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Prince Track by Track Presents Stevie Wonder Classics: End of Year Roundup

As I mentioned on Twitter last week, I’ve been having kind of a rough time this month on the health front; this, combined with a year-end crunch at my day job, is the reason why there was no new blog post last week. It’s also the reason why I haven’t gotten around to posting these links, my last two appearances on Darren Husted’s miniseries of track by track podcasts on Stevie Wonder’s “classic era”:

Prince Track by Track Presents
Stevie Wonder Classics:
“Bird of Beauty”

Prince Track by Track Presents
Stevie Wonder Classics:
“I Wish”

Doing this miniseries was a little bit of a leap of faith, as (and I’m afraid this is probably evident from the episodes) I’m definitely not as knowledgeable about Stevie Wonder as I am about Prince. I don’t think all of my appearances rank among my best work (though the “I Wish” episode is solid evidence of my ability to riff at great length on the ill-fated Will Smith vehicle Wild Wild West and its soundtrack), but I hope that each was at least worth a 20-minute or so listen.

In any case, as the Stevie Wonder miniseries is now nearing its end, this marks my last appearance on one of Darren’s podcasts for the foreseeable future. I want to thank him for having me on Prince: Track by Track so many times over the last couple of years. And now, I must return to my own solitary toil: I’m not going to promise any specific dates, but I’m still planning on getting you “Lady Cab Driver” and “1999” before the New Year. Until then!

Categories
Ephemera, 1981-1982

Moonbeam Levels (The New Master)

Note: Incredibly, it’s been just over three years since I first wrote about “Moonbeam Levels” for dance / music / sex / romance. That post focused on the song’s status as the first posthumously-released track from Prince’s Vault, and was colored by the then-recent passings of both Prince and David Bowie, who I still consider to be an unsung source of inspiration for the song. You can still read that version if you want; but here is what I now consider to be the official d / m / s / r take on “Moonbeam Levels.”

In early July 1982, after spending the latter half of the spring back home in Minnesota, Prince returned to Sunset Sound in Los Angeles. His goal, almost certainly, was to finish the album that would become 1999. But in typical fashion, he overshot that goal: instead, launching himself into the stratosphere with the fittingly extraterrestrial outtake “Moonbeam Levels.”

In some ways, “Moonbeam Levels” feels very much of a piece with the other songs Prince was recording in mid-1982. Like many of the tracks that would end up on 1999, it opens with a prominent Linn LM-1 beat: in this case, the mechanical pulse of a bass drum, punctuated by a hiss of synthesized exhaust. To this futuristic foundation, Prince adds Blade Runner synth pads and lyrics evoking space travel: his narrator fantasizes about “a nice condo overlookin’ the rings of Saturn” and asks for the titular “moonbeam levels,” a poetic turn of phrase that conjures up images of interplanetary transmissions and cosmic rays. Meanwhile, the ever-present threat of annihilation looms: Prince imagines a never-written novel with the capsule summary, “Boy loses girl in a rainstorm, nuclear World War III,” his pet themes of personal and global apocalypse summed up in a single, devastating line. The whole package feels custom-built for precisely the kind of science-fiction pop-funk epic Prince had spent the past six months assembling piece by piece.