Category Archives: Purple Rain

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

Prince Summer: “Computer Blue” (1984)

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

Prince (Protégé) Summer: Jill Jones

jilljones2

Much like the subjects of my guest post from last week, Jill Jones is a somewhat lesser-known figure in the Prince protégé pantheon. Whether you know her by name or not, though, you’ve definitely heard her sing: Jill’s is the first voice on Prince’s 1982 crossover smash “1999.” And, again like the Family, her self-titled 1987 album on Paisley Park is required listening for anyone with a taste for “purple music” from the latter half of the decade.

Though she only released one album under Prince’s tutelage, Jill Jones spent a surprisingly long time in his camp. The pair first met in early 1980, when both were on tour with Rick James–Prince as the opening act, Jones as a backing singer for Teena Marie. By 1982 she had graduated to singing with Prince, making memorable appearances alongside Lisa Coleman in the music videos for the 1999 album (I believe I’ve said elsewhere on the Internet that the sight of Jill pouting in her police hat and camisole was at least 70% responsible for my sexual awakening as a preteen), and was one of his handful of off-and-on girlfriends. Her solo career was supposed to take off in 1984, when Prince wrote a song for her to sing in his breakout feature film Purple Rain; it ended up on the cutting room floor, however, along with the majority of the rest of her scenes.

It was only after another three years of waiting that Jill finally got her time in the sun. Released in May 1987, Jill Jones was comprised largely of re-recorded versions of some of Prince’s best outtakes. “G-Spot” was originally intended for Vanity 6; “All Day, All Night” used a live backing track recorded in 1984 by the Revolution; “Baby, You’re a Trip” dated all the way back to the 1999 sessions, as did lead single “Mia Bocca.” But with its lush string arrangement by Clare Fischer–another Family connection–“Mia Bocca” is really the closing bookend to Prince’s glamorous Under the Cherry Moon era, and it’s a hell of a way to go out. Even on its own, it’s worth the album’s price of admission.

Jill_Jones,_cover_album,_US,_1987Or at least, that’s what I think; but it seems the record-buying public didn’t agree, as Jill Jones failed to chart on the Billboard Top 100 for Pop, Black, and Dance music. Jones stuck around Paisley Park for a few more years, recording some tracks for an abortive second album with Prince and appearing in 1990’s Graffiti Bridge film. Perhaps understandably, that was the last time they worked together. After spending most of the ’90s struggling to make a name for herself, Jill released a second solo album in 2001, then retired from the music industry. Earlier this year, however, she emerged from her long hiatus with another, dance-flavored album called I Am (presumably, we can expect her fourth record sometime around 2030).

Like many of Prince’s spinoff records from the late ’80s, Jill Jones is unfortunately difficult to get a hold of these days; it is, however, available on YouTube, and until such time as an official reissue occurs, that’s where I recommend checking it out. Jill Jones’ album may have been a victim of Paisley Park’s financial decline–and Jones herself a victim of Prince’s caprice when it comes to his side projects– but for fans of Prince and the Minneapolis Sound in general, it’s a buried gem.

Next weekend, we’ll pick up where Jill and Prince left off with the multiple protégés of 1990’s Graffiti Bridge. In the meantime, as always, keep it tuned to Andresmusictalk, and check out my other stuff on Dystopian Dance Party and dance / music / sex / romance.

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Filed under 1987, backup singers, Claire Fischer, Lisa Coleman, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, Purple Rain, Under The Cherry Moon, Vanity

Prince (Protegé) Summer: Vanity/Apollonia 6

VANITY-6

Toward the end of last week‘s post, I called the Time “arguably the most highly-regarded of Prince’s various side projects.” So allow me to start this post with another superlative: if the Time was the most highly-regarded of the purple protegés, then their “girl group” sister project, Vanity 6, was perhaps the most underrated and misunderstood.

To be fair, though, the very concept behind the group encouraged such misreadings. Originally conceived shortly after the Time as “the Hookers”–because the Time were pimps, geddit?–Vanity 6 appeared at first and maybe even second glance to be little more than a cynical play on pornographic tropes. Every member was an obvious “type”: Vanity, born Denise Matthews (and almost, disastrously, rechristened “Vagina”), was the vampish seductress; Brenda (Bennett) was the saucy, chain-smoking “bad girl”; and Susan (Moonsie) was, most problematically, the thumb-sucking, teddy bear-toting jailbait. The “6” in their name, if you haven’t already guessed, was a sophomoric reference to their total number of breasts.

vanity6back

If the lowest-common-denominator pandering wasn’t enough, there was also a severely diminished emphasis on musical talent. Prince, while stingy about allowing the Time to play on their own albums, had nevertheless stocked the group with the hottest musicians in the Twin Cities. Vanity, on the other hand, was a Canadian B-movie actress, and Susan was Prince’s on-and-off girlfriend; only Brenda was a professional musician, having performed as a backing vocalist with the blues-rock group Tombstone in the mid-1970s. By many accounts, this led to dissension even within Prince’s camp: there was a prevailing sense that he was wasting time on a glorified burlesque act, when he could have been spending it with a more conventionally qualified group.

These criticisms would have held more water, however, if the trio (/sextet’s) self-titled 1982 debut wasn’t legitimately great. Vanity 6 is not only a stronger debut than the Time’s (yeah, I said it), but also one of the quirkiest and most interesting records in the whole extended Prince canon. In an earlier post, Andre already mentioned the funk workout “If a Girl Answers (Don’t Hang Up)“–featuring a campy vocal cameo by Mr. Jamie Starr himself–as well as the immortal “Nasty Girl,” which prefigured the sounds of everyone from the Neptunes to Peaches to Beyoncé (who, incidentally, has recently taken to covering the song in concert). But there’s also “Make Up” and “Drive Me Wild,” two of the most futuristic-sounding cuts from the Purple One’s electro period; the Dez Dickerson-penned “He’s So Dull,” a.k.a. the best song the Go-Gos never recorded; and the New Wave-flavored “Bite the Beat,” which was co-written by Jesse Johnson of the Time.

