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Prince’s ‘For You’ At 40 Years: A Debut Of Love, Sincerity & Deepest Care

Prince Rogers Nelson arrived at the tail end of the 70’s-during the era when P-Funk and jazz funk artists such as George Duke (both his musical heroes at the time) were in the throws of their peak grooves. With Stevie Wonder having hit his peak, and Shuggie Otis having not quite reached it,  Prince emerged as the barely 20 year old “wunderkind” from Minneapolis. As with a number of musicians before him,  Prince was insistent on doing it all right from the get go. Writing,producing-even down to playing all the instruments. Musicians like Wonder before him had a decade of preparation to get to that creative independence.

Prince was apparently so confidant in what he was doing, he stipulated all of this in his recording contract before he got started.  What is important on For You is that even in the very beginning, Prince wasn’t trying to change the face of music itself. He definitely had his musical influence. But he didn’t exactly where them on his sleeve either. Instead, he elected to integrate them into his own unique soul/funk style. This album introduced that style of music that would later be called the Minneapolis sound. With Prince playing all the instruments that sounds main trademark was the multi-tracking of synthesizers.

In the late 70’s, Prince’s arsenal of synthesizers included  Oberheim’s, ARP’s and Polymoog’s. These were polyphonic instruments that allowed him to create his own heavily harmonized electronic soul symphonies. It’s sort of an extension on what Wonder did with TONTO earlier in the decade-only in a somewhat more cinematic style. Most of this album’s sound is built largely on harmony over rhythm:Prince at the drums and Prince playing guitar while his multi-tracked vocal and synthesizer harmonies fit very nicely into that rhythmic backdrop.

And even for that this album, especially for a debut, is very much a magical experience. Prince sings all the songs in his dreamily soulful falsetto voice. After the a capella title track,consisting of nothing but harmonized vocalizing we come to the almost trance like synth funk of “In Love” where we get the first of one of Prince’s famous lines “I really wanna play in your river”. The closest this album came to a hit single is the stop-and-start funk of “Soft And Wet” which contains what sounds like a pretty jazzy, improvised synth solo in the bridge of the song.

Prince always cited Joni Mitchell as an enormous musical influence on him and songs like “Crazy You” and “So Blue” with it’s water drums, fretless bass riffs and acoustic guitar riffs have roots very much in…say something like Hissing of Summer Lawns,an Joni album Prince exhibits a special fondness for. Both of these songs also possess a strong Brazilian jazz flavor at their core. The emotionally naked ballad “Baby” finds Prince baring his heart to his lover whom apparently learned she has become pregnant. His lyrical tone on the song also maintains a sensitivity in its earnestness.

“Just As Long As We’re Together” and the more mid tempo “My Love Is Forever” both have the strong Carlos Santana guitar sound that Prince always cited. And both would fit well sound wise on Santana’s late 70’s albums such as Inner Secrets or Marathon. And even more in that vein would be the fierce guitar fueled funk rocker “I’m Yours”. A lot of people have criticized this album for being both un melodic and boring. Those are two things this album definitely is not. As a matter of fact that may be why a lot of people don’t like it as much as later Prince albums.

The harmonics and melodies on this album are somewhat overwhelming at times. And the production of For You was apparently so elaborate, Prince blew the entire budget he was given on his first three albums on this one project. I’ve long speculated with friends that this reality might’ve led to the more famous stripped down variation of MPLS funk of Prince’s hit period.  As with Bernie Worrell before him, Prince made the still relatively new synthesizer his own personal orchestra..  That factor was already so well established on this album, it’s more than worth a second notice.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “White Boys And Heroes” by Gary Numan

Gary Anthony James Webb was born into a working class family in the Hammersmith area of West London. Interestingly enough, his bus driver father brought him his first guitar. And after playing in a number of bands, he became the lead singer/ songwriter/ producer of the pioneering British new wave band Tubeway Army. His biggest success with them was the #1 hit “Are Friends Electric” in 1979. Later that year, his solo career kicked off to a major start with his internationally successful song “Cars”-from his debut solo album Pleasure Principle. These songs both helped kick off the synth pop genre.

