Prince was someone who,for my entire childhood was viewed by me and my family as a rock artist. The promotion of him through the rock press (as well as Prince himself) did seem to foster this impression further. During the 1990’s when I began to understand funk as a musical genre, Prince’s music re-entered my life in a much more serious way. When listening to a lot of his earlier music,it became clear that his music was based in funk. He was an amazing and even sometimes underrated rock soloist. But he focused generally on music with a sleek and spare groove known as the Minneapolis Sound.
Prince would have turned 59 today. Still seems strange that,as my friend Henrique points out many times,that jam fans cannot say “we still have Prince around” anymore. And as tiresome as this is to keep pointing out, Prince’s posthumous musical presence online is still just beginning to branch out the way it deserves to. After this years Grammy Awards tribute to Prince,online streaming service Spotify (along with several other such services) did do us a favor by placing his Warner Bros era music back up to listen to. Thanks to them,am now able to present an overview of Prince’s 1981 jam “Let’s Work”.
A four beat drum count in begins the song. After this, Prince and the band are heard singing the songs title over a slow and steady funk beat-two beats accenting on in the middle. The vocals play call and response with a brittle,high pitched synth horn burst-an extension of which has a flanger effect. Than the 6 note slap bass with variations comes in-accenting by the same synth horns for most the refrain. Those synth horns become much more horn charts on the choruses. After a reboot of the songs intro,that same chorus follows the song to the drum machine segue out of it.
“Let’s Work” is one of those songs that defines Prince’s distinct Minneapolis funk sound during the very late 70’s and early 80’s. Generally only two instruments are heard at any one time. So the funk is very condensed instrumentally. At the same time,the sounds of the synthesized horn blasts and charts,along with the iconic chunky slap bass line, showcase a strong understanding of the depth of funk’s groove,it’s “rhythmic nucleus” as it were. It was also one of his most commercially successfully early 80’s funk numbers as well. That makes it a defining moment in the Minneapolis sound as a whole.
It was a Thursday morning one year ago that I first heard that Prince had passed away. It was via a Facebook post one of my friends there shared from TMZ. Being a tabloid agency,it came across as just another online “fake news” story about a dead celebrity. It was my Aunt Deb who confirmed the unfortunate news. Prince Rogers Nelson had been found dead in an elevator at Paisley Park earlier that morning. It turned out to be just one part of a huge “funkapocalypse” of musicians dying in 2016-among them people such as David Bowie and EWF founder Maurice White.
In the weeks following Prince death, there was much ugliness unfortunately. Because he left no will in regard to his enormous musical output,the future of his art was in question. Therefore there was more concentration on people suddenly coming forward claiming to be his child (and a potential heir to his fortune),as well as conspiracy theories about Prince having died of HIV/AIDS. The reality of his death wasn’t any prettier. He’d died of an accidental overdose of the pain medication Fentanyl,part of a series of medications he’d been taking since an injury he’d sustained onstage in 1985.
Now that 365 days have passed since we lost Prince, there remains much mixed appraisal of the man and his music. The fight for control over Prince’s estate still remains fairly hot-with family representatives such as his half sister Tyka and record companies in the process of figuring out how to manage his music releases and online presence. Articles circulate consistently on fan sites all over the internet-especially Facebook and Twitter. And the debate between restorationists and preservationists of Prince’s legacy has proven a true example of the messiness of democratic dialog.
All of this being said, the year since Prince’s death has not been about complete uncertainty. Currently his mid 80’s era band the Revolution have begun for a US tour-indicating that its helping them cope with the loss of Prince. There was a somewhat rushed compilation released by Warner Bros. entitled Prince4ever,which included one item from Prince’s vault from 1982 entitled “Moonbeam Levels”. The CD release of Prince’s final album Hitnrun Phase II also took place a week after his passing. And now,its promised that a floodgate of new Prince material is about to be opened.
Following the Grammy Awards tribute,much of Prince’s music was re-added to streaming sites such as Pandora and Spotify. And there’s also the promise of a deluxe edition of the Purple Rain soundtrack at some point this year. This week however, the Prince estate has filed a lawsuit against against his former engineer George Ian Boxill for attempting to a release an EP of unreleased Prince songs from 2006 entitled Deliverance. In addition,Prince’s music has yet to re-appear on YouTube. And that brings me to what I feel is the most vital aspect of Prince’s creative legacy.