Vanity 6 joined Prince and the Time on the Triple Threat tour in 1982 and 1983, and were meant to appear in Purple Rain; as with the other group, however, relations with Prince hit the skids soon before shooting was to commence. There are a variety of possible reasons for Vanity’s falling out with Prince, including disputes over royalties and romantic turmoil; her growing dependency on cocaine was also a likely factor. Whatever the specific reason, however, she left the group for a solo career with Motown in late 1983, leaving Prince in the peculiar situation of having to recast both the female lead for his film and the frontwoman for his group. Her replacement, another unknown actress named Patricia Kotero, was hired after responding to a casting call. But “Patrica 6” would have been an even dumber name than “the Hookers,” and so Kotero adopted the nom de Prince Apollonia.

Due in large part to these inauspicious beginnings, Apollonia has gotten a bit of a raw deal from the Prince fanbase; I’ll be the first to admit that I was overly dismissive of her when I recorded my podcast on Prince’s side projects last month. If fronting Vanity 6 was already a thankless job, then filling in for Vanity–who Prince remembered as “the finest woman in the world” after her passing early this year–was even more so. Nor did it help that Prince seemed to be losing interest in the Apollonia 6 project by mid-1984, stripping the proposed album of many of its most promising songs: he gave “The Glamorous Life” to Sheila E., “Manic Monday” to the Bangles, and even his own “17 Days” still has Brenda’s original backing vocals clearly audible on the chorus. I guess what I’m trying to say is, yes, the Apollonia 6 record is an inarguably inferior clone of its predecessor; but the group’s signature song, “Sex Shooter,” remains a Minneapolis Sound classic in its own right, and Apollonia’s Purple Rain performance will forever be iconic (ask any person who came of age in the 1980s and has a sexual interest in women about the “Lake Minnetonka” scene, and watch them get misty-eyed with nostalgia).

apollonia6

Like the Time, Apollonia 6 dissolved quickly after the release of Purple Rain; unlike the Time, however, there was no triumphant aftermath, no series of high-profile reunions–though three of the groups’ former members, at least, seem to be leading happy and fulfilling lives. Brenda Bennett took time off from the music industry, returning only fairly recently as an independent artist. Susan Moonsie quit the entertainment business entirely. Apollonia went back primarily to minor film and television roles–though she did release one, forgettable solo album in 1988.

And then, of course, there was Vanity. Hers is one of the saddest stories in popular music: though she went on to some measure of success as a solo recording artist and (especially) an actress in the latter half of the 1980s, she also developed a crippling addiction to crack cocaine. Finally, after suffering a near-fatal renal failure in 1994, she experienced a conversion as a born-again Christian and dedicated the rest of her life to evangelism, renouncing her stage name and her past as a secular entertainer. It’s a strange feeling, to be a fan of Denise Matthews’ work as Vanity with the knowledge of the pain she was in at the time. It seems, however, that she was able to find peace later in her life; I only hope that she realized how much authentic joy she brought to the world, even in her darker moments.

So what else is there to say about Vanity and Apollonia 6? If the Time was the Prince spinoff act that threatened to upstage the headliner, then the “6” represented Prince in full puppetmaster mode: putting together a singing group comprised of two-thirds non-singers, then underlining just how disposable they were by seamlessly slotting a different frontwoman in the lead. And yet, the group had undeniable personality: one listen to Vanity and Brenda tearing “Jamie Starr” a new one in “If a Girl Answers” is more than enough to demonstrate that. And the original incarnation in particular gave Prince and his collaborators a framework in which to create some of their most unique genre experiments of the early 1980s; making them, in their own way, a precursor to more “respectable” side projects like the Family. Finally, if nothing else, the ladies could definitely fill out a camisole.

prince_and_vanity_rolling_ston_0_1461253588

Next Saturday, Prince (Protegé) Summer continues with an artist who stretches the definition of “protegé”: Ms. Sheila E. In the meantime, you can read more of my writing about Prince on my chronological Prince blog, dance / music / sex / romance; and more about whatever else crosses my mind on Dystopian Dance Party. See you soon!

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Filed under 1980's, Apollonia, Denise Matthews, Dez Dickerson, Jesse Johnson, Minneapolis Sound, Prince, Purple Rain, Sheila E., Time, Vanity

Grooves on Wax, Prince Summer Edition-Zach & Andre’s 12″ inch Prince Singles Collection

Normally I guest post on Saturdays, but Andre wanted to do a Grooves on Wax of all Prince 12-inches and I was only too happy to participate. So below are some highlights from both of our collections. I’ll be back tomorrow, as previously promised, with a post on Vanity/Apollonia 6!

Zach’s Wax

letspretendweremarried

The last single released from the 1999 album in November 1983, “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” isn’t actually a “maxi cut” in the traditional sense; just a repackaging of the seven-and-a-half-minute album version, in all its filthy electro-funk glory. But the real reason to own this is the B-side, “Irresistable Bitch”: an amazing (if just a tad misogynist) quasi-rap with a cavernous drum sound that clearly inspired the likes of the Egyptian Lover. Plus, it marks the earliest recorded appearance on a Prince track of Wendy Melvoin, who had replaced Dez Dickerson as the Revolution‘s second guitarist just a few months earlier.

iwoulddie4u

Now this one is all about the A-side. “I Would Die 4 U” has always been my choice for the funkiest song ever written about Jesus, but the 12″ version’s extended rehearsal jam (featuring percussion by Sheila E., with her band members Eddie M on sax and Miko Weaver on guitar) takes you straight to church. At ten minutes and 15 seconds, it’s actually edited down by about two-thirds (!) from the uncut version circulating on bootlegs; that one’s for devotees only, but in the right frame of mind, it’s an appropriately religious experience.

