1978 Instrumentals

1978 Instrumentals

(Featured Image: Prince in 1978; photo by Darlene Pfister, Minneapolis Star Tribune.)

One thing Prince established very early on was a near-constant rate of musical productivity: as we observed way back at the beginning of this blog, he spent the vast majority of his day-to-day adult life–not to mention a good amount of his childhood–participating in some form of songwriting, recording, rehearsal, or performance. So it should come as no surprise that when Prince moved into his first house in the summer of 1978, the otherwise-unassuming 5215 France Avenue in Edina, Minnesota brought with it another first: his first home studio. Indeed, according to his cousin and former Grand Central drummer Charles Smith, the rest of the house was mostly an afterthought for Prince: “The basement was full of equipment but he didn’t have any furniture in the house,” Smith told biographer Per Nilsen. “He didn’t have any carpets. He just had a rocking chair and a little TV for his games.” Eventually Prince’s girlfriend at the time, Kim Upsher, would help decorate and make the place “look like a home” (Nilsen 1999 43). But it’s clear that creature comforts placed a distant second for Prince, below his ability to create whenever the muse struck him. The lifelong blurring of the lines between studio and living space that he’d set into motion while still living in the Andersons’ basement was, by mid-1978, in full swing.

The France Avenue “studio” wasn’t exactly Paisley Park, of course: just a basement space with instruments and a portable TEAC four-track reel-to-reel. But it did the job, giving Prince an opportunity to flesh out new ideas without booking expensive studio time–which, after the hefty $170,000 recording cost of For You, probably came as a relief to the bean counters at Warner Bros. Many of the demos for Prince’s second album were reportedly recorded at home, and a few of the tracks that ended up on 94 East’s infamous Minneapolis Genius compilation (more on that to come). There were also several songs known only by their titles: “Darlene Marie” (also known as “Darling Marie”), “Do It Again,” “Gypsy,” “I am You,” “I Met a Virgin Queen,” “I’m Leaving L.A.,” “Love Affair,” “Love of Mine,” “Rocking Chair,” and “We Would Like to See You Again,” as well as a re-recording of the 1976 demo “Rock Me, Lover.” And then there are the circulating recordings: starting with today’s six untitled instrumentals.

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Roundup: Ephemera, 1975-1976

Roundup: Ephemera, 1975-1976

(Featured Image: Prince by Robert Whitman, 1977.)

Hi, everyone! In an effort to break up the flow of this blog a bit, I’d like to insert the occasional “Roundup” post whenever we come to the close of a particular phase of Prince’s musical career. So, now that we’re officially finished with 1976 ephemera and moving into For You territory, here are the songs so far. And hey, since everyone loves a totally subjective ranking–this is the Internet, is it not?–I’ll give them to you in ascending order of my personal preference:

9. Home Recordings, 1976 These probably shouldn’t even be on the list, as it’s a little unfair to consider them “songs.” What can I say, though, I dig some of ’em.

8. “If You See Me” Sorry, Pepé; Prince’s and Jesse’s versions both blow yours out of the water.

7. Moonsound Instrumentals The first time I posted this, I thought the version I’d heard of the legitimately funky “Jelly Jam” was recorded at Moonsound; it wasn’t, and as a result these recordings have dropped a bit in my esteem. Still, they show promise.

6. “Nightingale” Historically interesting and poignant, but so twee.

5. “Don’t You Wanna Ride?” More sexist than sexy, but also sort of endearingly dorky. It’s nice to know that at least 17-year-old Prince wasn’t smoother than 31-year-old me.

4. “I Spend My Time Loving You” Like “Nightingale,” this one’s a little on the twee side, but the vocal and guitar performances are moving beyond Prince’s years.

3. “Leaving for New York Like I said in the post, probably Prince’s most musically accomplished song to date. I slept on this one for ages, then I listened to it in the car and it just came alive. A sublime indication of a blossoming talent.

2. “Rock Me, Lover” It’s slight, sure, but like I said in the article, it offers a valuable glimpse of Prince’s future as a more feminist (or at least submissive) brand of lover. As teenage masturbatory fantasies go, I’ll take this over “Don’t You Wanna Ride?” any day. Also, great discussion with Jane Clare Jones in the comments.

1. “Sweet Thing” To be perfectly honest, this is the only song we’ve discussed so far that I really go out of my way to listen to. A beautiful, delicate cover version that I may even prefer to the original by Chaka Khan and Rufus. On a more personal note, this was the post that made Chaka retweet me and blow my blog the fuck up (at least for a couple of days). For that reason, it will always have a special place in my heart.

