cyndi Lauper and Bruce Springsteen. It was Prince’s most thoroughly rock album but to that point. At the same time,it was a new wave/synth pop record with a lot of black American musical content-such as jazz and gospel melodic/rhythmic references. As for myself,I do have personal favorite songs on the album.

One of these songs was a song Prince conceived in a very grand way. It would seem that he conceived this song as a 14 minute opus-likely with multiple complex parts. But it does seem interference from Warner’s had him edit the song down intensely. One possible reason for its length was the co-writing credit for his father,John L. Nelson on an element he referred to as “Father’s Song”. This still ended up in the song. Conceptually the song dealt with Prince’s love triangle between himself,Apollonia and Morris Day in the film. The name of this song was called “Computer Blue”.

A classic Minnapolis Linn LM-1 drum clap opens the song-over which Wendy and Lisa have a bit of mildly S&M inspired dialog about hot water in the bath tub. Over this,the main keyboard melody plays over which Prince plays some shrieking guitar flourishes. His piercing scream breaks into the main song. This consists of a quavering,high pitched digital synthesizer,that Linn drum rhythm that opens the song and call and response rock guitar from Prince. On an instrumental bridge Prince plays a fast paced,hard rocking guitar solo before segueing into the “Father’s Song” sequence.

“Fathers Song” is more or less the instrumental bridge of the song. It finds Prince playing his father’s melody on a jazz-rock style guitar solo-accompanied by equally jazzy acoustic piano touches. Prince’s guitar solo begins to rock harder again. And the song returns to its main theme-ending with the same shriek with which it began. This might be the most thoroughly musical song on the Purple Rain  soundtrack. The “Computer Blue” part an economical,brittle new wave synth rock. Than Prince brings in his father’s jazzier tones over his Linn for that bridge. This takes “Computer Blue” to its own unique musical level.

 

 

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under 1984, jazz rock, John L. Nelson, Linn Drum, Lisa Coleman, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, New Wave, piano, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, Purple Rain, rock guitar, Soundtracks, synthesizers, Wendy Melvoin

Prince Summer In Full Swing: ’20Ten’ turns 6!

20ten

20Ten is one of my favorite Prince albums of the new millennium before his 2014 comeback on Warner Brothers. Questlove wrote an article in Wax Poetics magazine five years ago about the 33 reasons why Prince was hip-hop. The 20Ten album provided a possible 34th reason-that being most contemporary hip-hop/R&B music with it’s stripped down drum machine/synthesizer sound is based on the same early/mid 80’s Minneapolis sound that Prince pioneered,and then returned to with this album. This is also one of very very few times I saw Prince return to the musical sound that made him so famous.

This was a difficult album for me to find. It was released shortly after Prince received a Lifetime Achievement Aware at the 2010 BET Awards. But in the UK only. And even for that as a covermount CD on British magazines like the Daily Mirror. My local record store Bullmoose would’ve had to ordered the magazines themselves to even sell copies of this. And that seems that they did because I managed to pick it up. After jamming to the first album a couple of times during that first week of having it,I went over to Amazon.com and had the following to say about it:


On his previous release Mplsound Prince was making it abundantly clear that he was reaching towards his classic one-man-band Minneapolis sound as a means of progressing into the future. This is actually a move he made on a number of occasions when his music and career seemed in question. Well right now his career isn’t in that state at all. He’s musically revered by many in this generation and was recently given a tribute on the BET Music Awards this past year. Prince himself also seems to obsessed with some strange form of eternal youth in which his music doesn’t age but his lyrical themes mature.

You will not find any explicit lyrics on this album for sure,same as you won’t find them on any of his albums since 2001. That doesn’t mean that effects the music at all because these are the most energized,lively,funky and musically sophisticated songs Prince has done in the new millennium. The album opens and ends on the same basic musical note with “Compassion” and “Everybody Loves Me” embracing the shuffling LINN drum led rockabilly styled funk with lyrics that alternately speak of both selflessness and selfishness. “Beginning Endlessly”,the amazing “Sticky Like Glue” and “Lavaux” all embrace the classic Prince all encompassing funk groove with some delicious synthesizer squiggles and layered drum and percussion tracks.