mountains

1986’s Parade is one of my favorite Prince albums and eras, and part of the reason for that is the amazing run of 12″ singles it produced. The best of the bunch, in my opinion, is “Mountains,” which gives the funkiest song on the album ample room to breathe. Once you hear it, there’s no going back. This is also the only place to hear the extended version of “Alexa de Paris,” a grandiose instrumental from the Under the Cherry Moon soundtrack that stands as one of Prince’s most successful experiments with jazz fusion.

anotherloverholenyohead

Another Parade cut, “Anotherloverholenyohead” is actually one of the few Prince singles where I prefer the regular version to the extended (another one, actually, is “Kiss”). I just think the tighter construction of the album version works better for the song’s wiry funk-rock, and the closing jam (“there’s gonna be a riot if you don’t clap yo’ hands…”) doesn’t really take off on the 12″ like I wanted it to. Still, it’s worth picking up if you can–if only for this dope picture of Brown Mark on the flip side, which I actually had hanging on my living room wall for a while (yes, I know, I’m a weirdo).

anotherloverbrownmark

Andre’s Wax

Let's Go Crazy 12'

In the film Purple Rain the song “Let’s Go Crazy” had an extended drum sequence and a chromatic piano walk bridge. It was played in the continuity scenes that introduced Morris Day and Jerome Benton, as well as Apollonia arriving at First Avenue and stiffing the cab. And that version is what the extended mix of this song is-my favorite version of it actually. On “Erotic City”,the song is extended by showcasing the instrumental synth exchanges to an even greater degree. That makes this a definitive Prince 12″ inch single.

Prince+Kiss+-+1st+Issue+3336

“Kiss” was a 45 that I remember being one of only two Prince songs my parents had in their record collection when I was growing up. On this extended 12″ version,the middle of the song is extended into a drum and synth brass heavy funk breakdown-very James Brown style. “Love Or Money” is one of my favorite Prince B-sides next to “Erotic City” and “17 Days“. It’s got a great gated drum machine line, rhythm guitar and Prince’s Chipmunk’d Camille voice. On this extended version,it all gets even better when the horn solos really interact on the extended instrumental bridge.

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Filed under 12 inch singles, 1980's, 1986, Brown Mark, James Brown, Jerome Benton, Miko Weaver, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Morris Day, Prince & The Revolution, Purple Rain, Sheila E., Uncategorized, Under The Cherry Moon, Wendy Melvoin

Prince (Protegé) Summer: The Time

the_time_vinyl_front_cover

As an avowed fan of His Royal Badness and the tradition of silky, wet 1980s R&B he inspired, I was thrilled and honored to be asked to guest blog during the holiday season that is Prince Summer. Since Andre is covering the mainline Prince projects, however, I thought it would be best for me to fill in with some material on Prince’s extensive stable of side projects, from the 1980s to his untimely death in 2016. And where better to start on the Prince spinoff tip than with the greatest band in the world: the muthafuckin’ Time.

The Time were formed in early 1981 as an outlet for Prince’s more conventionally R&B-oriented material, after 1980’s Dirty Mind took his own music further in the direction of New Wave. His connection with several of the individual band members, however, goes back much further. Frontman Morris Day actually got his start as the drummer for Prince’s first band, Grand Central, while the pair were still in high school; they used to play in battles of the bands around Minneapolis in the mid-1970s with a rival act called Flyte Tyme, whose lineup included drummer Jellybean Johnson, keyboardist Monte Moir, and of course, future Minneapolis Sound architects Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis on keys and bass, respectively. The Time, then, started life as a combination of the two older groups, with Flyte Tyme singer Alexander O’Neal on lead vocals–that is, until clashes with Prince led to O’Neal’s removal and Day’s promotion from behind the drums to the front of the band. Finally, Prince rounded out the group with the addition of lead guitarist Jesse Johnson, a recent transplant from Rock Island, Illinois.

the_time_vinyl_back_cover

It’s this lineup that would appear on the Time’s self-titled debut album–or at least, that’s what Prince wanted you to think. Production on the first Time album was credited to Morris Day and “Jamie Starr”: a mysterious figure who was, of course, none other than Prince himself. And he didn’t just produce the record, either: he largely wrote and performed it, using the same “one-man band” approach (with uncredited assists from his band members) as on his own solo records. His guide vocals are even clearly audible on songs like the opening track and lead single, “Get It Up.”

The Time was a commercial success for Prince (who, as the artist directly under contract with Warner Bros., pocketed the vast majority of the profits), and it helped to solidify Minneapolis’ standing as a new musical hotspot, even if it was still almost entirely through the efforts of one guy. For today’s listeners, though, it’s of interest mostly as a historical document. The aforementioned “Get It Up” is good: its lascivious lyrics, Oberheim OB-X synthesizer squeal, and borderline heavy metal guitar solos make it sound like the Controversy outtake it is. And other standout tracks, like followup single “Cool” and the Lisa Coleman-penned workout “The Stick,” laid the groundwork for Morris Day’s larger-than-life persona: a more cartoonish version of the gravel-voiced “pimp” character Prince would adopt while cutting up behind the scenes. But Morris’ singing voice was thin, especially on the slow numbers–“Girl,” inexplicably released as the third single, is just painful to listen to–and Prince still hadn’t hit on quite the right tone for his ghostwriting.

