Category Archives: Wendy Melvoin

Vive la Révolution: Seeing the Revolution (Without Prince) in Silver Spring, MD

revolution

I have to admit: when I first heard the Revolution were reuniting, I wasn’t sure what to think. The very notion of the Revolution without Prince sounded bizarre, like Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding getting together to tour as the Experience sans Hendrix. But when I read the reports from their first set of shows in Minneapolis last year, suddenly it made sense. This was, in many ways, less a conventional rock reunion than an act of collective mourning. All of us, the majority of whom never met the man in person, felt a profound loss when Prince passed; so how does one even fathom what it meant to the people who shared some of his most successful and creatively fertile years? And if listening to “Sometimes It Snows in April” helps to process our grief, can we really blame Wendy and Lisa–who were, as Wendy recalled the other night, actually present and involved in the song’s composition–for singing it to process theirs?

Yet even after I understood the reunion, I still didn’t know what to expect. I was two years old when the Revolution disbanded, so they always seemed frozen in time to me: forever lip-syncing on the First Avenue stage in Purple Rain. Did I really want to see them in their fifties–not to mention without the pint-sized whirling dervish of musical and sexual energy who had always been the group’s unambiguous focal point?

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Filed under Bobby Z, Brown Mark, concerts, Lisa Coleman, Matt Fink, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, Wendy Melvoin

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: The Family

thefamily

Unlike Sheila E., the Time, or even Vanity/Apollonia 6, the Family aren’t exactly household names (unless, that is, your household still has a subscription to the NPG Music Club). Among those in the know, however, their self-titled 1985 album is a buried gem. It’s certainly of interest to fans of the group’s svengali, Prince: with its mix of post-psychedelic whimsy, sweeping Classical Hollywood glamour, and organic jazz-flavored funk, it’s effectively the missing link between His Purple Majesty’s 1985-1986 albums Around the World in a Day and Parade.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, the Family were born out of the Time‘s acrimonious mid-1984 split: Andre has aptly described them as the Led Zeppelin to the Time’s Yardbirds. With the majority of the band now fired or resigned, Prince retained drummer Jellybean Johnson and dancer/comedic foil Jerome Benton, promoting “St. Paul” Peterson, who had joined the group less than a year earlier on keyboards, to the role of co-lead singer. The other frontperson was none other than the twin sister of Revolution guitarist Wendy (and Prince’s then-fiancée), Susannah Melvoin. Finally, the lineup was rounded out with saxophonist Eric Leeds, with additional support by Sheila E.’s guitarist Miko Weaver.

Arguably the real star of the Family, however, was never actually part of the group–and, in fact, never even shared the same room with them. Prince had long been a fan of jazz keyboardist, composer, and arranger Clare Fischer: specifically, his more pop-oriented work with Chaka Khan and Rufus from the mid-to-late 1970s. And though they would share a fruitful partnership of their own throughout the rest of the ’80s and into the ’90s, it was The Family that marked their first-ever collaboration. Fischer’s orchestrations add a layer of musical sophistication to the album, particularly on slower, dreamier tracks like first single “The Screams of Passion” and the Bobby Z.-penned “River Run Dry.”

Elsewhere, more conventional funk tracks like “High Fashion” and “Mutiny” betray the Family’s origins in the Time; while two instrumentals co-written by Eric Leeds, “Yes” and “Susannah’s Pajamas,” prefigure Prince’s growing interest in jazz fusion, to be explored more thoroughly in side projects the Flesh and Madhouse. Today, probably the best-remembered track on the album is “Nothing Compares 2 U“: the original recording of the classic Prince ballad later made famous by Sinead O’Connor. I go back and forth on which version I prefer, but I can definitely say that the Family’s is the more “Prince-like”–and Fischer’s arrangement, of course, is gorgeous.

