A little over a year after their first meeting in January 1982, Prince and Denise Matthews (better known as Vanity) had cultivated an image as pop music’s sexiest power couple: the royal bride and groom of his imminent purple reign. Early in 1983, the pair posed for fashion photographer Richard Avedon in a shot that would make the cover of Rolling Stone that April. Looking like mirror reflections–or incestuous twins–they fixed the camera with identical, kohl-blackened stares: she embracing him from behind, two fingers tucked suggestively down the front of his jeans. In the coming months, Prince would plan to take their relationship to an even larger venue, slating Vanity to play the leading lady in his forthcoming motion picture debut.
But there was trouble in paradise. The strong-willed couple clashed frequently–not least because Prince insisted on seeing other women at the same time as Matthews, including her Vanity 6 bandmate Susan Moonsie and his backing singer Jill Jones. A song inspired by their relationship from around this time, “Wonderful Ass,” pokes fun at the disconnect between their undeniable sexual chemistry and their equally undeniable emotional incompatibility: “My sensibilities you aggravate,” Prince croons, but “you got a wonderful ass.” Another, “Strange Relationship,” opts for a more trenchant self-critique: “Baby, I Just Can’t Stand 2 See U Happy / More Than That[,] I Hate 2 See U Sad.”
Jones, who shared a dressing room with Vanity 6 during the 1999 tour, recalled Prince giving a cassette tape with both songs on it to Matthews: “She’d play it before the show while me, Susan, and all of us [were] getting dressed,” she told sessionographer Duane Tudahl. “It wasn’t discreet.” Prince and Vanity, she added, actually did have a “Strange Relationship”: “It was really true that he didn’t want to see her happy and he didn’t want to see her sad. Because she started dating other people… and he got pissed. She was like, ‘I’m moving away from him. Fuck him. I’m really famous. People love me.’ So she was getting something and that was the only thing he had to yank her back in” (Tudahl 2018 40).
Since the release of the Originals compilation last summer, Prince fans have been treated to a reasonably steady stream of officially-released material from the Vault. What we hadn’t had in a while, though, was a good old-fashioned bootleg leak–at least until last week, when the long-rumored 1977 track “Neurotic Lover’s Bedroom” was made available to a wider circle of collectors, then promptly shared on unofficial streaming sites (where, at least as of this writing, it remains accessible).
This news was especially exciting to me, as “Neurotic Lover” has long been one of my “holy grail” songs based purely on its title (see also: “Vagina,” “Big Brass Bed,” and for entirely different reasons, “Bulgaria”). I could not, for the life of me, imagine what a song called “Neurotic Lover’s Bedroom”–much less “Neurotic Lover’s Baby’s Bedroom,” the more grammatically bewildering title by which it was originally identified–could sound like; all I knew was, with a name like that, it had to be something good.
I am pleased to report that “Neurotic Lover” has both utterly defeated and exceeded these expectations. Whatever I imagined this track to be–and, again, beyond knowing that it was the first song Prince recorded after his manager Owen Husney bought him a drum machine, I really had no idea–it definitely was not a six-minute-long, vaguely psychedelic Parliament–Funkadelic goof in which a deadpan 19-year-old Prince extols the virtues of erotic asphyxiation. And yet, here we are.
Like the last roundup post for the 1999 album, this one has been an especially long time coming: I wrote my first “in-sequence” post on 1999-era ephemera way back in November of 2018, when we were all about 50 years younger. It didn’t help, of course, that last fall’s Super Deluxe Edition of 1999 dropped a bunch of new recordings into our collective laps (not that I’m complaining, of course!). With this post, though, I’m finally putting 1999 behind me (at least until a Super Super Deluxe Edition makes the current one obsolete). Purple Rain awaits. But first, my ranking of these odds ‘n’ sods:
15. “Colleen” If its abysmal showing in the Patreon polls that determined the order of the “bonus track” posts is any indication, my indifference to this funky, but slight instrumental is widely shared, at least among supporters of the blog. Also, Prince didn’t initially bother giving it a title… so, there’s that.
14. “Dance to the Beat” This forgotten missing link between the Time’s first and second albums isn’t bad, but neither is it anything to write home about; there’s presumably a reason why, at least to date, no studio recording seems to exist.
13. “You’re All I Want” This one made a very cute story (and a priceless birthday present!) for Peggy McCreary, and its hook led to another song you’ll see further up the list; on its own merits, though, I’d rank it as no better than “fine.”
11. “If It’ll Make U Happy” I really wanted the full version of this to do more for me after the leaked fragment left me slightly cold; but it’s really just more of what I’d already heard. A nice enough track, but I can see why it never found a proper home.
10. “You’re My Love” I know I’m not the only weirdo with a soft spot for this croonfest, later gifted to Kenny Rogers; but I’m definitely in the minority. That just makes my affection stronger.
9. “Don’t Let Him Fool Ya” Like I said in my original post, this is both a complete throwaway and an absolute banger. I can’t with good conscience rank it higher on this list, but what I can do is crank it in my car with my windows down on a sunny day.
8. “Vagina” I’ll admit that I may be ranking this a bit lower than it deserves, just because it failed to live up to my (arguably unrealistic) expectations; still a fascinating oddity of a song, and one of the highlights of 1999 Super Deluxe.
7. “No Call U” I went back and forth between giving the nod to this or the similar-toned “Don’t Let Him Fool Ya”; I ultimately went with this one on account of it having an actual chorus. Also, Jill Jones. I mean, am I right?