On stage, though, the Time were monsters–which of course resulted in tension when Prince took them on as the opening act for his Controversy tour in late 1981 and early 1982. By hiring some of the best musicians in the Twin Cities as a ghost band, then feeding them deliberately crowd-pleasing material, Prince effectively created his own competition; and by paying the band a pittance of a salary and severely limiting their creative control, he bred resentment and a desire for the puppets to upstage their puppetmaster. These tensions ultimately came to a head on the last date of the tour in Cincinnati, Ohio, where Prince and his band threw eggs at the Time during their opening set, then handcuffed Jesse to a coat rack and pelted him with Doritos. Later, after Prince left the stage, the Time retaliated, and a food fight raged all the way back to the hotel. All in good fun, I suppose–until Prince billed the damage to Morris, claiming that he’d started the whole thing.

what-time-is-it

Shenanigans aside, Prince recorded another Time album, What Time Is It?, in early 1982, Morris once again replicating his guide vocals with exacting precision. Andre already posted about this one back in 2014, so I won’t dwell too much on it, but suffice to say that if you only listen to one Time record, this is the one to hear. The grooves are skin-tight, the comedy is on point–hell, Morris even figured out how to sing a ballad (see: “Gigolos Get Lonely Too“). But on the ensuing “Triple Threat” tour with Prince and Vanity 6, the rivalry from the previous jaunt continued unabated. This time, tensions flared after Jam and Lewis, who had been producing a few tracks for SOLAR Records on the side, missed a date in San Antonio after being grounded by a blizzard during sessions with the Atlanta-based S.O.S. Band. Prince scrambled to cover for their absence, drafting Lisa to fill in for Jam on keyboards and having auxiliary Time member Jerome Benton mime on stage while he played Terry’s bass parts from behind the curtain. When the duo finally caught up with the rest of the tour, Prince docked their pay, then fired them entirely; Monte Moir also departed in their wake.

The result of all this turmoil was a strange irony: the Time were in shambles, at the very same moment that they were poised for their greatest success. 1984’s Ice Cream Castle, recorded to dovetail with the group’s appearance in Prince’s breakout feature film Purple Rain, was another middling record, but its breakout hits “Jungle Love” (see above) and “The Bird” introduced them to a massive crossover audience. Ultimately, however, it was too late: Morris took off for a solo career soon after the release of the film, leaving Prince to tour for Purple Rain accompanied only by the Revolution, his costar Apollonia, and his newest protegée, Sheila E.

Each of the former members of the Time stayed active in the ensuing years. Jerome, Jellybean, and St. Paul Peterson (Jimmy Jam’s replacement) formed the core of yet another short-lived Prince project, the Family (more on them later). Morris pursued music and acting, both to mixed results. Jesse released a few well-regarded solo albums, to modest commercial success. Jam and Lewis, who frequently retained Moir as a collaborator, had the best run of them all–their former mentor arguably included, as their production of Janet Jackson‘s Control managed to keep Prince and the Revolution‘s Parade off the top spot of the charts in 1986.

By the end of the decade, however, a reunion was brewing. Prince recorded a full “Time” album with just Morris and Jerome in 1989, to be released under the title Corporate World. Warner, however, wanted the full lineup involved; so the album was cancelled, and Morris, Jerome, Jam, Lewis, Jesse, Jellybean, and Moir all reunited to costar in Prince’s ill-fated 1990 sequel to Purple RainGraffiti Bridge (see above). In other words, W.B., be careful what you wish for.

Thankfully, 1990 also saw the release of the band’s much-better album Pandemonium, which combined re-recorded leftovers from Corporate World with resurrected ’80s outtakes like “Chocolate” and “Jerk Out” (see above). The record is a little overstuffed–at 11 tracks not including skits, it’s almost twice the length of any previous Time album–but it’s probably their most satisfying since What Time Is It? Unfortunately, the bonhomie didn’t last, and the group disbanded again shortly after.

And with that, we’ve reached the end of the Time’s official recorded tenure; the group has had an impressive afterlife, however, with Morris, Jerome, Moir, and Jellybean still touring as “Morris Day and the Time” to this day. The original lineup also reunited again in 2011–albeit billed as “the Original 7ven,” due to Prince’s strict control over the “Time” name–for a fun, well-received album called Condensate. Some of the material is unquestionably hokey (was anyone really clamoring for a Time song with a hashtag in the title?), but it’s nevertheless a strong argument that after 30-plus years in the game, the Time’s irrepressible charm remains intact.

There’s a deeper reason, too, why the Time remain arguably the most highly-regarded of Prince’s various side projects. Their rivalry with Prince, both in real life and as dramatized in Purple Rain (we won’t speak any more of Graffiti Bridge), stands as a potent symbol of one of the defining tensions of the Purple One’s career, between humble generosity and iron-fisted tyranny. Prince was more than happy to help his brothers out with a slice of his success–just as long as it was on his terms and they didn’t step on his toes. But the group Prince once described as “the only band that I was afraid of” stepped on his toes with aplomb, all while looking sharp in their Stacy Adams. So let’s hear it for the Time: the original seven lunatics who ended up running the asylum. Like a great man once said: “The Wright Brothers can’t fuck with that.”

I’ll be back next Saturday with a post on the second big project from “Jamie Starr”: the delightfully campy Vanity 6. In the meantime, for more of me blathering about Prince protegés, check out the podcast I recorded for my blog Dystopian Dance Party last month. And of course, come back during the week as Andre resumes his regularly-scheduled programming.

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Filed under 1980's, 1990s, 2010's, Apollonia, Jerome Benton, Jesse Johson, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Lisa Coleman, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Morris Day, Prince, Purple Rain, Sheila E., Solar Records, The Time, Vanity, Warner Bros.

Prince Summer: “17 Days” (1984)

Prince was a very busy man in 1983. He was getting things together for his first major motion picture. It was originally for a script called Dreams. And of course this script evolved into the movie Purple Rain. During this period he recorded material for this films soundtrack,a second Vanity 6 album (which eventually became the Apollonia 6),Sheila E’s solo debut and a third album for The Time. Prince also recorded a number of songs on his own during these sessions that,while a bit off the cuff for album tracks,became some of the best known 45 RPM single B-sides of his career.

