Category Archives: Prince

A Plug for a New Prince Book: The Rise of Prince 1958-1988

rise-of-prince

I don’t normally do this kind of thing–which is to say, normally if I’m going to promote a project using my tiny social media platform, it’s damn sure going to be one of my own–but since Andre has written about Prince biographies on this site before, I thought his readers might be interested in hearing about an upcoming project from a respected author in the genre. Alex Hahn’s 2003 book Possessed: The Rise and Fall of Prince was the first Prince biography I ever read, and it still holds up as an excellent, narrative-focused, warts-and-all retelling of the first 25 years of the artist’s career. So you can imagine my excitement to report that a month from today, Hahn and co-author Laura Tiebert are releasing a followup, titled The Rise of Prince 1958-1988. According to the authors, this book is not a revision of Possessed, but a drastic overhaul, with original research that should shed new light on Prince’s early years in particular. Pre-order links are already up on Amazon for both paperback and Kindle versions–the latter of which is only $8.99! And, if you, like me, are motivated by narcissism, Alex has announced on the book’s Facebook group that anyone who preorders the book before February 13th gets their name in the acknowledgements: just send an email by that date to theriseofprince@gmail.com.

Okay, so that’s out of the way. Now, because I would like my weekly Andresmusictalk post to be more than a one-paragraph shill (my shills are four paragraphs minimum), let me just say why I’m supporting this project. First, as I already noted, Possessed was an excellent, even-handed book on the Purple One, and The Rise of Prince stands to benefit from an additional 13 years of perspective–not to mention that one, huge dose of perspective we all got when Prince passed away last April. As a fan of the original, I’d love to see how Hahn’s point of view has evolved since its publication, and how the addition of a co-author might influence it.

But I also have ulterior motives. As some readers are already aware, one of my several (arguably too many) personal projects is dance / music / sex / romance, a blog discussing each of the songs of Prince in chronological order. So, when I see another independently-published work of Prince “scholarship” enter the market, it obviously makes sense that I want it to do well: the success of a book like The Rise of Prince is, in a way, my success. If nothing else, it will be another vital source to add to my own site’s ever-growing bibliography.

Less selfishly, there’s also this: with interest in Prince still at a high point in the wake of his death, there are going to be a lot of books entering the market; some released with the best intentions, others inevitably less so. And I think it’s beholden on those of us with an interest in Prince’s legacy to support the ones with the good intentions. So, after The Rise of Prince is released and I’ve had time to read it, you can expect to see a post detailing my thoughts on the finished product; the same goes for the handful of other upcoming projects I have my eye on. My hope is that in the years to come, we’ll see a renaissance in quality, nuanced writing on Prince; certainly, if any artist of his generation deserves such a legacy, it’s him.

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Filed under biographies, Prince

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.

 

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

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.

‘Emancipation’@20: An Artist Free To Do What He Wants To

Emancipation

Prince’s 1996 triple CD set Emancipation is turning 20 today. I’ve read here and there that a lot of people consider this to album to be the  Sign O The Times for the 90’s in Prince’s catalog. In a lot of ways that’s true. Personally,these songs all sound as if they were recorded to go together from the outset,whereas Sign O The Times  was culled from three aborted album sessions. Whatever the case may have been, Emancipation was the ultimate flower of Prince’s 90’s sound. In the end,that’s not so much a matter of deciding if that’s a good or bad thing. But more looking at what Prince’s musical priorities were in the 90’s.

As one of my blogging partners Zach Hoskins pointed out on his own blog Dystopian Dance Party,Prince defined “Jheri curl music” in the 1980’s with the Minneapolis sound. By the mid 80’s many newcomers and funk veterans were embracing some variation of Prince’s stripped down electro grooves. As Prince’s music grew  into a more live band sound,it also grew somewhat more experimental. This resulted in a series of albums in the late 80’s that weren’t so commercially successful. With the major success of his 1989 soundtrack for Batman,Prince saw that his musical future may not lay in setting trends.

For his 1991 album Diamonds & Pearls,Prince heavily embraced the hip-hop sound. He had been weary and somewhat mocking of this genre in the late 80’s-almost behaving as if it was musically beneath his abilities.  Yet Diamonds & Pearls was his biggest commercial success in many years.  And he also found that,on album tracks that could be future hits,Prince could still exercise his eclectic musical outlook as he always had. Then came the battle with Warner Bros. By 1993-1994,Prince became very angry and frustrated at the music industry for what he saw as the financial enslavement of artists.

