Category Archives: Prince 4ever

4 Paisley Park’s Consideration: The NPG Era Needs Its Own “4Ever”

In my guest post last week, I made the case for a more definitive compilation of Prince‘s Warner-era material, combining the best qualities of the new set 4Ever (and yes, contrary to some of the Prince fans who have been yelling at me on Facebook, I do think 4Ever has some good qualities) with the best of earlier collections like The Hits/The B-Sides and Ultimate. But I also promised I’d take a slightly different tack this week and pitch another compilation analogous to 4Ever, this one covering the years after his departure from W.B. As I noted last time, such a collection is arguably even more needed than a deeper dive into the already well-covered territory of 1978-1993. The last two-plus decades of Prince’s career were certainly more vexing and uneven than the first decade-and-a-half, but they were very nearly as prolific; and somewhere amidst all that for-hardcore-fans-only chaff is a killer “Best-of” just waiting to be discovered.

So where to start? Well, that’s easy…

mostbeautiful

Step 1: The Singles

One thing about my previous post that I probably deserved to be yelled at about was the obvious fact I glossed over: that 4Ever is, at its heart, a singles collection. Even less-frequently-compiled tracks like “Gotta Stop (Messin’ About),” “Mountains,” and “Batdance” were released as singles in the ’80s. Now, in some ways, this actually hurts the argument in support of 4Ever: if Prince/NPG/Warner wanted it to be strictly singles only, they should have gone all-in and released all the damn singles from the period in question (B-sides, too!). But a singles-first approach is, frankly, a better idea for the years 1994-2016 anyway: Prince released a ton of singles as an independent artist (some of them even hits!), and shockingly, none of them have ever been collected in a “Greatest Hits”-style compilation. Hell, I probably hear 1994’s “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World”–one of his biggest hit singles ever–on the radio more frequently than any other Prince song, and the damn thing is out of print: the only place you can buy it at the moment is digitally on TIDAL, or as some vinyl picture disc of questionable provenance.

So our imaginary NPG-era comp would absolutely have to include “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World”–hell, make it disc one, track one. But there were plenty of other singles from the ’90s and 2000s that deserve to be heard by a wider audience. Come had “Letitgo”; The Gold Experience had “I Hate U”; hell, even Chaos and Disorder had “Dinner with Delores.” Granted, Prince struggled commercially during the “Symbol” era, which means many of the songs released as singles during the time aren’t going to be greeted with the same level of nostalgia as, say, “Little Red Corvette”: I’m pretty sure no one in 2017 will be clamoring to hear his 1996 version of “Betcha by Golly Wow!” But some of his post-name change, pre-comeback singles absolutely deserve another chance: like the bluesy title track for 1997’s acoustic album The Truth, which failed to chart but presented a totally different side of “the Artist” to the public; or “The Work, Pt. 1” from 2001’s The Rainbow Children, which very clearly signposted the 21st-century James Brown revivalism of 2004’s much more successful Musicology. Part of the reason why compilations exist (other than to line record executives’ pockets, of course) is to offer fresh context for previously-issued material; and few catalogues are more in need of fresh context than the singles Prince released after his departure from Warner Bros.

emancipation

 

Step 2: The Landmarks

But the singles aren’t the only “late”-period releases that could benefit from recontextualization; as I tried to argue in my post last week, even in his most dependable years as a hitmaker, Prince’s singles only ever told part of the story. So why not use this opportunity to put 1994-era live favorite “Days of Wild” next to The Gold Experience tracks where it belongs–or, for that matter, to highlight some of the gems that got buried in the three-disc excess of Emancipation in 1996? Another reason for a compilation to exist is to tell the story of an artist’s development over time–something that 4Ever probably does better than any of Prince’s earlier collections, simply by virtue of it being (mostly) chronological. But we also mostly know the first arc of Prince’s story; an “NPG era” compilation would provide an excellent opportunity to tell a story that a lot less listeners know, one that Prince himself seemed at times to delight in obscuring. Hell, there are whole swathes of Prince fans who have never even heard important late-period highlights like 2014’s self-eulogizing “My Way Home” or 2015’s “June,” either because they’d given up on buying every new Prince album when it comes out or because they couldn’t be bothered to subscribe to TIDAL. A comp like this would be a great opportunity to bring them back in the fold.

