Roundup: Ephemera, 1979-1981

Roundup: Ephemera, 1979-1981

(Featured Image: How have I not used this one already?! 1979 publicity photo; © Warner Bros., stolen from Lansure’s Music Paraphernalia.)

I know I always begin these roundup posts with a reference to the obscene length of time since the last one, but this time I’m drawing attention to chronology for an entirely different reason. I wrote the first post in this roundup in April of 2017; the last one went up a week ago today. That year-and-a-half-long gap speaks to my abysmal writing pace, sure–but it also speaks to the sheer scope of non-album music Prince produced between 1979 and 1981.

When I originally decided to lump together these three years, I was concerned that I was casting too wide a net; but I think the posts collected here ended up telling an interesting story. From the recording of Prince in spring ’79 to the release of Controversy in fall ’81, Prince underwent a transformation–one that can’t entirely be explained by the album, Dirty Mind, that falls in-between. These posts trace the steps of that transformation: from reluctant R&B heartthrob to full-blown Black New Waver. It’s a fascinating journey to say the least. So, with no further ado, here’s how I rank the steps along the way:

13. “Everybody Dance” No surprise here: I said in my original post that “Everybody Dance” is barely a song. But it was a great excuse to write about his legendary debut performance at Sam’s (a.k.a. First Avenue), so I can’t begrudge it too much.

12. “The Loser” The dirty secret about the Rebels “album” is that, for all its importance to Prince’s artistic development, it really isn’t very good. The Gayle Chapman-sung “The Loser” isn’t even my least favorite track; that dubious honor goes to the instrumentals, or if those don’t count, the original version of “If I Love U 2 Nite” (sorry, Gayle, not your fault). But it is my least favorite of the tracks I’ve written about: by no means terrible, but thoroughly unremarkable, except perhaps as an early example of Prince flexing his songwriting muscles by experimenting in unexpected genres.

11. “Kiss Me Quick” This one, which I actually hadn’t heard until soon before I wrote about it, is also a mostly unremarkable genre exercise; but I give it the nod over “The Loser” because the specific genre (disco) happens to be one I think Prince was extremely good at. I can see why this was never properly released, but I also could have seen it ending up as an album track on Prince and being more than passable.

10. “Hard to Get” Another frankly mediocre Rebels track, but one I prefer to “The Loser” if only because my own personal biases lean more toward Stones-esque cock-rock than mild Bonnie Raitt pastiche. If there was a complete recording circulating of the ice-cold 1981 New Wave version, it would have been ranked higher… so, uh, what’s the hold-up, Sony and/or bootleggers?

9. “Broken” A very fun song in Prince’s subcanon of rockabilly/early R&B pastiches, but one that was easily replaced by “Jack U Off,” which was easily replaced by “Delirious,” etc. It isn’t necessarily a song that I reach for, but it’s a nice little bit of ephemera from the Dirty Mind tour.

8. “I Don’t Wanna Stop” This one is ranked as high as it is strictly because of potential: I like the version by Ren Woods enough to know that Prince’s version would surely be better. Maybe someday we’ll finally be able to hear it (ahem, Sony).

7. “Strange Way of Saying I Love You” Is this one too low? Yeah, maybe; it is kind of an earworm, especially now that the version in circulation doesn’t sound like it was recorded from a boom box outside a gymnasium where the song was being played. But I think we’ve officially reached the point in the list where my ranking is more arbitrary than usual.

6. “Rough” Is this one too high? Yeah, maybe; but I’m a sucker for the kinds of songs Prince wrote for the Time, as well as any moment when his Cars influence starts to peek through (listen to the synth bass on “Good Times Roll” at 1:05 and just try to tell me it doesn’t sound like “Rough”). That, and this post about Alexander O’Neal’s brief stint as a Prince protégé was just hella fun to write.

5. “She’s Just a Baby” One of Prince’s more conventional R&B ballads from this era, I’m even more fond of it now that I’ve formulated my theory that it was originally penned for the Time (but if that’s the case, why, oh why did he decide to use fucking “Girl”?!). Besides, whose heart doesn’t skip a beat or two thinking about a young (but not too young!) Susan Moonsie?

