The Hits / The B-Sides Liner Notes
His Royal Badness, His Purple Majesty, The Kid, Camille...what's in a name? Media hype? Good old-fashioned marketing? Pop iconoclasm for the sake of publicity? Perhaps. Sometimes. But in this case the name is MUSIC, music of all kinds, and lots of it. Did somebody say dance, music, sex, romance? Rock and roll, catchy pop songs, hyper club anthems, intoxicating ballads, jazzy funk, film scores, cartoon heroes, bawdy lust, visionary poetry with messages both hidden and blatant...more than a name, more than a singer, musician, band leader, producer, composer, lyricist, director or actor. We may as well face it, no matter where we were, what we did and what we thought, as we reflect on the past 15 years, there's a six-letter word that doesn't name a human being as much as it defines a sub-genre of our culture. For where else could so many layers of art assemble so cohesively while retaining a singular identity and influence but under the heading PRINCE.
This is not a biography. Rather than the story of a man, it's a documentation of a work in progress (if the closing of a chapter)...15 years in the pop life. Fifteen years that began in 1977 with a often brazen, sometimes withdrawn talent determined to find a place. The place turned out to be Warner Bros. Records and the song that grabbed attention was the impishly straightforward SOFT AND WET.
A modest R&B hit, SOFT AND WET was a respectable debut for a rookie who thwarted the experts by insisting on producing himself from day one. Unfortunately, the remainder of the first album didn't prove a successful, and Prince spent the next year at home in Minneapolis organizing a band, trying on new managers for size and writing his second album.
One of the songs Prince wrote in 1979 was actually inspired by, and intended a demo for, Patrice Rushen. Despite a serious crush on the singer/keyboardist he didn't get the song on her album. But he did gain a friend and his first gold record. While I WANNA BE YOUR LOVER was atop the R&B charts and threatening the pop Top Ten, Warner Bros. shipped PRINCE. Sometimes criticized for being too slick, or even derivative, in retrospect there is something decent that can be said for all of the nine songs on Prince's sophomore album. For the purpose of this collection we will limit our focus to its other R&B hit, WHY YOU WANNA TREAT ME SO BAD? and another detoured Rushen demo, I FEEL FOR YOU. The latter is significant in suggesting how commercially Prince could disciple himself to write when the song was aimed at an artist other than himself. Ironically, it was still another female vocalist, diva Chaka Khan, who finally place the song on the charts in 1984.
Profound or not, a hit record is one of the few phenomena in this world that can immediately and dramatically alter lives and expectations-expectations of a record company hungry for more of the same and a media who suddenly thrust inordinate importance on everything an artist says or does. In the case of Prince, it meant a debut tour with brilliant reviews for his shockingly innovative band and continued work towards an album that he felt might better capture his true statement.
1980 and his third album continued Prince's predictable rise on the homogenized world of pop music. Not! DIRTY MIND was as radical a departure as any artist had ever gambled on. It was becoming obvious that this Prince was no ordinary guy. But then 1980 was no ordinary year. If crack could infiltrate New York's underground at the same time Ronald Reagan stomped the campaign trail, why couldn't Prince sing HEAD? It certainly sounded safer to a lot of us than the drugs of the Lower East Side or the disillusionment of presidential politics.
Performed on tour months before DIRTY MIND was even completed, HEAD actually drove keyboardist Gayle Chapman out of the band and served as the initiation for replacement Lisa Coleman. Prince figured that if Lisa, already under scrutiny as the lone female in the group, could sing these lyrics in front of thousand of people, she'd be able to handle anything. She passed the test with flying colors, but unfortunately, not every one found HEAD as easy to digest as Coleman did.
Understandably anxious to duplicate the success they'd achieved with I WANNA BE YOUR LOVER, some of the Warner promotion team were skittish about the demo-like songs. Prince had intended to record the album in California but when he submitted his homemade prototypes to then manager Steve Fargnoli, they decided that their rawness was just what the cutting-edge music called for. Fargnoli's partner, Bob Cavallo, remembers : "Sure it was a risky record. Some thought we were losing our minds. But from the management side we felt it was a brilliant piece of work and we foresaw the impact it would have on the press."
