Ephemera, 1983

Electric Intercourse

“Electric Intercourse” is a song in high standing among collectors; but until now, even the most dedicated had never heard the “official” studio version.

Note: This post was written “out of sequence” to commemorate the release of the studio version of “Electric Intercourse” on 2017’s deluxe expanded edition of Purple Rain; it has since been superseded by an “official” blog post written when I reached the song in my chronology. The original post is preserved here for historical interest.

It’s been a long five months since the release of 4Ever, the first posthumous compilation of Prince’s work, and “Moonbeam Levels,” the first “new” track to be officially released since his death last April. Many of us, I think, were expecting Paisley Park’s “Celebration,” a four-day event marking the first anniversary of his passing, to be the end of this drought. With the long-promised Purple Rain reissue looming in the future, the time felt ripe for some concrete information, if not an actual release.

In fact, we did get new music that week–but not from the Prince Estate, nor from the Purple Rain era. Instead, former engineer Ian Boxill surprise-released an EP of six previously unheard 2006 recordings–including the gorgeous, gospel-flavored “Deliverance”–implying that he had the Estate’s blessing to do so. As it turned out, he didn’t: within hours of the announcement, the Estate filed suit, and a United States District Court Judge granted a temporary restraining order to halt the sale of the EP. Meanwhile, the Celebration came and went with no official mention of the Purple Rain set. Even after a fan group leaked what turned out to be an accurate track list, both Warner Bros. and NPG Records remained mum–until the following Friday, that is, when the announcement we’d been expecting finally came through, along with the second “official” posthumous track, “Electric Intercourse.”

I recount all of this, in part, to note that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Prince may no longer be with us physically, but his spirit clearly lives on in the capricious, contested, and scattershot handling of his music. In a weird way, this is also the most relevant Prince has been to the contemporary recording industry in decades: a drama-filled album launch, botched in part by the vagaries of online music services, puts him in the rarefied (albeit, in this case, dubious) company of 21st century pop titans like Rihanna and Kanye West.

But all facetiousness aside, I also want to explain why I’m writing about “Electric Intercourse” right now, and not about “Deliverance.” It isn’t necessarily that I disapprove of the EP’s release: I’m glad Boxill leaked it, just as I’m glad that more anonymous sources have leaked the hundreds of other non-sanctioned songs I continue to enjoy. But I broke my chronology with “Moonbeam Levels” last fall because it was an official and easily accessible release; and, while “Deliverance” as of this writing is still available for purchase on the iTunes store, the legal grappling around its parent EP doesn’t give me much confidence for the future. Besides that, I remain skeptical of Boxill’s claims that the majority of the proceeds for the song/EP will go to Prince’s estate: I’m no lawyer, but I can’t think of many cases where an individual successfully paid royalties to a group in the process of pursuing legal action against him. So, basically, I’m treating “Deliverance” like a bootleg: I’ll write about it, of course, but not until I reach the proper point in the chronology–so, at my current pace, our grandchildren should be able to enjoy it, provided we all survive the impending Third World War.

Prince onstage at the legendary Minnesota Dance Theatre benefit concert, First Avenue, August 3, 1983; photo stolen from the Minnesota Dance Theatre Records Performing Arts Archives, University of Minnesota.

Of course, there’s another reason why I’m giving special treatment to “Electric Intercourse” over “Deliverance”: quite simply, I’ve been dying to hear this track for years. Like “Moonbeam Levels,” “Intercourse” is a song in high standing among bootleg collectors; but until now, even the most dedicated collectors had never heard the “official” studio version. The only circulating recordings came from live shows and rehearsals: most famously, the August 3, 1983 First Avenue date that introduced the Revolution and provided the basis for much of the Purple Rain album. It was documented that Prince worked further on the song the following month, at Sunset Sound in Los Angeles, but most assumed that it was simply a case of adding overdubs to the live recording, just as he did with “I Would Die 4 U,” “Baby I’m a Star,” and “Purple Rain” from the same concert. This turned out to be untrue: the newly-released “Intercourse” is in fact markedly different from the First Avenue take, and appears to have been created entirely in the studio. And these kinds of discoveries, almost 34 years after the original recording(s), are exactly what I live for as a Prince fan.

