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Ephemera, 1984 Lacunae

Lacuna: The Dawn

While shooting Purple Rain in the last two months of 1983, Prince had uncharacteristically little time to spend in the studio. But as production wound down in late December, he dove back in, returning to Sunset Sound to work on new material for his manifold projects. On December 27, he recorded the basic track for “The Glamorous Life”–originally intended for Apollonia 6, but later given to (and made famous by) Sheila E. The following day, he added vocals and cut another track that would end up on Sheila’s album, “Next Time Wipe the Lipstick Off Your Collar”; as well as a song yet to be released anywhere, “Blue Love.” The day after that, he completed his first version of “She’s Always in My Hair.” Finally, on December 31, he rang in the New Year with an enigmatic new number, listed on the studio work order as “The Dawn.”

As readers of Duane Tudahl’s Prince and the Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions are no doubt aware, though, the last song Prince recorded in 1983 was not “The Dawn.” It was, in fact, “We Can Fuck,” a title deemed too explicit for an official Sunset Sound document; it would also be known by the euphemisms “Moral Majority” (not to be confused with the actual recording by that title) and, anecdotally, “Sex” (also not to be confused with the 1989 song later released as the B-side for “Scandalous”). But Prince clearly thought the dummy title was too good to waste on an act of self-censorship; because just a week later, on January 7-8, 1984, he recorded a new song bearing the same name.

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Ephemera, 1983 Roundup Posts

Roundup: Ephemera, 1983

I know I say this every time, but hoo boy, has it ever been a while since I wrote one of these: one year, four months, and 30 days, to be precise. In my defense, though, the sprawl of the Purple Rain era has meant that I’ve been concurrently working on two albums (soon to be four!), all of which were completed within a few months of each other–so, when it finally (purple) rains later this year, expect it to pour. In the meantime, we’ve officially reached the end of 1983 in our chronology, and I’d say that calls for a little celebration.

Before we raise our glasses, though, a caveat: as eagle-eyed readers of Duane Tudahl’s Studio Sessions and/or Prince Vault and/or VaultCurator’s studio recordings spreadsheet have no doubt already noticed, we haven’t actually covered every Prince song recorded in that annus mirabilis. A few of these missing numbers (e.g., “Wonderful Ass,” “Strange Relationship,” “My Summertime Thang,” “Promise to Be True,” “Possessed,” “17 Days,” “We Can Fuck”) will be considered alongside later versions in the months and years to come; a few (e.g., “Chocolate,” “G-Spot,” “Mia Bocca,” “The Glamorous Life,” “Next Time Wipe the Lipstick Off Your Collar,” “She’s Always in My Hair”) have been held back for editorial purposes until we get closer to their final destinations in Prince’s discography; and a few (e.g., “My Sex,” “Moral Majority,” “Electrocution,” “Money,” “I am Five”) will have to wait until I can, y’know, hear them. Last but not least, I’m currently working on my post about “Sex Shooter,” completed for Apollonia 6 in November 1983.

But still! Here we have 11 recordings–at least two of which, in my opinion, number among the finest in Prince’s career–and they aren’t even a third of what he actually wrote that year. At times like these, it’s tempting to ask what the hell I got myself into; but there’s also the other side of that coin, which is to marvel at the exciting things still ahead. In the meantime, here’s my ranking:

11. “Wednesday Musical Theatre Prince has never been my favorite of his modes, so this ranking should come as little surprise. Still, it would have been nice to see Jill get her closeup in Purple Rain… I guess there’s always 2024?

10. “My Love Belongs to You A footnote, albeit one with lots of historical interest: as I noted in my post, I hear traces here of “The Bird,” “Chocolate,” “Possessed,” even “Kiss.”

9. “Modernaire I have it on reasonably good authority that this is even more of a Prince song (.org) than I originally thought, so I’m extra glad I wrote about it. But, well, you can see why he gave it to Dez. Still great fun, and if you need a laugh today, rewatch the performance in Purple Rain and just pay attention to Joe Hunt on (conspicuously unplugged) guitar.

8. “Vibrator A tricky one to rank, because a hefty percentage of my affection for this song is directly tied to the skits in the latter half. A fun little tune, but it’s no “Nasty Girl.”

7. “Velvet Kitty Cat Another tricky one to rank, because I’m pretty sure I’m being contrarian by placing it so high: This was near-universally considered a weak link on the Purple Rain expanded set, but I’ve always dug it. So, any other “Velvet Kitty Cat” defenders out there? Anyone?

6. “Cloreen Bacon Skin Now this one should arguably be placed higher, but I had to make room for some more hobby horses in the top five. Still, if you want to make a case for Prince as a capital-“F” funk artist, I can think of no better exemplar.

5. “Father’s Song Maybe it’s recency bias, or maybe a wistful, vaguely cyberpunk instrumental is better suited to my early-2022 pandemic vibes than a sweaty 15-minute funk jam. Like I said in the post, this one would have made a killer B-side.

