Lisa

Lisa

(Featured Image: Lisa–and André–on the Dirty Mind inner sleeve, 1980; © Warner Bros.)

While Prince was starting work on the album that would become Dirty Mind, 19-year-old Lisa Coleman was in Los Angeles, working on the shipping dock of a documentary film company and teaching classical piano part-time. Lisa, born in the San Fernando Valley in 1960, was as much a product of L.A. as Prince was of Minneapolis. Her father, Gary L. Coleman, was a percussionist for the legendary session team the Wrecking Crew, with credits most notably including the Beach Boys’ 1966 single “Good Vibrations.” When she was 12 years old, Lisa played keyboard in a bubblegum pop band, Waldorf Salad, alongside her younger brother David, older sister Debbie, and another Wrecking Crew kid: Jonathan Melvoin, whose own younger sister, Wendy, would form the other half of Lisa’s longest-lasting creative partnership. The band was a little like the Partridge Family, Lisa later told journalist Neal Karlen, except “we all actually played our instruments” (Karlen 1986). As a teenager, Lisa attended Hollywood High and appeared in a bit part as a teenage pianist in the 1975 made-for-TV drama Sarah T. – Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic, starring Linda Blair and Mark Hamill.

According to the official narrative, it was 1979 when Lisa heard from a friend in the offices of Cavallo, Ruffalo, and Fargnoli that Prince was looking for a new keyboardist. But this date seems off, for a couple of reasons: first, because in 1979 Gayle Chapman was still very much a part of Prince’s band, and there are no other accounts from that period to suggest she was being replaced; and second, because Steve Fargnoli wasn’t made a partner in Cavallo’s and Ruffalo’s firm until 1980. Whatever the year, however, Lisa submitted a tape, and was summoned to Prince’s home in Wayzata, Minnesota for an in-person audition. “When I got to Prince’s house,” she told Karlen, “he sent me downstairs and said he was going to change clothes. There was a piano down there, and I just started playing, trying to relax. I got the feeling he was eaves-dropping at the top of the stairs, so I whipped out my best Mozart. He finally came back downstairs, picked up his guitar, and we started jamming. From the first chord, we hit it off” (Karlen 1986).

Continue reading “Lisa”

Advertisements

I Don’t Wanna Stop

I Don’t Wanna Stop

(Featured Image: Not Prince’s home studio, but it is his reel-to-reel; ad for the Ampex MM-1100, circa 1974. Photo stolen from the Reel to Reel Tape Recorder Museum.)

So far, we’ve been looking at Prince’s Dirty Mind as a singular, cohesive work–which, in fact, it was: easily his strongest and most consistent artistic statement to date. But part of what made it so impressive is that according to Prince, it was never really intended as such. When he began recording in mid-1980, his goal was not an “album,” but a batch of demos: the same kind of home recordings he’d been making since 1976. The resulting tapes were “just personal songs that I wanted to have,” he told the Los Angeles Herald Examiner after the album’s release, a fact to which he attributed their immediate, “up-front quality” (Wilen 1981).

Like many of the stories Prince told to reporters circa 1981, there’s an air of myth to his claim that the songs on Dirty Mind were originally deemed too raw for public consumption; I’m inclined to believe him, however, if only because his home studio in Wayzata, Minnesota sounds like the last place one would choose to record a major label album. “The house had a lot of problems,” recalled Don Batts, who worked as Prince’s ad-hoc engineer and studio tech at the time. The mixing console, Batts told biographer Per Nilsen, was “rammed up against a table.” The tape machine, an Ampex MM-1100, was “held together with baling wire and patches, and on a regular basis had numerous tracks that weren’t functional simply because it was that raggedy.” Most dramatically, the drum booth was partially flooded from a nearby cesspool, resulting in a “constant drain of water” on the tracks  (Nilsen 1999 67).

Despite these conditions, Prince spent the bulk of May and June 1980 holed up in the studio, recording not only the entirety of Dirty Mind and affiliated outtakes, but a raft of songs that still haven’t been heard by the public: “American Jam,” the intriguingly-titled “Big Brass Bed,” the bewilderingly-titled “Bulgaria,” “Eros,” “Plastic Love Affair,” and “Rough.” He also recorded at least one song that has been heard by the public, but only by another artist, and seemingly against Prince’s wishes: a bouncy, rather anachronistic little number called “I Don’t Wanna Stop.”