But before we talk about the “new” studio version, let’s talk about the older circulating take, and why it was held in such esteem. An intimate, piano-led ballad–believed to have been passed over in favor of the superficially similar “The Beautiful Ones”–it’s in many ways a perfect encapsulation of Prince’s Purple Rain-era sound, an exquisite blend of arena rock, soul, and light psychedelia. The lyrics are a simple statement of desire at the commencement of a one-night stand, but Prince’s performance is (appropriately) nothing short of electric: brimming over with longing and unfulfilled tension. “Feel some kind of love for you, don’t know your name,” he sings, punctuating the end of the line with a sudden keyboard throb. “This the kind of love it takes to want you and I’m not ashamed”–another throb, like a heart skipping a beat. By the end of the first verse, he’s imploring the listener to “undress” him (a familiar request from songs like “Automatic”); by the end of the second, he’s promising to “shock” us with his lips, a “Technicolor climax” already in reach “at [his] fingertips.” Prince is, of course, a virtuoso in songs of seduction, and this “Electric Intercourse” is one of his finest achievements: I’m pretty much entirely heterosexual, but if for some reason he’d ever wanted to have his way with me, this song would have made it hard to resist.

The “Deluxe Expanded Edition” of Purple Rain, releasing this June; © Warner Bros.

Indeed, the live take of “Electric Intercourse” is so deeply embedded in my brain that I’m still adjusting to the studio version. The arrangement is, of course, magnificent. Hearing that first Linn LM-1 beat over a cascading acoustic piano gave me chills; the song is every bit as lush and gorgeously baroque as you’d expect a Purple Rain studio outtake to be. But in exchange for that lushness, we lose out on the directness and intimacy of the live performance. Prince’s vocals at First Avenue were lusty and soulful, sung in his natural voice, but here he dons an affected, almost camp falsetto–not in itself a dealbreaker (see: “Do Me, Baby,” or even the first three-quarters of “The Beautiful Ones”), but lacking the (to use his phrase) “sexual current” of the live version. And the presence of the drum machine, while welcome on an aural level, detaches the song from the organic (/orgasmic) ebb and flow it has when Prince’s piano is keeping time. Don’t get me wrong: I adore this song in any incarnation, and I am infinitely glad to be able to hear it in such pristine quality. But I’m also a little disappointed, because the studio version of “Intercourse” feels staid–something I’d never have said of the First Avenue performance.

Such, however, is the risk of finally getting to hear things we’ve been wanting to hear for years: at some point, the reality will inevitably fall short of the ideal. There’s a case to be made that “Electric Intercourse” could never be as perfect as the one we’ve been imagining since, in some cases, 1983; the “real” version is the one that still doesn’t exist, that never could exist, because it never belonged on the album in the first place. If nothing else, its official release should put to rest any ongoing debates over whether it or “The Beautiful Ones” deserved its place in the Purple Rain album and film: while the former song is exquisite–and while Prince’s screams toward the end are suitably rapturous–I just can’t picture it reducing him to that quivering heap on the floor of the First Avenue stage (or Apollonia, for that matter, to that quivering heap in the audience) like the latter. And in the end, that realization is a good thing: after all these years, and a lot of more questionable decisions, here is a sterling example of Prince making the right choice. Even better: now we can finally judge for ourselves.

“Electric Intercourse (Studio Version)”
Electric Fetus / Spotify / TIDAL

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.

27 replies on “Electric Intercourse”

Sorry for this limited reply to a post packed with so much insight. The mundane world is not allowing time for the more meaningful.

You made me think about many things influencing experience when hearing various versions of a song.

As far as I know, that First Avenue show also saw Prince’s first performance of A Case of U. Do you have any thoughts re: this performance and other takes on the song? I’ve only heard two (this show and the performance on One Nite Alone), but I understand that he performed it throughout his career.

Also, perhaps a silly question, but do you suppose both songs (Electric Intercourse and The Beautiful Ones) could have been a part of the Purple Rain movie in a way that did each song justice? Probably my wishful imagining. And it doesn’t really matter, as Electric Intercourse found its adoring audience without a movie appearance.