4. “The Second Coming” Yes, it’s only about a minute’s worth of multi-tracked a cappella Prince harmonies. But, counterpoint: it’s a whole minute’s worth of multi-tracked a cappella Prince harmonies. I’ve written before about the rapturous qualities of Prince’s falsetto; if that’s your type of thing, then “The Second Coming” might just be your own personal Rapture.

3. “You” Probably the one Rebels song that actually lives up to the hype, and definitely the only one ever covered by Paula Abdul. Coincidence? Probably.

2. “Lisa” An early glimpse of Prince’s synthpop phase dating from mid-1980, it wouldn’t have fit on the guitar-centric Dirty Mind, but boy is it a slapper. Bonus: if you can, try and track down the 1982 rehearsal version that recently entered circulation, with Prince vamping over clavinet-style synthesizer and his Linn LM-1 for damn near 45 minutes. It’s excessive, sure, but it just shows how hypnotic and tensile a groove this is.

1. “Gotta Stop (Messin’ About)” I am an outspoken stan of New Wave Prince, so it should be no surprise that I highly rate this NWP gem from 1980. Imagine if Devo were sexual beings, or if the Knack weren’t total sleazeballs; then imagine either one of them with about 9,000% more soul. One of Prince’s underrated talents in the early ’80s was his ability to highlight the sexual tension in New Wave’s stiff, nervous grooves; this, one of my favorite B-sides/non-LP singles in his discography, is a shining example of that talent.

Since it’s only been a couple of weeks since my Controversy roundup, I don’t see much point in updating the tag clouds; there’s also nothing new to add to the Spotify playlist, since all but one of these tracks is not currently available for (legal) streaming. So I’ll just say that, while this week was largely occupied with what I hope to be an exciting upcoming project, I’ll be back next week to kick off 1982. See you then!

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She’s Just a Baby

She’s Just a Baby

(Featured Image: The Hookers, 1981; L to R: Jamie Shoop, Susan Moonsie, Loreen Moonsie. Photo stolen from Denise Vanity Matthews–the Tumblr, not the person.)

The Time’s first album was completed quickly, even by Prince’s ever-increasing standards: recorded in April 1981, mixed (at Hollywood Sound Recorders in Los Angeles) by the end of the month, and released another three months later. In the meantime, the man behind the curtain was already devising a second group of protégés: an all-female counterpart to his first group’s male pimp aesthetic, charmingly named the Hookers.

In order to recruit his stable of Hookers, Prince stayed even closer to home than he had for the Time. He drafted his personal assistant, Jamie Shoop, who then-engineer Don Batts described as “a good-looking blonde… kind of a ballsy woman in a man’s world” (Nilsen 1999 63). The other two spots were filled by his girlfriend at the time, Susan Moonsie, and her sister Loreen.

Continue reading “She’s Just a Baby”

Roundup: The Time, 1981

Roundup: The Time, 1981

(Featured Image: Cover art for The Time, 1981; photo by Allen Beaulieu, © Warner Bros.)

Folks, it’s been a whole-ass seven months since the last roundup post on Dirty Mind–where has the time gone? Dunno, but here at least is where the Time has gone (sorry): five posts on the first album by Prince’s first and arguably most accomplished protégé act. My ranking this time is decidedly anti-climactic, since I basically organized them in ascending order of preference as I wrote. And yes, the fact that I didn’t even devote a full post to “After Hi School” should give you an idea of where it would have ranked if I had. Anyway, here goes:

5. “Girl” Only the second song I’ve written about so far (after “With You”) that I’ve actively disliked–but my dislike is really, really active. Apologies to the track’s defenders, but I don’t know which is more grating to me: Morris’ whiny lead vocal or Prince’s dog-howling-at-the-moon harmonies. I would have gladly taken an extra five and a half minutes of “Get It Up” over this.

4. “Oh, Baby” The best ballad on The Time purely by default. I actually barely remember this song even after having written 600 words on it. But I guess no memory beats bad memories, so Number 4 it is.

