Prince Track by Track: “Xogenous”

Prince Track by Track: “Xogenous”

(Featured Image: Back cover for Xpectation, 2003; © NPG Records.)

First, for any readers waiting for the next real post, a quick update: I have begun to slip into my customary holiday-season (/fitfully year-round) sloth, but I expect to have finished my next piece, covering Prince’s adventures with the Time on the Controversy tour, before Thanksgiving. In the meantime, here’s a consolation prize in the form of me and Prince: Track by Track host Darren Husted talking about one of Prince’s smooth jazz tracks for 18 minutes:

Prince Track by Track: “Xogenous”

I regretfully will not be back on Track by Track to discuss Prince’s next smooth jazz album, but just yesterday we recorded three episodes with songs from MusicologyThe Chocolate Invasion, and The Slaughterhouse, so you can look forward to those by the end of the year!

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Review: Prince – Before the Rain

Review: Prince – Before the Rain

(Featured Image: Cover art for Prince: Before the Rain by Allen Beaulieu, from Amazon.)

I have, I’ll admit, been lax in covering the Prince photo books released since I launched this blog in mid-2016. This is no reflection on their quality: I’ve heard nothing but good things about Steve Parke’s Picturing Prince: An Intimate Portrait, and I was lucky enough to receive Afshin Shahidi’s (very good) Prince: A Private View for Christmas last year. But while I am no more immune to Prince’s visual appeal than the next heterosexual man, up until now I’ve put my focus on covering new music and books that are directly related to my research. I’m making an exception, however, for Allen Beaulieu’s Prince: Before the Rain.

If you’ve been reading this blog, it should come as no surprise that I am a huge fan of Allen Beaulieu’s work. Beaulieu’s iconic photographs for Dirty MindControversy, and (especially) 1999 were almost as important as the music in shaping my relationship with Prince as an artist, and they remain among the images I associate with him most. So, when Parke’s book came out in 2017, I’ll admit that my first thought was, “When is Beaulieu’s coming out?” And when Before the Rain was finally announced early this year, I preordered it on sight.

Given my predilection for Beaulieu’s photos, it should come as no surprise that I found his book to be entirely worth the wait. Before the Rain includes a wealth of shots from the photographer’s most stunning sessions with Prince: including the album cover photos mentioned above, as well as images originally printed on tour merchandise or in magazines. If there’s a picture of Prince that you love dating from between 1980 and 1983, the chances are very good that it’s in here. But there are also plenty of shots you probably haven’t seen, most of which are equally incredible–and many of which capture a more intimate side of the artist that the previously-released photos only hinted at.

Among the less familiar shots are dozens from the Dirty MindControversy, and 1999 tours, capturing Prince, the band, and opening acts the Time and Vanity 6 both onstage and off. Beaulieu was less confident and skilled as a candid photographer than he was in a more controlled environment, and the comparative quality of the tour photos bears out his self-assessment as a “studio cat.” But what these images lack in polish, they make up for with sheer magnetism; it’s a thrill to see Prince in these formative years, relaxed and often in a playful mood with people like his bandmates, Vanity, and the Time’s Morris Day.

Also worth the price of admission are the book’s surprisingly meaty written sections, which include historical passages by Minneapolis-based journalist Jim Walsh, as well as album reviews by Eloy Lasanta, a.k.a. YouTube personality Prince’s Friend. These sections aren’t completely without flaw: there are a few niggling factual errors–most notably a couple of shots from Prince’s October 5, 1981 date at Sam’s, which are mislabeled as coming from his March 9 date; and one perplexing case where a 1986 photo of the Revolution credits his early ’90s band, the New Power Generation. But the stories in Before the Rain transcend these relatively minor faults, shedding valuable light on the creation of many of Beaulieu’s most enduring images and sharing personal stories about a formative period in Prince’s career.

Again, it should come as no surprise that I loved Before the Rain: more than any other photo book to date, it sits directly in my wheelhouse. But I also can’t imagine it failing to impress anyone currently reading this blog. For fans of Prince, particularly his pre-Purple Rain work, this is as essential a purchase as any of the other books I’ve recommended to date. And if Beaulieu happens to have any material left for a sequel, I’ll be the first in line to buy a copy.

You can provide some modest support to dance / music / sex / romance by using my Amazon affiliate link to purchase Prince: Before the Rain (or anything else in the encroaching holiday season).