Very interesting questions, Louise! I’d love to hear a better quality recording of the First Avenue performance of “A Case of You”; the version I’ve heard is gorgeous but obviously from a pretty high-generation source (sounds warped, etc.) I’m really hoping the rumors are true and they’re cleaning up the video of that performance (preferably with included audio), because it’s both historically significant and musically amazing. I’ll need to give the One Nite Alone version another listen, too–I have only the foggiest recollections of that album, probably only listened to it once or twice.

Re: “Electric Intercourse,” I could see it playing during the sex scene–though the “God” instrumental worked so well for that, both because of the whole spiritual/sexual thing and because it sounds pretty convincingly like softcore porn music (sorry Prince). Honestly, I think it would have made an amazing B-side, which just goes to show how incredible his output was at the time: there were too many great songs even to put out as B-sides.

Ah….I’m with you about the poetry, energy and fluidity of the live version. Just love it. Which doesn’t make the studio version lesser or bad–just different. I’ll enjoy that one also and I think it’s great to see such things emerge–not only new music, but new information about what was happening at different times in Prince’s life (such as what’s in Mayte’s book)–all of which break up the orthodox versions of “the way things were” and stimulate new insights. In an odd sort of way, it’s a amazing time to be a Prince fan right now.

Zach, one line in your excellent post made me laugh out loud: “I’m pretty much entirely heterosexual, but if for some reason he’d ever wanted to have his way with me, this song would have made it hard to resist.” Few things are more charming than a straight guy going out there on a limb and contemplating giving it up to Prince. Gold star for you!

Haha, glad you enjoyed that–I think more straight male fans should try opening themselves to the possibility of being seduced by Prince; it’s such a huge part of his artistry and appeal, you’re missing out if you don’t allow yourself to occupy that position.

Re: the new releases (of music and information), I absolutely agree. Of course I wish the circumstances were different–and I do think he was experiencing a kind of artistic rebirth in his final years, which makes his passing that much more difficult. But this is the stuff I’ve been waiting on for a good 10 years now: the fact that I can actually hear “Electric Intercourse”–on Spotify, no less!–is such a mind-blowing thing, I can’t understate it. I wish he could have lived to see the excitement around this Purple Rain release, because it really is amazing.

This is so spot on Zach :). I also really love the musical arrangement of the new version, but…and it’s difficult, because so many of us are attached to the old performance, who knows how we would respond if this was a song that was entirely new to us…it feels like the emotional immediacy is really lost in the artifice of the vocal delivery, and also, the melody of the version we know is so beautiful (and strangely, in the only other performance (I think) we have a recording of – which was Birmingham in 2014 – he sings precisely the same melody as the First Ave performance…)…anyway, I do miss it.

There was a couple of things reflecting on the original performance brought up for me. One, and I think we didn’t really talk specifically about this in the first episode of the podcast, though we alluded to it while talking about Prince as a singer-songwriter, the relation between expression and repression, and the desire to sometimes just hear him play without all the elaboration round it…and I guess this is also why over the last year I’ve been so compelled by the bootlegs, and why the release of so much of the performance material after his death had the effect it did on people who were not familiar with it…I think there isn’t always a recognition outside the fan community of how staggeringly emotionally expressive his voice could be…and this extends also to both the piano and guitar playing in live contexts…sometimes, in the sculpting in the studio context, that seems to get lost…and this seems like an interesting instance of that.

Secondly, in relation to the seductive power of the original performance – and it’s very hard to know how much of this is confined only to the music because his embodiment of it on that occasion was so compelling – there’s something about how the electric quality of the work is related also to this frisson between the feminine and masculine aspects of the energy, and somehow it’s really encapsulated there…there’s something about the interplay between the direct, staccato insistence of it and all the breathy arching sensuality which, um…..brrrrrr…..yeah…as if he makes a single sexual circuit out of himself, and it just produces this incredible magnetism…it’s really quite something. Anyway, if the estate has any sense (which y’know…um), they’ll get it together and let us see it without all the (initially charming but quickly pretty annoying) ghosting and crackle. I think for many of us the whole show is way up there on the list of things we most want.