6. “Horny Toad” Sometimes I feel like the lone voice in the wilderness on this song, but like I said about “You’re My Love” above, that just makes me love it more. Or, as Prince put it, the more you scream, the nastier I get.
5. “Turn It Up” As always, the top five could basically be shuffled in any order and still be accurate; today, though, I’m leaning toward this being a great performance of a just-okay song.
4. “Purple Music (Welcome 2 the Freedom Galaxy)” Honestly, this track getting an official release pretty much justified 1999 Super Deluxe single-handedly. I envy the people who got to have their minds blown by it for the first time last November.
3. “Lust U Always (Divinity)” I know I’ve been relatively vocal about agreeing with the omission of this and “Extraloveable” from 1999 Super Deluxe, so my top-three ranking may come as a surprise; to that I can only say, look, I didn’t say I didn’t want to listen to it. The ultimate problematic fave.
2. “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?” I may never be able to fathom the reverence granted by some to the Alicia Keys version; but the original, I totally get. Proof that even at his most stylistically polyglot, Prince continued to make essential R&B.
1. “Moonbeam Levels” This was technically the first 1982 outtake I wrote about, way back in 2016; so it felt like a milestone to finally reach it in my “proper” narrative. This was also one of the first Prince bootlegs I heard; you can probably thank (or blame) it for turning me into someone obsessive enough to try and write about every Prince song over a decade later.
So, there you have it. Tomorrow, my Alternate Timelines post about Prince’s path not taken after 1999 will be available for the general public. Next week, I’m hoping to have the long-delayed next episode of the podcast up for patrons, with the wider release to follow in early September. Also in early September, it’s back to the Purple Rain era with an updated post on “Electric Intercourse”: another track I wrote about at the time of its official release, but am now revisiting as I catch up to it chronologically.
In closing, I want to reiterate: I started 2020 at a creative low point, and I’m now heading toward 2021 feeling more inspired and invested in D / M / S / R than I’ve felt since this time four years ago. A lot of the credit for that turnaround goes to the people who continue to support the blog, whether formally through the Patreon or (just as importantly) simply by reading and caring about what I do. In particular, this week I want to shout out Arno, who joined the Patreon today; if this is, as I suspect, the same Arno who has been commenting on the blog, he’s one of the earliest supporters I can recall and someone who I really value as a reader, even without the added patronage (though, again, I appreciate that as well!). I didn’t get into this game to get rich or famous, but knowing that there are people out there who see value in what I do is a tremendous source of motivation. So thank you to everyone–past, present, and future–who is taking this journey with me.
Most stories about Prince’s recording process have the same basic structure: A musical genius walks into the studio with an idea, works on it for the next 12-18 hours, then walks out with a finished track–which, more often than not, turns out to be a masterpiece. But they can’t all be winners, even for Prince. Sometimes, when “a song started to come together and he was getting more ideas, it was like his mood would be a little lighter, because he was happy with it,” longtime Sunset Sound engineer Peggy McCreary told sessionographer Duane Tudahl. But other times, “if it just wasn’t inspiring him enough to go further–if it didn’t move him–he would stop” (Tudahl 2019 28).
Note:I confess that this piece, a Patreon commission from Darling Nisi, has been a long time coming–so long, in fact, that I’m pretty sure I already owe her a second commission now. Part of the reason why I took so long are the same, much-discussed reasons why I took so long for everything over the past eight months or so; but part of the reason is because her request to imagine a circa-1984 Prince without Purple Rainrequired a lot of thought. No Purple Rain–which I took to mean the movie as well as the album–means no “When Doves Cry,” “The Beautiful Ones,” or pivot to Top 40 success; it also means no Paisley Park (the recording complex or the vanity record label), no massive renogotiated contract (and thus no “Slave”-era faceoff) with Warner Bros., and no comeback album and greatest-hits tour conveniently timed to the 20th anniversary. So large does Prince’s first film and sixth album loom over the rest of his career, in fact, that I didn’t even try to do justice to every change its absence would have wrought; this may be the first alternate timeline I will have to revisit in the future, just so I can fully think through what the ’90s or 2000s would have looked like to a Prince detached from both the expectations and the opportunities afforded him by Purple Rain.
In inventing an alternative followup to 1999, I ended up setting a few rules for myself: First, I limited myself to the existing timeline of songs recorded between January 1983 and March 1984, so the imaginary album could feasibly share a release date with the real one. Second, I wouldn’t use any track known to have been composed specifically for the movie–so, again, no “When Doves Cry” or “The Beautiful Ones”; I technically could have used “Purple Rain,” but that seemed to go against the spirit of the exercise, so I didn’t. Third, and finally, I tried to make my fake album as distinct from the real one as possible: if what set Purple Rain apart from 1999 was its concision and pop-friendliness, then my alternate-universe version would be more even more sprawling and idiosyncratic than its predecessor. Obviously, the album I reverse-engineered from existing recordings is no replacement for an actual, cohesive project produced, arranged, composed, and performed by Prince; but I do think it’s a fun listen (and yes, I did make a version I could actually listen to).
As always, I will end with the disclaimer that everything after this introduction is completely made up and just for fun, all Photoshops are crudely and hastily done, and all resemblances to actual persons living or dead are, if not coincidental, certainly not to be taken seriously.