This anger and frustration began to become a key element of his songs. Interestingly enough,contemporary alternative rock and hip-hop became his primary musical focus. It all came down to Prince not using his own name anymore. I personally remember Prince appearing on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show at the time (with then wife Mayte Garcia),and actually discussing how on a psychological level,he felt very distant from “Prince” as a personal identity. That was the framework I had to work with at the time the Emancipation album came out. This was Prince,a man freed from creative shackles.

When I actually heard the album,the most interesting part for me was that Prince’s “liberated” music actually made heavy creative concessions to smooth jazz and still hip-hop. And the frustrated lyrics remained intact. On the other hand,it was a broader mixture overall. It gave up the funk many times. And the 2nd disc of it was basically an elongated love ballad (in separate parts) to Mayte. So to me,Emancipation is one part the sound of freedom and another the sound of musical concessions.  Still a now unpublished Amazon review of mine on the album went into more depth than even that.


Probably the most significant aspect of this album was that it was the very first brand new Prince album I purchased after becoming a huge admirer of his work. There was a lot of publicity about this album when it came out. The people who I talked to in record stores at the time would often says things to the affect of “this is going to be the crowning achievement of Prince’s career” and so on. At the time? I wasn’t aware of the intense level of idolatry of Prince’s musical abilities that might’ve been behind a lot of this.

All I did know is that Prince was leaving behind Warner Bros. and launching his NPG Records.beginning his unshackling from the record company burdens he’d been dealing with for the past several years. I also wasn’t aware that any and all musical expectations were simply not part of the game when understanding Prince. And while I had mine? This,my second actual full listening to this since it came out,has really helped to resolve my views on his era of his creative output.

“Jam Of The Year” opens with a strong jazz/funk/hip-hop number-full of muted trumpet and piano. “Right Back Here In My Arms”,the Ice Cube collaboration of “Mr.Happy”,”Joint 2 Joint”,”Da Da Da” and in particular “Email” all follow that hip-hop style sound. On the other hand “Get Your Groove On”,the JB horn styled “We Gets Up”,the synth bass driven groove of “Sex In The Summer”-with it’s percussion effect from he and then wife Mayte’s baby’s ultrasound and the stomping,bass heavy title track represent the strongest funk element of the album.

The hip-hop oriented “Slave” and “Face Down” as well as the bumping bass/acoustic guitar driven pop/rock ballad “White Mansion” all discuss the consequences of his liberation from his recording contract. “Betcha By Golly Wow”,”I Can’t Make You Love Me”,”One Kiss At A Time”,Soul Sanctuary”,Curious Child”,”Dreamin’ Bout You”,”Let’s Have A Baby”,Savior”,”The Plain”,”Friend,Lover,Sister,Mother/Wife”,”La La Means I Love You”,”One Of Us” and “The Love We Make” are all powerful,often epic soul ballads.

“New World” marks something a return to his original Minneapolis sound with it’s brittle,stripped down synth driven dance/funk groove. The one man band rhythm section of “Courtin’ Time” and my favorite number here “Sleep Around” are both highly kinetic big band jazz oriented pieces-the latter what I’d describe as “horn house” I suppose.

“Style” is the best of the jazz/hip-hop numbers here-with it’s descriptions of different (often humorous,always clever) actions Prince equates with “style being the second cousin to class”. “The Human Body” has a Hi NRG industrial dance sound while “My Computer” is a gurgling synth jazzy/funk/fusion mid tempo piece. The acoustic folk based “The Holy River” and the uptempo guitar driven “D***ed If Eye Do” are both the rockier numbers here.

36 songs over a 3 CD set that clocks in at exactly 3 hours makes this a lot of music. There were and still are many mysteries regarding the origins of what’s on this album. For me? It’s surprisingly ballad heavy. Functioning as something of a love ballad to his then wife. The uptempo songs here also tend to follow the angry hip-hop/funk approach of a lot of his early/mid 90’s work. Not only is it clear the man was still very angry at record companies.

But the lyrics also showcase a burgeoning paranoia. With numerous references to mid 90’s period conspiracy theories such as the anti vaccination and “cows are for calves” anti diary movements. When he turns up the funk however? The groove is often heavy and horn filled. Even with his likable embrace of the jazz/hop hybrid here as well. That gives him and the ever expanding NPG to really stretch their instrumental muscles with phat bass lines,horn charts and rhythms. Certainly some areas of this album are very dated and stereotypical for it’s era. Yet it’s still likely Prince’s strongest overall release of the 1990’s.