He hasn’t lost his touch as a multi instrumentalist in the least bit and actually has expanded on it to include light rhythmic nods to both hip-hop/R&B and contemporary 80’s dance revival (itself based on his own original music) without shamelessly surrendering to either style and still being himself. Songs like “Future Love Song”,”Walk In The Sand” and “Sea Of Everything” also embrace Prince’s touch with the slow jam to it’s absolute best effect. Typical of Prince he makes you flip through 75 separate 2-4 second empty tracks before we get to cut 77,which is the title song offered as a very hidden bonus selection. This is very much a TAFKAP era sounding funk/rap styled number but still his one-man-band style is very much in attendence. After all these years Prince obviously has no intent on being a fossil. He wants to keep being himself and now that he’s in his 50’s he also refuses to musically look down on those younger than them and also embraces many of their ideas into his own.


The summer season is already a few weeks in as I’m writing this. But wanted to officially inaugurate this as Prince Summer here on Andresmusictalk. It’s been underway for a few months now already. But there will continue to be a consistent emphasis on Prince’s own music here for a long time to come-as well as a continuing emphasis on the enormous influence of the many forms of the Minneapolis sound. Even if Prince himself didn’t always realize it,he is likely the last artist to really innovate musically in the funk/soul genre. And the album 20Ten is more than solid proof of this.

4 Comments

Filed under 2010's, Amazon.com, funk albums, Hip-Hop, Linn Drum, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Music Reviewing, Prince, Questlove, synth brass, synthesizers, UK, Uncategorized, Wax Poetics magazine

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Erotic City” by Prince

Prince’s musical legacy has a lot to do with his prolific level of recording. He was a very private man who didn’t make a lot of public appearances. And was known to have spent a good deal of his time recording new music. The end result of this is a now legendary vault of songs on his Paisley Park estate,containing thousands of unreleased songs. Of course there were many times when some of these songs not intended for albums were so strong,Prince just had to get them out there. The result was him being an artist known for some extremely high quality B-sides.

In the days of 45 RPM vinyl,I  was one of those people who used to love turning the record over to see what song was on the other side. Some B-sides,for Prince included,were actually album tracks that had never been hits. Prince for his part seemed to delight in putting these new grooves that inspired him onto the B-sides of his hits. During the extensive recording sessions for Purple Rain,Prince recorded one such song that ended up as such a flip side to his big single from that album called “Let’s Go Crazy”. The name of this song was “Erotic City”.

Prince starts the track by pulling an electric guitar string high up on the neck-producing a quavering theremin-like tone before the Linn drum machine kicks into gear with it’s hollow,open snare accents. The main rhythm of the song is built around this,along with a high pitched,bleeping synthesizer playing a 5 note blues riff call and response with a chunky chicken scratch rhythm guitar.  The round bass line pays the melodic changes as the chorus add a fairly low,minor chorded synthesizer orchestration while Prince trades off vocal leads with Sheila E.

The bridge of the song comes in with a lot of attitude. The bleeping synthesizer becomes more hollow and plays more of a two note pattern. Meanwhile Prince really gets going with the wah wah rhythm guitar. On the next choral parts,Prince accompanies he and Sheila’s vocals with that sped down/sped up “chipmunk” vocal that he’d later bring out further with his Camille persona. On the final part of the song,Prince really lets go again on that chicken scratch rhythm guitar-eventually pulling that string high up on the neck until the instrumentation simply falls apart as it fades.

Prince said at Parliament-Funkadelic into the Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame that he recorded “Erotic city” after seeing a P-Funk show at LA’s Beverley Theater. And it really does show on this song. In addition to holding down the stripped down Minneapolis sound,this song also integrates the quirky vocal styling’s and unexpected instrumental tones that defined George Clinton’s P-Funk crew. It’s one of Prince’s finest B-sides,and surely among his funkiness. In addition to Prince’s musical proteges,this is dedicated to Henrique Hopkins-with whom I share a mutual admiration for this strong 1984 naked funk classic.

1 Comment

Filed under 1980's, chicken scratch guitar, Funk Bass, Linn Drum, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, P-Funk, Prince, rhythm guitar, Sheila E., synthesizer, wah wah guitar

Purple Funk: The Wonderful World Of Prince’s Spin-Off Acts

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Prince had a very strong influence and popular acclaim in advancing the Minneapolis sound before the 1980’s even came in. At the same time,it was actually a very collaborative effort from the get go. From mid 70’s bands such as Flyte Tyme,Champagne and Pepe Willie’s 94 East onward,there were plenty of musicians in the twin cities hungry to lay down a new kind of funky groove. When Prince began lining up his roaster of acts first under the Starr Company then on his custom label Paisley Park,this ethic took on a whole other dimension.