Yeah, a few days ago someone leaked a fantastic-looking clip so I feel pretty confident the First Avenue show is coming…I hope they also release the audio for streaming/downloading, but I’ll be over the moon even if I have to rip the audio track from the DVD myself. I have seriously never wanted to give a company my money as much as I want to give WB/NPG my money for this Vault material; they need to keep it coming. I’ll buy everything (up until 1990 or so, then I’ll probably get more selective).

Really interesting point on the expressiveness of Prince’s voice; I am far from musically adept, so I have no objective basis for this, but I think he’s severely underrated as a singer. One of the biggest “WTF” moments for me in Ben Greenman’s book was when he suggested that Michael Jackson was out of Prince’s league vocally–like, are you kidding me?

Yeah I agree, I think he is seriously underrated as a vocalist…and not only did he never lose it, I think his voice got better and better…some of the P&M performances are just a wonder. It’s interesting to think about why that is…I mean from just a technical point of view it seems damn impressive to me in terms of its range, both in pitch and the modulation of the grain – from really gritty/dirty to really angelic – and that’s before you get to either the emotional expressiveness, or the lovely melismatic qualities, or all the great screaming and whooping and sighing and whathaveyous. I dunno, maybe it’s because a lot of people don’t like the falsetto – like P I generally have a preference for female vocalists…like I’ve said, two of my favorites are also Joni and Kate…so I wonder if that accordance of taste has something to do with the fact that I love his vocal style…and again, I also wonder if the wider non-recognition of this is something to do with the studio vs. the live work…I mean, when I was a back-in-the-day girl I listened to those albums incessantly, and somehow, it wasn’t until the last year that I was really struck by what a fantastic singer he was…I think maybe they’re just so musically innovative and there’s so much going on that the beauty of his voice gets a bit lost in it all…

Yes–in general Prince is acclaimed for his (admittedly amazing) guitar skills, while his impressive keyboard chops are downplayed and his vocal prowess is totally ignored. I can’t think of another singer who had the huge range he did–the only one I can think of who comes somewhat close is Marvin Gaye. I was listening to Al Green a few weeks ago, whom I love, but I basically realized that he did the same song, with the same type of vocalization, over and over and over. No one can top him at that, but he only did this one thing, whereas Prince…. not only is it just one color in his box of crayons, his falsetto is so unique and I agree, it only improved over time. When he started recording, it was a bit colorless (like Eddie Kendricks of the Temptations) and not clearly articulated–a bit hard to hear in song after song (on his first two records, everything is falsetto, right?). But he ultimately developed a falsetto style that signified he was going into a particularly vulnerable emotional space–his words would slur, he would kind of whimper, and for me anyway, the overall impact is astonishing. (Are there really people who don’t like it when he sings high? I can’t imagine…) I think he worked as hard at his singing as he did at anything else. Last year, when that NYT interview of Judith Hill came out (the one about what happened on the plane ), the reporters did an accompanying brief audio piece. A story that Judith Hill shared (which didn’t make it into the actual article) was that one time when she was at Paisley Park, she accidentally “caught” Prince alone practicing his high vocalizations–the reporters she said that he was kind of embarrassed to be discovered doing this, which I think is rather charming. Never let anyone see what’s behind the curtain…

The female vocalist thing is huge (and often missed, usually by male critics). His early stuff is so blatantly Chaka Khan-inspired, but the reviews from back then always compared him to, like, Smokey Robinson!

Penny – yes, totally to your assessment of the falsetto…and like the story Judith tells suggests, and like everything else, I think he probably worked his ass off at it…by the end (well, for probably at least the last 15 years or so), it was very strong, and supple, and exceptionally soulful…but as you say, it was one crayon in a big box of crayons, inside an even bigger box stuffed with all manner of paints and pencils and pastels and let’s stop before this metaphor gets really overwrought. But yeah, it’s a point that’s been made many times but anyway…he was just so stupidly good at so many things that even while everyone – even the people who don’t like the music – more or less acknowledge him as a genius…the appreciation of lots of the individual elements still feels lacking by comparison to the appreciation directed at people who only excel at one or two of those elements…

Zach, very sorry to bug you with this, but this time, I really do need to fix up my reply. Would you delete it for me, and I’ll re-post. Sorry, and thanks!

