My Life with You I Share: An Alternate Timeline Review of For You

My Life with You I Share: An Alternate Timeline Review of For You

(Featured Image: Warner Bros. press photo, 1978; stolen from Lansure’s Music Paraphernalia.)

Note: In the last several weeks of writing about the songs on Prince’s debut album, I’ve been struck by the many contingencies that exist around For You, and Prince’s early career in general. If things had gone even slightly differently; if his label–or, for that matter, Prince himself–had shown even a little less confidence in his artistic development; then we would be looking at a very different musical landscape in 2016. There’s also the fact that, as I’ve noted several times in my track-by-track posts, it’s difficult to look at For You in retrospect without seeing it as just the first, not-entirely-successful glimpse at a talent and vision that would find its full expression in years to come. But what if that perspective wasn’t the default? What if For You wasn’t the first step in a long career by Prince, but in fact his first and last album? This post is my attempt to think my way through this situation: think of it as a look back at For You from a possible alternate timeline. I don’t know if I will do this for other albums in the future–or, like, ever again–but I thought it was an interesting exercise to examine Prince’s earliest days as a recording artist through a completely different lens. I hope you find it interesting, too.

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Roundup: For You, 1978

Roundup: For You, 1978

(Featured Image: Billboard magazine ad, 1979; photo stolen from Fusion.)

Well, it took a little longer than planned, but we’ve officially finished Prince’s first album! For You was a lot of fun for me to revisit, because like many who got into Prince through his ’80s work, I never really listened to it all that much. It’s still far from my favorite Prince album, but looking at in depth has given me a new appreciation. Not only is it an ambitious and beautifully crafted record, but it also provides some fascinating glimpses into Prince’s musical future: the sounds he would further refine, as well as the stylistic dead ends he’d cease to pursue. If you’re a serious Prince listener–and if you’re reading this blog, I can only imagine you are–then you absolutely need to give For You a fair shake.

So, to that end, here are all nine of my posts about the album, in ascending order of my personal preference:

9. “So Blue” Like I said in the original post, this feels the most like filler of anything on For You; having said that, however, there are so many interesting little sonic touches that make it a pleasure to listen to. Most artists would kill to have Prince’s filler.

8. “My Love is Forever Maybe the most dated song on the record. Love that guitar tone, though.

7. “Just as Long as We’re Together” A virtuoso performance on just about every level, but a little precious for my tastes. Still, you can’t deny the kid has talent, and the “Jelly Jam” coda knocks.

6. “Baby The most conventional late-’70s R&B track on the album; but Prince’s more-falsetto-than-falsetto voice, and the unusually mature lyrical themes, demonstrate that there’s something much more interesting at work.

5. “Crazy You” A real sleeper; this one went from one of my least favorite tracks on the album to my top five. It’s slight and arguably underdeveloped, but the vibe is undeniable. If he’d put it out in 2016 instead of 1978, hipsters would have already developed a whole subgenre around it, like beachwave or space calypso or some shit.

4. “For You” This used to be the only song on the album besides “Soft and Wet” that I really loved. It’s no longer that, but it’s still up there. Prince’s vocals are breathtaking, and the chutzpah it took to make this the opening track of his first album is admirable.

3. “In Love” I used to think it was “too disco”; now I enjoy its funhouse-mirror version of the Minneapolis Sound. And who among us wouldn’t let 19-year-old Prince “play in their river?”

2. “Soft and WetEasily the most “Prince”-sounding song on the album, and not coincidentally the only one that tends to be anthologized. I’m not mad, though; it’s a great track.

1. “I’m Yours” Man, did this song ever grow on me. The guitar pyrotechnics are amazing, of course, but the extreme contrast between Prince’s sledgehammer riffage and his overtly fey vocals is what makes it for me: it’s not quite like anything else in rock. Like I noted in the post, this song more than any other on the album would determine Prince’s musical direction for the next several years; it was definitely the right call.

Now, let’s take a look at the tag cloud and see how it compares to the last one:

tagcloud1tagcloud-foryou

Aside from the obvious differences in date and location, it’s interesting to see how Prince’s dominant musical influences are beginning to shift: Stevie Wonder comes up a lot more than Sly Stone, and while Larry Graham is holding strong, both James Brown and Earth, Wind & Fire have taken a dive. Oh, and I apparently haven’t been talking about Under the Cherry Moon as much. That’s probably for the best.

Like I said yesterday, we’ll be spending one more week wrapping up For You, with a different kind of post I’m trying out for fun. Then, the following week, we’ll pick up with some of Prince’s 1978 home recordings. In the meantime, check back on Saturday for the last of my Prince (Protégé) Summer guest posts on Andresmusictalk. You can also check out the growing companion playlist on TIDAL, if that’s your thing. And, again, thanks so much for reading!

Crazy You

Crazy You

(Featured Image: Breno Mello and Marpessa Dawn in Black Orpheus, Marcel Camus, 1959; © Criterion Collection.)

Side One of For You opens with the title track, followed by “In Love” and “Soft and Wet.” On track four, Prince shifts gears for his first officially-released ballad: a jazzy, contemplative, acoustic guitar-driven sketch of a song called “Crazy You.”

It’s likely, of course, that “Crazy You” is somebody’s favorite track on the album, but I can’t imagine that’s a common sentiment. The song just isn’t designed that way; it’s made to melt into the background, serving as a short palate cleanser between the exhibitionistic single cuts “Soft and Wet” and “Just as Long as We’re Together.” Its structure is wispy, elusive: a single verse over a spare arrangement that just sort of disappears into the ether once it’s done. In many ways, it sounds more like a demo than a lot of the actual demos Prince recorded in 1977.

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In Love

In Love

(Featured Image: 1978 promotional poster; © Warner Bros., photo by Prince Poster Collector.)

During the course of this blog, I’ve already made a couple of passing references to the “Minneapolis Sound”; so I guess now is as good a time as any to talk about what that much-discussed label entails. At its most basic level, the Minneapolis Sound is a form of post-disco dance music rooted in R&B, with synthesizers replacing the traditional soul/funk horn section. Prince didn’t “invent” the style, strictly speaking; as we’ve seen (and will continue to observe), plenty of others helped along the way, from Pepé Willie to André Cymone (née Anderson) to Chris Moon and Owen Husney to the Lewis Connection–whose keyboard player Pierre Lewis, you might recall, was the one who lent Prince his first Oberheim Four Voice so he could synthesize those traditional horn parts in the first place. There’s a great collection on Numero Group called Purple Snow: Forecasting the Minneapolis Sound that documents the genre’s early progression–including some early songs Prince actually played on, like the aforementioned “If You See Me” by 94 East and the Lewis Connection’s “Got to Be Something Here.”

What we can attribute primarily to Prince was the formal codification of the Minneapolis Sound as a genre, which he did by simply bringing it to a national audience and turning it into a marketable (and lucrative) style for others to reproduce. But even this process didn’t happen overnight. Case in point: “In Love,” the second track of his 1978 debut album For You, which sounds both exactly like vintage Prince–i.e., the “Minneapolis Sound”–and like something completely different.

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