Sometimes, the uncanny ease of Prince’s creative process can make it tempting to presume that his songs simply sprang forth from him, like Athena from the forehead of Zeus. This is doubly true when one considers that, in at least a few cases, that’s pretty much exactly what happened. Engineer Peggy McCreary likes to tell the story of when Prince called her back into Sunset Sound on the morning of February 4, 1984, after a typical marathon session the previous night: “I remember going to bed at six in the morning and he called and said, ‘Can you be at the studio at noon?’ because he had dreamed a song,” she told sessionographer Duane Tudahl. “He said if he dreamed a chorus he’d call me, and he did, and it was ‘Manic Monday’” (Tudahl 2018 253).
Whenever I explain why I’m writing about every Prince song in order–a hobby, believe it or not, that does still warrant explanation in some circles–one of my go-to lines is that Prince, almost uniquely in popular music, is an artist with effectively three or four different canons. There is of course the primary canon of the big ’80s hits (“1999,” “Kiss,” “Little Red Corvette,” basically all of Purple Rain), f0llowed by the subcanon of later singles, “deep cut” album tracks, and B-sides–the latter of which is large enough that we could potentially make it a subcanon all its own. But what makes Prince special is the fact that he also has a sub-subcanon–either his third or fourth, depending on how we count the above–which includes tracks that never saw official release, but are still treated with reverence by collectors and fans. Prince isn’t the only artist with a deep and multilayered catalogue, of course–Bob Dylan and Neil Young both come to mind as potential peers–but I would argue that he is the only artist whose “sub-subcanon” rivals the quality and notoriety of his “official” body of work. In short, for fans of rabbit holes (and I clearly am one), they don’t come any deeper than this.
For years, “Cosmic Day” was one of those fabled cuts languishing in the depths of the purple rabbit hole: one of many proverbial “holy grails.” Recorded on November 15, 1986, in the midst of the blur of activity that led to the Crystal Ball triple-LP and its truncated sibling, Sign “O” the Times, it was seemingly never intended for either project; like “Moonbeam Levels,” another fixture of Prince’s subterranean canon, it’s at once essential to the era in which it was recorded and wholly detached from it. But unlike “Moonbeam Levels,” it has also tantalized fans by staying out of the hands of most collectors, with only two-to-three-minute fragments in wide circulation–until, that is, yesterday’s release of the full recording in advance of Sign “O” the Times Super Deluxe.
The last time I shared an episode of Prince: Track by Track, I promised that my next post would be something more substantial; so, to keep that promise, I held back on sharing this latest episode until now.
I have to confess that I wasn’t familiar with “The Morning After” until I signed up to talk about it; I bought my copy of LOtUSFLOW3R on CD (from Zia Records in Tucson, Arizona), so I was only familiar with the configuration of the album that included “Crimson and Clover” instead. I literally listened to the song seconds before recording this, so you’re hearing my unfiltered first impressions here:
This is usually where I would make some kind of vague promise about when I’ll be posting again, but I’m actually not going to nail anything down yet because I know that the next piece I write is going to be longer and more research-intensive than usual. I will just say it’s a pretty significant chapter of the “story,” and I hope you’ll enjoy it once it’s ready.
Last week, Duane Tudahl’s long-awaited book Prince and the Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions: 1983 and 1984 was finally published, and I was lucky enough to speak to him about it. If you haven’t read the book yet, you need to listen to this podcast: Duane is a knowledgeable and passionate Prince fan-turned-scholar, and his enthusiasm for the project is infectious. And if you have read the book, you should still listen, because he has a lot to share not only about his research and writing process, but also about his experiences with the celebrated Uptown fanzine and his ideas for preserving Prince’s legacy moving forward. NPG/Comerica/Warner Bros., if you’re out there, give this man some consulting work; we can all benefit from someone with his dedication and expertise steering the ship.
Now, for those of you who haven’t read the book yet, allow me to sweeten the pot: I’ve already bought my copy, but I am planning to secure another one (hopefully signed by the author!) and gift it to a lucky listener who reviews d / m / s / r on their podcast app of choice (iTunes, Stitcher, or Google Play). If you’ve never done this before, it’s easy: just subscribe, give the podcast a rating, and leave a short review, then leave a comment on the blog so I know you did it. In about a month, I’ll send my extra copy of Duane’s book to whoever wrote my favorite review. Note that this doesn’t mean your review has to be positive–if you hate my podcast and want to drag me, knock yourself out! As long as you leave a review and tell me where to look for it (and are willing to send me your mailing address, of course), you’re eligible to receive the book.
For now, I hope you enjoy this interview, and I hope you’ll check out Duane’s book–it really is phenomenal. Thanks for listening, and see you again soon!
Every once in a while, we’ll interrupt our usual d / m / s / r programming to repost something relevant from our sister site, Dystopian Dance Party. Today–and in honor of D.D.P.’s most sacred holiday season, Jheri Curl June–it’s a podcast where my cohost Callie and I look at the cottage industry of (very) thinly-veiled side projects introduced by Prince between 1981 and 1987: including the Time, Vanity 6, Sheila E, Apollonia 6, the Family, Mazarati, Jill Jones, and others. If you’re a Prince fan–and, if you’re at this website, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess you are–then some of this stuff is essential listening.
First, though, a word of warning, as I’m afraid there’s a factual error in this one: I was speaking from memory in the section about Sheila E, and incorrectly stated that “Noon Rendezvous” began life as a Revolution outtake. It was actually co-written by Prince and Sheila for the Glamorous Life album; the Revolution just happened to cover it in concert. Oops! Anyway, I left that bit in because I still like the song, so just enjoy the music and try to ignore the fact that I’m blatantly lying to you.
Show notes are here. We’ll be back to the chronological Prince grind starting, I believe, Wednesday; in the meantime, check out Dystopian Dance Party every weekday in June for more ’80s R&B that owes more than a slight debt to His Royal Badness.