A little healthy self criticism reveals that I have no great love for musicians who embrace negative ideas (or even musical styles that happen to be trendy at the moment) simply to maintain their popularity. And do actually think Prince did that to a tiny degree on Emancipation.  But Prince never was a particularly commercial minded artist either. As a musician,his first concern seemed to generally be about how new ideas would fit into his creative ethic. At the end of the day,its an album with many songs that maintain their strong grooves. And others that are simply indelibly linked to its time.

Perhaps one reason for why this and much of Prince’s 90’s output didn’t age as well was the general musical atmosphere of the day. When Prince first emerged as a major star in the 80’s,he was essentially spicing up a 60’s/70’s style funk-rock framework with newer instruments. But with that expansive musical period as his base,there was stronger room for flight. By the early/mid 90’s,Prince was starting to pre program more and more of his rhythms. So that left some of his music of the day having little base at all. Still, Emancipation showcased Prince on a strong path to even bigger and better musical things.

 

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Filed under 1990s, Amazon.com, classic albums, Emancipation, hip-hop funk, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Music Reviewing, NPG Records, O(+>, Prince, The Artist Formerly Known As Prince

Prince 1958-2016: “I Wanna Be Your Lover” (1979)

Prince is an artist whose history really fascinated me. Up until the age of 16,I was so ignorant of Prince’s history that I actually thought his career started with “1999”. It was amazing for me to learn that Prince’s recording career began in the late 70’s. Not only that,but that it still had a sound that was recognizably his own. Over the years,this late 70’s period for Prince has become a personal favorite. One that I really enjoy discussing. One of the most important things about this era was that,even in a crowded funk/soul environment,Prince got his first major crossover hit before the 70’s decade ended.

Prince first hit single “Soft And Wet”. This was rooted squarely in funk and commercially ,it landed pretty much within the R&B Top 20. But just barely crossed over to the pop listener. And as the very prejudiced anti disco movement began to gain footing in 1979,both Prince and Warner Bros understanding crossover would be necessary for his career at that point. So the solution would to find a way to create a song with heavy pop structure that would still maintain Prince’s homegrown funkiness. The solution was in his first R&B #1 and pop Top 20 hit in “I Wanna Be Your Lover”.

A pounding snare drum kick kicks off the song. For the first 2 1/2 minutes of this song,the refrain consists of a deep rhythm guitar playing on one bright,melodic chord. A high toned and bass synthesizer back this up along with the drums. On the choruses,a string synthesizer plays harmony to this. After a space funk synth on the final chorus,the song goes into a 3 minute instrumental section. This section brings in a high bass line playing a funk riff high in the mix over a similar synth backdrop. Then a higher synth brass part comes in-occasionally accompanying only the drums before the song fades out.

The first time I heard “I Wanna Be Your Lover” was the single edit,which is basically the vocal oriented first 2:50 minutes of the song. The version on Prince’s self titled 1979 album is a 5+ version that predominantly emphasizes the final instrumental section of the song. The entirety of the song is very funky. Its also where Prince was able to harness the stripped down,loose jamming funkiness that defined his debut album while introducing it with a strong sense of song craft. An element that could sung and hum. That makes “I Wanna Be Your Lover” perhaps the most important song Prince recorded in the 70’s.

 

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Filed under 1979, crossover, drums, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, naked funk, Prince, rhythm guitar, synth bass, synth brass, synthesizer, Warner Bros.

‘1999’: 34 Years Of Dance,Music,Sex,Romance

1999

1999 is celebrating its 34th anniversary today. Its understood as the album that really helped Prince cross his music over to a more pop oriented audience. A lot has been said about the album. Such as how the album was musically almost entirely the work of Prince himself. Also,how it helped establish the clearest headed example of the electronic based Minneapolis sound that he was pioneering at that time. Not to mention that it came right along with his first proteges in Vanity and (most importantly) The Time. Now I’m really realizing just how important this album was in terms of Prince’s entire musical history.

Prince debuted in the late 1970’s,fresh out of his teens as a disco era version of Stevie Wonder: a youthful funk wunderkind. As Henrique and myself were discussing at the time of writing this,he was first coming out when so much was happening around him. Stevie Wonder’s  Songs In The Key Of Life  still churned out hits,P-Funk were dropping “Flashlight” and “One Nation Under A Groove” while Dayton,Ohio’s Slave was hitting with an R&B #1 smash in their song “Slide”. And than came Prince,a young musical genius who played all the instruments and produced his own music so expertly.