One of these B-sides is a song referred to in it’s entirety  as “17 Days (The rain will come down, then U will have 2 choose. If U believe, look 2 the dawn and U shall never lose)”. My mother first brought Prince into the family’s home with a 45 single of “When Doves Cry”. Like many kids who love turning over rocks and logs,I insisted on hearing what was on the side. From the first moment I heard “17 Days” as this songs B-side,it showed me there was a lot more to Prince musically that I didn’t know. After all these years of my exploration of the song,may I present to you my full overview of “17 Days”.

An complexly chorded filtered psychedelic guitar opens the song. Then the rhythm gets going. It’s a slow drag of a drum beat accentuated with some clanging,shuffling percussion. Throughout this,an equally filtered bass line seems to have been slowed right down in the mix as it slowly scales up and down. First a hard 2 note rhythm guitar assists this groove-followed by a high pitched synthesizer that continually accents the melody of the song. After the Vanity/Apollonia 6’s Brenda Bennet provides backup choral vocals to Prince’s,the groove intensifies on the bridge before fading out back on it’s main theme.

In all honesty,this might be one of the most amazing funk numbers Prince recorded during his 1983 Purple Rain production. I’m not 100% certain of this. But a lot of the instrumentation on the song sounds as if it comes from a slowed down tape. And of course the drums and percussion are slow on their own. Because it is a bluesy jazzy chorded type of heartbreak oriented groove and lyric,it really brings out how a lot of the most powerful funk is on the slow side rhythmically. So to me,this song stands with “Erotic City”(from the same vintage) as among the very funkiest B-sides Prince had recorded.

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Filed under 1980's, blues funk, Brenda Bennett, drums, Funk Bass, guitar, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, percussion, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, Psychedelia, Purple Rain, slow funk, synthesizers

Purple Rain at 32: Remembering The Day Prince Gathered Us Together To Get Through This Thing Called Life

purple-rain

Purple Rain is probably the big reason why most people are still discussing Prince. That was one of his major motivations for making the film and it’s soundtrack-to bring a broader audience into his sound. Interestingly enough,there is nothing in this album that Prince hadn’t been building to in some way since 1980’s Dirty Mind. Even Revolution members Lisa Coleman and Wendy Melvoin felt there was less of Prince’s trademark funk sound on this 1984 soundtrack. What this album did do was give the American public that impression that Prince was a full on rock star who served up an order of funk on the side.

That being said, Purple Rain comes out of his peak musical period. One in which he was brimming  with instrumental and melodic ideas. The key element of this album was drama. It’s accompanying film was a dramatic,semi autobiographical musical. There are plenty of Bic lighter raising moments on this album for sure. There are also some uptempo songs that still get people dancing even today. Growing up,I only knew one song from it well. But upon first hearing it 20 years ago,it felt like music I’d grown up on. That’s how dramatic it actually was-the sonic familiarity to engender false memories of it.

Many of Prince’s albums over the years deserve a rundown of it’s overall affect. As well as one that breaks it down song by song. Reviewing these albums on Amazon.com usually does the trick on that level for me. Today I’m going to do something a little different in analyzing Prince’s major breakthrough album. Purple Rain had nine songs on it. This article is going to give you that description of each song as it appears on the album. This is especially important as these relate to the plot of the film and the concert footage to be found within. So here we go with Andre’s rundown of the songs from Purple Rain.


“Let’s Go Crazy”

They key to this hard guitar rocker is fast paced,gospel joy. He even uses the synthesizer like a church organ in the intro-declaring that “we are here today to get through this thing called life”. Prince delivers several major guitar solos in the songs-including a slow dragging,feedback laden Jimi Hendrix-like grind at the end of the song. The 12″ inch take of this song is also worth checking out-with it’s stomping,chromatic walk of a piano bridge as heard in the film when Morris Day is first introduced.

“Take Me With U”

The big beat of the drums and orchestral synthesizer of this song leads you into thinking the song will be one thing-just before Prince segues into an acoustic guitar derived psychedelic pop/rock mid tempo number with Apollonia as his duet partner. It’s actually a very close relative instrumentally to other Prince songs such as “Manic Monday” and “Raspberry Beret’. It’s unexpected stylistic shifts match how it’s place in the movie shifts from Prince admiring a custom guitar in a shop window to driving with Apollonia through rural Minnesota on his motorcycle.

“The Beautiful Ones”

Basically this song is a very theatrical synthesized version of a European classical derived ballad. Prince sings and screams this song in a shaky falsetto. It’s one of the concert scenes of the film-one where the looks exchanged between himself and his leading lady Apollonia Kotero really help visualize all the electrified instrumental color of this song.

“Computer Blue”

This is actually one of my favorite songs on this album. It’s generally a very robotic synth rock number-very similar in style to the chilly electronic approach of his previous album 1999. On the bridge,the melody shifts as Prince plays a rather more jazzy melodic theme known as “Fathers Song”-actually composed by his real life father John Nelson. That juxtaposition of new wave/synth pop and electronic jazz bring this to life.

“Darling Nikki”

Prince unintentionally ushered in the age of the “Tipper sticker” on albums with this particular song. Again,it’s a very European classical styled rock opera number-heavy on the drum pedal at the end with Prince screaming “COME BACK NIKKI,COME BACK!” at the top of his lungs. His vivid tale of an encounter with a nymphomaniac was intended to repel Apollona in the film. Again,Prince writhing shirtless on his piano as Apollonia wells up with tears (and stomps out of the First Avenue during the songs performance) illustrates one of the darker,most hurtful elements of “The Kid’s” personality.

“When Doves Cry”

This was the first I ever heard of Prince. Never noticed it had no bass line. Didn’t know what a bass line was at age 5. It’s still not an easy song to describe. It’s very close to Prince’s earlier stripped down Minneapolis funk/rock sound. There’s also a synth playing a straight up European classical string section on the outro. Lyrically it’s a very dark song-with Prince musing on domestic discord/abuse as depicted by his parents in the film as being antithetical to peace: “why do we scream at each other/this is what it sounds like when doves cry”.

