Well, the podcast episode I promised yesterday isn’t going to happen until early next week; I simply didn’t have enough time to finish editing. Luckily, Warner Bros. has my back, because last night they surprise-released another advance track from the new Purple Rain reissue: the studio-recorded medley of “Our Destiny” and “Roadhouse Garden.” So, rather than completely skip a post today, let’s take a short look at these songs and how they fit into the grander scheme of Prince’s work.
Like the previously-discussed “Electric Intercourse,” “Our Destiny” and “Roadhouse Garden” have advance notoriety among hardcore fans and collectors–though their connection to the Purple Rain project is less clear. Prince and the Revolution performed the song only once, at his 26th birthday celebration at Minneapolis’ First Avenue on June 7, 1984: the same concert that yielded the basic track for Jill Jones’ “All Day, All Night.” And as all of us Prince obsessives know, that might as well have been a decade after the previous year’s August 3 First Avenue date, which similarly provided the majority of Purple Rain’s second side. By summer 1984, Prince was already at work on his next project(s), including tracks that would end up on 1985’s Around the World in a Day.
Adding to the confusion, Roadhouse Garden would later become the title of an aborted late-’90s compilation of refurbished Revolution tracks by the artist then-formerly known as Prince–most of which seemed to date from what Princeologists would consider to be the “Dream Factory era” of 1985-1986. This, in turn, appears to have transformed in many fans’ reckonings into a whole other album between Purple Rain and Around the World in a Day, possibly also called Roadhouse Garden. Basically, the song’s provenance is a mess, and I’ve seen more than a few people cry foul over its and its sister song’s inclusion in what “should” be a compilation of outtakes specifically related to Purple Rain.
But this argument, I think, betrays a misunderstanding of how Prince tended to operate. With some obvious exceptions–“When Doves Cry,” “The Beautiful Ones”–by 1983 Prince wasn’t really recording “for” albums; he was just recording, producing a constant stream of material for himself and other artists, from which he would then pluck and gather into sellable configurations of albums and B-sides. Songs didn’t “belong” to albums until Prince decided they did. Even a fabled project like Dream Factory, biographer Matt Thorne has suggested, was less a settled track list for a potential release than a collection of roughly contemporaneous songs Prince was taking for a spin; in other words, that great lost proto-Sign “O” the Times epic we’ve been lusting over may have been little more than one of Prince’s mid-1986 mixtapes (Thorne 2016). What this means is that, for the sake of brevity if nothing else, we’re going to have to loosen our definitions of what counts as “Purple Rain material.” “Our Destiny” and “Roadhouse Garden” weren’t outtakes from the album, because Prince didn’t really have “outtakes”; but they belong to the Purple Rain era, in the same way that contemporaneous B-sides like “17 Days” and “Erotic City” clearly did.
That being said, if there really was a secret Revolution album between Purple Rain and Around the World in a Day, then “Our Destiny” and “Roadhouse Garden” certainly offer a compelling peek. Both songs feel, conveniently, like a halfway point between the former’s arena-pop grandiosity and the latter’s more insular neo-psychedelia; more than anything, they resemble the cinematic, sweeping drama of Prince’s work on The Glamorous Life by Sheila E. “Our Destiny” opens with a majestic live string arrangement–later pilfered for “The Ladder” on Around the World–by keyboardist Lisa Coleman, who also sings lead vocals (another version, with Jill Jones singing lead, is reportedly still in the Vault). The strings quickly give way to a bubbling synthesizer pattern: alternately building and, with Bobby Z’s abrupt cymbal crashes, releasing tension as Lisa lays out the scene, an erotic rendezvous imbued in classic Prince fashion with spiritual ecstasy. After some spoken-word flirtation–“Look, I’m not sayin’ let’s get married or nothin’, I’m not ready to settle down, I don’t wanna have your baby…but you gotta be the finest specimen I ever seen”–the song takes flight, exploding into a sweeping chorus that recalls a more baroque, theatrical version of Purple Rain’s “Take Me with U.”
In keeping with the cinematic feel, we now have a scene change, as “Our Destiny” dissolves into the vaguely Oriental-sounding funk of “Roadhouse Garden.” As Thorne notes, “Roadhouse Garden” is an example of Prince’s mini-genre of songs about quasi-utopian “locations that offer liberation,” which includes “Paisley Park,” “Uptown,” “Graffiti Bridge,” “3121,” and “77 Beverly Park”–a list to which I would also add, just off the top of my head, “Erotic City” and “Oliver’s House” by Sheila E (Thorne 2016). Here, especially, the juxtaposition of finger cymbals with Linn drum machine slaps sounds like a preview of Around the World in a Day, but less immediately derivative of 1960s psych-rock. It’s a shame that we couldn’t have heard more of the Revolution’s uniquely ’80s version of the Summer of Love, but it’s there on all of their albums to some degree, and it’s certainly present in “Roadhouse Garden.”
Of course, like “Electric Intercourse,” there’s arguably a reason why “Our Destiny” and “Roadhouse Garden” didn’t come out in 1984 or 1985. They would have made appealing album tracks (assuming Prince ever found an album that suited them), but they’re not unimpeachable lost gems; in terms of substance, they’re more “New Position”/”I Wonder U” than “Pop Life” or “She’s Always in My Hair.” They work best, I think, as the evolutionary dead ends they are: tantalizing glimpses of a post-Purple Rain Revolution that might have been, had one of Prince’s other competing musical directions in mid-1984 not taken the reigns instead. And in that respect, I think, the Purple Rain reissue is where they should live: they’re of that era because, at least in this particular timeline, there was no “Roadhouse Garden era” to speak of. Frankly, as someone who remembers the unlistenable early audience recordings from the birthday show, I’m just happy that we can properly hear them: both on CD/digital services and in concert on the Revolution’s ongoing tour. Prince’s prodigious output in the 1980s left a lot of worthy songs without permanent homes; and while this pair’s new living arrangement may not be perfect, it’s better than nothing.
Okay, seriously now: last podcast episode next week. See you then!