Roundup: Ephemera, 1979-1981

Roundup: Ephemera, 1979-1981

(Featured Image: How have I not used this one already?! 1979 publicity photo; © Warner Bros., stolen from Lansure’s Music Paraphernalia.)

I know I always begin these roundup posts with a reference to the obscene length of time since the last one, but this time I’m drawing attention to chronology for an entirely different reason. I wrote the first post in this roundup in April of 2017; the last one went up a week ago today. That year-and-a-half-long gap speaks to my abysmal writing pace, sure–but it also speaks to the sheer scope of non-album music Prince produced between 1979 and 1981.

When I originally decided to lump together these three years, I was concerned that I was casting too wide a net; but I think the posts collected here ended up telling an interesting story. From the recording of Prince in spring ’79 to the release of Controversy in fall ’81, Prince underwent a transformation–one that can’t entirely be explained by the album, Dirty Mind, that falls in-between. These posts trace the steps of that transformation: from reluctant R&B heartthrob to full-blown Black New Waver. It’s a fascinating journey to say the least. So, with no further ado, here’s how I rank the steps along the way:

13. “Everybody Dance” No surprise here: I said in my original post that “Everybody Dance” is barely a song. But it was a great excuse to write about his legendary debut performance at Sam’s (a.k.a. First Avenue), so I can’t begrudge it too much.

12. “The Loser” The dirty secret about the Rebels “album” is that, for all its importance to Prince’s artistic development, it really isn’t very good. The Gayle Chapman-sung “The Loser” isn’t even my least favorite track; that dubious honor goes to the instrumentals, or if those don’t count, the original version of “If I Love U 2 Nite” (sorry, Gayle, not your fault). But it is my least favorite of the tracks I’ve written about: by no means terrible, but thoroughly unremarkable, except perhaps as an early example of Prince flexing his songwriting muscles by experimenting in unexpected genres.

11. “Kiss Me Quick” This one, which I actually hadn’t heard until soon before I wrote about it, is also a mostly unremarkable genre exercise; but I give it the nod over “The Loser” because the specific genre (disco) happens to be one I think Prince was extremely good at. I can see why this was never properly released, but I also could have seen it ending up as an album track on Prince and being more than passable.

10. “Hard to Get” Another frankly mediocre Rebels track, but one I prefer to “The Loser” if only because my own personal biases lean more toward Stones-esque cock-rock than mild Bonnie Raitt pastiche. If there was a complete recording circulating of the ice-cold 1981 New Wave version, it would have been ranked higher… so, uh, what’s the hold-up, Sony and/or bootleggers?

9. “Broken” A very fun song in Prince’s subcanon of rockabilly/early R&B pastiches, but one that was easily replaced by “Jack U Off,” which was easily replaced by “Delirious,” etc. It isn’t necessarily a song that I reach for, but it’s a nice little bit of ephemera from the Dirty Mind tour.

8. “I Don’t Wanna Stop” This one is ranked as high as it is strictly because of potential: I like the version by Ren Woods enough to know that Prince’s version would surely be better. Maybe someday we’ll finally be able to hear it (ahem, Sony).

7. “Strange Way of Saying I Love You” Is this one too low? Yeah, maybe; it is kind of an earworm, especially now that the version in circulation doesn’t sound like it was recorded from a boom box outside a gymnasium where the song was being played. But I think we’ve officially reached the point in the list where my ranking is more arbitrary than usual.

6. “Rough” Is this one too high? Yeah, maybe; but I’m a sucker for the kinds of songs Prince wrote for the Time, as well as any moment when his Cars influence starts to peek through (listen to the synth bass on “Good Times Roll” at 1:05 and just try to tell me it doesn’t sound like “Rough”). That, and this post about Alexander O’Neal’s brief stint as a Prince protégé was just hella fun to write.

5. “She’s Just a Baby” One of Prince’s more conventional R&B ballads from this era, I’m even more fond of it now that I’ve formulated my theory that it was originally penned for the Time (but if that’s the case, why, oh why did he decide to use fucking “Girl”?!). Besides, whose heart doesn’t skip a beat or two thinking about a young (but not too young!) Susan Moonsie?

