The Rebels: A Retrospective from an Alternate Timeline

The Rebels: A Retrospective from an Alternate Timeline

(Featured Image: Cover of The Rebels, 1980; © Warner Bros.)

Note: Just in case there is any confusion, the below is entirely made up, albeit with perhaps an excess of dedication to historical plausibility. See my previous “Alternate Timeline” post on For You for a better explanation of the concept. And have fun!

The late 1970s and early 1980s punk scene in Minneapolis and St. Paul played host to a number of noteworthy groups: Hüsker Dü, the Replacements, the Suburbs. But none were as eclectic, or as underrated, as the multi-racial, gender- and genre-bending act known as the Rebels. A far cry from a conventional “punk” band, the Rebels were a motley crew of disaffected Northside funksters, suburban bar-band escapees, and even a few seasoned pros, whose wild live performances made them the first group from the Twin Cities underground to be signed by a major label. Their self-titled 1980 debut for Warner Bros. was both critically acclaimed and hugely influential for a generation of genre-agnostic musical provocateurs, but internal tensions kept them from fulfilling their full potential. Still, almost four decades later, the mark of the Rebels remains evident across the contemporary pop landscape, from alternative rock to electronic music and hip-hop.

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I am You: Capri Theatre, January 5-6, 1979

I am You: Capri Theatre, January 5-6, 1979

(Featured Image: Prince and his new band–L to R: André Cymone, Matt Fink, Dez Dickerson–on stage at the Capri Theatre, Minneapolis; photo by Greg Helgeson, stolen from Mpls St Paul magazine.)

Owen Husney’s dismissal from the Prince camp came at a critical juncture in the artist’s career. Prince spent the summer and fall of 1978 assembling a backing group, in hopes of touring behind For You the following year. It didn’t go entirely to plan; he wouldn’t embark on his first tour until November of 1979, after recording and releasing a much more successful second album. But the musicians he brought together would nevertheless determine his artistic direction for the following decade: providing the nucleus for the Revolution, the band with whom he would eventually conquer the world.

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Loring Park Sessions

Loring Park Sessions

(Featured Image: Prince in his first press kit, 1977; photo stolen from Nate D. Sanders Auctions.)

Last time, we talked about some of the ways in which Prince’s new management, “American Artists, Inc.” (a.k.a., Owen Husney and Gary Levinson), helped to foster his artistic growth in late 1976 and early 1977. Another one of those ways was to set up a makeshift rehearsal space in the company’s Loring Park offices: a kind of surrogate for Prince’s former home in the Andersons’ basement, giving him the space to write and demo new songs outside of the formal studio environment.

The majority of the songs recorded at the Loring Park space are not, to my knowledge, currently in circulation; as with the uncirculating Moonsound demos, however, we know at least some of the basic information. There was the aforementioned “I Like What You’re Doing,” as well as a sister song of sorts, “Hello, My Love,” written for an attractive secretary who worked in Husney’s office. According to Per Nilsen’s The Vault, Prince left a cassette of the song on her desk after completing it, but “she didn’t seem overly impressed” (Nilsen 2004 16); Prince, it seems, needed to work on his game in 1977. There was also another, presumably more experimental track, the promisingly-titled “Neurotic Lover’s Baby’s Bedroom,” which Prince wrote after Husney and Levinson bought him his first drum machine. Interestingly, despite this early dabbling, he would continue to use primarily live drums in his music until the release of Controversy in 1981.

Today, the Loring Park sessions are known mostly for, well, the “Loring Park Sessions”: a series of eight jazz-funk instrumentals recorded by Prince, André Anderson (remember him?), and Bobby “Z.” Rivkin sometime in early 1977. These songs, if indeed we can call them that, weren’t really intended for release; they aren’t even named in the circulating bootlegs, just numbered. But they offer a compelling glimpse at Prince’s musicianship and versatility in the months leading up to the his first album–not to mention the musicianship and versatility of two notable future sidemen.

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Roundup: Ephemera, 1975-1976

Roundup: Ephemera, 1975-1976

(Featured Image: Prince by Robert Whitman, 1977.)

Hi, everyone! In an effort to break up the flow of this blog a bit, I’d like to insert the occasional “Roundup” post whenever we come to the close of a particular phase of Prince’s musical career. So, now that we’re officially finished with 1976 ephemera and moving into For You territory, here are the songs so far. And hey, since everyone loves a totally subjective ranking–this is the Internet, is it not?–I’ll give them to you in ascending order of my personal preference:

9. Home Recordings, 1976 These probably shouldn’t even be on the list, as it’s a little unfair to consider them “songs.” What can I say, though, I dig some of ’em.

8. “If You See Me” Sorry, Pepé; Prince’s and Jesse’s versions both blow yours out of the water.

7. Moonsound Instrumentals The first time I posted this, I thought the version I’d heard of the legitimately funky “Jelly Jam” was recorded at Moonsound; it wasn’t, and as a result these recordings have dropped a bit in my esteem. Still, they show promise.

6. “Nightingale” Historically interesting and poignant, but so twee.

5. “Don’t You Wanna Ride?” More sexist than sexy, but also sort of endearingly dorky. It’s nice to know that at least 17-year-old Prince wasn’t smoother than 31-year-old me.

4. “I Spend My Time Loving You” Like “Nightingale,” this one’s a little on the twee side, but the vocal and guitar performances are moving beyond Prince’s years.

3. “Leaving for New York Like I said in the post, probably Prince’s most musically accomplished song to date. I slept on this one for ages, then I listened to it in the car and it just came alive. A sublime indication of a blossoming talent.

2. “Rock Me, Lover” It’s slight, sure, but like I said in the article, it offers a valuable glimpse of Prince’s future as a more feminist (or at least submissive) brand of lover. As teenage masturbatory fantasies go, I’ll take this over “Don’t You Wanna Ride?” any day. Also, great discussion with Jane Clare Jones in the comments.

1. “Sweet Thing” To be perfectly honest, this is the only song we’ve discussed so far that I really go out of my way to listen to. A beautiful, delicate cover version that I may even prefer to the original by Chaka Khan and Rufus. On a more personal note, this was the post that made Chaka retweet me and blow my blog the fuck up (at least for a couple of days). For that reason, it will always have a special place in my heart.

Also, let’s not forget the two introductory posts that fill in a few early gaps in Prince’s recorded oeuvre. I obviously can’t rank these because I haven’t heard any of the songs (though I’m sure the one of five-year-old Skipper banging rocks together was dope):

Funk Machine: Prehistory, 1965-1968
Sex Machine: Grand Central, 1973-1976

Finally, because I’m weirdly fascinated by tag clouds, here’s a snapshot of the tags I’ve used so far and their relative frequency. The data isn’t perfect because of a few crossposts that have fucked with the chronology, but it should still be interesting to see how the people, places, and songs we discuss change over time. To me, I mean. It will be interesting to me.

tagcloud1

Tomorrow, we continue with the next chapter of our journey: the series of studio recordings that ultimately resulted in Prince’s first album. If you’ve been rocking with me so far, I mean this sincerely: thank you so much. The response to this blog–especially these early, obscure entries–has honestly been beyond anything I dared to hope for. It’s so gratifying to get the feedback from people who enjoy what I’ve been doing. Just stick around, because it’s going to get better.