“I Would Die 4 U”

Prince spends the first half of Purple Rain as a very self centered character,with strong overtones of misogyny thrown into the mix. By this point,his film father’s suicide attempt has led him to understand himself and those around him. This is one of the more funk structured songs on this album-with brittle bass synth and synth brass playing call and response all the way down-with Prince declaring “I’m not a woman/I’m not a man/I am something that you’ll never understand”

“Baby I’m A Star”

Prince is back with the straight up tent show style uptempo gospel attitude on this song. With the synth horns on the latter half,this is likely the funkiest thing on the whole soundtrack-very similar in musical character to what The Time did on the soundtrack. It also has some strong singalong moments on the chorus.

“Purple Rain”

Most people who know Prince know of this song. With it’s live sound-especially Prince’s highly echoed voice and the string arrangements,it’s one of those arena rock ballads that’s always sure to get the Bic lighters raised by the audience. Hearing Aretha Franklin sing it recently on PBS,it reminded me how much gospel/soul still remains a part of this song-originally his apology to Apollonia for his poor treatment of her in the film.


Interestingly enough,Purple Rain not my favorite Prince album. Not even of his 80’s output. All the same,there’s something addictive about these songs. Each one of them has a certain allure. Some of it might just be the idea that this was the most public display of Prince’s normally somewhat shy persona.  One feels as if they know this man whose playing and singing to them. These songs are up close and personal-not distant. Often more rock then funk and soul-for certain. But it’s not music that anyone can dismiss or ignore. It got Prince noticed. And his purple musical journey was only just beginning.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1980's, Apollonia, ballads, electro funk, Lisa Coleman, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, New Wave, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, Purple Rain, Wendy Melvoin

Prince 1958-2016: Literary Musings On The Late Master Of Purple Funk

Prince Rogers Nelson’s public persona was defined by the irony of him not being a particularly public person. So as opposed to artists such as Michael Jackson,George Clinton and Stevie Wonder whose histories was more of an open book? Prince was someone who required some outsider figure to try to understand him. So literature on the man was paramount as I was getting into his music. Authors  such as Per Nilsen,Jason Draper and the Daily Mail’s somewhat controversial Liz Jones were helpful in terms of writing the Prince literature that I’ve personally been exposed to.

With the reference material from my Amazon.com reviews on these Prince related publications,this article will attempt to provide an insight into the information I was taking in about Prince while just digging into his music. Most of you fellow Prince admirers out there probably had similar experiences. And I’d enjoy hearing about them in the comment section of this article.  They three books are being illustrated here in order of release in order to point out the progression of what impact their content had on my interest in Prince. So please enjoy this literary musical experience!

Purple Reign: The Artist Formerly Known As Prince by Liz Jones (April 1998)

Purple Reign

Prince is a notoriously difficult biographical subject. Most things said about him are second hand accounts of one sort or another and what does come from the source tends to be cryptic and open to much interpretation. He makes himself into such a mystery and as much as she tries writer Liz Jones isn’t able to go much further than that in writing this. There are some obvious contradictions that do get played up here,the most obvious being that Prince didn’t listen to R&B growing up: he most certainly did by most accounts.

Basically we start after Prince and than wife Mayte Garcia lost their only child to a birth defect,goes back to Prince’s beginnings and right back to square one again. There are plenty of interesting musical analyzations along the way and they make up the best part of this particular book. One thing almost every account tends to point out is Prince being a workaholic control freak,often obsessed with perfecting his musical art and often recording mounds of music only to can most of it in his massive vaults.

There’s also some troubling notes regarding his extreme rudeness to fans on occasion and even outright hostility towards others,notably musicians he seems to feel threatened by. His moodiness would seem to indicate he wheres his astrological sign of Gemini on his sleeve as his attitude seems to know little predictability. Again though these don’t come from Prince himself. What you do get here from his own mouth paint the picture of another character.

It’s that of an aloof,complex and reflective man who has yet to discover who he is personally and developed his persona largely as a method of coping with sensitivity over mistreatment in his life. It’s a similar psychological makeup to another talented musical icon Prince greatly admired;Miles Davis. The book doesn’t go too in depth to Prince’s somewhat baffling name change to O(-> during the mid 90’s and his confusing record company hassles. Again most of this comes from different outside accounts.

There’s a lot of healthy discussion here regarding the long gestating making of his debut motion picture Purple Rain and all the twists and turns,cast and script changes it went through during it’s conception. This helps to explain why 1983 was the one single year of the 1980’s that Prince didn’t release an album of his own. Even though a lot of the book tries to make some sense of his life it actually ends up asking more questions than it answers and that’s what makes this book so interesting. Even so there has yet to be a definitive and thoroughly truthful biography of Prince.

Prince-A Documentary by Per Nilsen (Published on July 1st,1998)

Prince A Documentary

After reading Michael Jackson: Visual Documentary the sight of this similarly themed, large format paperback led me to immediately snag it up. Not only are different writers involved here but the style of the books couldn’t differ more. Adrian Grant presented MJ’s life in a detailed textbook like context based on names,places and events on a fairly strict timeline. Considering the public persona of his subject that was really the only approach Adrian could take in that regard. Prince was always a more complex figure.

As a man possessed of a very elaborate personality and who is still something of a one man music industry a half an inch thick book like this covering his life and career up until 1992 even would seem highly intimidating for any writer. This book has a lot of pictures but is a more analytical and scholarly approach to it’s writing. This book has far more literary content as not only does it present reviews of Prince’s albums but those he was involved in-not to mention reviewing all his feature films.

There’s also a great deal of his known biography involved in the story. The book starts off with a description of the twin cities as Prince grew up in them,even down to a small map of the area along with,as in the rest of the book direct quotations from the man himself taken from various interviews about his life and career. This actually has one of the best presentations of Prince’s pre-recording music career than much before it as it describes a lot of his school life and how he became interested in music-along with insight into the possible nature of his sometimes explicit lyrics.