When the post disco radio freeze out occurred in the early 80’s,the enormous level of pioneering and trailblazing by funk and disco artists disappeared overnight. On the other hand,it remained very present overseas in the UK with some rock and electronic elements added. This sound became known as new romantic/new wave/synth pop movement. In the very beginning of the 80’s,most black artists were integrating electronics into what was still a standard funk/soul rhythmic framework. By 1982,Prince suddenly became his own innovator as really the only black American new wave/synth rock oriented artist.

The 1999 album is endowed with some amazing funk such as the title song,the instrumentally organic “Lady Cab Driver” and the driving “DMSR”. In fact,the idea of the album being a double LP set with full,elongated mixes made it an idea format for his Minneapolis funk. At the same time,it was songs like the albums other major hit “Little Red Corvette” along with “Let’s Pretend We’re Married”,”Something In The Water (Does Not Compute)” and “Automatic” showcase Prince as doing for the synth pop/new wave sound what Little Richard  and Ray Charles did for rock ‘n roll  and soul in the 50’s.

Prince infused his rockiest music,even the rockabilly hit of “Delirious” with tons of gospel influences and attitude. And brought those same elements into his ballads on here “Free” and “International Lover”. This also began the period when Prince was concentrating heavily on developing his single B-sides as musical works of art all their own. Songs such as “Irresistible Bitch” and “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore” (covered famously by both Stephanie Mills and later Alicia Keys) represent the first time other artist realized even a Prince flip side was ripe for another artist to be really successful with them.

As of this writing,Prince enthusiasts await the official release of “Moonbeam Levels”,a well known outtake from this era. So interest in 1999 era Prince is still growing. For me,its an album that represents his finest mix of funk and rock music in terms of an album. The extended lengths gave the grooves room for a lot of expansion. For the heavy funkateer, 1999 is far more funk endowed than its blockbuster followup Purple Rain. On a personal note,it was my aunts favorite Prince album too. In many ways,1999 might be the most defining moment of Prince’s Minneapolis sound.

 

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Filed under 1980's, 1999, classic albums, electro funk, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, naked funk, New Wave, Prince, Synth Pop

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.

 

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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 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

4 Paisley Park’s Consideration: 14 Rarities That Need to Be on the New Purple Rain Reissue

purple-rain

One of the very first posts on my own blog, Dystopian Dance Party, was an exhaustive rundown of the bonus tracks I wanted to see on the then-newly announced 30th anniversary reissue of Prince‘s Purple Rain. Since then, a lot of things have happened–chiefly, and most tragically, Prince’s sudden death just over six months ago, leaving behind even more uncertainty in how his back catalogue would be handled. One thing that did not happen, however, was the release of that “30th anniversary” Purple Rain reissue–until, apparently, now.

That’s right: this week, NPG Records and Warner Bros. finally announced the release of the new Purple Rain set in 2017, promising an extra disc of as-yet-undisclosed bonus material. So, now that this really seems to be happening, I figured it was high time to dig up my two-year-old post and reevaluate my wish list. What follows is a slightly edited version of the original post: 14 of the outtakes, live versions, and rarities from the Purple Rain era that I’d like to see officially released. I’m aware, of course, that the reissue’s track listing has long since been set, and that there’s no possible way for everything I mention below to fit on a single compact disc. But to any of Prince’s people who might be out there reading this, when it comes time to put together the eight-disc blow-out mega-set covering Sign “ the Times/Crystal Ball/Dream Factory…hit me up. I’ve got a lot more ideas for that one than just 14.

Dez performing "Modernaire" in Purple Rain; © Warner Bros.

14. Dez Dickerson’s “Modernaire”

This one is about justice more than anything. Dickerson was Prince’s co-lead guitarist from 1979-1983, and a major influence on his more rock-oriented material–including, most significantly, breakthrough hit “Little Red Corvette,” for which he wrote and performed the classic guitar solo. By the conclusion of the “Triple Threat” tour promoting 1999, however, he was no longer able to reconcile his born-again Christian faith with his boss’s ribald public persona. In a rare moment of graciousness, the notoriously vindictive Prince not only gave Dickerson his blessing to leave, but also gave a spot in the upcoming film to Dez and his new backing band, the Modernaires.

