Categories
Alternate Timelines

The Dawn: How Prince’s Troubled Followup to 1999 Almost Became His Feature Film Debut

Note: I confess that this piece, a Patreon commission from Darling Nisi, has been a long time coming–so long, in fact, that I’m pretty sure I already owe her a second commission now. Part of the reason why I took so long are the same, much-discussed reasons why I took so long for everything over the past eight months or so; but part of the reason is because her request to imagine a circa-1984 Prince without Purple Rain required a lot of thought. No Purple Rain–which I took to mean the movie as well as the album–means no “When Doves Cry,” “The Beautiful Ones,” or pivot to Top 40 success; it also means no Paisley Park (the recording complex or the vanity record label), no massive renogotiated contract (and thus no “Slave”-era faceoff) with Warner Bros., and no comeback album and greatest-hits tour conveniently timed to the 20th anniversary. So large does Prince’s first film and sixth album loom over the rest of his career, in fact, that I didn’t even try to do justice to every change its absence would have wrought; this may be the first alternate timeline I will have to revisit in the future, just so I can fully think through what the ’90s or 2000s would have looked like to a Prince detached from both the expectations and the opportunities afforded him by Purple Rain.

In inventing an alternative followup to 1999, I ended up setting a few rules for myself: First, I limited myself to the existing timeline of songs recorded between January 1983 and March 1984, so the imaginary album could feasibly share a release date with the real one. Second, I wouldn’t use any track known to have been composed specifically for the movie–so, again, no “When Doves Cry” or “The Beautiful Ones”; I technically could have used “Purple Rain,” but that seemed to go against the spirit of the exercise, so I didn’t. Third, and finally, I tried to make my fake album as distinct from the real one as possible: if what set Purple Rain apart from 1999 was its concision and pop-friendliness, then my alternate-universe version would be more even more sprawling and idiosyncratic than its predecessor. Obviously, the album I reverse-engineered from existing recordings is no replacement for an actual, cohesive project produced, arranged, composed, and performed by Prince; but I do think it’s a fun listen (and yes, I did make a version I could actually listen to).

As always, I will end with the disclaimer that everything after this introduction is completely made up and just for fun, all Photoshops are crudely and hastily done, and all resemblances to actual persons living or dead are, if not coincidental, certainly not to be taken seriously.

Categories
Ephemera, 1981-1982 Patreon Exclusives

Patreon Exclusive Bonus Track: Vagina

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.

Categories
1999, 1982

1999

By mid-July of 1982, Prince had completed work on the album that would become 1999, with just one significant exception: “1999,” the song, was nowhere to be seen. When Prince played a rough mix of the album for his manager Bob Cavallo that month, he got a cooler reception than he anticipated.

“‘This is a great album, but we don’t have a first single,’” Cavallo recalled telling Prince. “‘We have singles that’ll be hits, but we don’t have a thematic, important thing that can be embraced by everybody, different countries, et cetera.’” In response, Prince “cursed me, and he went away–but he didn’t force me to put it out. Two weeks later, he came back and he played ‘1999,’ and that became the title of the album” (Light 43).

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Patreon Exclusives

Patreon Exclusive: Preliminary Thoughts on the New 1999 Reissue

This morning, I plonked down 264 dollars and 98 cents of imaginary money on the upcoming 10-LP + DVD “Super Deluxe” box set version of 1999, which was announced yesterday for release in late November. I don’t know how, exactly, I’m going to pay for it. Maybe it will be my first splurge of a promotion I’m probably due for at my day job in November; maybe I’ll pinch pennies from my regular wages; maybe I’ll sell some old shit; most likely, I’ll just add it to the existing pile of debt that will likely be the only inheritance I leave to my beloved son. The point is–unlike you, dear patrons, who are clearly people of distinction and only spend your money on sensible things–I am bad with money, and I want this thing really bad.

But whatever else there is to say about my financial follies, one thing is for sure: I am going to turn it into content. So, even though all we have at this point is a track list and a few tiny tidbits on the bonus tracks, let’s speculate on the thing that is going to knock a couple points off my credit score come November.

To organize my thoughts a little bit, I’ll run down the announced Super Deluxe set disc by disc. And of course, I’d like to hear what you’re all thinking about it, so let me know in the comments!

Categories
Ephemera, 1981-1982

Turn It Up

Along with the Time tracks and “International Lover,” Prince also cut a few “orphan” songs at Sunset Sound in mid-January 1982. “You’re All I Want,” recorded on January 11 alongside “Gigolos Get Lonely Too,” was a frothy rockabilly jaunt with a synth line he’d later repurpose for “Horny Toad.” “Bold Generation” from the following day would re-emerge almost a decade later as “New Power Generation” on the Graffiti Bridge soundtrack. “Colleen” from January 15, the same day he completed “The Walk,” was a funky but formless instrumental.

Each of these tracks would languish in the Vault and select tape-trading circles for decades, before finally seeing the light of day with the release of 1999 Super Deluxe in 2019. “Turn It Up,” however, has a longer pedigree. Recorded over 13 hours on January 19 and 20, it was the second-to-last track Prince cut before resuming the Controversy tour in Richmond, Virginia. And–before it, too, received an official release on 1999 Super Deluxe–it was in wide circulation as a bootleg: quite possibly the most widely-heard 1999 outtake this side of “Moonbeam Levels.”