Myself, Henrique Hopkins and Zach Hoskins have been having many discussions since Prince’s passing about the lost opportunities for his continuing legacy online. As for Prince,that’s all in the past now. Because his music is in danger of being somewhat unknown by future generations (and some members of current ones) due to this problem,I hope that those in charge of Prince’s estate realize the mistakes he made in his final decade about publicizing his art. It would be a fitting tribute to him if they continued to maintain the presence of Prince’s musical legacy for the future.
Prince is an artist whose history really fascinated me. Up until the age of 16,I was so ignorant of Prince’s history that I actually thought his career started with “1999”. It was amazing for me to learn that Prince’s recording career began in the late 70’s. Not only that,but that it still had a sound that was recognizably his own. Over the years,this late 70’s period for Prince has become a personal favorite. One that I really enjoy discussing. One of the most important things about this era was that,even in a crowded funk/soul environment,Prince got his first major crossover hit before the 70’s decade ended.
Prince first hit single “Soft And Wet”. This was rooted squarely in funk and commercially ,it landed pretty much within the R&B Top 20. But just barely crossed over to the pop listener. And as the very prejudiced anti disco movement began to gain footing in 1979,both Prince and Warner Bros understanding crossover would be necessary for his career at that point. So the solution would to find a way to create a song with heavy pop structure that would still maintain Prince’s homegrown funkiness. The solution was in his first R&B #1 and pop Top 20 hit in “I Wanna Be Your Lover”.
A pounding snare drum kick kicks off the song. For the first 2 1/2 minutes of this song,the refrain consists of a deep rhythm guitar playing on one bright,melodic chord. A high toned and bass synthesizer back this up along with the drums. On the choruses,a string synthesizer plays harmony to this. After a space funk synth on the final chorus,the song goes into a 3 minute instrumental section. This section brings in a high bass line playing a funk riff high in the mix over a similar synth backdrop. Then a higher synth brass part comes in-occasionally accompanying only the drums before the song fades out.
The first time I heard “I Wanna Be Your Lover” was the single edit,which is basically the vocal oriented first 2:50 minutes of the song. The version on Prince’s self titled 1979 album is a 5+ version that predominantly emphasizes the final instrumental section of the song. The entirety of the song is very funky. Its also where Prince was able to harness the stripped down,loose jamming funkiness that defined his debut album while introducing it with a strong sense of song craft. An element that could sung and hum. That makes “I Wanna Be Your Lover” perhaps the most important song Prince recorded in the 70’s.
Note from Zach: As you may or may not know, I’ve spent the last several weeks writing about the songs from Prince’s debut album on my chronological Prince blog, dance / music / sex / romance. In the process, I’ve been struck by the many contingencies that exist around For You, and Prince’s early career in general. If things had gone even slightly differently; if his label–or, for that matter, Prince himself–had shown even a little less confidence in his artistic development; then we would be looking at a very different musical landscape in 2016. There’s also the fact that, as I’ve noted several times in my track-by-track posts, it’s difficult to look at For You in retrospect without seeing it as just the first, not-entirely-successful glimpse at a talent and vision that would find its full expression in years to come. But what if that perspective wasn’t the default? What if For You wasn’t the first step in a long career by Prince, but in fact his first and last album? This post is my attempt to think my way through this situation: think of it as a look back at For You from a possible alternate timeline. I don’t know if I will do this for other albums in the future–or, like, ever again–but I thought it was an interesting exercise to examine Prince’s earliest days as a recording artist through a completely different lens. I hope you find it interesting, too.
The reclusive multi-instrumentalist known only as “Prince” may not be as much of a household name as, say, Shuggie Otis; but to serious aficionados of 1970s funk and soul, he inspires a kind of hushed reverence normally reserved for the likes of Stevie Wonder. In fact, Prince’s mainstream obscurity and his cult notoriety are two sides of the same coin: both stem from his having released only one album, 1978’s For You, before he disappeared from the music scene completely. Thanks to a decades-long process of discovery by collectors and rehabilitation by critics, however, in 2016 he stands as one of the great “what-ifs” of 20th century pop music.