The resulting song, appropriately titled “Modernaire,” isn’t really anything special: just a typically funky slice of Minneapolis-style electro-rock, best suited for exactly the kind of club-scene background noise it provides in the movie. It deserves to see a wide release, however, because like so many of the side projects in Prince’s orbit during the mid-’80s, it never really got the shot at commercial success it was promised. The song showed up on movie screens in Purple Rain, but not on vinyl; Dickerson and the Modernaires sank quickly out of sight, not even achieving the visibility of second-string Prince projects like Jill Jones and the Family. So let’s throw Dez a bone, and some royalties. And in the meantime, support the song’s independent release by Citinite, complete with awesome remixes by Hot Persuasion, Complexxion, DMX Krew, Faceless Mind, and even L.A. electro-hop godfather/noted Prince devotee Egyptian Lover.

RS394-RS

13. Vanity 6’s Version of “Sex Shooter

Experienced Princeologists know that Apollonia Kotero, whose boobs costarred as Prince’s romantic leads in the Purple Rain movie, wasn’t the first pair of breasts to front his cheesecakey girl-group side project, Apollonia 6. In fact, Purple Rain was already nearing the end of pre-production, and its accompanying soundtrack had already begun recording, when Prince’s original protégée Denise “Vanity” Matthews was dismissed from the project. As far as the sole A6 track in the movie is concerned, that’s a shame: because like everything else in the Vanity-to-Apollonia transition (except, arguably, the aforementioned boobs), the original was superior.

The Vanity 6 version of “Sex Shooter” has a grittier sound, with more prominent guitar (played, presumably, by the man himself); more importantly, though, the eternal bad girl Vanity makes a much more convincing “Sex Shooter” than Apollonia ever did. No matter how many black lace teddies and fishnets Prince and Purple Rain director Albert Magnoli had her wear, Apollonia could never not come across as the wide-eyed girl next door. But Vanity was all too convincing as the steely-eyed madame of the group Prince originally wanted to dub “the Hookers”; and when she suggestively smirks “blow me away” toward the end of this outtake, she sells it. In fact, one almost wonders how different Purple Rain the movie might have been had Vanity stayed in the leading-actress role. One thing’s for sure: if the Kid had told Vanity to purify herself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka, he would have taken a stiletto boot heel to the scrotum.

Prince jacks the mic at a Time show at First Avenue, 1983; stolen from prince.org

12. Prince’s Versions of Songs from the Time’s Ice Cream Castle

At this point, it’s pretty much common knowledge that, at least until their 1990 New Jack-flavored comeback album Pandemonium, the Time existed as an actual, functioning band only on stage (where, to be fair, they often blew Prince and his band out of the water) and in promotional materials. Their first three albums were ghostwritten and, indeed, ghost-recorded by Prince himself, who even laid down guide vocals–often still audible on the final release–and required frontman Morris Day to replicate them with near-mechanical precision. (He also effectively invented the “Morris Day” persona. Seriously, find a copy of Crystal Ball and listen to “Cloreen Baconskin”: it’s fifteen minutes of Prince in character as “Morris Day,” with the real Morris on drums.) So why not let us hear the original tracks from 1984’s Purple Rain tie-in Ice Cream Castle, before Morris overdubbed his vocals? If nothing else, it would be a wonderfully surreal experience to hear”If the Kid Can’t Make You Come” as crooned by the Kid himself.

Richard Avedon, 1983

11. “Extraloveable”

Okay, now that the extended-family stuff is out of the way, let’s get serious. This one is a long shot for at least two reasons. First, it’s actually already seen an official release: first as a Canada-only online single in 2011, then on Prince’s final studio album HITnRUN Phase Two. For Prince fans who had never heard the original 1983 outtake, it was probably 21st century Prince-as-usual; maybe even a little funkier than most of his latter-day material. But for people like me, who stumbled randomly upon “Extraloveable” while surfing Spotify and promptly lost their shit because they never thought they’d hear an official version in their lifetimes, it was nothing short of a tragedy.

Now here’s the second obstacle: the song is downright offensive, and not in Prince’s usual “not suitable for Jehovah’s Witnesses” sense of the word. After about six minutes of typically slippery come-ons over a vintage Linn LM-1 drum loop (“Don’t U wanna, don’t U wanna take a bath with me?”), Prince abandons any pretense of romance, grunts “I’m on the verge of rape,” and then throws up his hands in a menacing kind of resignation: “I’m sorry, but I’m just going to have to rape U. Now are U going 2 get into the tub, or do I have 2 drag U? Don’t make me drag U.” Even in 1983, this just would not have flown; can you imagine what Andrea Dworkin, or for that matter Tipper Gore, would have had to say? And these days, when social media outrage can last for months over a Robin Thicke song that kinda sounds like it’s about rape, it’s a recipe for P.R. disaster.