There is also extensive information on Prince’s many concert tours,often describing the experiences of each one to the extent you might believe you’ve been to one. If your not aware of all the music he produced outside himself from lesser known spin-off acts such as Mazaratti,The Family and Prince’s legendary Madhouse projects. I suppose some of the musical criticism is,as criticism is by some definition slightly bias but is generally fair and I agree with a great deal of it mainly because it sticks  to obvious facts rather than blanket judgment calls.

It would be wonderful if this volume would be re-written today with updates about his 90’s career and 21’st century commercial comeback-along with the newer spin off acts he continues to create. But as it stands this book has always impressed me and I find myself going back to it again and again.

Prince: Life & Times by Jason Draper (September 1st,2008)

Prince life and times

Well it’s certainly true that Prince is one of the most enigmatic subjects for biography. The trouble is he’s also one of the most elusive. Truths about his life seem to contradict each other as much as the lies and with all the books written about him in the past he genuinely does seem like one of the worlds most unknowable celebrities,both musical and personally. This enormous coffee table book is a wonderfully presented volume,featuring a colorfully present volume containing hundreds of rare and unseen photos,both in black & white and color of Prince,his proteges and almost everyone else in his circle.

For the more casual reader this book surpasses both Purple Reign: The Artist Formerly Known As Prince in terms of a more fully balanced viewpoint and Prince: A Documentary in terms of not presenting too many musical technicalities and surpasses both in terms of it’s scope. Both of those overall wonderful books were written in the mid 90’s and before many of the events in Prince’s life and career. This album ends roughly during the 21 Nights period and therefore extends all the way up to the circumstances revolving around the release of his Planet Earth album.

In this volume there’s a lot of biographic facts most of us are already familiar with along with an in depth discography presented including,happily a lot of Prince’s somewhat obscure online only releases such as ‘Xpectation’,’C-Note’,’Slaugterhouse’ and ‘The Chocolate Invasion’. One of the big selling points of this book is also how is very casually looks to reconcile Prince’s sometimes obscure career choices with his personal life and how they often wind up joining around the middle.

His spiritual journey and now well known legal battle with Warner Bros in the mid 90’s are explained well and in frank and honest enough terms for most readers to understand as well as also being analytical enough to appeal to those who enjoy digging deep. The writers present very personalized reviews of each of his albums,no matter how obscure. And while their self assurances about their opinions is not my personal cup of tea the reviews make a lot of valid points on all ends,even if people won’t always agree with them.

This book is especially detailed on the period between 1993 and around 2004 which,even for people such as myself who happily put up with Prince’s publicity moves,started to totally lose his intentions. Considering that “the internet is over” for Prince, to coin his own phrase this book would be interesting to revisit a decade from now with an addendum since I believe the game is certainly not over for The Artist Always Known As Complex.

Now that Prince is no longer with us,there exists the possibility of his life becoming literarily unraveled. Perhaps in a way he’d have found totally undesirable in life. Currently there awaits Prince’s personal memoirs,set to be released this fall. Suppose there’s one key question when it comes to any Prince related literature. Just how important is knowing the man and his motivations in terms of appreciating his musical art?  I don’t personally have the answer. That leaves it up to each and every one of us to make that choice for ourselves-based on our experiences with the late master of Purple Funk.

 

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, 1990s, 2000s, biographies, book reviews, Jason Draper, Liz Jones, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, music literature, O(+>, Per Nilsen, Purple Rain, The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, Warner Bros.

Prince Rogers Nelson 1958-2016: The Musical Legacy Of The Purple One

Prince 1980's

Now that a day had passed since Prince’s rather sudden death,there’s been some time to absorb everything a bit better. Henrique Hopkins and myself have been discussing Prince’s music in a funk context for years now. Everything from the strong influence of Curtis Mayfield on his falsetto voice and high on the neck guitar playing,down to his bass playing being influenced by his guitar style. Earlier I ran down some of Prince’s most influential albums throughout the years. As the man himself said last year,,albums matter.

Also on that last article,mention was made about a good deal of Prince’s most creatively satisfying works having not been mentioned in favor of the highlights. So in this article I plan to remedy some of this. As my friend Calvin Lincoln had implied,Prince’s music has been overdressed by some. And in all truth,his album’s after the early 90’s could be extremely uneven in quality. But the key element of his musical ethic was the element of surprise. When one thought he was out of steam,couldn’t rock and had lost the funk,he came back with vigor. So here are some albums that reflected this for me anyway.

Prince 1979

Prince’s sophomore album provided him with his first major pop hit in “I Wanna Be Your Lover”. Songs such as “I Feel For You”,later done by the Pointer Sisters and most famously by Chaka Khan as well as the churning funk of “Sexy Dancer” are stand out funky grooves on an album that leans heavily towards west coast style pop/rock and mildly country influenced ballads. As Prince himself said it,the album was for the radio more than for him. But in the end it balanced his musical approach and sense of pop craft very well.

I’m listing these albums together because Prince’s third album Dirty Mind  from 1980 and and fourth Controversy from 1981 could almost be part one and part two. The former album has a rougher demo like musical quality-with “Partyup”,”Head” and “Uptown” having an anti authoritarian punk funk vibe about them. The latter album was a bit sleeker musically. And an interesting attempt for Prince to address socio political concerns as they were developing. “Sexuality” and “Annie Christian” address everything from censorship to gun violence while the title song deals with his sexually and musical free outlook. He also pulls out some heavy funk on “Let’s Work” as well. These are two albums that really lend themselves well to be heard together.