4. “The Second Coming” Yes, it’s only about a minute’s worth of multi-tracked a cappella Prince harmonies. But, counterpoint: it’s a whole minute’s worth of multi-tracked a cappella Prince harmonies. I’ve written before about the rapturous qualities of Prince’s falsetto; if that’s your type of thing, then “The Second Coming” might just be your own personal Rapture.

3. “You” Probably the one Rebels song that actually lives up to the hype, and definitely the only one ever covered by Paula Abdul. Coincidence? Probably.

2. “Lisa” An early glimpse of Prince’s synthpop phase dating from mid-1980, it wouldn’t have fit on the guitar-centric Dirty Mind, but boy is it a slapper. Bonus: if you can, try and track down the 1982 rehearsal version that recently entered circulation, with Prince vamping over clavinet-style synthesizer and his Linn LM-1 for damn near 45 minutes. It’s excessive, sure, but it just shows how hypnotic and tensile a groove this is.

1. “Gotta Stop (Messin’ About)” I am an outspoken stan of New Wave Prince, so it should be no surprise that I highly rate this NWP gem from 1980. Imagine if Devo were sexual beings, or if the Knack weren’t total sleazeballs; then imagine either one of them with about 9,000% more soul. One of Prince’s underrated talents in the early ’80s was his ability to highlight the sexual tension in New Wave’s stiff, nervous grooves; this, one of my favorite B-sides/non-LP singles in his discography, is a shining example of that talent.

Since it’s only been a couple of weeks since my Controversy roundup, I don’t see much point in updating the tag clouds; there’s also nothing new to add to the Spotify playlist, since all but one of these tracks is not currently available for (legal) streaming. So I’ll just say that, while this week was largely occupied with what I hope to be an exciting upcoming project, I’ll be back next week to kick off 1982. See you then!

The Second Coming

The Second Coming

(Featured Image: Prince and friends, played by Susan Moonsie and Kim Upsher, emerge from the mist in Chuck Statler’s unfinished The Second Coming film, 1982.)

Controversy was released on October 14, 1981, days after Prince’s disastrous experience opening for the Rolling Stones in Los Angeles. The album outperformed both the previous year’s Dirty Mind and (narrowly) 1979’s Prince, reaching Number 21 on the Billboard 200 and Number 3 on the Top R&B Albums chart. A little over a month later, on November 20, the Controversy tour launched at Pittsburgh’s Stanley Theatre with opening act the Time.

After this time spent licking his wounds (and, more importantly, rehearsing), Prince returned with his most grandiose show to date. The tour-opener in Pittsburgh kicked off with the brazen call to arms “Sexuality”–complete with a full recital of the “tourists” speech–before hitting the audience with a turbo-charged version of “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?” “Jack U Off” flourished in front of the sympathetic, largely female crowd, earning squeals rather than jeers; it was followed by the similarly crowd-pleasing “When You Were Mine” and “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” both with glistening new synthpop arrangements. From there the band launched directly into a surgical rendition of “Head”–by then such a live staple that the audience got to take a solo on the chorus. Shifting gears from that song’s masturbatory climax, a punkish “Annie Christian” followed, enlivened by Dez Dickerson’s guitar solos; then it was back to the crowd-pleasers with “Dirty Mind.” Despite being only five weeks old, “Do Me, Baby” had already earned its place as a concert setpiece–a designation helped, no doubt, by Prince’s onstage striptease. Closing out the setlist proper was a rousing rendition of “Let’s Work,” followed by a hat-trick of encores in “Controversy,” “Uptown,” and “Partyup.”

Continue reading “The Second Coming”

Prince Track by Track: “Pearls B4 the Swine”

Prince Track by Track: “Pearls B4 the Swine”

(Featured Image: 15th century woodcarving depicting the “pearls before swine” quotation from Matthew 7:6.)

Amidst all of the excitement of actual d / m / s / r content last week, I also quietly made another guest appearance on Darren Husted’s Prince: Track by Track podcast (“quietly” in the sense that I didn’t promote it on the blog, not in the sense that I didn’t talk–we definitely talked for over 20 minutes). If you got through my three-hour podcast on Prince’s second album and somehow still aren’t sick of the sound of my voice, you can subject yourself to it here:

Prince Track by Track: “Pearls B4 the Swine”

I’ll be back later this week with another, mercifully audio-free post. See you soon!