Which is kind of a damn shame, because “Extraloveable” is among the weirdest and most wonderful of Prince’s early-’80s electro-funk workouts: a jam so effortless that many of its lyrics, notably “baby I know my rap is hard / but not as hard as what’s behind door…door number pants,” appear to have been written literally without any effort. Then there’s the mid-song one-man jam punctuated with callouts to band members who probably weren’t even in the studio at the time, and capped off with a searing guitar solo cheekily dedicated to the recently-departed Dez Dickerson (“Hey Dez…don’t U like my band?”). And, while I certainly don’t mean to make light of an issue as grave as sexual violence, it’s tough to take Prince’s rape talk seriously when it’s delivered in the melodramatic tones of a sexually ambiguous automaton. Let’s say include this one, but with a trigger warning.

© Warner Bros.

10. “All Day, All Night”/”The Dance Electric”

I include these two tracks as a single entry because they have a lot in common. Both are extended, electro-inspired pieces written by Prince for other artists and recorded in 1984: “All Day, All Night” showed up in remixed form on the Prince-produced 1987 debut by Jill Jones, while “The Dance Electric” was overdubbed by childhood friend and pre-Controversy bass player André Cymone for his 1985 album AC. And I guess if it came down to it, only one would have to see the light of day. But both are really good: the last gasps of Prince’s flirtations with hardcore electronic music before he moved toward the more organic, psychedelia-influenced sounds of the Revolution era.

In fact, seen from that perspective, there’s almost a before/after narrative to be read here. “All Day, All Night” is the closest Prince had come at that point to pure techno: a hypnotic synthesizer throb overlaid with cryptic, disassociative lyrics that could equally be about sex or MDMA (though, given Prince’s noted teetotaling tendencies, are probably just about sex). It’s also noteworthy for the immortal opening line, “Oh, what a beautiful morning…oh, what a beautiful ass.” “The Dance Electric,” meanwhile, starts from a similarly urgent LM-1 pulse but then builds with layers upon layers of neo-psychedelic guitars and chanted vocals by Prince and his Revolution cohorts/water temperature testers Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman. In fact, the more I think about it, fuck it, put ’em both on the reissue.

© Warner Bros.

9. “When Doves Cry” with Bass

By now, I would think that most people still reading this article would have heard the story behind the absence of a bass track on what is arguably Prince’s most popular and recognizable single (short version: while mixing the track he was dissatisfied, asked engineer Susan Rogers to turn the bass all the way down, and liked the way it sounded). It’s one of the more famous legends in a career with more famous legends than most. So why not give us the chance to hear the original mix, bass line and all, for ourselves? This is definitely treading into novelty curio territory, as “When Doves Cry” in its released version is as perfect a song as it can possibly be. But let’s be real here, anybody in the market for an expanded reissue of Purple Rain probably has the interest to check out at least one novelty curio.

Stolen from princevault.org

8. The Complete August 3, 1983 First Avenue Concert

This, I write with an admittedly sinking heart, is probably the likeliest bonus material to be included on the reissue: after all, three songs from the show–“I Would Die 4 U,” “Baby I’m a Star,” and yes, even the masterful title track–already made it in studio-polished form to the original Purple Rain album, and filling out the second disc of a reissue with a period-appropriate live show seems like the new thing to do when an artist is squeamish about releasing studio outtakes (see, for example, the 2010 expanded edition of David Bowie‘s Station to Station). But it’s really only a weak choice compared to the wonders we could be receiving otherwise. This isn’t just a great show–as evidenced by the fact that some of its basic tracks have been passing for studio recordings for the last thirty years–it’s also a historically significant one: the August 3 First Avenue concert marked the debut of guitarist Wendy Melvoin in Prince’s newly-rechristened backing band, the Revolution. Between the raw live versions of the Purple Rain material–played for the first time in front of an audience–and the inclusions of oddball tracks like outtake “Electric Intercourse” (more on that later) and a cover of Joni Mitchell‘s “A Case of You,” this could make for fascinating companion listening to the album (because, you know, there’s absolutely no way to hear it now). Hell, make it Disc 3 after a full disc of studio outtakes and I for one will be cheesin’. And not to push my luck, but hear me out about a possible Disc 4…

Photo stolen from Wikipedia

7. Prince and the Revolution: Live

Another thing all the cool kids seem to be doing in the deluxe-reissue market these days is releasing a disc of video content to round out the set (and, let’s face it, jack up the price). In the case of Purple Rain, Prince and Warner Bros. have it pretty easy: there already was an official release of Purple Rain-era live video by Prince and the Revolution, and it happens to be amazing. Prince and the Revolution: Live captures a typically blistering set from Syracuse, NY in March 1985, including the to-date only officially released version of classic outtake “Possessed” (again, more on this later) and an eighteen-minute (!) version of “Purple Rain” itself. And all W.B. has to do is clean up the footage that was originally transferred to VHS and slap it onto a Blu-ray disc. Yes, I realize video restoration is a costly and time-consuming process, so I’m being facetious when I say that’s “all” they have to do. But that just means they’d better get crackin’; 2017 is almost here.

