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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!

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Ephemera, 1975-1976

Home Recordings, 1976

“Guess how many times I’ve changed addresses,” Prince asked at one point in a 1979 interview with Cynthia Horner of the African American teen magazine Right On! “Twenty-two times!” (Horner 1979) His typically charming, almost childlike delivery made it seem like an amusing anecdote; for what it’s worth, it was also probably an exaggeration. But beneath the wide-eyed ingénue act, he was revealing something profoundly sad about himself. For about six years during his childhood, Prince’s living situation was unstable at best; at worst, he was functionally homeless.

The period of instability ended around the same time that Prince formed his first band, thanks to the same catalyst: André Anderson, whose mother Bernadette took him in around 1974, and with whom he lived until after he signed with his first manager in late 1976. It was at the Anderson household where Prince made his earliest home recordings, at the ages of 17 and 18. But it was during his proverbial “wilderness period” when he established the fierce independence and drive–as well as the distance from others–that would define his professional life for decades to come.

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Lacunae

Sex Machine: Grand Central, 1973-1976

In the fall of 1972, André Anderson walked into the new student orientation at Bryant Junior High and locked eyes with a kid who reminded him of himself. “I didn’t know any of these people, and they just looked weird,” he told Wax Poetics in 2012. “I looked down the line, and I saw this kid and I thought, ‘He looks cool.’ I went up to him and said, ‘Hey, how you doin’? My name is André.’ He said, ‘My name is Prince.’ I said, ‘What are you into?’ He said, ‘I’m into music'” (Danois 2012).

André was into music, too. He played horns, guitar, and bass; Prince played piano and guitar. In addition to their mutual talent, both teens were mutually ambitious: André later recalled to Billboard magazine how he “started talking about how [‘]I’m going to be this[’]. And he’s [‘]yeah, me too[’]. Next thing you know we became best friends.” They went back to John Nelson’s house, where Prince was living at the time, and jammed; Prince showed off his expertise with the theme songs from The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Peanuts. That same day, they learned of a weird coincidence: André’s father, Fred Anderson, used to play in the Prince Rogers Trio with Prince’s father John. Pretty soon–“maybe within the week or month,” according to André–he and Prince had formed a band of their own with Prince’s cousin, Charles Smith (Cymone 2016). The group went through the usual teen-band assortment of quickly-discarded names–“the Soul Explosion,” “Phoenix” –before finally settling on “Grand Central.”