There were many spin off acts from the Minneapolis music scene of the early/mid 1980’s. They stemmed from the Revolution,The Time and other people who had been involved with the concert scene at the major twin city hot spot First Avenue. Now there are a number of these spin offs I don’t yet have access to. So this may be a multi part concept. For now however,here’s a list of some of the key acts outside of Prince’s own recorded repertoire who played an important part in advancing the “purple funk” sound of Minneapolis as it was at it’s most active point.

MINNEAPOLISGENIUS94EAST-1

Prince’s first recordings in the mid 70’s with his cousin’s ex husband Pepe Willie. While this was a full band effort with only a small level of participation by Prince,it was remixed and released in 1985 on vinyl (and CD two years later) to fit in more with the synth brass heavy Minneapolis sound these rough jams grew into. Highlights are the live band grooves of “If You Feel Like Dancin”,the ultra funky breakdown of “Games” and the catchy “Just Another Sucker”. It really showcased an artist not yet ready to emerge on his own as a major musical power,but rather acting as a band member of some note.

Vanity 6

Prince turned the classic girl group image on it’s head with the Vanity 6. Featuring three vampish ladies in ex musician Brenda Bennett,his girlfriend Susan Moonsie and the provocative Vanity herself, this album showcased a stripped down,new wave based sound. The musical highlights are the Afro-Latin electro rhythms of “Nasty Girl”,key to the production style of Pharrell Williams today as well as the ultra funky “If A Girl Answers (Don’t Hang Up)”.

What Time Is It

The Time’s sophomore album showcased how much the band lead by Prince’s old school chum (and one time drummer) Morris Day had the strong potential to step right up front alongside Prince as Minneapolis funk royalty. Actually one of the most powerful new funk albums of it’s era,”777-9311″ showcased just how strongly percussive the Linn Drum could be in Prince’s hand while “Wild and Loose” and “The Walk” showcased the “original 7’s” groove power actually is in terms of driving the one right home!apollonia-6-album-cover

Vanity  6 were rechristened Apollonia 6 when Patricia “Apollonia” Kotero ended up replacing Vanity as Prince’s leading lady in the film Purple Rain. The album basically copies the formula of it’s predecessor. And Apollonia sounds like a literal Vanity stand in on most of her vocal leads-including the major hit in the hyper-kinetic single “Sex Shooter”. My personal two favorite number are sung by Brenda in the pounding “Blue Limousine” and the ultra groove bluesy funk thump of “Some Kind Of Lover”.

Sheila Escovedo had gone from George Duke’s late 70’s band to playing with Narada Michael Walden just before this Bay Area percussion veteran bought her heavily timbale based sound to the Minneapolis sound in 1984 on her Prince collaboration on the amazing Latin-funk of “The Glamorous Life”. Highlights of her debut solo album in addition to that are the funky instrumental “Strawberry Shortcake” and the slinky “Oliver’s House”. Her followup Romance 1600 was a jazzier big band flavor with swinging numbers like “Yellow”. The major funk highlight of that album is the phat Prince penned groove of “A Love Bizarre”.

The Family

The Family were a short lived spin off of The Time. Featuring Jerome Benton and introducing sax player Eric Leads,the lead singers were The Time’s Paul Peterson and Wendy Melvoin’s twin sister (and then Prince’s girlfriend” Susannah.  The album introduces the jazzier and more cinematic sound Prince was going for during the mid 80’s. It contained two huge funk monsters in the thick “High Fashion” and “Mutiny”. Not to mention the cinematic soul masterpiece of “The Screams Of Passion”.

Mazarati

Produced by the Revolution’s Brown Mark,Mazarati were the band who also got Prince’s massive hit “Kiss” until he realized it’s potential and decided to take it back. He did gift Mazarati the ultra funky “100 MPH”. Considering this album threw down thick jams such as “Players Ball”,”Stroke”and “Suzy”, this 1986 debut for the band is one that should’ve catapulted this talented,funky band a lot higher than it did.

These very obscure 1987 releases showcase Prince leading a jazz-funk fusion group featuring Eric Leeds and Sheila E’s band of the time. The titles of the two albums songs are sequential. The first of the albums is the jazzier of the two,while the second is built around gurgling instrumental funk including Prince’s early use of sampling-with parts from the first two Godfather films added to the mix.

