Categories
Ice Cream Castle, 1984

Chili Sauce

It’s tempting to assume that the filler tracks Prince penned for the Time–of which there was at least one on every album–were dashed off quickly, without the level of care and attention he reserved for his own music. But, while that may have been the case sometimes (looking at you, clumsy edit at the end of “I Don’t Wanna Leave You”), it wasn’t always. See, for example, “Chili Sauce”: my personal vote for the most egregious filler in the group’s discography, and yet also the subject of a staggering five nights of sessions at Sunset Sound in Los Angeles.

According to Duane Tudahl’s essential studio chronicle, Prince and the Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions: 1983 and 1984, Prince started work on the unnamed instrumental that would become “Chili Sauce” at 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 14, 1983, after completing a mix for the ill-fated “My Summertime Thang.” He began with a sleek, sinuous Linn LM-1 pattern, reminiscent of the one he’d used on “Electric Intercourse” in January–or, for that matter, the one he would later use on “The Beautiful Ones” in September. From there, he layered on more tracks, before ultimately deciding that the song needed live strings–a sound that had been absent from his discography since “Baby” on his 1978 debut album.

Categories
For You, 1978

For You

Prince’s contract with Warner Bros. stipulated that he deliver his first album to the label within six months. But before he could begin work, there were a few issues that needed to be addressed: specifically, the executives at W.B. remained wary of giving full production responsibilities to an unproven teenager from Minnesota. “Warners basically said, ‘We know he’s talented, we know he can play the instruments, we know he can write songs, but does he have record sense?’ Those are distinct areas,” Prince’s then-manager Owen Husney told biographer Per Nilsen. “The question was, ‘Does he have the ability to make a record that will sell?’” (Nilsen 1999 35)

Warner wasn’t sure, so they did what any record label would do in their situation: they hedged their bets. In an odd echo of Columbia’s earlier, failed strategy, W.B. chairman Mo Ostin tried to convince Prince to work with an experienced star producer: Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire. But not even the superior White brother could dissuade the 19-year-old phenom from his ambitions. Prince, according to Husney, wrote a lengthy note laying out the reasons why White wasn’t a good fit for his debut: “He had analyzed [Earth, Wind & Fire’s] music and felt it wasn’t going anywhere in the eighties… He didn’t want that. He felt it was going to pigeonhole him. So I called back Mo and I said our decision was still ‘no.’ We wanted to be self-produced” (Nilsen 1999 35).

In the end, Husney and Ostin settled on a compromise–once again, following the earlier negotiations with CBS almost to the letter. Warner flew Prince back out to Los Angeles, under the pretext of offering him some free studio time. As he worked, however, the label sent producers and executives to surreptitiously observe his process: including head of A&R Lenny Waronker, Russ Titelman (best known at the time for his work with Randy Newman), Gary Katz (producer of Steely Dan), and Ted Templeman (the Doobie Brothers, Van Morrison, et. al.). “He thought some of these people were janitors,” Husney claimed to Nilsen. “They were all walking in and out of there. Prince had no idea who the heck it was” (Nilsen 1999 35). But the ruse worked, and in the artist’s favor: Waronker and Templeman in particular were impressed, and agreed that Prince should be allowed to self-produce. “You could not only tell there was talent but there was a vision,” Waronker later recalled to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “He went out and played guitar, then overdubbed drums. By the time the drum part was recorded, it was clear. We didn’t want to insult him by making him go through the whole process, but he wanted to finish” (Star Tribune 2004). With Warner Bros. sufficiently convinced, Prince became the youngest producer in the label’s history.