Numan’s music began to take on a more orchestral based sound as the 80’s drew in. Albums such as 1981’s Dance even took on elements of jazz into the musical mix. With bands such as Level 42, Duran Duran and Heaven 17 deriving their sound from American funk and disco, Numan looked to the driving rhythm and expert playing of the funk genre as part of his 1982 album I, Assassin. Numan himself felt this change was important for his music-as he saw many synth pop artists at the time being stuck in a rut. And this 1982 album got right off with the funk on the song “White Boys And Heroes”.

A brittle drum machine and a dark, prickly synth bass tone build up into the refrain. This consists of Chris Slade and John Webb’s heavy Afro Cuban drum/percussion interaction. Pino Palladino’s thick, grooving fretless slap bass completes that part of the song. On the chorus, Numan takes off on a chorus with his swelling synth/guitar orchestral parts. With Pallidino’s bass taking off on runs more. After an couple choral/refrain rounds, the bass led refrain of the song becomes an instrumental bridge for the song. And it all ends on an extended chorus featuring “Mike” on sax as the song fades out.

“White Boys And Heroes” explores one of early 80’s new wave/synth pop’s most interesting elements. Part of it was the turn to funkiness-its combinations of brittle beats and synth washes with The Who’s Pino Palladino’s fretless slap bass and percussive groove made it very complimentary to what Talking Heads and Prince were doing at the time. The songs theme-seeming to parody the jingoistic, white male macho image also works with the mechanized rock end of new wave with the Afrocentric funk groove. So Gary Numan hit on a compelling musical and thematic mixture on this song.

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Anatomy Of THE Groove: “Dara Factor One” by Weather Report

Weather Report are probably the first jazz fusion band I ever knew. Each lineup of the band, of course the first official spin off from Miles Davis’s electric period, became musical superstars in their own right. Of course the most famous was the 1978 through 1982 lineup featuring,along with its founding members,drummer Peter Erksine and the incomparable kind of fretless fusion bass Jaco Pastorius. Erksine,a New Jersey born drummer,played with a diverse array of artists. Ranging from his beginnings with Stan Kenton all the way to later collaborations with Kate Bush and even Queen Latifah.

Erkine’s final album with Weather Report was actually a second self titled album, released in 1982. It was the final album for Jaco Pastorius as well. This is one of the Weather Report albums I admit to not continuously exploring as much as it deserves to be explored. But in looking for a song where the traditionally collaborative composing process of Weather Report included Erksine in a greater capacity,this album seems to have closed with such a song. One that just revealed its strength to my ears upon reviewing it for this overview. Its entitled “Dara Factor One”.

Robert Thomas Jr’s percussion and Erksine’s drums start off the song with a deeply funky Afro-Brazilian groove. Joe Zawinul then comes in playing his many layers of synthesizer voices. The first are on the low end of sound, and gradually higher pitched tones come into the mix playing synth horn and string/orchestral charts. Thomas’s percussion rings right along. Jaco’s bass starts out basically hugging tight to Erksine’s drums and Shorter’s sax. By the final parts of the song, he’s at his flamboyant and technically brilliant best circling all around Zawinul’s synthesizers until the song fades itself out.

“Dara Factor One” is one of Weather Reports “moments” of the early 80’s. Each period of their creativity had its own contained brilliance. They also had individual moments that stood out as flat out defining-either for a given musician or the genre itself. This is one of those musician defining songs. Its Brazilian funk/world fusion approach is a truly democratic musical collaboration. Everyone is playing together without grabbing at time to shine as soloists. And all the melodies from Zawinul and Shorter are very vocal-singing away to the dancing rhythm of a very human type of funky Afro-fusion jam!

 

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