In a sense, everyone involved was partially correct. The album was a critics favorite-four and a half stars in Rolling Stone and among the Village Voice Top Ten of the year. On the other hand, without a substantial single (UPTOWN, a quaint, rose-colored-glasses view of Minneapolis, struggled to reach the R&B Top Five),it sold considerably less than its predecessor and all but destroyed Prince's momentum at radio.
At this writing, with the lyrical door in pop music all but blown off its hinges, it's a lot easier to view DIRTY MIND for its music instead of its controversy. In fact, some of the album never was censor fodder, WHEN YOU WERE MINE, a cult favorite among knowledgeable Prince fans, was written in a Florida hotel room many weeks before it reached the recording studio. Prince was on his first tour, opening for funkmeister Rick James, and not too thrilled about it. In a rare compromise, he'd accepted the tour in exchange for the exposure it would give him in the R&B field where he had been building a formidable audience base.
The album's title song came together overnight-literally. As keyboard player Dr. Fink tells it, "One day, Prince came into rehearsal and we started jammin' on a synth groove I had come up with. At the end of the day, he asked me to come to his house and cut the tune. He wrote a bridge and made a few changes and that was it. I got home about one in the morning."
Ten hours later they got together for another rehearsal and Prince bounced in with a cassette in his hand. Fink continues : "He had a rough mix of DIRTY MIND, complete with vocals. He had stayed up, written lyrics and finished the whole thing after I left. We were amazed."
As quickly as he was capable of working in the studio, Prince was growing equally prolific with his pen. Unable to squeeze all his new material onto a single album, there were several outtakes. Of these, the rockin' GOTTA STOP (MESSIN' ABOUT) became the first of many non-LP tracks assigned to the B-sides of his singles. This rare cut was only made available on the 12-inch edition of "Let's work" in 1982.
With Prince now the unmistakable darling of the music press, the buzz around DIRTY MIND spawned his first full-blown tour and the expansion of his base of operation to include a professional-caliber home studio. Enjoying a state-of-the-art facility in his own house was something it didn't take long to get used to. When it came time to record DO ME, BABY, an all but lurid ballad of lust and conquest, Prince turned the control room into a bedroom. When the engineer reported to work, he walked into a studio sexily lit with scented candles and draped with chiffon in every nook and cranny. Invited out as soon as he got the tape rolling, he heard the door lock behind him and left for home. It's never been established who else, if anyone, was in the studio at the time.
Literally living in the studio, Prince finished his next album during the summer of 1981. As the first single shipped, he found himself rehearsing the band to open for The Rolling Stones-as seeming enviable a slot as one could have.
Much has been written about the vulgar reception accorded Prince by the fans of Jagger et al., but it's seldom mentioned that at that same time CONTROVERSY was in search of an audience. If DIRTY MIND had been Prince's coming of age, CONTROVERSY was shaping up to be his next lesson in real life.
In the wake of his fabulously successful, ground-breaking year, I suppose a certain amount of backlash was inevitable-at least among the more fickle of critics. Some accused him of smut for smut's sake but a curious few astoundingly argued he hadn't pushed the envelope far enough! ("Jack U Off"?) All this senseless noise was particularly aggravating because the single was the rare combination of an extremely accessible funk groove and a thought-provoking lyric. A groove that eventually made believers of many, including this writer-old fashioned funkateers who were stubbornly waiting for all the commotion to die down so we could see what was really behind this whirling dervish. What we skeptics soon discovered was a collection of monumental jams and a young man with remarkable resiliency. No matter the Rolling Stones gigs and the lukewarm reception to the first single. Prince had a mission and wouldn't be denied. With the much heralded The Time as his home-grown support, he opened the Controversy Tour in Pittsburgh on November 20. 1981. As ticket sales grew, it was almost as if Prince himself had tired of the tumult. He simply said, DO ME, BABY and do him they did. In droves-for the next five months-up and down the highways of America, doing what radio hadn't been willing to do and driving the album home.