This concert, and A Case of U in particular, was my (if I can borrow Penny’s super description) “gateway drug.” The vocals are huge for me here. So, of course, is the visual of Prince’s appearance, facial expressions, and movements.
Seeing and hearing him perform that song here…it mesmerizes me. I makes me ache. It’s interesting, because it’s a cover. Not only that, it’s shortened: it’s just a segment of Joni’s otherworldly marvel of a song.
When I later heard the studio version on One Nite Alone, all I could think of was this concert version. As Jane says of Electric Intercourse, “who knows how we would respond if this was a song that was entirely new to us.”
At least a couple of people, including Penny and VickiWaiting, described their reactions to Case of You on an earlier blog entry. From the descriptions, I’m guessing it might have been Prince’s studio version. Since I was initially knocked off my feet by this live version, I’d love to hear thoughts on various versions of this song.
Penny wrote, “And ‘A Case of You’ is my favorite Joni song. So, when I discovered that he had covered it…..well. I drove around in my car listening to his version with tears streaming down my cheeks; which is the exact moment, I think, when I went over the edge. It was definitely the gateway drug.”
I love hearing about everyone’s reactions to the music.
Prince vocals are so powerful and versatile. If I had to pick a favorite register (term I remember from playing clarinet as a kid–not sure if it’s correct here), I’d go for the rich, deep notes. I think, though, that it’s the contrast of pitches, and the whole high to low package, that really does it.
And, of course, it’s the expression, above and beyond range or anything technical, that makes the vocals the wonder that they are. Loved Jane’s words: “…really gritty/dirty to really angelic – and that’s before you get to either the emotional expressiveness, or the lovely melismatic qualities, or all the great screaming and whooping and sighing and whathaveyous.”
Zach — what you relate about Greenman’s take on Prince and Michael Jackson vocals…wow, just wow. I don’t get where this book is coming from with that. It shouldn’t matter, except that it may be an influential tome, read widely for years. You’ve mentioned having been close to some big MJ fans. Maybe they could understand?
Also, you wrote that “a few days ago someone leaked a fantastic-looking clip so I feel pretty confident the First Avenue show is coming.” I’m with you on the encouragement and hoping against hope.
I, too, am far from adept with music but, oh, the expressiveness of Prince’s voice. That comes first, of course, but for what it’s worth, I’ve seen a couple of articles exploring the range of Prince. The first goes into more detail than the other.

I’m realizing that there is a huge gap in my Prince consciousness–I’ve never heard or watched the 1st Avenue show, so among other things, am in the dark about this version of A Case of You. Can someone give me a clue as to where I might find it?

Louise, I concur with all you’ve said about his singing–I too also love it when he sings in his lower register. As for the comparison with Michael Jackson in the Greenman book–please! I will always have a soft spot in my heart for MJ (along with millions of other late boomers, I feel like he’s a distant cousin I grew up with) and there’s no denying his talent–but he’s more of an Al Green type singer, doing the same thing over and over. Which got kind of old and tired as he aged, and which reflected a huge lack of interest in growing as an artist vs. having #1 records. From what Susan Rogers said in an interview (she worked with the Jacksons after working with Prince, so heard some things about MJ’s perceptions of P), while they admired each other, both men were pretty clear about who had the bigger paintbox. I sort of feel for Michael Jackson because he was the wunderkind/child star then the beautiful/talented young man then oh wow, here comes along this other guy–almost exactly the same age–who can do all he does plus so much more. I have loved Michael Jackson’s music (OK, SOME of his music) since I was 10 years old but really, there is just no comparison. Prince kicked his butt musically just as he did playing table tennis–and he sang and danced just as well.

Interesting re: the Susan Rogers interview; I do get the sense that the “rivalry” between Prince and Michael was mostly one-sided, with any resentment from Prince being linked to Michael’s more consistent commercial success (and Prince’s general proclivity toward slightly mean-spirited pranks and teasing).

I should ask my girlfriend (who leans Michael in the Prince/M.J. divide, and actually knows a little bit about singing) what she thinks of his vocals. I’ll report back, haha!