The story behind the making of For You is fascinating and frustrating in equal measure. An introverted musical prodigy from Minneapolis, Minnesota, Prince signed a multi-million dollar contract with Warner Bros. Records when he was just 17 years old–which unsurprisingly made waves in the recording industry trades at the time. Also remarkable was the fact that, as a 1978 press release put it, “Prince did it all. Composed the music, produced the sessions. Played the instruments (drums, guitars, pianos, bass synthesizers and more) and sang all the lead and background vocals. He even wrote the string parts.” He was, according to legend (and the press release), the youngest producer in W.B.’s history as a label.
(Photo removed at request of rights holder.)
But Prince’s inexperience and perfectionism proved to be his undoing. The story goes that he blew through all $180,000 of his three-album recording budget on For You alone: holing up in the Sausalito Record Plant for days on end, tinkering obsessively with the songs. When it was finally released, the album was a modest success: lead single “Soft and Wet” even reached Number 12 on the Billboard Hot Soul Singles Chart (though it peaked at only Number 92 on the Hot 100). But the second single, “Just as Long as We’re Together,” stalled at Number 91 on the R&B charts; the album itself also dropped rapidly, peaking at only Number 163 on theBillboard 200. Prince did get some positive press from African American teen magazines like Right On!, where his soft, almost feminine good looks and ineffable air of mystery made him marketable as a pop idol. But the mainstream largely passed him by, and Warner ultimately decided that another album wasn’t worth the investment; after Prince made an awkward, tentative live debut at Minneapolis’ Capri Theatre in January 1979, the label cut their losses.
Which is a shame, because if nothing else, For You positively bristles with potential. The aforementioned “Soft and Wet” is futuristic funk, streamlining the pioneering synthesizer sound of earlier acts like Parliament with an added dose of fey, flirtatious sexuality. Closing song “I’m Yours” starts as a lite-funk workout, then transforms abruptly into full-blown arena rock. The opening title track, meanwhile, is lush baroque soul–not to mention evidence of how Prince managed to blow almost $200K on a single record–with a blissed-out a cappella chorus of multi-tracked Princes singing in unison. It’s like an R&B “Good Vibrations”; the kind of bold, hubristic statement you’d expect from an established artist with multiple successes behind them, not an upstart teenager who came out of nowhere and would return to obscurity just as soon.
There are also more predictable pleasures, albeit always with a subtle tweak. “Baby” is a note-perfect Philly soul simulacrum (had Prince ever even been to Philadelphia?), with lyrics about the decidedly unconventional subject of an unplanned pregnancy. “My Love is Forever” is chirpy disco, but with guitar leads more muscular than even Nile Rodgers would dare attempt. “In Love” also sounds decidedly of-its-time, but with lyrics (“I really wanna play in your river”) that are disarmingly frank in their eroticism. And on the soft songs–“Crazy You” on Side One, “So Blue” on the eccentrically-named “The Other Side”–the 18-year-old shows a depth of musical range and vocal dexterity far beyond his years. For You isn’t earth-shattering, per se–there’s a reason why it didn’t set the world on fire when it came out in 1978–but its subtle blend of musical styles and Prince’s oddly demure lustfulness belie an inventive artistic persona that isn’t quite like anything else, before or since. It’s little wonder that several influential members of the new school of “alternative” R&B, including Frank Ocean and Janelle Monáe, swear by this relatively obscure debut record from the late ’70s.
The afterlife of For You is even stranger than the story of its birth. Prince, as mentioned above, seems to have disappeared after he was dropped by Warner: presumably back to his hometown of Minneapolis, though conflicting reports also claim he became a successful session musician in L.A. It’s certainly difficult to imagine an artist as bold and ambitious as Prince clearly was leaving music behind entirely; there are thus numerous rumors of later maneuvers from behind the scenes. The tracks “Do Me, Baby” and “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?” from the 1979 debut album by André Cymone–Prince’s fellow Minneapolitan, and his bass player at the ill-fated Capri Theatre show–are both heavily rumored to have been written by Prince; though they don’t sound quite like anything on For You, so whether it was actually him is anyone’s guess. There’s also been speculation that he played the guitar part on Lipps, Inc.’s 1980 single “Funkytown”: still the biggest hit ever to come out of the Twin Cities. Otherwise, all pop cryptologists have to go by is a string of little-known B-sides from Minneapolis-based artists like Sue Ann Carwell and Alexander O’Neal, with writing credits from suspiciously pseudonymous-sounding names like Joey Coco and Alexander Nevermind.
