Ephemera, 1977-1978

Down a Long Lonely Road

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!


After 4Ever: Why We’re Still Waiting for a Definitive Prince Compilation

I know I wrote a lot about “Moonbeam Levels” earlier this week, but it turns out I had a lot more to say about Prince 4Ever (you’ve probably noticed, I always have a lot to say). So here’s a rundown of Prince’s compilations from 1993 to 2016, what each gets right, and why even now, we still need a truly definitive set. Check it out at Andresmusictalk below:

After 4Ever: Why We’re Still Waiting for a Definitive Prince Compilation

Next week, it’s back to the post-For You grind with a couple of light, but pleasant outtakes from mid-1978. See you then!

Ephemera, 1981-1982

Moonbeam Levels

Note: This post was written “out of sequence” to commemorate the first official release of “Moonbeam Levels” on 2016’s Prince 4Ever compilation; it has since been superseded by an “official” blog post written once I had reached the song in my chronology. I’m leaving the original post here for historical interest.

This Monday, November 21, marked the seven-month “anniversary” of Prince’s untimely passing. A day later, we got the first officially-sanctioned posthumous release of his music: Prince 4Ever, a two-disc (or, for those like me living firmly in the digital era, 40-track) compilation spanning the 15 years from the release of his 1978 debut album to his acrimonious 1993 falling-out with Warner Bros. Records. Most of 4Ever is, quite frankly, not for People Like Us: the majority of its track listing overlaps with previous compilations UltimateThe Very Best of Prince, and The Hits/The B-Sides–still the O.G., as far as I’m concerned–and more often than not the versions included are the vastly inferior single edits. There are a few previously uncompiled mixes (most notably a blessedly rap-free “Alphabet St.”), as well as some deeper cuts: “Glam Slam” from 1988’s Lovesexy makes its first appearance on CD as an individually-sequenced track, and the 1989 movie tie-in “Batdance” is collected for the first time since its initial release. I also appreciate the sprinkling of fan-favorite songs, like the (amazing) 1981 U.K.-only release “Gotta Stop (Messin’ About)” and the (even more amazing) 1986 single “Mountains.” In general, though, if you’re reading this blog, there is nothing here you haven’t heard before–with one possible exception. I’m talking, of course, about “Moonbeam Levels.”

Recorded toward the end of the 1999 sessions in July of 1982, “Moonbeam Levels” has been circulating since the mid-to-late 1980s, when it was initially mislabeled as “A Better Place 2 Die.” It’s acquired a reputation in the ensuing decades as one of the best, and best-known, outtakes in Prince’s voluminous catalogue. In 2013, the song even received a few noteworthy public performances: first by Elvis Costello with Princess (a.k.a. Maya Rudolph and Gretchen Lieberum) at a Carnegie Hall tribute to Prince, and later by the man himself, as part of a piano medley supporting protégée Shelby J at the City Winery in New York. Now, you know I have all kinds of opinions about Prince outtakes, but I’m not even gonna front: “Moonbeam Levels” was a great choice for the first officially-released “bootleg” to see the light of day after Prince’s death. So, now that it’s finally seen a legitimate release, I think it’s more than appropriate for us to put our usual chronological content on hold and take a closer look at the song.

Ephemera, 1977-1978

Just Another Sucker

Even as he continued to record for himself and his prospective protégés, Prince also managed to lend the occasional hand on sessions for other local artists. He’d helped raise money for his 1976 demo tape by contributing guitar and backing vocals to the Lewis Connection’s “Got to Be Something Here” (later released on their self-titled album in 1979), and had also played and sung on “10:15” and “Fortune Teller”–featuring a young Colonel Abrams on lead vocals!–by his cousin and mentor Pepé Willie’s band 94 East. The latter had been intended for release as the group’s first single, but a change in management at Polydor Records resulted in 94 East being dropped in mid-1978. Pepé and singers Marcy Involdstad and Kristie Lazenberry were understandably upset; but Prince, Willie later claimed to Minnesota Public Radio’s the Current, “was more upset than anybody.” With the help of André Anderson–another beneficiary of Willie’s tutelage, from his time in Grand Central–he resolved to “go back in the studio and record more songs with Pepé” (Renzetti 2016).

The resulting sessions took place at Sound 80, with Willie on percussion and keyboards, André on bass, and Prince, as was his wont, on everything else. Two of the three tracks recorded, “Dance to the Music of the World” and “Lovin’ Cup,” received no formal songwriting input from Prince–though the former, an instrumental, does feature some fiery synthesizer and guitar licks by the 20-year-old virtuoso. It’s the third track, however, that’s the real gem: “Just Another Sucker,” the only song in either the 94 East or Prince catalogue to bear a “Willie/Prince” songwriting credit.

Ephemera, 1977-1978

Wouldn’t You Love to Love Me?

Man, where did last month go? I’ve been meaning to post for a while now, but haven’t been able to make time between my various other projects (including, like, my actual job). I’m back, though, just in time to talk about one of Prince’s most significant early compositions: a cyclically-titled little number called “Wouldn’t You Love to Love Me?”

Actually, “Wouldn’t You Love to Love Me?” has been a long time coming for this blog in more ways than one. Some readers may have already noted its absence from my writeup of Prince’s earliest home recordings in 1976, where it made its technical debut alongside early sketches like “I Spend My Time Loving You.” But I wanted to save my discussion of the song for later, because its transformation from that primitive early demo to a much more polished second version in 1978 is in many ways emblematic of Prince’s artistic development in those two short years.