Louise! Just got an initial listen to the 1983 1st Avenue version of “A Case of U,” and wanted to give you my initial reactions. Wow. Tremendous. Thank you for bringing it to my attention! I think what I am processing right now is the fact that he did this version about 19 years before he recorded the studio version On One Nite Alone. So they are very interesting snapshots on a psychological level because it’s the same song (not written by him, so not attached to a particular time of his life), sung when he was a young man, and then interpreted again when he was in his mid-40s. When I first heard the studio version a year ago, I was struck by the fact that he sang “I USED TO BE frightened by the devil,” vs the original lyrics (which is what he sings in 1983, “I’m frightened by the devil…”) A year ago (and remember this was at the very beginning of my Prince immersion, so I knew almost nothing about his personal life), that was very poignant to me because I took it to mean he had found some spiritual peace in his life. Now, hearing him sing it in 1983 the way Joni Mitchell sings it, I think that about the later version even more strongly, but also wonder if he changed it because of his JW involvement–either way, it seems like progress for someone who was rather obsessed with sin and punishment. (Actually, “I’m drawn to those ones that weren’t afraid” seems like a good description of his religious conversion. As I’ve said earlier, I have a lot of issues with the JWs but I have to respect to the spiritual path he chose for himself.)

Also, isn’t the studio version dedicated to his father, who had passed away by that time? The version in 1983 is obviously more directed towards a lover. So, apart from the instrumentation and the lyrics, the overall tone is so different, they are almost totally different songs. Me being where I am in my life right now, I am drawn more to the emotional maturity of the later version. But that’s not to disparage the 1983 version done by the wilder young man, which is amazing.

Can I say one more thing? As a huge lover of this song, before I heard Prince’s version I would have said that the first verse is essential and the 2nd verse pales in comparison to it. (I always thought, “I am a lonely painter/I live in a box of paints” was kind of lame compared to the Shakespeare quote and the map of Canada and everything else in the 1st verse). But Prince, of course, totally subverts that notion–not only does he omit the 1st version and you don’t even miss it–but he makes the 2nd verse sound much better lyrically than when Joni does it herself, which is no small feat. I think I read somewhere that she really liked his cover of this song, and I can certainly understand why. Now, I just have to listen to the other live versions of this song that he did (thanks, Jane!)

Interesting.. having followed Prince’s music since 1983, I have never developed an appreciation (much less the seemingly universal adoration) for Electric Intercourse, mostly because I prefer studio to live recordings and can only bring myself to listen to excellent audio quality soundboard live recordings.

So to me on the first listen on spotify, the song sounded exactly like the song I had heard once or twice, years ago. As it is, I’m happy it was replaced with the, imho, much superior Beautiful Ones, although, as you mention, I can’t see both songs having the same function in the movie.

I do wonder why there was no b-side to the Take Me With U single, but I think it had to do with Prince having lost interest in the Purple Rain project at that time.

As to Purple Rain Deluxe, I am much more interested in most of the other tracks, it’s going to be exciting to hear some of that new music!

I’m with you on that–I’ve been dying to hear “We Can Fuck” for ages; that’s a song he really did a disservice to, polishing it within an inch of its life and then just throwing it to an aging George Clinton (who I love, but still). Maybe it’s just because I’ve trained myself to have low expectations, but a few small quibbles aside, this reissue is looking so much better than I thought it would be.

Zach — OK, got a new one up, “awaiting moderation.” That will teach me to try to write amidst the flurry of getting us all out of the house in the morning.

I think I pretty much share the same sentiment when it come to the superiority of the live version of Electric Intercourse over this one, there’s definitely a certain overwroughtness to the way the vocals are delivered that distracts a little, reminds me of Condition Of The Heart a bit. Still though, as you say frankly both are extraordinary and I’m happy just to have the pair of them. The song is pretty special for me as I was one of the incredibly lucky people who saw Prince play this song live for the first time in 31 years in Birmingham on 15th May 2014. Now that was an incredible and unbelievable experience! (Sorry for bragging but shit, if anything warrants it it’s this :-p)

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