Meanwhile, the stature of Prince’s sole official release has only grown with time. The album was out of print for most of the 1980s, until it received a spike of notoriety among crate-diggers in the hip-hop era: see, for example, the sample of “Soft and Wet” in RBL Posse’s “I Ain’t No Joke.” This led to the album being reissued in the early ’90s, along with a renewal of interest from critics and musical historians. Today, as noted above, it’s a bona fide cult record, feted among artists and listeners on the left field of R&B, pop, and hip-hop for its unique, genre- and gender-fluid sensibility. Prince, meanwhile, has remained reclusive, though he’s presumably still alive: with the album’s 40th anniversary fast approaching in 2018, it would be great to see him come out of retirement and play some of these old songs for his new and growing fanbase. The world might not have been ready for For You in 1978, but I think it just might be ready now. Hopefully, wherever Prince is today, he realizes that.
(All right, that’s it, y’all…thanks for indulging me in this little A.U. fan fiction exercise. I’m actually taking next weekend off from Andresmusictalk, but I’ll be back on October 8 with something that will almost certainly not be about Prince. See you then!)
Prince’s 1994 release Come is,in actuality,part of a series of records released to fulfill his contract with Warner Bros. 1993 was a very prolific year for Prince in much the same way that 1986 had been. Much of this material saw release throughout the middle of the 90’s. Come is a dark album,often dealing with uncomfortable topics such as racism and child abuse. Even if some of the compositions had a gloomy atmosphere,Prince actually brought out some strong jazz,industrial and hip-hop hybrids into his funky grooves on this album. Here’s an Amazon.com review I did on this album five years ago:
It would likely be hard pressed to find any part of Prince’s career more enigmatic and provocative as the mid 1990’s. The man was dealing with not only a battle for creative autonomy from Warner Brothers because apparently,he didn’t have as much control over the financial aspects of his music than we actually thought. At the same time there was a personal change occurring within him and these two factors came together in a name change to an unpronounceable symbol that would begin his liberation from the excesses of the recording industry.
This decision earned him a lot of negative attention in the press. And commercially? Well it was almost the musical equivalent of “jumping the shark”. But Prince was on a mission,away from his name and himself and this album,clocked in artwork resembling a gravestone reflected this mission. Musically however,it’s a whole other story. There’s been so much time passed since I fully absorbed this that I forgot what a funky album this actually was.
Likely recorded during his 1993 battle with Warner’s from the production values of it,the title song features a 10 minute JB type horn funk send up with some production nods to the jazz-hip-hop fusion of the day. Really a very musically incredible tune. “Pheromone” and “Papa” are every bit as funky,while both taking on very dark and serious issues such as (what sounds like) cocaine in the former and (definitely) child abuse,very explicitly in the latter,with Prince stating at the end “Don’t beat your kids or they’ll end up like me”. “Space” is rather a melodic 90’s variation on funky-soul,not outside the spectrum of what TLC were doing at this particular time.
“Loose!” is one of the most musically aggressive songs Prince has ever done with it’s mixture of industrial house and speed metal. “Race” again finds Prince in his hip-hop/funk places with another strong number,this time taking on the issue of race in a more direct manner than before,even taking on the whole “our blood is the same” racial universalism concept head on. “Letitgo” explores similar territory only with a tad bit more of a deeper bottom. “Dark” is an excellent contrast,a warm and melodic retro-southern soul ballad with lyrics that couldn’t be more opposite.
“Solo” finds Prince poetically musing in near a cappella cries and growls over a harp like sound while the ending “Orgasm” is…well too descriptive in it’s graphic depiction of voyeurism. But that’s nothing new for Prince is it? I’ve heard this album be accused many times of being derivative, boring and an album released only to fulfill a contract and embark on his own creative pursuits . Honestly I’m not sure how Prince could do that. It’s just not part of his musical oeuvre.
