Ephemera, 1977-1978


Prince’s lyrics are typical of his early songwriting, quivering with nerves and lust in the face of a vaguely-defined object of desire.

Well, it’s the first post of the new year, and once again I’m not as far along as I’d hoped to be; there are still a few loose ends from 1978 to tie up before we move on to the next “chapter.” But those loose ends are at least more substantial than the ones we covered last month, so hopefully they’ll be worth the wait. Today’s post, for example, is about “Nadira”: a song that feels in many ways like a more fully-realized version of last month’s “Donna”–right down to its namesake, an actual person this time rather than a fictional construct.

Prince’s cousin and former Grand Central drummer Charles Smith described the real-life Nadira as “a girlfriend, a real important one. Right after the first album came out, he started having her around” (Nilsen 1999 43-44). Along with high school sweetheart (and future Purple Rain extra) Kim Upsher, she’s one of the earliest known figures in Prince’s notorious revolving door of female companions and muses. But that’s just about all we know about her–and the song she inspired doesn’t offer many more clues.

Prince’s lyrics are typical of his early songwriting, quivering with nerves and lust in the face of a vaguely-defined object of desire: “When I first looked into your eyes / That’s when I knew that I wanted you” (see also: “Ever since I met you, baby, I’ve been wanting to lay you down,” from “In Love”; “I took one look at you / And all the things that we could do / Dance within my head,” from “I’m Yours”). And, like many of his 1978 demos, the song doesn’t exactly overstay its welcome. Clocking in at under two minutes, it’s just a single, short verse and an equally brief chorus: “Oh, Nadira / Now that you know I love you, baby, what are you gonna do?”

Prince by Robert Whitman, 1977

None of which to say is that “Nadira” is a bad song–it isn’t. The delicate melody and breathy performance remind me a bit of “With You” from 1979’s Prince, but I actually prefer the brevity and intimacy of the outtake. As always, it’s a rare pleasure to hear Prince’s still-developing voice with nothing but an acoustic guitar to accompany it: the wordless, falsetto vocalizations with which he both begins and ends the track are goosebump-worthy. Indeed, nonspecific lyrics aside, there’s something almost voyeuristic about listening to this track. It sounds private, more like a ditty he improvised to serenade a lover than something he was seriously considering for his next album. But then, Prince always had a knack for simulating intimacy; and as personal as “Nadira” sounds, it’s also not much more revealing than his songs about imaginary women.

But we can’t talk about the real Nadira without mentioning another odd footnote in the Prince canon, circulated on bootlegs as the “K-FUNK Interview.” Most likely recorded as practice for a real radio interview, it’s just a few minutes of Prince and Nadira goofing around (and, from the sounds of it, making out on-mic) in his France Avenue home studio. Prince begins the “interview” by mocking Nadira’s speaking voice, claims he got the idea for “Soft and Wet” from touching his mother’s “cold corpse,” then adopts a series of accents and questions Nadira instead. Toward the end, he strums an acoustic guitar while Nadira gives a tongue-in-cheek patriotic speech. You might justifiably ask how this was meant to prepare him for an actual interview, but let’s recall that around the same time, according to Warner Bros. head of publicity Bob Merlis, he interrupted a woman journalist to inquire if her pubic hair went up to her navel; so maybe this really was Prince’s idea of P.R. training.

Next time, we (finally!) get to close the door on 1978, with what just might be Prince’s most accomplished demo from the era. Then, it’s on to 1979. Here’s to what will hopefully be a fun and productive year of dance / music / sex / romance!

(This story, it seems, has a conclusion that we weren’t aware of. An old notebook formerly belonging to Prince is currently up for auction, containing doodles, lyrics and song titles, notes on the terms of his Warner Bros. contract–and a breakup note from Nadira. I’ve included the note below for posterity, and also corrected the spelling of her name from the erroneous “Nadeara.” Earlier, I made a few small revisions after listening to the K-FUNK interview again–thanks to commenter betalogue for providing.)

From a notebook formerly belonging to Prince, circa 1979; photo stolen from RR Auction.

By Zach

Recovering academic. Music writing at Slant, Spectrum Culture, and elsewhere. Arguably best known as the author of Dance / Music / Sex / Romance, a song-by-song chronological blog about the music of Prince.

5 replies on “Nadira”

You’re welcome, Zach. I’ve now removed the file. If you don’t mind emailing me at webmaster (a), I can share things with you more privately.

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