Prince has been gone for over a month now. And it’s now official that his death was caused by an overdose of the strong opioid Fentanyl. As the future of his music stands in the balance,it would seem as if many people suddenly realized the impact Prince’s music had on their lives. Or their own art. Some see that as cretin. Personally I see it as a good thing. Whatever motivates someone to appreciate someone with musical importance of Prince Rogers Nelson will be a pretty good thing in the end. When it comes down to it,it’s the mans funky creativity that should be remembered rather than his tragic early death.
Today will be Prince’s first birthday during my lifetime where we wasn’t alive. Therefore in discussing him today,it seemed best to search for a song that personified everything about Prince’s musical and thematic persona. Over thousands of songs released and unreleased, plus 39 available albums, the task seemed daunting. Suddenly it occurred to me it’s been there for 20 years. It was the last song on the first record on the vinyl copy of his 1982 breakthrough album 1999. It’s another of those Prince’s songs that only become more amazing to me with each listening. The name of this funk is “DMSR”.
A 2 by 2 hit drum machine beat with a nasal trumpet style synth sound gets the song started. That synth horn plays a JB’s style hard hitting riff before shaking percussion and Prince’s high pitched screech over the break brings in the main body of the jam. This adds a down-scaling synth bass kicks along with a choral synth brass part with Prince’s slow crawling rhythm guitar driving home the changes. This is the basic groove up to the last half-where the only change is a bridge with more driving percussion and Prince’s sustain,chicken scratch guitar that plays along with the final choruses before it all fades.
James Brown was a key inspiration to Prince’s approach to funk. He paid direct tribute to him throughout his career. From “Housequake” to “Sexy MF”. In the early 80’s,Prince was still pioneering his synth brass based Minneapolis sound-with it’s stripped down, electronic new wave influences. Much as with Prince alumni Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis’s production on Janet Jackson’s song “Control” five years after this, “DMSR” takes the nakedly brittle synth funk based sound of Prince’s one man band approach of the time into the basic horn chart/drum break/rhythm guitar structure of classic James Brown funk.
This songs title as sung in it’s chorus is an abbreviation standing for “dance, music, sex, romance”. Prince boldly asks everyone (again JB style) to “get on the floor” and “loosen up” in different ways throughout the song. Lisa Coleman,Dez Dickerson,Brown Mark and Bobby Z all join him on a chorus of the song title. Even if Prince once declared this era of his music as being like being in the 3rd grade to him in retrospect,this song is still one I can pick out in terms of describing everything rhythmically,lyrically and creatively atmospheric about Prince’s classic Minneapolis purple funk style.
Filed under 1980's, Bobby Z, Brown Mark, chicken scratch guitar, Dez Dickerson, drum machines, James Brown, Lisa Coleman, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, naked funk, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, rhythm guitar, synth bass, synth brass, synth funk, synthesizers
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.
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