Categories
Ephemera, 1986

Cosmic Day

Whenever I explain why I’m writing about every Prince song in order–a hobby, believe it or not, that does still warrant explanation in some circles–one of my go-to lines is that Prince, almost uniquely in popular music, is an artist with effectively three or four different canons. There is of course the primary canon of the big ’80s hits (“1999,” “Kiss,” “Little Red Corvette,” basically all of Purple Rain), f0llowed by the subcanon of later singles, “deep cut” album tracks, and B-sides–the latter of which is large enough that we could potentially make it a subcanon all its own. But what makes Prince special is the fact that he also has a sub-subcanon–either his third or fourth, depending on how we count the above–which includes tracks that never saw official release, but are still treated with reverence by collectors and fans. Prince isn’t the only artist with a deep and multilayered catalogue, of course–Bob Dylan and Neil Young both come to mind as potential peers–but I would argue that he is the only artist whose “sub-subcanon” rivals the quality and notoriety of his “official” body of work. In short, for fans of rabbit holes (and I clearly am one), they don’t come any deeper than this.

For years, “Cosmic Day” was one of those fabled cuts languishing in the depths of the purple rabbit hole: one of many proverbial “holy grails.” Recorded on November 15, 1986, in the midst of the blur of activity that led to the Crystal Ball triple-LP and its truncated sibling, Sign “O” the Times, it was seemingly never intended for either project; like “Moonbeam Levels,” another fixture of Prince’s subterranean canon, it’s at once essential to the era in which it was recorded and wholly detached from it. But unlike “Moonbeam Levels,” it has also tantalized fans by staying out of the hands of most collectors, with only two-to-three-minute fragments in wide circulation–until, that is, yesterday’s release of the full recording in advance of Sign “O” the Times Super Deluxe.

Categories
Ephemera, 1981-1982 Patreon Exclusives

Patreon Exclusive Bonus Track: You’re All I Want

I had originally planned to post this second-to-last bonus track from the 1999 era on Friday; but, well, “Cosmic Day” just came out on streaming services, and I’d like to squeeze in a quick post this week. So here’s a link to “You’re All I Want” for patrons, and a short preview for everyone else:

Like many of the Vault tracks that ended up on 1999 Super Deluxe, “You’re All I Want” was known to collectors by name and reputation long before it was widely circulating. Former Sunset Sound engineer Peggy McCreary likes to tell the story behind the song’s recording on January 11, 1982–her birthday, as she recalled with some consternation to Pitchfork’s Sam Sodowsky: “I was like, God, couldn’t he give me my birthday off? Shit!” When Prince arrived at the studio that morning, McCreary said, “he was dressed totally different than I had ever seen him: black leather boots, jeans—which he never wore—white t-shirt, and a black leather jacket” (Sodowsky 2019). Perhaps inspired by his wardrobe, the track he worked on that day was a rockabilly song–a genre he’d been toying with in earnest since he caught a show by retro-rock revivalists the Stray Cats in London the previous spring.

Speaking of Patreon, I think I’ve finally resolved the issues I was having with WordPress integration, so I’m looking forward to handling future patron-exclusive posts in a much more elegant way. Also, I’m pretty sure that my next non-“Cosmic Day” post is going to be a speculative fiction piece commissioned by Darling Nisi way back in the olden days of 2019; if you, too, dream of being my boss, patrons at the $15 level are entitled to one commissioned post or podcast every six months. I’m pretty sure I currently owe at least one of those, so if you’re waiting for it, hit me up!

Categories
Ephemera, 1981-1982 Patreon Exclusives

Patreon Exclusive Bonus Track: Money Don’t Grow on Trees

As I gear up for the next big post on the Purple Rain era, I’m also doing some clean-up on the remaining 1999-era tracks that surfaced on last year’s Super Deluxe box set. This week, it’s “Money Don’t Grow on Trees,” a late-1981 recording that’s about as sonically distant from the 1999 album as possible. The full post is available on Patreon, but here’s a small taste:

Prince’s first side project, the Time, began with a fundamental musical concept: They were a vehicle for the hardcore funk and R&B from which he had mostly steered away in his own career, with an added touch of New Wave rock and roll in the vein of contemporary acts like the BusBoys. Everything else about the group, from their boutique vintage wardrobe to frontman Morris Day’s tongue-in-cheek pimp persona, was an elegant outgrowth of this conceit. By contrast, Prince’s second side project, the Hookers, began with an image, and not an especially sophisticated one–the name pretty much summed it up. So it’s no surprise that the music he composed for the group in mid-to-late 1981 had a distinct whiff of throwing everything against the wall and seeing what stuck: There was minimalist electro-punk (“Drive Me Wild,” “Make-Up”), New Wave-ized girl group pop (“Wet Dream,” “Jealous Girl”), and, with “Money Don’t Grow on Trees,” even a dash of vintage R&B.

I should mention that patrons at the $5 level and above had the opportunity to vote for “Money Don’t Grow on Trees” as the next “bonus track” I covered on the blog. Since we’re now down to the “bottom two,” I’m just going to go ahead and do them based on the preference I’ve seen in past polls: first “You’re All I Want,” which got one vote back in January and one vote this month; and then “Colleen,” which only got one solitary vote in January. I will think of some more ways for patrons to exercise their democracy in the near future. For now, thanks as always for reading!

Categories
Purple Rain, 1984

Baby I’m a Star

“The MUSIC segues into a fierce BEAT.
The CROWD lets out a ROAR! Prince
strips off his guitar, streaks center-
stage. The Band launches into ‘Baby,
I’m A Star.’

“…And the CROWD laughing, dancing,
shouting and loving. The CLUB is ALIVE!

“And the MUSIC continues…forever…”

Draft screenplay for Purple Rain by Albert Magnoli, 1983

In the spring of 1983, Prince’s contract with managers Cavallo, Ruffalo, and Fargnoli was up for renewal. They had, on the face of it, little reason to worry: the 1999 tour was selling out arenas, “Little Red Corvette” was in the Top 10 of the pop charts, and 1999 was well on its way to Platinum certification by the RIAA. By the end of April, Prince would make the cover of Rolling Stone: a coveted opportunity for which his managers had netted a Richard Avedon photo shoot without granting an interview. “I thought we did an incredible job, we had a creative relationship, I’m sure he’s gonna sign another contract,” Bob Cavallo later told music journalist Alan Light. But Prince sent his main handler, Steve Fargnoli, back to Cavallo with a surprising ultimatum: “he won’t sign with us again unless we get him a movie” (Light 51).

Categories
Ephemera, 1979-1981

I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man (1979 Version)

The first promotional single for Sign “O” the Times Super Deluxe, “Witness 4 the Prosecution (Version 1),” was an irreproachably safe choice: a well-known track in the bootleg trading community, remastered so that hardcore fans can hear the upgrade in sound quality and newer fans can hear what all the fuss is about. But it’s the second single that delivers exactly what I live for in these kinds of releases: a recording which even the most fortunate among us hadn’t heard of, much less heard, until the box set was announced.

Before last week, the accepted history of “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man” went something like this: Prince recorded the basic track sometime in 1982, during the incredible burst of creativity that produced 1999 and planted the seeds for a number of other projects. Clearly at no shortage of quality material, he shelved the song for four years, then dug it back out during another creative renaissance on July 16, 1986: appending a smouldering guitar solo nearly the length of the original track, and transforming the spiky little power pop tune into a grandstanding album-rock setpiece. This extended version was slated for the unreleased Dream Factory and Crystal Ball projects, before finally seeing the light of day on Sign “O” the Times in 1987.