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Ephemera, 1984

Manic Monday

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).

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Ephemera, 1983 Roundup Posts

Roundup: Ephemera, 1983

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?

10. “My Love Belongs to You A footnote, albeit one with lots of historical interest: as I noted in my post, I hear traces here of “The Bird,” “Chocolate,” “Possessed,” even “Kiss.”

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.

8. “Vibrator A tricky one to rank, because a hefty percentage of my affection for this song is directly tied to the skits in the latter half. A fun little tune, but it’s no “Nasty Girl.”

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:

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Podcast

Podcast: All the Critics Love U – A Conversation with Jack Riedy, Author of Electric Word Life

As promised/threatened, we’re back to a monthly schedule on the D / M / S / R podcast! For this month’s episode, it was my pleasure to speak to music writer Jack Riedy (Pitchfork, GQ, VIBE) about his new book Electric Word Life: Writing on Prince 2016-2021. It was a really fun conversation, running through each of the pieces collected in his book and covering everything from Prince’s influence on Chicago house to the degree to which the Batman album goes (spoiler: it’s hard). Check it out, and if you’re so inclined, get yourself a copy of Jack’s book! It’s a great read and highly recommended.

By the way, I caught this too late to mention it “on air,” but thanks so much to cittalente for their review on Apple Podcasts! If you’re interested in reviewing D / M / S / R on your podcast service of choice, please do, and I will read it on the next episode–which, if all goes to plan, should be dropping next month.

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Ephemera, 1983 Patreon Exclusives

Patreon Exclusive Bonus Track: My Love Belongs to You

Amidst the flood of music Prince recorded in the lead-up to his 1984 magnum opus, Purple Rain, “My Love Belongs to You” barely registers as a ripple. A rough-hewn, seven-minute-long instrumental, it isn’t even the most fully-realized track from its recording date: April 20, 1983, a 10-hour session at Sunset Sound in Los Angeles that also produced “Velvet Kitty Cat,” overdubs for “If the Kid Can’t Make You Come,” and multiple takes of another studio jam called “Sleazy.” But my mission, quixotic as it may be, is to chronicle every circulating studio recording by Prince; and if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my almost five years (!) of doing this, it’s that every recording by Prince has something to say about his musical development.

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Ephemera, 1986

Cosmic Day

Whenever I explain why I’m writing about every Prince song in order–a hobby, believe it or not, that does still warrant explanation in some circles–one of my go-to lines is that Prince, almost uniquely in popular music, is an artist with effectively three or four different canons. There is of course the primary canon of the big ’80s hits (“1999,” “Kiss,” “Little Red Corvette,” basically all of Purple Rain), f0llowed by the subcanon of later singles, “deep cut” album tracks, and B-sides–the latter of which is large enough that we could potentially make it a subcanon all its own. But what makes Prince special is the fact that he also has a sub-subcanon–either his third or fourth, depending on how we count the above–which includes tracks that never saw official release, but are still treated with reverence by collectors and fans. Prince isn’t the only artist with a deep and multilayered catalogue, of course–Bob Dylan and Neil Young both come to mind as potential peers–but I would argue that he is the only artist whose “sub-subcanon” rivals the quality and notoriety of his “official” body of work. In short, for fans of rabbit holes (and I clearly am one), they don’t come any deeper than this.

For years, “Cosmic Day” was one of those fabled cuts languishing in the depths of the purple rabbit hole: one of many proverbial “holy grails.” Recorded on November 15, 1986, in the midst of the blur of activity that led to the Crystal Ball triple-LP and its truncated sibling, Sign “O” the Times, it was seemingly never intended for either project; like “Moonbeam Levels,” another fixture of Prince’s subterranean canon, it’s at once essential to the era in which it was recorded and wholly detached from it. But unlike “Moonbeam Levels,” it has also tantalized fans by staying out of the hands of most collectors, with only two-to-three-minute fragments in wide circulation–until, that is, yesterday’s release of the full recording in advance of Sign “O” the Times Super Deluxe.