Also, let’s not forget the two introductory posts that fill in a few early gaps in Prince’s recorded oeuvre. I obviously can’t rank these because I haven’t heard any of the songs (though I’m sure the one of five-year-old Skipper banging rocks together was dope):

Funk Machine: Prehistory, 1965-1968
Sex Machine: Grand Central, 1973-1976

Finally, because I’m weirdly fascinated by tag clouds, here’s a snapshot of the tags I’ve used so far and their relative frequency. The data isn’t perfect because of a few crossposts that have fucked with the chronology, but it should still be interesting to see how the people, places, and songs we discuss change over time. To me, I mean. It will be interesting to me.

tagcloud1

Tomorrow, we continue with the next chapter of our journey: the series of studio recordings that ultimately resulted in Prince’s first album. If you’ve been rocking with me so far, I mean this sincerely: thank you so much. The response to this blog–especially these early, obscure entries–has honestly been beyond anything I dared to hope for. It’s so gratifying to get the feedback from people who enjoy what I’ve been doing. Just stick around, because it’s going to get better.

Moonsound Instrumentals

Moonsound Instrumentals

(Featured Image: Prince recording at Sound 80 (not Moonsound) in early 1977. Photo by Larry Falk.)

Sometime in the spring of 1976, the band formerly known as Grand Central (recently rechristened “Shampayne”) recorded their second and final demo at an eight-track recording studio with an unusually fanciful name. “Moonsound, Inc.” was founded in the early 1970s, in the basement of a rented house on 25th Street and Portland Avenue (Hill 29). Its namesake was a British expatriate advertising agent, recording engineer, aspiring songwriter, and all-around renaissance man named Chris Moon, whose accommodating fees–$15 an hour, clients provide their own tape–made Moonsound a popular destination for Minneapolis’ small but active African American musical community.

moonsound
Photo stolen from Discogs

The studio, such as it was, moved around town for the better part of the decade: to another basement on Stevens Avenue, and eventually to a large, single-story structure on Dupont, next door to an automotive impound (Numero Group 2013). In between, Moon set up shop in a 1,500-square-foot former hair salon on the south end of the city, near Lake Nokomis. It was at this location where Prince Rogers Nelson would record some of his most important early work; first, though, there was the Shampayne demo.

In an interview with biographer Dave Hill, Chris Moon recalled Shampayne recording “three or four sessions. They’d come in, do the rhythm track one day, then the vocals, and then the mix and so on” (Hill 29). Moon told Per Nilsen that he found the band to be “talented, but not exceptionally talented.” Like Pepé Willie before him, however, he did see “exceptional” talent in their soft-spoken, diminutive, big-haired guitarist. “Prince would normally show up a bit earlier than everybody else, thrash around on the drums a little bit, twinkle on the piano, guitar, bass or whatever,” he said to Nilsen (Nilsen 1999 26). In Debby Miller’s 1983 cover story for Rolling Stone, Moon elaborated: “Prince always used to show up at the studio with a chocolate shake in his hand, sipping out of a straw… He looked pretty tame. Then he’d pick up an instrument and that was it. It was all over” (Miller 1983).

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Don’t You Wanna Ride?

Don’t You Wanna Ride?

(Featured Image: Penthouse, April 1977; photo stolen from Antic Hay Rare Books.)

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned the “deep symbolic significance” of André Anderson’s basement in what we might describe as Prince’s origin myth. At the time, I was referring to its importance as a stable home for Prince in his late teens–the first he’d had since his early childhood–as well as its function as an early incubator of his musicianship and songwriting talent. But the Andersons’ house on Russell Avenue was also important for more prurient reasons: it was there, so the stories go, that Prince began to put into practice the theories of sexual liberation he’d spend the next decade-plus codifying into something between an artistic canon and a secular religion.

The roots of this part of the “origin myth” seem to lie in a 1981 interview with journalist Barbara Graustark that ran in Musician magazine two years later, in September of 1983, after his crossover hit “Little Red Corvette” had introduced him to a larger audience eager to find out what made the little purple-clad libertine from MTV tick. Speaking about his foster mother Bernadette Anderson, Prince claimed that she “would let me do anything I wanted to” as long as he finished school. Graustark gamely asked how much one can do in a basement; “Well, it depends on how many people are there,” came the deliberately eyebrow-raising reply. He then went on to vaguely describe a scenario where Bernadette “came down and saw a lot of us down there, and we weren’t all dressed, and stuff like that. It kind of tripped her out, and we got into a semi-argument, and whatever, but it was… you know…” (Graustark 117). In her introduction to the interview, Graustark added fuel to the fire, referring to Prince’s “sexual excesses in a dank, dark Minneapolis basement with his confidant and companion André Cymone and a host of neighborhood girls” (110).

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