3. “Get It Up” Now we’re talking. The Time is the definition of an uneven debut album, with half of its songs among the worst things they ever recorded and the other half among the best; “Get It Up” definitely belongs to the latter half. The only reason it isn’t ranked higher is because it’s still missing the spark of unique personality that the remaining two songs manage to achieve; but if there’s a version with just Prince’s vocals locked away in the Vault, I need it yesterday.

2. “The Stick” Maybe the best song about dicks ever to be co-written by a lesbian? I dunno, don’t quote me on that, but a great song regardless, and a tongue-in-cheek preview of the auto-erotic innuendos Prince would take to the next level with “Little Red Corvette.” Plus, any opportunity for me to reference Kenneth Anger’s Kustom Kar Kommandos has earned a special place in my heart.

1. “Cool” Maybe the definitive Time song–and certainly, as we explored, the one with the longest history in Prince’s career. Without “Cool,” Jerome would have never brought Morris that mirror–truly, an alternate timeline too terrifying to contemplate.

dirtymind-tagcloudtimeroundup

Another roundup post also gives us the opportunity to take another look at the ol’ tag cloud. The main change to note here is the debut of Kiowa Trail and Chanhassen, cementing (along with France Avenue/Edina) Prince’s lifelong presence in the Minneapolis suburbs. Also, Gayle Chapman is no longer among the top tags, having been replaced here as in Prince’s band by Lisa Coleman. Sorry, Gayle…but hey, if you ever wanna come on the podcast for an interview, we can try to get you back on the board. Oh, and if you’re wondering what the average length for these Time posts was, it was my lowest ever: a paltry 833 words, barely over half of the average post length for Dirty Mind. I make no promises that I’ll be as brief in the future.

Next week is the third anniversary of d / m / s / r (where has that time gone?), so I’ll hold off on the state-of-the-blog stuff until then. In the meantime, rest assured that I’ll keep plugging away, probably until we’re all dead. Onward to (the rest of) Controversy!

Girl (1981)

Girl (1981)

(Featured Image: Morris Day with unidentified vocal coach, circa 1981; photo stolen from prince.org.)

One of the most fascinating things about the 1981 debut album by the Time is the way that, if you listen to the tracks in a certain order, you can practically hear the band’s classic sound take shape in real time. As we established in the last post, however, “Oh, Baby” was not an example of that classic sound. Morris Day, the group’s drummer turned lead singer, was still tentative in the role, his voice too strained to sell a seductive ballad.

Girl,” the second and (blessedly) only other ballad on The Time, is not an improvement–if anything, it’s worse. Morris sounds whiny and adenoidal, like a teenage boy whose voice is in the middle of changing. Prince’s backing vocals–even more audible here than on the rest of the album–hit a piercing, dog-whistle tone in the chorus that cuts through the rest of the mix like a knife, and only gets more annoying the more you turn down the volume. Morris, meanwhile, just gets louder: as on “Oh, Baby,” he starts the song at a whimper and ends at a bellow. The whole thing feels like bad karaoke, an impression that is only enhanced by the bland, lifeless arrangement. It’s the weakest Prince song since “With You,” but without even that track’s competent performance.

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Prince Track by Track: “Girl”

Prince Track by Track: “Girl”

(Featured Image: Ooh wee baby, your body’s like no other; photo stolen from Darling Nisi’s Tumblr.)

As warned/promised last month, I have been up to my neck in drafting my chapter for the upcoming Prince and the Minneapolis Sound anthology (which is now two days late as of this writing–sorry, editors). As always, however, my much more consistent colleague in chronological Prince studies Darren Husted has come to the rescue with another episode of his podcast Prince: Track by Track featuring yours truly:

Prince Track by Track: “Girl”

As usual, I picked a track that I consider a bit of a dark horse favorite. I hope you enjoy listening as Darren somehow manages to reference an obscure Michael Cera coming-of-age film, and I spend a solid minute and a half clearly describing a vagina without actually saying the word “vagina.”

We’ll be back to our regular schedule (I hope) next week, assuming I finish my chapter and/or my editors don’t kill me first. Have a great weekend!