Seriously, though, it will be a missed opportunity if this set comes and goes without a re-release of Prince and the Revolution: Live. It’s too perfect a document, especially if my list of demands does come true and we’re also getting the First Avenue show. Hearing (/seeing) both of these shows alongside one another would truly give us the full picture of the era: from small club to stadium, from before anyone had ever heard “Purple Rain” to after the song, movie, and album had made Prince a megastar (an exhausted megastar: just weeks after this show, he would infamously announce his retirement from live performance). Even if it’s not packaged with the Purple Rain reissue, I still think it’s high time for Live to be remastered; perhaps they could do what the Stones did with their most recent Exile on Main St. reissue and their 1974 concert film Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones, and release the two projects separately but timed for synergy.

The lyrics sheet for "Electric Intercourse"; stolen from Julien's Live

6. “Electric Intercourse”

One thing worth noting about Prince is, while I have been referring to unreleased studio tracks as “outtakes” for the sake of convenience, he wasn’t really an artist with a lot of “outtakes” in the traditional sense of the word. Unlike most artists, who enter the studio only when it’s time to record a new project and will literally “take out” tracks that don’t come together or won’t fit into the album’s running length, Prince by all accounts spent inordinate amounts of time in the studio recording just for the sake of it: sometimes for a specific project, sometimes for other artists, and often for his own personal entertainment. So while all of the studio tracks being discussed here were recorded during what might loosely be dubbed the “Purple Rain era,” beginning after the conclusion of the Triple Threat tour and through the release of the album itself, it’s unlikely that any of them were actually meant to be included on the Purple Rain album.

“Electric Intercourse,” however, is a relatively rare exception. A sensual, electric piano-driven piece with a soulful vocal performance by Prince, the backing tracks came from the same aforementioned August 3, 1983 live show that yielded “I Would Die 4 U,” “Baby, I’m a Star,” and “Purple Rain.” The following month, Prince recorded overdubs at Sunset Sound in Hollywood; just a few days later, however, he also recorded “The Beautiful Ones,” another slow, piano-heavy number that quickly took the place of “Electric Intercourse” on Purple Rain‘s track list. And really, it was the right call; “The Beautiful Ones” is a stone classic, one of the best ballads in the whole Prince corpus. But “Electric Intercourse” is no slouch, either, and hearing it for the first time in its studio-polished form would be a real thrill. Of course, if the reissue were to include the First Avenue show in its entirety, the original live performance would at least be exposed to a wider audience; an acceptable compromise. But still, the pedant in me wants to hear exactly what changed between the live performance and the studio session.

© Warner Bros.

5. The Extended Version of “Computer Blue”

Remember the scene in Purple Rain where an emotionally disturbed Kid performs “Computer Blue,” bare-chested and oiled up with his eyes covered by a black lace mask, while Wendy mimes fellatio on his guitar? Now remember how you wished that scene was ten minutes longer, with more Wendy and Lisa sexbot voices and some bizarre, Jim Morrison-esque spoken-word poetry? Oh, and also more guitar solos and dirty electro-funk-rock grooves? I don’t know about you, but that’s one of my favorite parts of the movie, and I love “Computer Blue” even if it is basically just a weirder rewrite of 1999‘s “Automatic.” And while on the original album it comes across as an extended introduction to “Darling Nikki,” the unreleased full-length version gives it much more of an opportunity to let its freak flag fly.

1984 press photo; stolen from Lansure's Music Paraphernalia

4. “We Can Fuck” (“We Can Funk”)

Another long shot, because for better or for worse our beloved former “Rude Boy” seemed averse to dropping “F”-bombs later in life. But if his family could find it in their hearts to look the other way, this could be a much-needed salvaging of one of Prince’s most mistreated songs. “We Can Fuck” is, of course, the original version of the song eventually released on 1990’s Graffiti Bridge as “We Can Funk,” and like most things related to Graffiti Bridge, it was a missed opportunity of the highest order. Prince resurrected his 1983 backing track for the remake, but used it as a showcase for P-Funk godfather and recent Paisley Park signee George Clinton; while this might sound like a good idea on paper (“Funk” is right there in the title!), and while Clinton did his best with the material–the recurring chant “I’m testing positive for the funk/I’d gladly pee in anybody’s cup” is vintage Brother George–the darkly sexy groove is engineered for Prince’s sultry croon, not Clinton’s stoned-cartoon rasp. And while there is a transfer circulating of “We Can Fuck” in its original 1983 incarnation, it’s both incomplete and terrible quality. So please, NPG/Warner, throw us a bone; let us pretend, even for a few glorious minutes, that Graffiti Bridge never happened. We won’t even mind if you change the title again.