Having survived the media and still managing to accumulate an increasingly diverse audience, Prince was selling more tickets near the end of the tour than at the beginning. It was a bull market and he poised himself for the next step. Vaulting back and forth between Los Angeles and home, he produced an incomprehensible amount of first-rate material during the fist half of 1982. By summer, the second Time album and a debut package by Vanity 6 were on the market. Astonishingly, he had also amassed enough songs of his own to warrant a double album.
The first glimpse we got was 1999, the tantalizing title tune and Prince's most cohesive dance record yet. Initially intended as a group vocal, Prince, Lisa Coleman and guitarist Dez Dickerson actually sang the entire song together, line by line. But by the time he mixed it, Prince had changed his mind and decided to split up the lines, passing the baton among the singers like a relay race. The unusual but distinctive approach to vocal "arranging" accounts for how the melody keeps changing-as some of what are now lead vocals had been performed as harmonies. And then there's Jill Jones. Prince was absolutely in love with her voice and, even more-so, her daring "cliff diver" willingness to take the kind of chances that adorn the scorching vamp.
Of equal notice to many was the amazing ballad lurking on the flip side, HOW COME U DON'T CALL ME ANYMORE. Prince's own daring vocals, his treacherously percussive piano and a stomping heartbeat for drums equals one of the most popular of his "killer B's"-one that frequently brought down the house on several tours.
While 1999 didn't explode up the charts, it had a healthy run and what it lacked in impact, it more than made up for with endurance. As the album reached the streets, Warner didn't feel the need for a second single until February 1983, when LITTLE RED CORVETTE hit radio like a bullet.
Prince wrote the clever song while nodding off in Lisa Coleman's pink Edsel following an exhausting all-night recording session. The lyrics came to him in pieces as he'd jot something to memory in between catnaps. Given the opening line-I guess I should have known by the way u parked your car sideways that it wouldn't last-you almost want to put him to sleep again just to see what else he'd come up with. Reaching No. 6 on the pop chart, LITTLE RED CORVETTE was easily his biggest hit to date-in fact, his first significant run on pop radio since I WANNA BE YOUR LOVER.
Proving an almost celebratory relief from the hoopla surrounding the previous two albums, 1999 boasted a maturing writer, musician and producer. Among the nine remaining tracks was DELIRIOUS, another Top Ten hit when it was finally issued as a single almost a year later. This rich period also produced several outtakes, including the somewhat coarse HORNY TOAD and the prototype version of FEEL U UP, a song that didn't see the light of day until 1989. Still another was IRRESISTIBLE BITCH, which surfaced in November 1983. While hardly reminiscent of a traditional dance record, IRRESISTIBLE BITCH was a club favorite and, with its conversational lead vocal and stark bass and beats arrangement, somewhat of a precursor to the more hip-hop-informed Prince songs of recent years.
The success of 1999 predictably begat another tour. On the road for almost six months, Prince's marquee value was best illustrated by how the tour's expansion from theatres to arenas paralleled LITTLE RED CORVETTE's headway on pop radio. Unbeknownst to many, in between the furious shows and marathon sound checks, something else was going on at those venues. It seemed Prince's contract with Cavallo, Ruffalo and Fargnoli was due to expire and the managers were taking every opportunity to encourage their star to re-up. Bob Cavallo recalls receiving an update from Steve Fargnoli, who was on the road with the tour.
"It's very simple", Steve told his partner. "He wants a movie. If we don't get him a film deal with a major studio, he won't stay with us."
The next day, Cavallo accumulated a ton of press clippings and began pitching Prince to the film community. Of course it wasn't easy convincing studio chiefs that a burgeoning rock star could be the focus of a bankable film property. Finally, after a near-deal with Richard Pryors's production company, the Warner Bros. film division expressed a slight interest. But they had to know more...even see more. Desperate for start-up funding, Cavallo persuaded Warner Records Chairman Mo Ostin to loan Prince and his management team the money to begin production.
But first there was work to do and music to make. A scant few weeks after the tour ended, Prince was ensconced in a huge industrial warehouse where he and his band, along with members of The Time and Vanity 6, began a grueling schedule of drama classes, dance training and musical rehearsals.
