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, 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.

Categories
Patreon Exclusives Reviews

Post-Vacation Update: Patreon-Exclusive Originals Review, plus “Sister” on Press Rewind

It’s a well-known fact that when Prince gave songs to other artists, he would cut his own recordings with guide vocals–not “demos” in the traditional sense so much as complete alternate takes, with production values in many cases equal to the versions that saw release. Almost as well-known, at least among bootleg enthusiasts, is the fact that Prince’s versions of these songs tended to be better than the “covers.” That makes the latest posthumous release by Warner Bros. Records and the Prince Estate, Originals, something of a no-brainer: here are 15 songs we already know and (mostly) love, preserved as they might have been had Prince decided to keep them for himself.

Categories
Podcast

Podcast: 24 Feelings All in a Row – A Conversation with Duane Tudahl, Author of Prince and the Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions: 1983 and 1984

Last week, Duane Tudahl’s long-awaited book Prince and the Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions: 1983 and 1984 was finally published, and I was lucky enough to speak to him about it. If you haven’t read the book yet, you need to listen to this podcast: Duane is a knowledgeable and passionate Prince fan-turned-scholar, and his enthusiasm for the project is infectious. And if you have read the book, you should still listen, because he has a lot to share not only about his research and writing process, but also about his experiences with the celebrated Uptown fanzine and his ideas for preserving Prince’s legacy moving forward. NPG/Comerica/Warner Bros., if you’re out there, give this man some consulting work; we can all benefit from someone with his dedication and expertise steering the ship.

Now, for those of you who haven’t read the book yet, allow me to sweeten the pot: I’ve already bought my copy, but I am planning to secure another one (hopefully signed by the author!) and gift it to a lucky listener who reviews d / m / s / r on their podcast app of choice (iTunes, Stitcher, or Google Play). If you’ve never done this before, it’s easy: just subscribe, give the podcast a rating, and leave a short review, then leave a comment on the blog so I know you did it. In about a month, I’ll send my extra copy of Duane’s book to whoever wrote my favorite review. Note that this doesn’t mean your review has to be positive–if you hate my podcast and want to drag me, knock yourself out! As long as you leave a review and tell me where to look for it (and are willing to send me your mailing address, of course), you’re eligible to receive the book.

For now, I hope you enjoy this interview, and I hope you’ll check out Duane’s book–it really is phenomenal. Thanks for listening, and see you again soon!

Categories
Reviews

Review: Prince and the Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions – 1983 and 1984

It is no exaggeration to say that without Duane Tudahl, Prince fandom and Prince scholarship would both look very different. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Tudahl was one of the amateur historians behind Uptown, the venerated fanzine that remains the chief source of what we know about Prince’s work beyond the official studio recordings. If you have a dogeared copy of Per Nilsen’s Dance Music Sex Romance or Alex Hahn’s Possessed on your shelf; if you’ve ever consulted Prince Vault for information on a rare outtake; and yes, if you’re reading this very blog; Tudahl is among the people you have to thank.

But Uptown’s research, for all its significance, is getting a little long in the tooth. The magazine has been defunct for well over a decade, during which time new information on Prince’s recording sessions have continued to emerge unabated; so it was with great excitement that many of us learned Tudahl was preparing an update. Prince and the Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions: 1983 and 1984 is the first of, hopefully, many such updates–and I don’t think I need to tell this particular readership that it is absolutely essential.

As the title suggests, Tudahl takes a long view of the “Purple Rain era,” beginning in the middle of the 1999 tour in January 1983 and ending with the completion of Around the World in a Day in December 1984. Obviously, setting firm chronological boundaries on the work of an artist in perpetual motion will always be arbitrary; Tudahl, however, makes a good case for his selection. The 24 months he chose include Prince’s slow ascension to superstardom, and his first post-crossover left turn; the “official” formation of his most iconic band, the Revolution, and the beginning of their expansion with vital auxiliary musicians such as Eric Leeds; the club show that provided the nucleus for much of the Purple Rain film and album, and the stadium performances with which he promoted them. This is, in other words, an era that provides a fascinating microcosm for the various trends, tensions, and themes that would persist throughout Prince’s career.

1983 and 1984 are also where Prince recorded some of his most popular and accomplished music: not only Purple Rain and Around the World in a Day, but also the Time’s Ice Cream Castle, Sheila E’s The Glamorous Life, the eponymous albums by Apollonia 6 and the Family, and many of his most renowned B-sides: “Irresistible Bitch,” “Erotic City,” “She’s Always in My Hair.” Even the songs written for other artists in this period are household names: “Manic Monday,” “Nothing Compares 2 U,” “Sugar Walls” (well, maybe not “Sugar Walls”). Regardless of one’s personal feelings on the “Purple Rain era,” it’s undeniable that this was one of the artist’s richest and most prolific periods, making it the perfect place to start with what could easily have been a dry, pedantic “for fans only” exercise.

That said, it still takes a special kind of music geek to read a 550-page book about the recording sessions for (give or take) a single album. This is, by its very nature, not a book for casual fans; but it’s to Tudahl’s credit that it is immensely readable, as much of a page-turner as a chronological studio record can possibly be. The author brings to life the heart of his research–work orders obtained from Sunset Sound, Prince’s base of operations in Los Angeles at the time–with judiciously-selected quotes from former engineers, band members, and other collaborators, as well as some (through archival means) from Prince himself. For writers and researchers like myself, of course, Prince and the Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions will be invaluable as a resource for information about this period (I just hope all of us are considerate about citing our sources). But for readers who simply want to learn more about an artist working at the peak of his powers, the insight it provides is just as worthy.

I say this a lot in reviews on this blog, but I mean it especially this time: if you read and enjoy d / m / s / r, you need to buy this book. Not just because it will be of interest to anyone with a desire to dig into Prince’s oeuvre song by song, but because, quite frankly, we owe it to Duane for his decades of hard work, without which I know none of my writing on Prince would exist. Plus, I’m dying to get another one of these for 1985-86. Let’s make it happen!

If you want to support Duane and d / m / s / r in one fell swoop, please feel free to preorder Prince and the Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions using our Amazon affiliate link. The book comes out next Wednesday, November 15.