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Step 3: ???

Look, I’ll be the first to admit: this period of Prince’s music isn’t my wheelhouse, which is one reason why I really want to see it collected–unlike 4Ever, which I bought pretty much as an act of charity to support the estate, a selection of the highlights from 1994-2016 would directly benefit my musical education. I know a few tracks from the period that I would consider hidden gems–“Shy” from The Gold Experience, “The Human Body” from Emancipation,  the aforementioned highlights from Art Official Age and HITnRUN Phase Two–but I would much rather hear other people’s recommendations. So what do you say? Aside from the obvious singles, what songs from the “NPG Era” do you deem worthy of compilation? Let me know in the comments, or just yell at me on Facebook. And if you want to read my writing about Prince from an era that is at least somewhat more in my wheelhouse, check out my song-by-song chronological blog dance / music / sex / romance. I’m hoping to finish 1978 by the end of the year.

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Filed under 1990s, 2000s, 2001, 2004, 2014, 2015, NPG Records, Prince, Prince 4ever, Uncategorized

After 4Ever: Why We’re Still Waiting for a Definitive Prince Compilation

4ever

Earlier this week, Warner Bros. and NPG Records released the first of what will surely be many posthumous releases by PrincePrince 4Ever, a 40-track compilation of hit singles and a smattering of deep cuts from the most universally well-regarded 15 years of his career. For most longtime fans, this wouldn’t have been big news–except that 4Ever also included the first official release of music from Prince’s legendary “Vault” since his sudden passing in April: a long-bootlegged outtake from the 1999 sessions called “Moonbeam Levels.” I already wrote extensively on “Moonbeam Levels” and its place on 4Ever for my chronological Prince blog, dance / music / sex / romance; you can also read Andre’s take on the release in this post from last month. What I’m interested in talking about today is 4Ever itself: its function in Prince’s discography, and the gap that still remains to be filled by a truly definitive compilation for one of the most significant pop artists of our time.

Prince The Hits-B-Sides

For an artist as prolific and popular as he was, there have been surprisingly few compilations of Prince’s work. The first–and, for my money, still the best–was 1993’s The Hits, released both as two separate single-disc volumes and as a package including a third bonus disc, titled The B-SidesThe Hits/The B-Sides is a somewhat idiosyncratic collection: produced with, at best, reluctant cooperation from the artist (he supplied background notes for many of the tracks, which were incorporated into the official liner notes by his former tour manager and R&B music historian, Alan Leeds), the discs are presented thematically rather than chronologically.

The Hits 1 is the poppier disc: opening with Prince’s most recognizable hit, 1984‘s “When Doves Cry,” followed immediately by “Pop Life” from 1985‘s Around the World in a Daythen backtracking for a run through the more radio-friendly tracks from 1978’s For You all the way to 1992’s Love Symbol Album,” his most recent release at the time. The Hits 2, meanwhile, was composed of raunchier cuts: opening with the respective title tracks from 1981’s Controversy and 1980’s Dirty Mind, followed by a roughly chronological trip through the seedier back alleys of his greatest hits, from “I Wanna Be Your Lover” to “Gett Off”–though the final track is the elegiac “Purple Rain,” presumably because it’s required by law to be the closing track on every Prince compilation.