Prince's recording for PURPLE RAIN represented a mind-boggling crazy quilt of sources. A few songs were professionally recorded in Los Angeles but the rest of the album was put to tape in Minneapolis under a bizarre set of circumstances. It started when technician Susan Rogers was unexpectedly asked to tear out Prince's studio and transport it to the warehouse. Rogers remembers, "That's when I learned not to be afraid to try something just because it hasn't been done before. This was something that was unheard of in textbook engineering. You don't record a band live in warehouse with no isolation between the musicians and the engineer. But I was learning the ways of Prince. Just hook it up and do it!"
Despite track leakage and electrical interference from every appliance in the building, they managed to get keeper tracks of several songs, including LET'S GO CRAZY.
The next unlikely recording location was a dowdy but musically fashionable club known as First Avenue. A benefit concert for the Minnesota Dance Theatre, the gig was full of hidden agendas-from introducing no less than six new songs to breaking in guitarist Wendy Melvoin. But none was so surprising as Prince's last-minute request for a mobile audio truck. What began as a modest club show turned into still another impromptu recording session.
Without an experienced road crew on hand, I inherited the job of production manager by default. It was downright stifling by the time the curtain went up. Prince took to the stage like a boxer to a ring, jabbing, feinting and finally stunning the sweat-drenched audience with the most powerful of the new songs, the brazen I WOULD DIE 4 U and the spine-tingling PURPLE RAIN.
From a technical standpoint, I was grateful to get through the show without any major mishaps. Certainly, none of us had an inkling that those very performances, with only minimal studio alterations, would help define pop music in the coming year. One of the recording engineers that night, Minneapolis veteran David Z, later told me he was standing on the sidewalk outside the club after the show when Prince pulled up beside him. "He rolled down the window and motioned for me", David explained. "All he said was, 'Did it sound good?'"
"I said, 'Yeah.' And he answered 'Good.' Then he rolled up the window and drove off."
In one of the monumental crap shoots in show business history, Prince and his managers spent nearly four million dollars on the production of PURPLE RAIN while they maniacally chased their "negative pick-up" deal. The agreement, which called for Warner Films to pay the producers six million dollars upon delivery of the negative, wasn't sealed until the very evening the cast and crew were attending a wrap party. Were it not for the eleventh hour high finance, post-production might have been canceled and Prince might not have found himself in Los Angeles recording still another song for the soundtrack, WHEN DOVES CRY.
Dr. Fink remember, "Bobby Z and I were in L.A. and Prince took us for a ride to hear this new song. We had thought the album was finished. My first reaction? I didn't really care for it. I remember saying to him, 'There is no bass.'"
"He said, 'That's right.' So of course I had to ask how come? All he said was, 'I tried it, it just didn't work. I just didn't like it.' Needless to say, the song grew on me."
It grew on a lot of people. The first hint of the purple onslaught to come, WHEN DOVES CRY was released in May 1984, and quickly became the biggest-selling single of the year and Prince's first No. 1 record.
Five weeks later, Warner shipped the album. Less whimsical and lascivious than his other work, the keenly focused PURPLE RAIN was the definitive Prince. The subsequent simultaneous release of the movie and LET'S GO CRAZY (a second No. 1 single) drove the package to the top of the charts where it remained for an astounding six months.
The plethora of PURPLE RAIN singles had its own reward-four new B-sides. 17 DAYS was recorded in the summer of 1983 and introduced at the Minnesota Music Awards a month before it was released. It enjoyed the esteemed honor of being coupled with WHEN DOVES CRY so, while it's arguably one of the best, it's also one of the most common B-sides. With its elastic bottom end and irresistible keyboard hook, 17 DAYS always struck me as a closet hit in search of an album.
Another of the best known "outtakes," EROTIC CITY may have been the dance jam of 1984. Lyrically explicit in the tradition of IRRESISTIBLE BITCH, this time the song was so popular that even radio politics couldn't hold it back. Sheila E.'s presence didn't hurt either, since her own "The Glamorous Life" was about to earn her a place on the Purple Rain Tour.
GOD turned out to be one of Prince's more obscure flip sides. Released with PURPLE RAIN, engineer Susan Rogers remembers it as a "Sunday song."
