Category Archives: New Power Generation

Prince 1958-2016: “Musicology” (2004)

Prince came into the new millennium with a revived sense of energy. One thing Henrique and I have been discussing recently is how much one can become frustrated chasing Prince’s career motivations. And I’ve recently found myself dealing with that. One thing that’s for sure is that Prince 90’s era output found him courting the present rather than making the future of music. With his 2001 release The Rainbow Children,the middle aged artist had re-emerged with the name that made him famous. And more so his musical trajectory had come back into better focus. Especially in terms of finding the funk.

The Rainbow Children didn’t come across strongly with the mass audience of its time. But four years (and two online only album releases) came his second album of the 21st century. It was titled Musicology. Interestingly enough,financial realities kept me from exploring the album when it was fresh on the record store racks. I would up picking it up two years later along with 3121 when that album was new. There is one common feeling I have about the album from when I saw a music video from it in 2004 to hearing it on the album. And its that the albums successes was likely carried heavily by the opening title song.

Prince’s yelp starts the song into a Clyde Stubblefield style funky drum starts out the song with Prince playing a deep strutting rhythm guitar. This is soon accompanied by one of Prince’s trademark middle to high on the neck chicken scratch guitar lines-along with an organ like sustained synth line. This is primarily the main body of the song. The solo drum bridge has Prince famously shouting ” don’t you TOUCH my stereo! these is MY records!” On the last few bars of the song,Minneapolis synth brass accompanies the song as it fades out on a radio dial switching between several of Prince’s 80’s hits.

In a similar manner to 1987’s “Housequake”,this song would’ve served well as a James Brown comeback for the early aughts. On the other hand,this song is much more purely a retro JB style rhythm section based funk stomp. But in its stripped down nature,it funks super hard. And Prince substitutes the live JB horns with his own MPLS style synth brass. Lyrically Prince is extremely nostalgic about funk on this song-alluding to Earth Wind & Fire,Sly Stone and of course James Brown. That along with its semi autobiographical seeming music video give it the feel of Prince looking to the past for his future.

 

 

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Filed under 2004, chicken scratch guitar, classic funk, drums, Funk, James Brown, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Musicology, New Power Generation, Prince, synth brass

Prince (Protégé) Summer: Martika and Carmen Electra

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If 1990’s Graffiti Bridge project was a clear case of diminishing returns for the Prince side project industry, then the years to come were downright dire. In fact, this week we’ve finally arrived at what most fans agree is the all-time nadir of Prince’s work for other artists: the dreaded 1993 album by model/actress/2004 MTV Movie Award Best Kiss winner Carmen Electra. But first, as a palate cleanser/stalling tactic, let’s look at a less-reviled 1991 project by Marta Marrero, better known as Martika.

A former child star (Kids Incorporated, Mr. T’s Be Somebody…Or Be Somebody’s Fool!), Martika launched a career as a pop singer in the late 1980s, reaching Number 1 with her 1989 single “Toy Soldiers.” For her followup album, she approached Prince to contribute a few songs, giving him a notebook of her own lyrics for inspiration. Four of Prince’s tracks ultimately showed up on the album in 1991: the title track, “Martika’s Kitchen,” plus “Spirit,” “Don’t Say U Love Me,” and lead single “Love…Thy Will Be Done.” Prince also demoed another song, “Open Book,” for the sessions, but it didn’t make the final cut; it would ultimately be released by Jevetta Steele on her 1993 solo debut Here It Is.

Like Elisa Fiorillo’s album the previous year, Martika’s Kitchen is pleasant but not earth-shattering. Probably the most remarkable track was its sole Top 10 hit: “Love…Thy Will Be Done,” for which Prince wrote music to accompany a prayer composed by Martika. It certainly seemed to be Prince’s favorite: he was known to perform it himself onstage from 1995 until his last solo piano tour in 2016. Incidentally, today actually marks the 25th anniversary of Martika’s Kitchen‘s release; I didn’t plan it that way, but hey, it’s kinda cool when things work out like that.

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But enough stalling; we all know what we’re really here to talk about. Carmen Electra was born Tara Leigh Patrick, and first encountered Prince in 1991 during auditions for an all-woman rap group he was putting together around our girl Robin Power. After that idea was wisely scuttled, Prince came up with something even worse: he would write and produce a solo album for Tara herself. Oh, and also her name was “Carmen Electra” now, because Prince was apparently incapable of speaking to an attractive woman without giving her a fantastical stage name.