Though some might quibble with the lack of strict chronology–and I certainly quibble with the use of inferior single edits for most of the songs–The Hits is a solid listen from beginning to end. But the real reason why it remains the O.G. is the aforementioned third disc: a generous sampling of B-sides, non-album singles, and rarities, the majority of which still aren’t available anywhere else on digital formats. For most artists, such a collection would be a mere curio; but any dyed-in-the-wool Prince fan knows that some of his most indispensable music came out on the flip sides of his singles, including bona fide standards like “Erotic City” and “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?” The B-Sides isn’t perfect–nobody actually wants to listen to the 7″ mix of “Erotic City”–but it’s all we have, even almost 25 years later.

verybestofprince

At the time of its release, The Hits also held the dubious distinction of being something of a swan song for “Prince”: the collection was released shortly after he’d changed his name to the same unpronounceable symbol that had adorned his previous album, marking the beginning of an all-out war with Warner over the ownership of his music. In 2000, however, long after he’d departed to become an independent artist, Prince’s publishing contract with W.B. expired; this, presumably, left the label in need of alternative means to leverage his back catalogue, which they still technically controlled. There isn’t really much to say about the resulting compilation, 2001’s The Very Best of Prince: it’s a bog-standard “greatest hits,” a single-disc collection of Prince’s biggest singles from 1979 to 1991. The only real surprise is the inclusion of 1991’s low-key, proto-neo-soul “Money Don’t Matter 2 Night,” which hadn’t made the cut on the much more expansive Hits set. That being said, it does what it’s supposed to do: this is the single-disc sampler you buy if you like “1999” and for some reason don’t particularly care to dig much deeper. You weirdo.

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Warner had other ulterior motives for their next compilation, Ultimate Prince, released in 2006: simply put, for the first time in at least a decade, Prince was finally a hot commercial ticket again, thanks to his twin “comeback albums” Musicology and 3121. A two-disc set, Ultimate feels like an attempt to replace The Hits; the result is a noble effort, but ultimately a failed one. The hook this time around is certainly compelling: everybody knows Prince’s extended cuts trump his single edits 9 times out of 10, so Ultimate uses the extra running length to give us full-length versions of tracks like “Let’s Go Crazy,” “Kiss,” and even the little-heard (and awesome) “dance remix” of “Little Red Corvette.” The trouble is, it’s inconsistent: many of the tracks are still the lame single edits, and the presence of some extended mixes just ensures the absence of the others is felt more keenly. Perhaps worst of all, Ultimate is the only compilation to date to actually suffer from Prince’s involvement: the artist formerly known as the Artist Formerly Known as Prince had final approval over the track listing, and deemed some of the selections–including the 12″ mix of “Erotic City”–too ribald for his (and our) delicate ears. If you can’t tell, I’m still not over it.

4ever-inner

Which brings us to 4Ever. It’s tempting to look at this latest compilation and see nothing but a cold-blooded cash-in on a beloved, recently-deceased artist–though, it’s worth noting, the set is actually the only one to be produced with Prince’s full cooperation. As a sampler of Prince’s W.B.-era peak, I’d rank it above Ultimate and The Very Best of, but below The Hits, simply because of the lack of a disc like The B-Sides; the track listing, however, is arguably the most balanced yet, with fan favorites like 1981’s “Gotta Stop (Messin’ About)” and 1986’s “Mountains” appearing alongside the usual suspects. There are also some unadvertised benefits for completionists: the version of “Gett Off” included, for example, is the U.K. single edit, which for some reason bleeps out the word “ass,” but includes an additional verse from the extended version; the 7″ mix of “Alphabet St.” is also included, which is great for longtime haters of the album version’s “rap” by dancer Cat Glover (c’est moi). I don’t necessarily recommend 4Ever for hardcore Prince fans–though I bought it, because I wanted to put my money where my mouth is and pay the estate for a high-quality version of “Moonbeam Levels.” As a holiday gift for the Prince-curious in your life, however, it’s hard to criticize.