Purple Rain

Prince knew this 1984 album was going to be his commercial breakthrough album. In hindsight it’s also the album that still has a lot of radio oriented music lovers convinced (incorrectly,really) that Prince was primarily a rock based artist. And probably on purpose. That’s because this album doesn’t have much funk/soul content on it. At the same time,it could best be described as progressive new wave/synth rock at the cutting edge instrumentally-with the bass-less classic “When Does Cry”,the brittle “I Would Die 4 U” and “Computer Blue” leading the way. That plus the fierce gospel hard rocker “Let’s Go Crazy” and the arena anthem title cut really gave Prince the huge audience he has today. And it served to musically illustrate the semi autobiographical feature film of the same name.

Parade

Parade was Prince’s second soundtrack for his second film in 1986 called Under The Cherry Moon marked the ethos of a massive change in musical priorities for Prince. The electronic orchestrations of the Minneapolis sound are replaced by the sweeping strings of Claire Fischer and the sax of newcomer Eric Leeds. These shows up on the cinematic “Christopher Tracy’s Parade”,”Life Can Be So Nice” and “Mountains”. Still Prince throws down some of his most powerful funk with “Girls & Boys”,”Anotherloverholeinyohead” and the iconic hit “Kiss”-with it’s Curtis Mayfield style falsetto and that high up on the neck guitar.

Sign O The Times

Perhaps this is Prince’s most personally defining album in his career. The history of this 1987 album is enough for at least one whole article. Started as a whole other type of project during a massive period of recording the year before,it eventually became a double album. It has the uneven quality of a greatest hits album,with songs sounding as if they come from totally different sessions. But the strength of all the material make it all work.

It has it all-from soul ballads like “Slow Love”,pop/rockers such as “Play In The Sunshine” and “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man” to the proto alternative/grunge sound of “The Cross”. The funk comes in many varieties from the full on JB groove of “Housequake”,the slow grinding “If I Was Your Girlfriend” to the danceable hit “U Got The Look”. There’s also two more distinctive numbers in the jazzy funk of “The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker” and the dreamy melodic piano pop of “Starfish And Coffee”.

The Black Album

Prince apparently recorded this album in 1987 to be played at a birthday party for drummer Sheila E,who was playing in his band Madhouse at the time. From “Le Grind” to “Rockhard In A Funky Place” at the end,this album is almost a non stop hard funk stomp. Save for the sweet ballad “When 2 R In Love”. Prince is basically playing up one big sexual orgy on all these lyrics-allegedly to showcase he hadn’t sold out. He abruptly shelved this album and didn’t put it out until 1994. But it’s a great party funk album if one is in a particularly rascally mood.

Graffiti Bridge

Prince’s third soundtrack to his final and least successful motion picture isn’t a full Prince album per se. It features many productions of his from Paisley Park signed artists such as George Clinton,Mavis Staples and the revived lineup of The Time. As for Prince’s contributions,he has some mutant funk/rockers here such as “Elephants & Flowers”,”Tick Tack Bang” and the epic,jazzy arena rocker “Thieves In The Temple”,his first hit of the 1990’s.

Love Symbol Album

This very elusive concept album from 1992 actually focuses a great deal on the funk side of things with another JB sendup with “Sexy MF” leading the way. “The Sacrifice Of Victor” keeps the funk stripped down in classic Prince style as he waxes nostalgic on the Civil Rights movement. With the psychedelic soul/gospel of “7” leading the way,this largely hip-hop inflected album finds Prince as a bandleader for the NPG “taking it back to Church” as they say in fully rediscovering his black American musical roots.

Emancipation

This 1996 triple CD set was the newest Prince album to come out when I was first getting into exploring his albums. From “We Gets Up”,”Get Your Groove On”,”Sex In The Summer” and the big band sounding “Sleep Around” represent some of his most massive funk of the 90’s decade-along with the synth heavy Minneapolis groove of “New World” and the jazzy opener “Jam Of The Year” and the witty hip-hop of “Style”. Some of the music on this album,as with much of Prince’s output at the time,hasn’t musically aged well. But when the grooves cooks,it cooks up a storm!

Musicology

Prince made a huge statement towards his music being based in funk with the title track of this 2004 album-another James Brown influenced number in the vein of “Housequake” and “Sexy MF”. This is an album of mostly pop/rockers and 60’s style soul ballads generally. Of the rockers Prince does provide a powerful message song in “Cinnamon Girl”,in which he discusses how the post 9/11 events are leading to discrimination of Muslim Americans.

MPLsound

Prince packaged this 2009 album with another of his entitled Lotusflow3r and female protege Bria Valente’s debut Elixer-exclusively at Target stores at the time. With songs such as “Chocolate Box” and “Dance 4 Me”,Prince began the reboots the 80’s Minneapolis sound this album is named for with it’s use of the Linn drum machine and synth brass. While the album itself represent Prince making his music harder to find by seeking new distribution methods,it paved the way for it’s harder to find follow up 20Ten and represents him re-embracing a sound he was in on the ground floor with.

Art Official Age

This 2014 albums turned out to be one of Prince’s final studio albums. Released after a five year hiatus from releasing any new material publicly,it also found him back on Warner Bros. after years of fighting them over artists rights. It’s something of a ground zero for Prince-donning an Afro as he did at the very start of his career and working with a younger producer Joshua Welton. The album is home to two major funk blowouts in “The Gold Standard” and the jazzy “Breakfast Can Wait”-along with some sincere efforts to embrace modern pop and rock production techniques.

I am sure there are many people who’d have very different content in such a list. As much as Prince effected me in terms of his championing of creative freedom for artists? It’s hard to get away from the fact that he died having not effectively been able to embrace online streaming and video (such as YouTube and Vimeo),and became a hostile litigant against anyone who shared his music online in lieu of him doing it. The history of the physical music media he embraced is unknown. But as long as his music exists in some form,it’s important for young people (especially aspiring musicians) to listen to and learn from his grooves.

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, 1990s, 2000s, 2010's, Funk, Joshua Welton, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, Psychedelia, psychedelic soul, Purple Rain, rock 'n' roll, Uncategorized, YouTube