Of the home demos currently in circulation from mid-to-late 1978, some are more “demo”-quality than others. Today’s is one of those tracks: “Down a Long Lonely Road,” a light sketch of a song with a not-inconsiderable gospel influence. To be honest, I don’t have much to say about it. It feels like it was recorded just to get a stray melody on tape, or even as a test to hone Prince’s abilities at layering vocals; like the much more fleshed-out “For You,” it’s an a cappella recording, with Prince harmonizing across multiple tracks. The whole “song” consists of just two lines, repeated ad infinitum: “Down a long, lonely road, I’ve been cryin’ / Lookin’ for someone to care.”
For fans, the appeal of this demo is in its intimacy: it’s a rare (if low-fidelity) opportunity to hear Prince’s ever-strengthening vocals in isolation, without the baroque studio frippery of the aforementioned “For You.” It’s also, as mentioned above, a strong early indication of the influence of gospel music on his songwriting and performance style. It’s a well-known aspect of Prince’s “origin story” that he was raised in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, from which he’d later say the “experience of the choir” was the only thing he took with him (VH1 1997). On “Down a Long Lonely Road,” he makes himself the choir, or at least a vocal group; were it not for the unusual delicacy of his singing voice, it would sound for all the world like some old Folkways recording of a long-forgotten Black church group from the 1940s.
It’s unclear–but doubtful–if “Down a Long Lonely Road” was ever intended for completion, either by Prince himself or a side project. More likely, it was something he recorded in the moment and filed away: part of what must be interminable hours of musical detritus from a man who, lest we forget, spent most of his waking life in the studio. That we’re able to hear it now is an interesting bit of happenstance: this is one of the tapes that just happened to leak to collectors, so now it’s under the microscope. Next time, we’ll pick up with another such recording–but with guitar!