"Almost all of Prince's songs with religious or spiritual overtones-'God,' 'The Cross,' Sign 'O' The Times'-were recorded on Sundays," she explains.
"We were at the warehouse on a really hot afternoon and the equipment kept breaking down. Finally, he turned out all the lights, lit a few candles, recorded 'God' in one take and went home. There wasn't much else to say."
One listen reveals one of the most hauntingly unaffected Prince performances on record. The label on my original single still has goose bumps.
Last and probably least of 1984's crop of B-sides was ANOTHER LONELY CHRISTMAS-an effective holiday blues that hit the street Thanksgiving week, just as the Purple Rain tour was all but taking over Washington, D.C.
As was the case with everything else even remotely affiliated with the landmark project, the Purple Rain Tour shattered records everywhere it was booked. Not content to rest on his laurels, Prince spent every spare moment on the road writing and recording new songs, editing or accepting awards. Among them were three American Music Awards in January 1985. After the ceremony, everyone who was anyone in the music world accompanied Quincy Jones to his all-star "We Are The World" session. Everyone, that is, except Prince, who chose instead to donate an original song he'd composed specifically for the project.
The original 4 THE TEARS IN YOUR EYES was recorded in the cavernous New Orleans Superdome on a tour off-day and was only available on the We Are the World album. This previously unreleased version was actually the track of the seldom-seen video which was produced for the worldwide Live Aid telecast.
"Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it," goes the saying. Having provoked and sung about controversy in the past, suddenly Prince was the subject of it. Somehow his decision to pass on the "We Are The World" session became convoluted by an ugly encounter with an overzealous paparazzo and gossip mongers had a field day.
Downright defiant about his sensitivity to world hunger-the real issue at stake-Prince fired back for once. HELLO is one of the rare cases where he used his studio forum for personal commentary, directly answering those who second-guessed the effort and sincerity that had gone into 4 THE TEARS IN YOUR EYES.
All this time, the Purple Rain Tour was coming to a climax and Prince was finishing work on the much anticipated follow-up, AROUND THE WORLD IN A DAY. While revisionist history has cast the eccentric album as one of his least successful endeavors, the reality is that it sold in excess of three million units and spent three weeks as the No. 1 record in the country-no mean accomplishment, particularly since it shipped without a single to lead the way.
When RASPBERRY BERET became the first single, it zoomed to the Top Five. A wonderfully picturesque narrative, the song featured strings arranged by Lisa Coleman-reflective of the Revolution's increased involvement in Prince's recordings.
Obviously inspired by a close "friend", SHE'S ALWAYS IN MY HAIR was released as the flip side of RASPBERRY BERET. Recently revived for his 1993 tours, SHE'S ALWAYS IN MY HAIR is built on a classic guitar line-one that paralyzed the road crew that was toiling away in the warehouse as it was recorded. It probably didn't make the album because it wasn't a general enough statement. As we've seen before, the more personal a song the more likely it'll be relegated to the B-side of a single. (Since these singles are only on the market for a few months, is "disposable classic" an oxymoron? More importantly, is GIRL, another B-side from this era, about the same "friend"?)
Regardless of its success, AROUND THE WORLD IN A DAY did raise some eyebrows among those accustomed to the unabashed funk on previous records. Thankfully, the infectious POP LIFE, another Top Ten single, kept them at bay while the rest of the world explored the album.
Relieved of the pressure that comes with following a benchmark like PURPLE RAIN, the air around Prince's home base was getting decidedly lighter. Sure The Time had dissolved, but from the ashes grew The Family, a highly distinctive band built around the unlikely combination of two singers, a saxophonist, The Time's drummer, a funky rhythm guitarist and a comic foil. It was also built around terrific music, including NOTHING COMPARES 2 U.
The magnificent ballad didn't rate a single for the funk-driven Family but was simply too good to die away. When Sinead O'Connor took NOTHING COMPARES 2 U to the top of the charts in 1988, Prince was damn near obliged to perform it himself. Recorded during an invitation-only Paisley Park bash, this new interpretation features the delightful Rosie Gaines and the New Power Generation, while leaving no doubt whose song it is.