And he doesn’t do it here one bit. It’s no accident that he at last decided to release his shelved 1987 recording Black Album‘ this same year. On the crawl up into middle age at this point,aside from the personal changes he was dealing with Prince was in a position to put his music back in the harder funk direction he began his career with. Not only that but again he was playing up the somewhat darker side of his emotional and carnal fantasies much the same as he had in the late 80’s. And that’s what he did with this album as well.
One interesting fact about this album is that,from the cover/jacket artwork to the lyrical progression these songs tend to have,its almost a eulogy of Prince’s life up to that point. Considering the man is not with us anymore,this album finds him staging his own fictive funereal as his O(+> persona was about to emerge. During the time I was just getting into Prince on album based terms,this was one of his (then) newer albums that really interested me. And considering that the 90’s would be such an on and off decade for Prince,this album stands the test of time in some surprising and unique ways.
Prince Rogers Nelson was no stranger to recording by the time he’d signed with Warner Bros. in 1977. He was barely 19 at the time. And had already had some experience in recording with Pepe Willie’s 94 East along with his own demos from 1976. Around the time he got signed by Warner’s in 1977,he,Owen Husney and Chris Moon were putting together Prince’s official press kit (a rather unconventional one with photos and an accompanying haiku on each one) and his first proper studio recordings at Minneapolis’s Studio 80. These songs passed into legend during the years before internet.
With the advent of online music and YouTube,these unreleased songs that have been circulating for years have come to light in a whole other way. One of these songs just leaped out at me when I first heard it. As I’ve made clear many times,I have a special affinity for early Prince. Especially as it set the stage for his greatest musical moments yet to come. The interesting thing is,it would prove quite significant in years to come,even if it was never officially released. But I’ll talk about the song first,and tell you the rest of the story later. And the name of this song is “We Can Work It Out”.
Bobby Z’s drums kick off with a chime,and maintains a percussive funkified back beat throughout. On the chorus and refrain of the song,Prince’s processed bass/guitar/Clavinet interaction plays in an upbeat,melodic fashion as he sings both the lead lines and the breakdowns in his most ethereal falsetto. On the bridge,that same bass/guitar/keyboard interaction starts playing in a more bluesy funk style-playing in that loose jamming instrumental style typical of Prince’s songs from this era. At the end of the song,this musical into the sound of a thunder storm before fading out.
Musically this song is structurally very in keeping with the sound of his debut For You-the key difference being that his Minneapolis Sound synth brass style wasn’t present yet. It’s brightly melodic,disco era pop/funk sound has a very sunny atmosphere. Lyrically speaking,the song is almost an audio press kit as it’s essentially a love letter to Warner Brothers. Especially singing lines such as “Music for the young and old, music bound to be gold” showcasing his hopes as well as his self confidence. Still the album ends with another lyric that would tell another story.
Prince’s last line is spoken in his best DJ style voice saying “Makin’ music naturally,me and WB”. While it’s apparent Prince was excited about being signed to a major record label,the line also signifies some of the matters that would one day set Prince at odds with the company. Throughout the song,Prince is telling the label “hope we work it out” over and over. The fact that he adds the line “Put your trust in me, I’ll never let you down/ cause I know I can count on you to help me make it”. By ending the song with the sound of a storm,its clear even early on Prince knew his future musical road would be complex.
Prince’s musical mission in the years 1980-1984 are shrouded in mystery. And still open to debate in terms of who created what. What is known was that Prince and of his band really shook up the music critics and listeners in 1980 with the Dirty Mind album. It was raw, almost demo level new wave funk that apparently had one Warner Bros exec claiming “we signed the new Stevie Wonder and he’s giving us the new Ric Ocasek”. My personal opinion is that maybe the idea of a black American artist at this time,combining styles of music in this manner (at the time) threw many people off as to what they were hearing.
During his early 80’s period Prince along with Andre Cymone,Matt Fink,Bobby Z and Lisa Coleman who bringing the late 60’s musical free for all approach into the punk/post disco era-with a whole other sense of freedom and hedonism. One song on this Dirty Mind has a story that also shakes up the view of Prince as a total puppet master. It’s final song was originally by a local Minneapolis group known as Enterprise. Morris Day was a member of that group,and allowed Prince to have the song for the album. Prince in turn gave Morris position of lead singer of The Time. The song in question was called “Partyup”.
A high pitched synth squeal opens the song as Prince accompanies his thick rhythm guitar with a simple yet very funky three chord bass line. That also to the tune of him playing that same melodic rhythm on the piano. Morris Day keeps his classic shuffling groove on the drums throughout. On the choruses,Prince squeals the new wave style synth right up again along with tightening up the other rhythmic elements. The song progresses on this way until the song ends with Morris’s drumming really swinging as Prince preaches “your gonna have to fight your own damn war/’cause we don’t wanna fight no more”.
Many people credit this song is one of several examples on this album of being the beginnings of the Minneapolis sound. And that has a lot of truth. This groove blends the simple rhythmic notation of rock ‘n roll with the drum like instrumental approach of funk-all with a stripped down, raw punk-funk aestetic. Lyrically the focus of the song is similar to “1999”. It also cements Prince’s closeness to the baby boomer-Generation X sociological arc expressed in lyrics such as “because of their half-baked mistakes/We get ice cream, no cake/All lies, no truth/Is it fair to kill the youth?”.
For his own part,Prince seems to have been quite sincere in his anti war message. This goes up to his recent song “Baltimore” where he evokes a more matured invocation of Albert Einstein by stating “peace is more than the absence of war”. On this song,Prince is playing the rocking new wave/funk and singing a message that was full of his youthful vigor,and in a certain sense narcissism. Though in stating to the hard swinging drums of Morris Day that “WE don’t wanna fight no more” strongly indicates he is already expressing a broader thematic vision with his words and music even then.
Chaos And Disorder is a Prince album born out of frustration. Feeling stifled despite the creative freedoms the Warner Bros label had given him over the year,the transition from Prince to his O(+> identity has him controversially writing ‘slave” across his right cheek in black makeup pen. He also released a series of albums on his own and leading the New Power Generation whose lyrics functioned as angry tirades at his own label-including this one. Of course since the mid 1990’s was a very angry period in popular music anyhow,it all mirrored the times too. Yet on a strictly musical level,O(+> was having other ideas.
It’s hard to believe it was 20 years ago today that Chaos And Disorder hit the record stores. Personally,I remember it being a bit of an afterthought in record stores. Not prioritized in terms of promotion,and getting mixed reviews. Upon first listening to it upon picking up a cassette of it a few years later,I kind of liked it. The first five songs are very catchy and instrumentally dense rockers with a pop twist,while the last half of the album were hyperactive funk/rock fusions mixed with psychedelic style ballads. Several years ago,I got a hold of a the CD pre-owned. And started listening to it a bit more often.
Looking at it more recently,it could be described at representing for Prince in the mid 90’s what Around The World In A Day represented for him in the mid 80’s. Prince & The NPG’s first albums of the 90’s were generally hip-hop and techno house based. So on Chaos And Disorder,Prince returned under his then new name with an album that got back strong into his hard funk and catchy pop/rock roots. Only again,the thematic mood was on the dark side. I wrote an Amazon.com review almost a decade about the album. This goes into this album song by song a bit more. So enjoy this part of my breakdown of Chaos And Disorder:
It wasn’t long after Prince exited Warner Bros,changed his name to O(-> and released The Gold Experience did he begin to collect some of his “private music vault” for this album in 1996.Considering how well the same idea worked 15 years earlier with Dirty Mind he didn’t see how it wouldn’t work on ‘Chaos And Disorder’, and musically it did. Both albums have the one similarity of being Prince’s more rock oriented music. Prince’s style on the rock guitar is showcased throughout the uptempo songs on this album.The title track,”I Like It There”,”Into The Light” and “I Will” are extraordinary rockers.
For those who enjoy more pop/rock the easy going “Dinner With Delores”,with it’s 70’s soft rock feel will fit the bill nicely and it is actually one of his best songs of the period. The loud blues rock of “Zannalee” is not exactly typical of Prince but it challenges him as a musician.Don’t think that just because this is often hyped as Prince “rock” album (which in many ways it is) Prince is his always eclectic self on the zesty funk-rock hybrids of “Right The Wrong”,”I Rock Therefore I Am” and “Dig You Better Dead”-all three of which are also some of his strongest songs.
‘Chaos And Disorder’ is Prince’s final “official” Warner Bros. album and presents some his most direct songs;most of these tunes are less then 3 and 4 minutes and have a very refreshing directness.One thing that anyone considering purchasing this should know is this was released during a very trying time for Prince-he was fighting with Warners,had the “SLAVE” tattoo on his face and the lyrics here are filled with a lot of bitterness and edginess.As with many of Prince’s mid 1990’s music it will certainly get your attention.But even I found myself revisiting it after all these years of thinking of this as one of Prince’s weakest albums and maybe more people should do that.
Unsure if Prince ever conceptualized it,but the music on Chaos And Disorder is of a sort that could function very well as a live performance setup-with different costumes and sets. Despite the music’s theatrical potential,Prince never toured for this album. Maybe that was a good thing in hindsight because Prince’s studio albums always created their own type of theatrical (and mostly extremely funkified) musical world. As controversial as Prince’s stance on his rights as an artist during the 1990’s was,Chaos And Disorder might very well be the best examples of how that era translated onto an album for him.
Prince recorded so much music in his lifetime,there were going to be moments that would be left neglected by some people. The Gold Experience was such an album. It was recorded in 1993 during the most bitter stages of his legal battles with Warner Bros. The end result is that it was the very first album released under the name of O(+>,itself actually functioning as the title for his 1992 album a year before this was recorded. The album was released on Warner’s yet distributed by Prince’s own NPG Records on September 26th,1995. Because of all the hype surrounding Prince’s name change,this album seemed to be a big deal.
It was a man named Andy,who worked behind the counter of the local branch Strawberries Music chain,who first bought this album to my attention. He asked me if I was a Prince fan. Said I hadn’t heard a lot of his music,which was not a lie at the time. It was that conversation that actually got me interested in revisiting Prince’s music and learning about his history-which was then a bit more recent than it is today. I picked up a pre-owned CD of The Gold Experience a year later. I still seldom listen to it all the way through. One song that I just happily revisited on it was “Billy Jack Bitch”.
Prince starts off the song singing the songs title,accented by a vocal sample from Fishbone’s song “Lying Ass Bitch” over a fast funky drums of Michael Bland-along with a higher and lower toned synthesizer squiggle. A snare kickoff brings in the thick,pulsing bass line of Sonny T. along with the pumping organ of Tommy Barbarella. This rhythm keeps the same flow through several verse/chorus exchanges before Barbarella takes a steamy organ solo on the bridge-just around the same time Prince accents his melody with sheets of rock guitar. The NPG horns fanfare away just as the song begins to fade out.
Prince and the New Power Generation really do their stuff so well on this song. As my friend Henrique pointed out to me very recently,this is a pretty straight up P-Funk style jam out of the “One Nation Under A Groove” and “(Not Just) Knee Deep” school. Rhythmically it’s a wonderful blend of the NPG’s band interplay with Prince’s instrumental and production touches-not to mention the harmony vocals of Lenny Kravitz-which brings the two contemporary funk/rockers together. That along with the tightly chorded horn voicing’s that come in at the songs concluding segment.
Lyrically this song has similar content to Michael Jackson’s Tabloid Junkie” from the same vintage. The focus is more personal-as Prince accuses the songs antagonist of “calling him silly names” as well as not being willing to confront him face to face. The song was recently confirmed to have in fact been a direct statement about Minneapolis Star Tribute gossip columnist CJ,whom Prince saw as an enemy of his within the press. Even though it did have it’s place in the rather paranoid anti tabloid sentiment of it’s day,Prince and the NPG endowed it with some strong Minneapolis style P-Funk power.
Prince’s musical output during the 1990’s represented a complex period for him. Personally,these albums were his newest statements when myself and other members of the late 70’s/early 80’s born age group were really beginning to explore Prince as teenagers. Heard many of his songs on the radio and in videos over the years. But it was during the middle of the 90’s that I began going back and listening to his albums all the way from the beginning to his newest releases of the era. As with most things that came from the 1990’s,it was a soul searching period where Prince was reinventing his identity.
When Prince changed his name to O(+> in 1993,he was the butt of jokes and accusations of going over the edge. Even I did my share of giggling more or less over how it was portrayed by the media. Of course today as a grown adult dealing with the difficulties creative must face myself, it has become clear that what Prince was doing in the mid 90’s was no joke. As he explained to Tavis Smiley in 1998, he had come to see more of the word “con” in contract. That they allowed for a musician essentially to be a type of slave to a middle man who peddled their musical wares like watches from a trench coat.