Continue reading “I Don’t Wanna Stop”

Kiss Me Quick

Kiss Me Quick

(Featured Image: The storied Vault, which looks even more like Prince’s vault than I ever dared imagine; photo stolen from WCCO Minneapolis.)

As I mentioned last week, one of the things I live for as a Prince fan is the sense that at any moment, some incredible, previously-unheard track could come out of nowhere–even, astonishingly, now that the artist himself is no longer with us. That happened last month with the studio version of “Electric Intercourse” and, more controversially, with “Deliverance”; but it’s happened many times before, often through less legitimate means. In late 2014, for example, bootleggers released “Kiss Me Quick”: a song whose title was familiar thanks to sources like Per Nilsen’s The Vault, but which had never been heard by the general public.

Back when “Kiss Me Quick” was just a title in The Vault, it was widely assumed to have originated from Prince’s Kiowa Trail home studio in 1981; now that we can hear it, however, it couldn’t be a more obvious product of 1979. With its galloping beat, rubbery bassline, and rapidly-ascending chord sequence, it’s certainly Prince’s most conventionally “disco” song this side of “Sexy Dancer.” But in this case, rather than self-consciously attempting to elevate the form, he just goes all-in, crafting a sparkling ideal of a disco track that could easily have made the Dance charts if its creator had bothered to, you know, put it out.

Still, it’s hard to begrudge him for leaving “Kiss Me Quick” in the Vault (or the Closet or Shoebox or whatever he was using in 1979): because, as good a song as it is, it’s not necessarily a great Prince song. It’s too conventional-sounding to have fit on the track listing of his second album; the sexual persona he inhabits is too innocent and demure for the libertinish “Spandex kid” he became in the transitional phase before Dirty Mind. Indeed, it’s likely that “Kiss Me Quick” was never meant to be a “Prince song” at all: according to biographer Matt Thorne, Pepé Willie recalled it being intended for his off-and-on protégée, Sue Ann Carwell (Thorne 2016). It thus makes sense that when Carwell left Prince’s orbit, the song would go back on the shelf, replaced by any number of the endless hits and almost-hits he was cranking out with assembly-line consistency.

And in a way, the thing that makes “Kiss Me Quick” interesting, more than anything else, is the possibility of those other songs. If this little gem could go from a title in a book to actual, audible music, then who knows: in a few short years, we could be hearing “Aces,” or “Machine,” or “Neurotic Lover’s Baby’s Bedroom,” or any other early song that exists now only as an intriguing name and a stub page on Prince Vault. Whatever else we might say about Prince’s handling of his music in life, he certainly left a lot of surprises behind; and the fact that we’re still able to look forward to “new” Prince songs is the one silver lining of his tragic and premature death.

Tomorrow, I’ll be back with the last full episode of my podcast with Jane Clare Jones. Then, next week, it’s on to 1980 and Dirty Mind! See you soon.

“Kiss Me Quick” YouTube

You

You

(Featured Image: Prince and Gayle Chapman, circa 1980; photo stolen from Lipstick Alley.)

As we discussed last week, one of the key functions of the Rebels project was that it allowed Prince to test out new and divergent musical approaches before incorporating them into his own “official” work. In particular, keyboardist Matt Fink later told biographer Per Nilsen, Prince “wanted to try this punk rock/new wave thing with The Rebels because he was too afraid to do that within the ‘Prince’ realm. It was an experiment” (Nilsen 1999 58). The experiment turned out to be a successful one: Prince’s next album, 1980’s Dirty Mind, would be heavily influenced by both the sounds of New Wave and the confrontational attitude of punk. But before there was “Dirty Mind,” “Sister,” or “When You Were Mine,” there was “You”: the laboratory where he constructed his edgy new style, and a minor classic in its own right.

Like “The Loser” and “If I Love You Tonight,” “You” was conceived as a vehicle for keyboardist and backing singer Gayle Chapman. Unlike those songs, however–or, indeed, any of Prince’s earlier attempts at writing from a woman’s perspective–here he casts Chapman in a much more sexually aggressive role. She shrieks the lyrics like a banshee in heat, licking her lips over a prospective lover’s hard-on and even threatening him with rape: the first known appearance of one of Prince’s darkest early lyrical tropes. Within a few months, Chapman would leave the band: a decision that has often been attributed to her objection to Prince’s increasingly outré lyrics. But, as she noted to the Beautiful Nights fan blog, “I sang ‘You.’ So, what? (Singing lyrics) ‘You get so hard I don’t know what to do.’ How stupid was I? ‘Take your pants off!’” (Dyes August 2013).

Continue reading “You”