As of this Friday, the wait is finally over: Sign “O” the Times Super Deluxe will at last be in our hot little hands (or at least our hot little streaming services; I ordered my physical copy from the official Prince store, so let’s just say I’m not getting my hopes up about getting it on release day). In the meantime, Warner Bros. has given us one last preview track to tide us over: Prince’s January 1987 recording of “I Need a Man.”
Like many of the Vault tracks that ended up on 1999 Super Deluxe, “You’re All I Want” was known to collectors by name and reputation long before it was widely circulating. Former Sunset Sound engineer Peggy McCreary likes to tell the story behind the song’s recording on January 11, 1982–her birthday, as she recalled with some consternation to Pitchfork’s Sam Sodowsky: “I was like, God, couldn’t he give me my birthday off? Shit!” When Prince arrived at the studio that morning, McCreary said, “he was dressed totally different than I had ever seen him: black leather boots, jeans—which he never wore—white t-shirt, and a black leather jacket” (Sodowsky 2019). Perhaps inspired by his wardrobe, the track he worked on that day was a rockabilly song–a genre he’d been toying with in earnest since he caught a show by retro-rock revivalists the Stray Cats in London the previous spring.
Prince kept McCreary working through the day and into the night: the session ended around “11 or 12,” she recalled to Andrea Swensson for Minnesota Public Radio’s The Story of 1999 podcast, “and we had started early. And I thought, ‘OK, well now there’s [no] birthday for me today.’ So anyway, he starts to leave, and I always made him a cassette of the mix, and I handed him the cassette and I was just cleaning up and doing some patches and stuff like that… he walks to the door and he looks over at me and he smiles, and he tosses this cassette over his shoulder, and he says, ‘Happy birthday,’ and he walked out. And I just stood there with my mouth open. He didn’t even wait for a response, a thank you or anything. It was just that was my happy birthday song, so it’s coming out, and Warner Bros. is releasing it, so I can’t say I have an unreleased Prince song anymore. Bummer.”
Prince’s first side project, the Time, began with a fundamental musical concept: They were a vehicle for the hardcore funk and R&B from which he had mostly steered away in his own career, with an added touch of New Wave rock and roll in the vein of contemporary acts like the BusBoys. Everything else about the group, from their boutique vintage wardrobe to frontman Morris Day’s tongue-in-cheek pimp persona, was an elegant outgrowth of this conceit. By contrast, Prince’s second side project, the Hookers, began with an image, and not an especially sophisticated one–the name pretty much summed it up. So it’s no surprise that the music he composed for the group in mid-to-late 1981 had a distinct whiff of throwing everything against the wall and seeing what stuck: There was minimalist electro-punk (“Drive Me Wild,” “Make-Up”), New Wave-ized girl group pop (“Wet Dream,” “Jealous Girl”), and, with “Money Don’t Grow on Trees,” even a dash of vintage R&B.
Before last year’s Super Deluxe Edition of 1999, “Vagina” was known only by its title and its reputation–both of which were among the most tantalizing, and titillating, of any songs in Prince’s Vault. Few outside of Prince’s inner circle at the time of recording had heard it–and those who had, most notably former engineer David Z, simply described it as “obscene.”
It would have been impossible for any song to live up to such a reputation; “Vagina” certainly doesn’t, though it does stand as one of the highlights of 1999 Super Deluxe’s previously-unreleased Vault tracks. Recorded at his Kiowa Trail home studio in November 1981, the song finds Prince in stripped-down punk-rock mode–just him and his Hohner “Madcat” Telecaster; even the “percussion,” such as it is, is simulated with his mouth. As biographer Alex Hahn observed in a Facebook post soon after the passing of musician Andy Gill, Prince’s guitar work here “very much evokes” Gill’s playing with the English post-punk group Gang of Four–particularly when he “bangs the strings of his guitar in a percussive manner at the very outset of the song.” It’s a strikingly different sound from the rest of the music Prince was making ahead of his fifth album, which even in late 1981 was tending more toward synthesizers and drum machines than guitars–see, for example, the early versions of “Feel U Up” and “Irresistible Bitch” recorded in the same month.
Of the three Vanity 6 songs originally recorded for the Hookers project in mid-1981, “Wet Dream” sets itself apart in a few key ways. First, unlike “Make-Up” and “Drive Me Wild,” it isn’t hard proto-techno, but glistening synthpop in the “Private Joy” vein. And second, rather than Susan Moonsie, it features vocals by Denise Matthews–better known as the woman who put the “Vanity” in Vanity 6.
The singer on the original Hookers version of “Wet Dream” isn’t documented. Prince Vault assumes Jamie Shoop, which is as good a guess as any; it’s also possible that Prince simply laid down his own guide vocals, or cut the basic track as an instrumental. But whatever the specifics, he returned to the song in the spring of 1982 to add vocal overdubs by Vanity and Brenda Bennett. The results, like most Vanity vocal tracks, were mixed.