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).
Prince’s Sunset Sound session on February 3, 1984 was highly productive, even by his lofty standards: After taking “A Million Miles (I Love You)” from jam session to finished track, he still had time to complete a second number for Apollonia 6. To date, his efforts to write for the group’s namesake had been dogged by her limited range as a singer. “In a Spanish Villa” was his most ingenious solution to the problem yet: Rather than spending another long night building Apollonia’s confidence in the vocal booth, he’d craft a song around one of the bilingual actress’ existing strengths–sounding sexy in Spanish.
Like its predecessor Vanity 6, the Apollonia 6 album was something of a community effort, with contributions from Prince’s touring bandmates and others from his circle. One of the most notable new additions to that circle was percussionist Sheila Escovedo, better known as “Sheila E.”
Sheila had actually been on Prince’s radar–and he on hers–for years before they ever set foot in the studio together. Her father, Mexican American percussionist Pete Escovedo, first told her about the “young kid… playing all the instruments and producing and writing by himself” in 1977, while he was recording with Santana and Prince was working on his debut album at the Record Plant in Sausalito. The following year, she told Billboard’s Jem Aswad. “I walked into a record store and saw a poster of him and was like, ‘Oh my God, he’s beautiful’” (Aswad “Sheila” 2016).
While shooting Purple Rain in the last two months of 1983, Prince had uncharacteristically little time to spend in the studio. But as production wound down in late December, he dove back in, returning to Sunset Sound to work on new material for his manifold projects. On December 27, he recorded the basic track for “The Glamorous Life”–originally intended for Apollonia 6, but later given to (and made famous by) Sheila E. The following day, he added vocals and cut another track that would end up on Sheila’s album, “Next Time Wipe the Lipstick Off Your Collar”; as well as a song yet to be released anywhere, “Blue Love.” The day after that, he completed his first version of “She’s Always in My Hair.” Finally, on December 31, he rang in the New Year with an enigmatic new number, listed on the studio work order as “The Dawn.”
As readers of Duane Tudahl’s Prince and the Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions are no doubt aware, though, the last song Prince recorded in 1983 was not “The Dawn.” It was, in fact, “We Can Fuck,” a title deemed too explicit for an official Sunset Sound document; it would also be known by the euphemisms “Moral Majority” (not to be confused with the actual recording by that title) and, anecdotally, “Sex” (also not to be confused with the 1989 song later released as the B-side for “Scandalous”). But Prince clearly thought the dummy title was too good to waste on an act of self-censorship; because just a week later, on January 7-8, 1984, he recorded a new song bearing the same name.
I know I say this every time, but hoo boy, has it ever been a while since I wrote one of these: one year, four months, and 30 days, to be precise. In my defense, though, the sprawl of the Purple Rain era has meant that I’ve been concurrently working on two albums (soon to be four!), all of which were completed within a few months of each other–so, when it finally (purple) rains later this year, expect it to pour. In the meantime, we’ve officially reached the end of 1983 in our chronology, and I’d say that calls for a little celebration.
Before we raise our glasses, though, a caveat: as eagle-eyed readers of Duane Tudahl’s Studio Sessions and/or Prince Vault and/or VaultCurator’s studio recordings spreadsheet have no doubt already noticed, we haven’t actually covered every Prince song recorded in that annus mirabilis. A few of these missing numbers (e.g., “Wonderful Ass,” “Strange Relationship,” “My Summertime Thang,” “Promise to Be True,” “Possessed,” “17 Days,” “We Can Fuck”) will be considered alongside later versions in the months and years to come; a few (e.g., “Chocolate,” “G-Spot,” “Mia Bocca,” “The Glamorous Life,” “Next Time Wipe the Lipstick Off Your Collar,” “She’s Always in My Hair”) have been held back for editorial purposes until we get closer to their final destinations in Prince’s discography; and a few (e.g., “My Sex,” “Moral Majority,” “Electrocution,” “Money,” “I am Five”) will have to wait until I can, y’know, hear them. Last but not least, I’m currently working on my post about “Sex Shooter,” completed for Apollonia 6 in November 1983.
But still! Here we have 11 recordings–at least two of which, in my opinion, number among the finest in Prince’s career–and they aren’t even a third of what he actually wrote that year. At times like these, it’s tempting to ask what the hell I got myself into; but there’s also the other side of that coin, which is to marvel at the exciting things still ahead. In the meantime, here’s my ranking:
11. “Wednesday” Musical Theatre Prince has never been my favorite of his modes, so this ranking should come as little surprise. Still, it would have been nice to see Jill get her closeup in Purple Rain… I guess there’s always 2024?
9. “Modernaire” I have it on reasonably good authority that this is even more of a Prince song (.org) than I originally thought, so I’m extra glad I wrote about it. But, well, you can see why he gave it to Dez. Still great fun, and if you need a laugh today, rewatch the performance in Purple Rain and just pay attention to Joe Hunt on (conspicuously unplugged) guitar.
7. “Velvet Kitty Cat” Another tricky one to rank, because I’m pretty sure I’m being contrarian by placing it so high: This was near-universally considered a weak link on the Purple Rain expanded set, but I’ve always dug it. So, any other “Velvet Kitty Cat” defenders out there? Anyone?
6. “Cloreen Bacon Skin” Now this one should arguably be placed higher, but I had to make room for some more hobby horses in the top five. Still, if you want to make a case for Prince as a capital-“F” funk artist, I can think of no better exemplar.
5. “Father’s Song” Maybe it’s recency bias, or maybe a wistful, vaguely cyberpunk instrumental is better suited to my early-2022 pandemic vibes than a sweaty 15-minute funk jam. Like I said in the post, this one would have made a killer B-side.
4. 1983 Piano Rehearsal One of those hobby horses I warned you about. I may no longer be able to call Piano & A Microphone 1983 the best posthumous Prince release–Sign “O” the Times Super Deluxe has taken that title by brute force–but it’s still the one I revisit most. Detractors (you know who you are) may not need to check your ears, but you should probably check your souls.
3. “Katrina’s Paper Dolls” Hobby horse number two! The fact that I never saw much praise for this ditty from the expanded Purple Rain suggests a surprising lack of crossover between hardcore Prince fans and synthpop lovers. Well, if I have to be the one to claim that sliver of the Venn diagram, so be it.
2. “Electric Intercourse” Yes, we’ve officially reached the two tracks that “number among the finest of Prince’s career.” It’s been said many times before, but the fact that this stayed in the Vault because he came up with a better ballad? Mind-boggling.
1. “Irresistible Bitch” I remember hearing this for the first time on The Hits/The B-Sides, thinking I had my head wrapped around what made Prince great, and then getting it busted open in a whole new way. Almost four decades old and still sounds like the future. As a producer of electronic music, he would reach this peak again, but I’m not sure he ever bested it.
Next up, as noted above, is “Sex Shooter”; I think it will be good, but it’s shaping up to be another long one, so no promises on when it’s coming (I will, however, try to have it ready for patrons before February). I’m also acutely aware that I’m long overdue for a new podcast; again, no promises re: timeline, but now that I’ve finished another batch of posts I think I can start turning my eye in that direction. In the meantime, a belated Happy New Year (whatever that’s worth these days), and thanks for reading!
For those about to stream, we salute you: