Tag Archives: Wendy Melvoin

Prince Protege Special: “Honeymoon Express” by Wendy & Lisa

Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman knew each other their entire childhood in LA,with both their fathers being musicians in the group of iconic session musicians known as The Wrecking Crew.  These musical lives led up to Coleman becoming the successor to Prince’s original keyboard player Gayle Chapman in 1980. In fact,it was Coleman who recommended Wendy to succeed original Revolution guitarist Dez Dickerson when he left before the making of the Purple Rain album. After two years of success with Prince,Wendy & Lisa left the Revolution,signed with Columbia and began their career as a duo.

Wendy and Lisa were significant because,similar to Jam & Lewis,the duo were never anyone Prince could be a puppet master with. They were genuine proteges who not only had enormous talent on their own,but also contributed new musical ideas for Prince. Their 1987 self titled debut featured songs that featured the production and co-writing of fellow Revolution alumni Bobby Z as well as Wendy’s brother,the late Johnathan Melvoin of Smashing Pumpkins fame. The first song on this album made an immediate impact on me personally. Its entitled “Honeymoon Express”.

Wendy starts out playing a thick and liquid rhythm guitar over an ethereal synth sound. A brittle,low ascending slap bass line. This is accompanied by a bassier sounding synth that plays for all the bars of refrain-along with a beat that kicks up high on the snare every few beats or so. Just before the choruses,the song goes up a chord just before the chorus-with the ethereal synthesizer mixed up a bit higher. The bridge features an electronic marimba type solo before the choral sequence of the song repeats to fade-with the synth marimba playing right along side it all the way.

Co written with Johnathan and Susannah Melvoin (‘ne of The Family,now fDeluxe), “Honeymoon Express” is a very densely composed,jazzy funk number. The rhythm is in as much an unusual time signature as what Dave Brubeck did in the “cool jazz” genre,also featuring some ultra funky bass/guitar interaction. The chord changes on the song are actually very singable. That being said,they are also somewhat outside American pop conventions of the late 80’s. And probably are part of why this album wasn’t a major success in the US. Still,this is Wendy & Lisa at some of their jazz funk finest as a duo.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1987, Wendy & Lisa

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

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