Not that Prince ever mentioned anything specifically about watches or trench coats. But he did write “Slave” across his face during this time. His reason for changing his name had to do with his real name Prince being “owned” by Warner Bros. And since they weren’t allowing him to release his massive volume of music as he wished,he needed an outlet to do that. He began putting together a new label imprint in NPG Records-eventually recording artists like Chaka Khan and Larry Graham without the use of any recording contracts. This actually put him on the cutting edge of truly indie music.
Prince released nine official studio albums during the 90’s decade. The deal he had with Warner’s at the time specified that albums credited to the name Prince could only consist of music from his vault of unreleased music. In all honesty,I don’t feel the albums credited to the O(+> were as consistently strong as what he’d done in the 80’s. In terms of full length albums,it’s interesting his 90’s output that I prefer were the ones under his own name. So here is a look back at my four favorite Prince albums that came out during his second full decade as a recording artist.
This soundtrack to his third and final motion picture is somewhat of a revue of some of the artists signed to Paisley Park and/or working with Prince at the time. Of them the young singer Tevin Campbell got a big hit from the song “Round And Round”. A couple of my favorite numbers on here come from The Time in the frenetic funky drumming of “Release It” and the brittle rock ‘n soul of “Shake”. As for Prince,it has his epic pop rocker “Thieves In The Temple”,the electronic blues of “The Question Of U” and the slamming funk of “New Power Generation”
Personally I feel this album really put the funk/house/hip-hop hybrid of Diamonds And Pearls into fuller focus. It has the Hi NRG hip-hop opener of “My Name Is Prince”-as well as the James Brown funk jam “Sexy MF”. “7” really mixes his mid 80’s psychedelic touches into a trance like modern funk/rock sound. “The Sacrifice Of Victor” mixes early 90’s funk with a potent post Rodney King racial consciousness and he even brings in some reggae for “Blue Light”. The flow of the entire album makes it likely the most consistent of his early albums with the New Power Generation.
When I first read about this album,it was actually Prince’s newest at the time. And it was described as a record he did solely to fulfill a contract. Listening to it recently,it’s actually one of his most adventurous albums for the time. The title track and “Letitgo” explore his raw sexuality through some horn heavy jazz hip-hop/funk. “Loose” throws down some intense industrial dance rock while the psychedelic soul/funk of “Papa” frankly discusses the ineffectiveness of child abuse. In a way,it almost sounds and looks like an album where Prince is seeking to shed every element of himself in favor of his new persona.
According to the liner notes,these songs were written between 1985 and 1994. And that Prince and the NPG recorded them on the latter end of that period “4 personal use only”. On a personal level,this comes across as Prince’s most consistently strong album from the 90’s. It has a very strong live band flavor not dissimilar to his latest release Hitnrun Phase II-with club friendly jazz/funk jams like “It’s About The Walk”,”Extraordinary”,the title song and of course “She Spoke 2 Me” really showcasing Prince more as a bandleader and less as a puppet master.
One of the overriding themes I’ve been discussing with my friend Henrique Hopkins lately is how significant Prince was to keeping the funk alive in the 1980’s. To turn a phrase, Prince did spend much of the 1990’s looking to catch up with newer artists such as D’Angelo who’s greatest achievement at the time would likely be to catch up with Prince. A lot of this had to do with Prince’s rhythms. During his 80’s heyday,he could take the Linn drum and throw down jazz and Afro Latin rhythms on songs like Vanity 6’s “Nasty Girl” and The Time’s “777-9311”.
While the 1990’s soul/funk/R&B scene became influenced by the drum programming Prince pioneered,it wasn’t quite the same. A lot of producers of the early/mid 90’s simply didn’t bring the excitement or drama out of the drum machine as Prince once had-opting for a more formulaic shuffle. When Prince followed that formula on the drum machine,his rhythms also began to sag. However Prince did use some of the newer ideas that derived from his sound to re-invent himself. And allow for him to remain prolific and maintain his creative longevity for what would turn out to be his final two decades.