Gold Nigga

Perhaps anticipating the demise of Paisley Park later in 1993,Prince did for his band the New Power Generation what he didn’t manage to accomplish with the Revolution: record an entire album on them with himself as producer. And on their own self named record label no less.  Due to his infamous battle with Warner Bros. during this time,the lyrics follow a concept of the NPG making mock phone calls to the label about regarding more creative freedom. And with hardcore JB’s style funk jams such as “Deuce A Quarter”,”Johnny” and “Call The Law”,this reflects a new type of “people music” as it were that stands with Prince’s railing against creative oppression.

Hey Man Smell My Finger

This second George Clinton release for the Paisley Park label from October of 1993 featured a production update that showcased how much of an impact P-Funk’s “video game” synthesizer style was having on the G-Funk end of hip-hop at the time. Prince himself contributed the house style dance number “The Big Pump” to the album. Even though it was released just before Paisley Park folded,it showcased Prince’s deep respect for the music icons that inspired what he had been doing.

An artists impact is usually felt most fully by their influence upon others. Even during the period where Prince’s peak years were starting to wane,new distribution projects such as the 1-800-NEW-FUNK number and his early websites allowed for more spin off’s from Paisley Park to be made available for the people. Due to the come and go nature of some of these mediums,a lot of these side projects are very rare now. But they were worth seeking out in order to understand just how broad reaching Prince and his protege’s musical vision actually was.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under 1980's, 94 East, Apollonia, Brenda Bennett, cinematic soul, electro funk, Eric Leeds, George Clinton, jazz funk, Jerome Benton, Linn Drum, Madhouse, Mazarati, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Morris Day, New Powe Generation, NPG Records, P-Funk, Pepe Willie, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, Sheila E., Susannah Melvoin, The Time, Vanity

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Sugar Walls” by Sheena Easton

Sheena Easton came up in a working class family in Bellshill,Scotland. It was her good grades that got her a college scholarship-after which she opted for a day job as a speech and drama teacher while singing in clubs at night during the late 70’s. Having learned her vocal craft from Motown and other American soul records she heard on the radio,Sheena’s career started on the basis for a movie she was going to star in about a hopeful singer. Instead she BECAME that singer-singing to EMI in by the early 80’s. Her early hits included lightly soulful dance singles like “Modern Girl” and “9 to 5 (Morning Train)”.

Sheena’s first three albums basically found her in the mold of a West Coast pop vocalist with a lot of rather gentle,sleek production qualities. Her 1983 album Best Kept Secret showcased a more new wave inflected sound-heavier on the synthesizers. Enter Prince. His delicate yet provocative composing style was well suited to the female singers he was starting to write for,at least in his eyes. When it was time for her next album in 1984’s A Private Heaven,Sheena was poised for a major pop breakthrough at the same time as Prince’s. The result was a hit he wrote for her on the album called “Sugar Walls”.

The album starts out with Prince’s trademark Linn drum hi hats and snare hits. Then a very Asian sounding polyphonic synthesizer enters the mix. As the refrain comes in,the snares still hit hard. Meanwhile the low guitar purrs in the back-round of the mix like a low roaring lion while the synth bass line basically holds up that keyboard melody,which re-emerges throughout the song in shorter bursts. On the repeated choruses,that same guitar rocks up with more of a snarl to it. The orchestral synths come to a heated frenzy just before the music strips down into it’s own fade out.

Musically speaking,this song is written in what my friend Henrique Hopkins referred to as the pentatonic scale. This is actually a musical scale or mode with five notes per octave. It’s a common link between West African,European folk,Asian and American jazz and blues styles. The use of the brittle synthesizers showcased Prince was on the same wavelength with Michael Jackon when he wrote “Centipede” for his sister Rebbie that same year. And that was combining the brittle synth-dance grooves with a pan continental structure much like Ryuichi Sakamoto’s “neo geo” style of music.

Instrumentally the combination of Prince’s pan ethnic dance groove with Sheena’s vocal tailoring to Prince’s female archetype,this song is perhaps known for the public stir it’s double entendre based lyrics created. Tipper Gore added the song to her and the Parents Research Music Counsel’s “filthy 15” list of pop songs with obscene lyrics. While this would lead to the modern day Parental Advisory sticker on some CD’s today,it tended to overshadow how Prince actually innovated the Minneapolis dance/funk sound in a very different compositional structure with this 1984 Sheena Easton hit.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under 1980's, Linn Drum, Minneapolis Sound, neo-geo, pentatonic scale, Prince, rhythm guitar, rock guitar, Sheena Easton, synth bass, synth funk, synthesizer, Uncategorized