1993’s Carmen Electra is infamous simply because it exists: it’s widely believed to be a major reason why Concrete Jungle, the long-unreleased solo debut by New Power Generation singer/keyboardist Rosie Gaines, never made it out on Paisley Park. If that’s true, then it’s easily one of the worst decisions made by Prince–even in an era that, quite frankly, won’t ever be remembered as his most artistically or commercially astute. Carmen was/is undeniably gorgeous, but as an M.C.–because Carmen Electra was a “rap” “album”–she makes the aforementioned Robin Power look like Missy Fucking Elliott. Her lead single “Go Go Dancer”–the closest the album came to spawning a “hit”–was basically invented for preteen boys to watch on mute after their parents had gone to bed.

I know I’ve been hard on some of Prince’s side projects, especially in the last few posts; Carmen Electra, however, is truly terrible. Listening to it in full is a test in endurance I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. For hardcore fans of Prince, it’s arguably even worse, as he had the gall to dig up some of his own songs for Carmen to, er, spit over. Second single “Everybody Get on Up” samples Prince’s unreleased 1986 cover of the Esquires’ “Get on Up“; even more sacrilegiously, slow jam “All That” is a godawful remix (de-mix?) of “Adore,” arguably Prince’s most enduring ballad.

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If Carmen Electra was meant in earnest, then it was a decision many orders of magnitude more baffling than when Prince changed his name to an unpronounceable glyph that same year. If, on the other hand, it was some kind of passive-aggressive act of self-sabotage against his parent label Warner Bros…to be honest, it still wasn’t worth it. Perversely, though, I kinda like the fact that it exists. If nothing else, it’s an important reminder that Prince, amazing as he was, was only human. Really, we’ve all done things we regret for people we wanted to bone; Prince just happened to do it in public, on a major label, for a woman who later went on to bone Dennis Rodman and Dave Navarro.

Next weekend I’m out of town, so my guest post series will be skipping a week; I’ll be back on September 10, though, for a look at Prince’s ill-fated side projects during the Symbol Era. Summer isn’t technically over until the 22nd of September, so Prince (Protégé) Summer will be going at least until then; in the meantime, if you’re interested, feel free to check out my work at Dystopian Dance Party and dance / music / sex / romance.

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Filed under New Power Generation, Paisley Park, Prince, Uncategorized, Warner Bros.

Anatomy of THE Groove: “The Undertaker” by Mavis Staples

Mavis Staples represents the  black American civil rights era in music so much for me. She went from a gospel child star to one of the earliest purveyors of “people music” as the lead vocalist of The Staple Singers alone. She made a series of solo albums during the 1970’s. All without officially leaving her family’s musical fold. During the early 80’s,she returned with the Staple Singers as they modernized their sound. Later in the decade, Prince celebrated her strong musical legacy of humanistic gospel and funky soul by signing her to his Paisley Park label. There she recorded two more solo records in 1989 and 1993.

During her collaboration with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy as her producer,Mavis has never ceased to make civil rights messages the focus of her songs. That’s extremely admirable. Yet her productions by Tweedy and now M.Ward find her in a bluesy country rock musical direction-one where only her voice projects the strong funky soul element. Her brief time recording with Prince (including her memorable appearance in his final film Graffiti Bridge) really allowed Mavis to be funky AND sociopolitical at the same time. One good example comes from her 1993 Paisley Park album The Voice in the form of “The Undertaker”

Backup vocalists The Steeles  start the song off by singing its title. That breaks off into Michael B’s slow funky drum shuffle. Sonny Thompson’s 2 note bass pump is held up by non other than the late Pop Staples’ bluesy guitar licks. The NPG horns and Ricky Peterson’s organ washes play a call and response element to both Mavis’s vocal leads and The Steeles’ back-rounds. On the last couple of refrains of the song,Pop’s and Mavis deal with that father/daughter duet style they did so well-with his gentle tone and her husky well leading the groove onto it’s fade out.

This bluesy funk jam is a fine example of funky message music in the early 90’s. With it’s use of re-sequenced vocal and horn licks,it plays along with the slowly funky variety of hip-hop at the time as well. The New Power Generation’s groove holds up Mavis’s gospel authority delivering the basic message to the streets saying “Put away the guns for future’s sake/Don’t you be another number for the undertaker”. This LA riots era concept resonates with what’s happening today-with black American’s having enough of institutionalized violence towards them. So in that sense,this funk is still right on time!

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Filed under 1990s, blues funk, drums, Funk Bass, hip-hop funk, Mavis Staples, Michael Bland, New Power Generation, organ, Paisley Park, Pops Staples, Prince, rhythm guitar, Ricky Peterson, Sonny T, The Steeles, Uncategorized