The Family broke up much too soon and their album was sadly overlooked in the scheme of things, but it's said that everything happens for a reason. In this case, the reason turned into Prince and the "Counterrevolution" as his band unexpectedly doubled in size to accommodate Family members Miko Weaver (the guitarist), Eric Leeds (the saxophonist) and Jerome Benton (the foil), along with two dancers and a trumpeter. While some of the newcomers made fleeting appearances on the PARADE album, they didn't officially join the group until afterward.
KISS, PARADE's biggest hit, was born as a half-baked demo for Mazarati, a band David Z and revolution bassist Brown Mark were producing for Paisley Park Records. Whatever was on that tape, it didn't make much sense to Mazarati.
David Z recalls, "It was just voice and acoustic guitar-maybe half of a verse and a chorus. The tape couldn't have been more than two minutes long. There wasn't even any real indication of a groove yet. Just the raw idea. We started a rhythm track and put on some background vocals, but we never got around to finishing it. It was just too weird a song."
Once Prince was able to gauge Mazarati's lack of interest in KISS, he simply reclaimed it and finished it. Interestingly, Prince also thought the song strange and temporarily shelved it. It was actually included in PARADE as an afterthought and I'm not sure that Prince was ever fully convinced that it worked on that album. Every time he plays it on tour, he changes the arrangement. I don't think he's ever performed it like it is on the record. Oh, by the way, KISS was also Prince's third No. 1 single.
With the world wide Parade Tour under his belt and an even newer band for inspiration, 1986 proved to be Prince's most prolific ever. Able to assemble a seemingly unending stream of quality material, he toyed with a variety of concepts and sequences. Album ideas such as THE DREAM FACTORY and CRYSTAL BALL came and went before he settled on a three-record package called SIGN 'O' THE TIMES. Whittled to two discs before it was released, its outtakes were even momentarily considered as a single record under the name CAMILLE.
Understandably, in all the confusion something was bound to fall between the cracks. Intended for THE DREAM FACTORY, POWER FANTASTIC is just about as eponymously titled a song as there could be. At one of the first session in Prince's sprawling new house, separation earned a whole new meaning when Lisa Coleman found herself playing the grand piano in the upstairs living room while the rest of the band huddled in the crowded basement studio. Connected only by mics and ear phones, The Revolution still managed to pull off the exquisite song in a single take-even the jazzy intro that Prince suggested just as tape was ready to roll.
POWER FANTASTIC also serves to introduce the newest dimension in Prince's music-the only instrument that he couldn't play himself-horns. Having worked together since music school, Eric Leeds and Atlanta Bliss's intonations seemed to merge into a single bionic instrument when they played their tightly voiced parts. Here, thought, it's not their spitfire riffs but free-form flute and muted trumpet that set the airy, bass-free mood.
The song also happens to be one of the widest bootlegged of Prince's unissued masters. Ambivalence about bootlegs aside, any artist would be pleased to improve their uneven sonic quality. In this case we can also set the record straight on the sexy trumpet work which has often been miscredited to the late Miles Davis-that alone, Atlanta's best compliment.
Released in April 1987, SIGN 'O' THE TIMES was previewed two months earlier by the single of the same name. Written, recorded and mixed in a single day, I'd love to know the date so I could look up the newspapers to see what inspired it.
One of the most captivating, not to mention unorthodox concert intros ever, SIGN 'O' THE TIMES was performed nightly on the highly conceptual world tour that hit the road in May. Almost eerie on stage, it wasn't exactly a safe choice for a single either. But the music world seemed fascinated by the rare glimpse into the Prince politic and it raced up the charts.
Conversely, what first appeared to be a more logical choice for a single, the musically accessible IF I WAS YOUR GIRLFRIEND, backfired and threatened the momentum of what for some was Prince's most satisfying album yet. Was it backslash? Some claimed too much product for the market to absorb. Regardless, superficial listeners completely misunderstood what the record was about. (The B-side, SHOCKADELICA, hails from the aborted Camille sessions and is best explained as Prince's way of suggesting to a dear friend that every album with a great title should contain a song by the same name.)