4. 1983 Piano Rehearsal One of those hobby horses I warned you about. I may no longer be able to call Piano & A Microphone 1983 the best posthumous Prince release–Sign “O” the Times Super Deluxe has taken that title by brute force–but it’s still the one I revisit most. Detractors (you know who you are) may not need to check your ears, but you should probably check your souls.

3. “Katrina’s Paper Dolls Hobby horse number two! The fact that I never saw much praise for this ditty from the expanded Purple Rain suggests a surprising lack of crossover between hardcore Prince fans and synthpop lovers. Well, if I have to be the one to claim that sliver of the Venn diagram, so be it.

2. “Electric Intercourse Yes, we’ve officially reached the two tracks that “number among the finest of Prince’s career.” It’s been said many times before, but the fact that this stayed in the Vault because he came up with a better ballad? Mind-boggling.

1. “Irresistible Bitch I remember hearing this for the first time on The Hits/The B-Sides, thinking I had my head wrapped around what made Prince great, and then getting it busted open in a whole new way. Almost four decades old and still sounds like the future. As a producer of electronic music, he would reach this peak again, but I’m not sure he ever bested it.

Next up, as noted above, is “Sex Shooter”; I think it will be good, but it’s shaping up to be another long one, so no promises on when it’s coming (I will, however, try to have it ready for patrons before February). I’m also acutely aware that I’m long overdue for a new podcast; again, no promises re: timeline, but now that I’ve finished another batch of posts I think I can start turning my eye in that direction. In the meantime, a belated Happy New Year (whatever that’s worth these days), and thanks for reading!

For those about to stream, we salute you:

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Ephemera, 1983 Patreon Exclusives

Patreon Exclusive Bonus Track: 1983 Piano Rehearsal

At this point, it’s customary to marvel at the sheer, staggering amount of music Prince recorded. His finished recordings number in the hundreds, if not the thousands: enough, to borrow a cliché that became ubiquitous after the Vault was cracked open in 2016, to fill an album a year for the next 100 years; or, to put it in more personally meaningful terms, enough to keep me working on this goddamn blog until roughly the end of my natural life. But the mind truly boggles when one considers that those “finished recordings” are only the tip of the iceberg. Beneath the surface are hundreds more hours of rehearsals and rough sketches recorded for private use–only a fraction of which are ever likely to see the light of day.

By this reckoning, the solo piano rehearsal officially released in 2018 as Piano & A Microphone 1983 is not, in itself, remarkable; it’s just one of countless other “work tapes,” as former Revolution keyboardist Lisa Coleman describes them in her liner notes, by an artist for whom making music was an avocation as much as a vocation (Coleman 3). Prince Estate lead archivist Michael Howe told Newsweek that when he found the recording–a standard, consumer-grade TDK SA-60 cassette with two tracks, “Cold Coffee & Cocaine” and “Why the Butterflies,” listed in Prince’s handwriting–it was in a box with “[l]iterally thousands” of other tapes (Schonfeld 2018). But what it lacks in uniqueness, it makes up for in historical importance: capturing, with near-unrivaled intimacy, a snapshot of Prince’s creative process on the very cusp of the career-defining success of Purple Rain.

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Reviews

Review: Musicology/3121/Planet Earth

It’s been a little bit of a crazy week, so I’m afraid we’re going to have to wait a while longer for my next real post on “All the Critics Love U in New York”; but I haven’t been completely lax in my Prince-writing duties. Over at Spectrum Culture, where I occasionally lend my pen, I reviewed the new batch of vinyl reissues from Prince’s mid-2000s “comeback” era:

Review: Musicology/3121/Planet Earth

These weren’t my favorite albums when they came out, and to be frank they still aren’t (though 3121 aged pretty damn well); but they cover a period of great historical interest, and I’m glad they’re being made available for a new audience.

On a somewhat Prince-related tip, I also wrote a piece for Spectrum this week about Beck’s Midnite Vultures, which is turning 20 this year in what I can only interpret as an act of personal aggression against me. You can read it here and find out why I think it actually owes less to Prince than to David Bowie, specifically 1975’s Young Americans:

Holy Hell: Midnite Vultures Turns 20

Next week, I’ll finally have a little more time to do some writing for himself (a.k.a., this blog). I’m also recording another batch of Prince: Track by Track episodes tomorrow, the first of which you should be hearing very soon. Perhaps, at some point, I will also get some sleep.

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Podcast Prince, 1979

Podcast: Prince (1979) Revisited

October 19, 2018 marks the 39th anniversary of Prince’s self-titled second album–not the most glamorous occasion, perhaps, but reason enough to reassemble the review panel from our For You podcast for a reappraisal. Once again, Zach is joined by Harold and KaNisa for a track-by-track discussion of this underappreciated album, its resonances throughout Prince’s career, and why it still matters.