But the release of 4Ever still serves to underline something that I hope the preceding rundown made plain: simply put, Prince still needs a truly definitive compilation to his name. 4Ever is a good start, particularly as a replacement for Ultimate: it provides an extra layer beneath the surface for potential fans willing to dig deeper than The Very Best‘s single disc, whetting the appetite for his 1980s albums (all of which, with the exception of Batman, are essential purchases on their own). But what Prince really needs is a four-disc box set; he needs his version of the classic 1991 James Brown compilation Star Time. I want to see a fully chronological overview of the Warner years, integrating B-sides and extended mixes and maybe even a few judiciously-selected outtakes like “Moonbeam Levels,” that gives a full picture of his artistic development from 1978 to 1993. This is the kind of treatment Prince deserves, simply for the sake of his legacy: he’s not just a hitmaker for ’80s nostalgists, he’s an important artist for every serious listener of 20th century popular music, and he deserves to be treated as such. And yes, NPG, if you’re reading this, I will buy such a set, even though I already own all of his albums–if nothing else, as a gift to introduce someone else to his music.

But that’s not all. There’s an even more glaring hole in the compilations listed above: simply put, while “Prince” in his original public-facing incarnation might have died in 1993, Prince Rogers Nelson lived on for almost another quarter century, releasing over 20 albums that have never been officially collected in any form. And while not all of that material would be of interest to casual listeners, that if anything just means that his post-Warner material is even more due for a compilation to separate the wheat from the chaff. There are even genuine hits, from “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” in 1994 to “Black Sweat” in 2006, that have never appeared on a “Best-of.” This is all the more staggering now that Prince has passed, and many of us (myself included) have started to take a more judicious look at his much-misunderstood tenure as an independent artist. I hope NPG Records already has plans to remedy this hole in his discography with a follow-up compilation to 4Ever collecting material from 1994 to 2015; but just in case they need some ideas, next week, I’ll take a stab at putting together my own track list, and we can all have an argument discussion about it. I’ll see you then!

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Filed under 1980's, 1984, 1990s, Alan Leeds, NPG Records, Prince, Prince 4ever, Warner Bros.

Prince 4Ever: His Name Was Prince And He Was FUNKY!

Prince was an artist who defined himself by seldom looking to his past musically. That ties in well  with his deep connection to the black American creative attitude. On November 22nd,Warner Bros is releasing its first posthumous Prince album 4Ever. Its a 2 CD anthology consisting of hits and B-sides that have already been released. And not in chronological order. It will however showcase one famous outtake from his vault entitled “Moonbeam Levels”-a song taken from the 1999 album sessions. Aside from the very nature of this release,the choice of unreleased song got me thinking.

“Moonbeam Levels” is a rock oriented song,recorded during an era when Prince was extremely concerned about crossover. On Sunday,my boyfriend exposed me to an iTunes exclusive music podcast called Coverville. It showcases different covers of either songs by a particular artist or theme. One covered Prince songs. Not only were most of the songs originally pop/rock oriented,but the covers were generally either rock or…even country versions of “Raspberry Barrett” and “Alphabet Street”. Still even with Prince being so well known as a rock star,at the end of the day Prince Rogers Nelson WAS a funk/soul artist.

Prince’s first two albums,1978’s For You and his self titled sophomore record a year later,were mostly funk/soul with a couple of rock tunes on them. It wasn’t until 1980’s Dirty Mind,released in time for the extremely anti black post disco radio freeze out,that Prince’s music took on a heavier rock flavor. Over the years,Prince explored many different hybrids of funk and jazz with rock guitar solos and attitudes. But it basically amounted down to his base music being funk,and him seeing rock as good for him as a guitar soloist and to get big crossover hits in the 80’s and especially the 90’s.

This idea worked well for his purposes. Still now that he’s not with us anymore? I still hear so many,even my own mother,refer to Prince as a rock based artist. Even though his music and press in his commercial prime disconnected him from musical blackness,it was always there. Now that he’s gone,the floodgates are open for album after album of unreleased music from the late Mr.Nelson. I can only hope that,as a truer understanding of his musical back round continues on,that these posthumous albums of unreleased music will focus on Prince the soulful and Prince the funky. Therefore,as the artist he truly was.

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Filed under compilation albums, Coverville, Funk, Minneapolis, Prince, Prince 4ever