It took a concentrated promotional effort, fabulous tour reviews and, most importantly, a sensational song the get the project back on track. U GOT THE LOOK was conceived as a private test for a Prince companion whose taste was usually determined by how familiar a record was. Curious to see if she'd take to a commercial sounding song before it became well known, Prince labored for hours over the structure and tempo of U GOT THE LOOK. Finally reworking the vocals as a duet with Sheena Easton, he produced as mainstream a record as any in his career. I suspect the friend still didn't like it until the rest of the world showed its approval. (Dares must have been in the air when Easton was around because their other collaboration, LA, LA, LA, HE, HE, HEE, resulted from Prince being asked to prove he could indeed get a full song out of those simple syllables.)
ADORE received an awful lot of radio play without ever becoming a single-hardly surprising for a song that was inspired by the sexy Patti LaBelle and Luther Vandross albums Prince was into at that time. For Eric Leeds the song provokes less romantic memories. On call around the clock during several months of marathon recording, Eric and Atlanta Bliss would get summoned to sessions at the oddest hours, usually without any advance notice.
Eric recalls, "Prince was in L.A. and it was Thanksgiving week so we figured it was as good a time as any to finally move our belongings from Atlanta to Minneapolis. I was in the middle of packing up the house when the call came. We took an early morning flight to L.A. and drove right to the studio where we put horns on ADORE and several other songs. Then we packed up, ran into Canter's for sandwiches and ate them on the red-eye back to Atlanta. Next to that, the moving was light action."
The final single from SIGN 'O' THE TIMES, I COULD NEVER TAKE THE PLACE OF YOUR MAN, didn't hit the streets until after the tour had ended, been filmed , edited and released to theatres in what critics universally hailed as one of the most exciting concert movies of all time.
On September 11, 1987, Paisley Park, Prince's new state-of-the-art studio complex turned on the lights. Not unexpectedly, those first through the doors found him already working away. Long thought of as a workaholic, in reality Prince has seldom behaved as if recording was a job. It was simply what he did-day in and day out. Music poured out of him without any rhyme or reason, heedless of clocks, calendars or environments. But this time there was something different about his approach. Moody and hasty, for the first time he appeared truly obsessed, as if he had something to prove.
The earlier material on the stillborn BLACK ALBUM had been recorded as well-intentioned party music but the project gradually took on a darker edge. There isn't much point in belaboring on oft-told story. Suffice it to say, without the BLACK ALBUM-inspired epiphany, there wouldn't have been LOVESEXY.
What exactly happened doesn't matter, but when work continued the cloud over the studio lifted. Written, recorded and released in just over four months, LOVESEXY was undoubtedly Prince's most spiritual album. ALPHABET ST. was the first taste of his new medicine. An easy dose to swallow, it was like Flintstones vitamins, an aural cartoon.
As much a group effort as anything Prince had ever done, LOVESEXY showcased several members of the current band, including the aforementioned Paisley Park Horns, singer Boni Boyer and the multi-talented Sheila E. Somehow they were all infected with the same spirit that was driving Prince, but I suppose it would be unfair not to mention that more than a few fans were confused by some of the album's more obtuse references. But, in the language of LOVESEXY, to slam was unquestionably glam. ESCAPE, the bottom-heavy extension of "Glam Slam," was previously only available on a single. SCARLETT PUSSY merely proves that, like George Clinton's nemesis, Sir Nose, Prince's Camille survived to live another day.
Prince take a year off between records? What, and leave us with less music to talk about? Seriously, that was the plan in 1989 after the draining event LOVESEXY. That is, until the caped crusader landed at Paisley Park. Enter Batman.
An outtake from Prince's wonderfully quirky BATMAN soundtrack album, 200 BALLOONS was actually the prototype to "Batdance", which began as a sample-laden remix. Confused? Why not-200 BALLOONS sounds as much like it came from "Batdance" as vice versa. Ask Bruce Wayne.
That graphic I LOVE U IN ME had the distinction of being a B-side twice-first in 1989 and again two years later. Ask Bruce Wayne.
1990 brought about the ambitious GRAFFITI BRIDGE. (THIEVES IN THE TEMPLE was the last song written for the project and arguably its best.) Musically, though, it turned out to be a transitional year for Prince.