Even in the volatile world that was Paisley Park in the mid-’80s, the Family were especially short-lived. Sales for the album were weak compared to Prince’s other projects at the time–it reached only number 14 on the Billboard R&B chart, missing the “mainstream” charts entirely–and St. Paul chafed under Prince’s micro-management, opting to ditch the group for a solo career in late 1985. In the end, the original incarnation of the Family played only one live show, at Minneapolis‘ First Avenue in August of 1985. Perhaps that’s why, more than any of the other “spinoff” acts, the Family tends to be thought of more as an extension of Prince’s solo work than as a separate entity. Certainly, that’s a point of view Prince encouraged when he absorbed Susannah, Jerome, Eric, and Miko into an expanded version of the Revolution in 1986, even performing his own version of “Mutiny” onstage–not to mention reappropriating the group’s whole velvet-jacketed aesthetic for his film Under the Cherry Moon.

Still, like their evolutionary ancestors the Time, the Family would later return for a second act without Prince’s involvement. A one-off charity gig in late 2003 eventually blossomed into a full-blown reunion, as “fDeluxe,” in 2009; since then, they’ve released two studio albums, a disc of remixes, and a live recording from Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis. The fDeluxe records obviously aren’t up to quite the same standard as The Family, but still well worth listening to for anyone who wants to hear more of their uniquely baroque take on the Minneapolis Sound. Most recently, like Sheila E., the Family/fDeluxe have found new vitality in the wake of their onetime mentor’s death: on May 4, 2016–exactly seven hours and thirteen days after Prince passed away–they reunited once again to record a new version of “Nothing Compares 2 U.”

Next week…well, to be honest I haven’t 100% made up my mind about what to tackle next week. It’s between Mazarati–more of a “Prince protégé protégé,” I suppose, but one with an interesting history–and Jill Jones. Any preferences out there? Let me know. And as always, you can see more of my writing on Prince at dance / music / sex / romance, and more of my writing in general at Dystopian Dance Party.

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Filed under 1980's, 1985, 1986, 2010's, 2016, Eric Leeds, Jerome Benton, Miko Weaver, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Paisley Park, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, Susannah Melvoin, The Time, Time, Uncategorized, Wendy Melvoin

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

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

Anatomy of THE Groove: “All My Dreams” by Prince & The Revolution

Since the early days of learning about Prince’s musical history,one thing that’s continued to enthrall me is learning of Prince’s famous 1986 recording production. He seemed to have spent much of the winter and spring of that year involved in this process. One such project was a three record set entitled The Dream Factory. Basically this was a full on band album recorded with the Revolution. Each member was bought in to participate in some way. Eventually a lot of the music would be remixed and pared down to become the Sign O The Times album. But a lot of it’s other songs turned up elsewhere over the years.

One particular song was called “All My Dreams”. According to the website Princevault.com, it was recorded and released on April 28th,1985. This is the same day Prince recorded what would become his biggest hit of 1986 “Kiss”. The song was streamed online some time ago. And has appeared online via a number of cloud sources. This is how I first heard the song. Since the passing of Prince,it never occurred to me that any of the mans legendary unreleased songs would ever show up on YouTube. But very happily,this one actually has.

The song fades into itself with a chorus of Prince,Wendy & Lisa singing massive operatic vocal choruses over a melodic piano. A shredding rock guitar accompanied by a distorted voice leading into a massive orchestral synthesizer and hi hat heavy intro to the main rhythm. This has a rolling 4/4 beat accented by ticklish percussion licks and one of the roundest funk bass lines I’ve heard come out of Prince. The piano that introduces the song keeps along with a light synth wash and mild guitar strumming in the back-round as he,Wendy and Lisa’s vocal choruses swell and thicken.

Midway through the the piano gives way to a synthesizer playing a royal bugle proclamation before stripping the song down to the drum,bass line and the guitar strumming. Over this,Prince’s low “1999” intro voice  recites a spoken word monologue of intent as the drum segues into the drums swinging into a hard bop style jazz segment-complete with scaling bass,chordal piano and full on synth brass. This all goes right back to the main chorus for one more time before the song fades back out with the jazziness of it’s instrumental bridge.