© Warner Bros.

3. “Possessed”

The real crime when it comes to this song is that it technically already was in Purple Rain: listen carefully during a scene between Morris Day and Apollonia in First Avenue (the one where Morris is boasting about his brass waterbed), and you can hear an instrumental re-recording of “Possessed” playing in the background. The instrumental version is interesting–a synth and sequencer experiment that demonstrates Prince’s broadening sonic palette in 1984 and points the way toward the future explorations of 1985’s Around the World in a Day and 1986’s Parade–but it’s also seven minutes long, has no vocals aside from a classic Prince groan at the beginning, and doesn’t really go anywhere. The original 1983 version is where it’s at: almost nine minutes long, but boy does it go places, with another great LM-1 beat, some muted funk guitar, strategic synthesizer stabs, and one of the Purple One’s most seductive vocal performances.

It’s also among his most frankly sexual lyrics of the ’80s, which makes the cynical side of me wonder if an unexpurgated version will see the light of day in 2016: toward the end of the song, Prince doesn’t just assure a lady that if he doesn’t give into his temptations her “pussy puts up quite an awful fuss”; he then proceeds to spell out exactly what he means by “putting up a fuss,” making it less a double entendre than a delayed single one. There’s also an instrumental breakdown proceeded by the callout “me and the boys would like to jam,” which, considering the fact that two of the six members of the Revolution were women, I’m pretty sure is actually meant to be a reference to Prince’s royal jewels. So yeah, it’s dirty. But if Prince’s people can bear to release it, we will finally have a definitive version of one of his most essential lost gems.

 

© Warner Bros.

2. “Erotic City (‘make love not war Erotic City come alive’)”

I know what you’re thinking: “Erotic City” isn’t a rarity. It’s one of Prince’s most famous B-sides (hell, one of the most famous B-sides, full stop), George Clinton covered it in P.C.U., why waste valuable reissue space on something everyone’s already heard? Well, here’s my argument: the real “Erotic City,” the 12″ version that stretches like elastic to a glorious seven and a half minutes, hasn’t seen official release since its original issue in 1984; and the fact that a whole generation has now theoretically grown up, can in fact now go to war and die for their country, while hearing only the weak-ass three-minute version included on The Hits collection, makes me sick. It’s hard to clarify in words what makes the long version of “Erotic City” so much better than the edit. The edit hits all the highlights, it doesn’t sound awkward or remove any major elements, but the 12″ mix just feels right; it builds at the perfect pace, its subtle rhythmic variations a masterclass in modular groove construction. Put another and perhaps more àpropos way, “Erotic City” is better at seven and a half minutes than three minutes in the same way that actual sex is better at seven and a half minutes…or, you know, longer.

1. Something We’ve Never Even Heard About

Yeah, I’m kind of cheating on this one. But the fact is, this list is being assembled from scraps. Prince is one of the most heavily bootlegged artists out there–right up there with the Beatles and Bob Dylan–and it’s a testament to the obsessiveness and tenacity of his fans that we know as much about his unreleased material as we do. But the whole reason why the idea of Prince “opening the Vault” has been such a tantalizing one for the last 30-plus years is because we don’t know what else there is to hear. If any artist has the capability to surprise us with something completely out of left field, some unreleased masterpiece we’ve never heard about, Prince is the one. And now his estate finally has the chance to do that.

Of course, I am under no illusions that any of this is actually going to happen. I have fully prepared myself for the fact that whatever reissue of Purple Rain makes it to stores next year will probably be a disappointment; in a way, it couldn’t possibly live up to 30 years of bootleg- and speculation-fueled anticipation. This will, almost certainly, end in tears. But at least Prince had the foresight to give us the perfect soundtrack.

© Warner Bros.

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Filed under 1980's, 1984, Apollonia, Lisa Coleman, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, Purple Rain, Uncategorized, Vanity, Warner Bros., Wendy Melvoin