He and his band, recently dubbed the New Power Generation, embarked on the Nude Tour, a pared down but effective presentation of his greatest hits. During the tour, live drums became for Prince's music what LOVESEXY had earlier been for his soul-a revelation.
By tour's end, Prince had completely lost interest in the technology required to devise "contemporary beats." Intriguingly, he rediscovered his taste for acoustic rhythms at a time when most successful producers were doing their best to utilize the very electronics he'd grown weary of. Truthfully, Prince had never looked upon any of his instruments as more than tools of the trade.
Susan Rogers claims, "He'd record with a comb and jug if that's al that was in front of him."
Impatient to experiment with his distinctive new hybrid of traditional instruments, layered voices and samples, it didn't take Prince long to come up with an album's worth of songs that sounds unlike anything on the radio.
Meanwhile, he was again under pressure to let more time elapse between his albums. Of course, to Prince, time is one thing music doesn't have. It is, by and large, written and performed for the moment and, like a newspaper, should be available while it's relevant. Stand off? No way. It's amazing what a hit song can do to turn off all bets.
Let's just say that somehow a strangely packaged record mysteriously ended up at clubs and radio stations on the morning of Prince's birthday, June 7. 1991. Among the rarest of Prince collectibles, it's been said that fewer than 1.500 copies exist of the primitive pressing that arrived in a white jacket with purple scribble on it.
To say curiosities were piqued is an understatement. Warner didn't know what it was. Neither did Paisley park. They all learned soon enough though, when GETT OFF turned into the monster jam of the summer. The single had to be rush-released through ordinary channels and before you could say DIAMONDS AND PEARLS, a new Prince album was in the stores.
Reputedly written while standing in front of a mirror, the next release, CREAM, falls into that highly exclusive category of classic singles. As with WHEN DOVES CRY or LITTLE RED CORVETTE, one listen and you knew you were going to hear it everywhere you went.
Turning away from the mirror, Prince wrote the catchy title song as a duet for himself and Rosie Gaines and immediately vowed never to perform it with anyone else-that being the downside of her forthcoming solo career. Likening her to Ella Fitzgerald, Prince obviously considers Rosie one of the greatest singers alive. I just hope she stays close so we can hear DIAMONDS AND PEARLS again.
The album and subsequent tour firmly established the N.P.G. as a powerful entity unto themselves. They were even more broadly featured on Prince's final project, .
Once again unexpectedly early, the 1992 birthday surprise was a gold vinyl pressing of a funky tune called SEXY M.F.. As if he'd taken every idea to its extreme, this recording persuaded Prince to swear off computers and completely revert to the comfort of a live band. All I know is, just before he announced his exit from studio life altogether, I saw a huge pile of electronic gear outside the control room with a "For Sale" sign on it.
After recording the background vocals for 7, Jevetta Steel asked Prince what the song meant. He only smiled. Maybe some answers don't have words, but if 2gether we can love thru all space and time, does it really matter?
It's been an amazingly productive career. Fourteen albums and tons of other recordings, authorized and otherwise-some were trinkets for die-hard fans, and others incredibly profound. Inescapably, there were songs that were indulgent to the Prince "persona," but more than merely changing with the times, Prince raced with the times and usually won.
Who was this masked man and why is he going away? In fact, is he going away? While the recent headlines proclaim Prince's retirement, I prefer to believe that this enigmatic genius has instead retired "Prince." Maybe historians will end up treating these years like pre-Strayhorn Ellington or pre-electric Miles. Ultimately, the name on the music matters not. What matters is this could be the beginning of a new phase in a fascinating life and our wildest imaginations couldn't conjure up what a collection like this might contain in another 15 years.
-Alan Leeds, 1993
ALAN LEEDS WORKED AS PRINCE'S TOUR MANAGER AND VICE PRESIDENT AT PAISLEY PARK RECORDS FROM 1982 TO 1992. HE WON A GRAMMY AWARD IN 1991 FOR HIS LINER NOTES TO JAMES BROWN'S STARTIME.
The Name's Apollonia, Apollonia James
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Ok... so whats the point of this post ? Surely most P fans have read this already.....
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