As much as I champion objectivity in writing about music here,this song has become an absolute ear worm for me from the moment I first heard it. In all truth,the songs sounds incomplete lyrically,and Prince’s overly processed vocal lead is a bit distracting. But it’s a wonderful example of where he and the Revolution were taking the Minneapolis sound as the 1980’s progressed. This song wonderfully balanced the synthesized brass/horn charts that defined his early 80’s sound-while delving into the cinematic jazz/funk approach with the swelling arrangements that would define this period of Prince’s creativity.

Just before the song changes musical venues,Prince states “just for fun,nothing ethereal”. That in a word describes what this song represents. It does indeed sound like an instrumental “dream factory” that ties sweeping orchestrations with jazz timing,funky rhythms and bass lines-much like a mid 1980’s Duke Ellington-style composition. The central themes of the songs seem to be about the cycle of love. From romance to procreation itself. I have little doubt that if this song had been filled out just a little bit more,it might’ve been among the most amazing pieces of music Prince ever created.

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Filed under 1980's, cinematic soul, drums, Funk Bass, jazz funk, Lisa Coleman, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, percussion, piano, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, synth brass, synthesizer, vocal harmonies, Wendy Melvoin

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Mountains” by Prince & The Revolution

Prince & The Revolution were a band that truly evolved into their own name. With the announcement. With the announcement that surviving members Lisa Coleman,Brown Mark,Wendy Melvoin,Bobby Z and Matt Fink are planning on a reunion tour in tribute to their fallen bandleader,it reminded me of just how much these musicians expanded Prince’s grooves as it progressed. That progression went from the stripped down new wave of the Dirty Mind/Controversy  era to the brittle electronic Minneapolis sound of 1999 and Purple Rain. Shortly thereafter,their sound made an even broader change.

During the summer of 1985,Prince and his band mates expanded. He added saxophonist,brother of his manager Alan Leeds and trumpeter Matt “Atlanta Bliss” Bliston along with guitarist Miko Weaver. The band also eschewed their flamboyantly dandy style clothing in favor of dressy,tailored clothing and slicker haircuts. This also effected their sound as they recorded for Prince’s next film project Under The Cherry Moon and it’s accompanying soundtrack album Parade. The song from the album that might best project Prince & The Revolutions evolved sound is “Mountains”.

The song starts with two by two snare drum heavy beat with right on the rhythm hand claps. A pounding drum machine introduces the up-scaling piano melody that carries the musical refrain of the entire song. It’s that same rhythm filled out with chiming guitar,percussion and high pitched,otherworldly synthesizer. On the choruses of the song,Prince plays call and response with his new horn section. The bass line of the song is equally fluid. It moves throughout under the drum as both a thoroughly percussive element while basically playing the melody of the piano.

The instrumental bridge of the song strips the music down to the rhythm that opens it. This time the rhythm guitar is playing a bluesy chicken scratch riff that Prince segues by shouting out “MOMMY I’M CLEVER!”. The following vocal shriek leads directly into the final repeat of the chorus. The harmonic horns scale down at the end of that chorus when Prince’s falsetto shouts find those horns playing a swelling evolving fanfare. An electric sitar inaugurates the refrain-a somewhat East Indian classical melody with the sitar wash holding up the James Brown style horn charts as the song fades out.

“Mountains” is a Prince song that really fascinated me from the moment I heard it. It mixed in the spiritually ethereal quality of gospel with a psychedelic airiness to the production. As my friend Henrique points out,on the other hand, the rhythmic nucleus of this song is strong galloping funk. The drums,the hand claps,the bass,the horns and rhythm guitar clop along like instrumentals hooves working their way down a heavily funky road. It’s mixture of cinematic drama with a strong ear for a phat groove showcase just how vital Prince’s musical progression was to the 1980’s.

 

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Filed under 1980's, Atlanta Bliss, Bobby Z, Brown Mark, cinematic soul, drums, Eric Leeds, Funk Bass, hand claps, horns, Lisa Coleman, Matt Fink, Miko Weaver, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, Psychedelia, Saxophone, trumpet, Uncategorized, Under The Cherry Moon, Wendy Melvoin