Free

Free

(Featured Image: A family picnics with giraffes in a 1982 ad for the Soviet VAZ 2101; photo stolen from Soviet Visuals.)

In late April 1982, the majority of the tracks Prince had completed for his fifth album fell under one of two categories: extended electro-funk grooves (“All the Critics Love U in New York,” “Let’s Pretend We’re Married,” “D.M.S.R.”) and slippery R&B slow jams (“International Lover”). But the song he recorded on April 25, just five days after “D.M.S.R.,” was an outlier both on the album and in his career to date: a theatrical rock ballad with vaguely propagandistic undertones called “Free.”

From its opening moments, “Free” lays on the grandiosity, with the sound of a heartbeat overlaid by marching footsteps and waves crashing on the shore–clips raided from Sunset Sound’s library of sound effects, the same source as the traffic noise from “Lady Cab Driver” and “All the Critics.” Just as these sounds fade away, Prince enters the mix, his gossamer falsetto accompanied by a crystalline piano line. Bass and drums slip softly into formation, followed by dramatic guitar chords when he hits the chorus: “Be glad that U are free, free to change your mind / Free to go most anywhere anytime / Be glad that U are free, there’s many a man who’s not / Be glad for what U had baby[,] what you’ve got.”

Freedom, of course, was an emerging theme of Prince’s long before he’d decided to dedicate a full song to it. “It’s all about being free” had been the mantra of “Uptown”; “Sexuality” had exhorted the listener to “let your body be free.” Then there were the songs that preached freedom without using the word–notably “D.M.S.R.,” with its calls to “screw the masses” and “[d]o whatever we want.” But something about “Free” feels fundamentally different. Rather than an exhilarating promise of liberation, here Prince describes freedom as a solemn duty, more in keeping with the “freedom isn’t free” bromides of American conservatism than with the radical traditions that informed his earlier work.

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Prince Track by Track: “What Do U Want Me 2 Do?”

Prince Track by Track: “What Do U Want Me 2 Do?”

(Featured Image: Prince and (soon-to-be-ex-) wife Manuela Testolini in 2004. Photo by Frank Micelotta, stolen from Heavy.)

As I divide my writing time this week between d / m / s / r and the various year-end list obligations from my other side hustle as a freelance music writer, here’s the latest of my guest appearances on Darren Husted’s Prince: Track by Track podcast, talking about a nice-but-not-beloved song from a nice-but-not-beloved album:

Prince Track by Track: “What Do U Want Me 2 Do?”

Speaking of end-of-year stuff, I suppose now is as good a time as any to give some indication of how I see the rest of the month shaking out. I plan to get at least one or two songs into the Time’s second album–ideally starting this week, though the aforementioned freelancing obligations mean that next week is a safer bet. Before I shut down for the holidays, I also plan to post (by request!) a new installment in my series of alternate universe fan-fics masquerading as serious historical thought experiments.  And I think I’m on the slate for at least two more episodes of Track by Track in 2018. My own podcast is currently dormant, but will return in the new year with, at the very least, another album review. And then we’ll be on to 1999 before we know it in 2019! As always, a heartfelt thanks to everyone who takes the time to read and/or listen to my thoughts–I know you have many choices when it comes to Prince-related commentary, etc., etc.

Podcast: Prince (1979) Revisited

Podcast: Prince (1979) Revisited

(Featured Image: Cover art for Prince, 1979; photo by Jurgen Reisch, © Warner Bros.)

October 19, 2018 marks the 39th anniversary of Prince’s self-titled second album–not the most glamorous occasion, perhaps, but reason enough to reassemble the review panel from our For You podcast for a reappraisal. Once again, Zach is joined by Harold and KaNisa for a track-by-track discussion of this underappreciated album, its resonances throughout Prince’s career, and why it still matters.

If you want to keep in the loop for our forthcoming Dirty Mind podcast, you can subscribe to dance / music / sex / romance on your aggregator of choice (iTunesStitcher, or Google Play); and if you like what we’re doing and want to spread the word, please leave us a review! In the meantime, the d / m / s / r blog will return next week with one last track from 1981.

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Prince’s Friend: Who was Prince’s Best Drummer – Judge’s Panel

As I continue to work on my next proper post, I’m happy to share another collaborative effort I had the opportunity to participate in with popular YouTubers Prince’s Friend, Nightchild-Ethereal, and Mr. Ant. We discussed the eight main drummers Prince worked with during his career–Bobby Z, Sheila E, Michael B, Kirk Johnson, Cora Coleman-Dunham, John Blackwell, and Hannah Welton–and ranked them based on our performances. I hope you enjoy it, even if for some reason I was not looking at the camera in the first clip! Thanks to Prince’s Friend for the opportunity, and to Darling Nisi for recommending me.

Podcast: I Know That the Lord is Coming Soon – Erica Thompson on the Salford Purple Reign Conference

Podcast: I Know That the Lord is Coming Soon – Erica Thompson on the Salford Purple Reign Conference

(Featured Image: Purple Rain Tour Shirt, 1984; photo stolen from the Current.)

It’s been just under two months since I started interviewing presenters from this spring’s interdisciplinary Prince conference at the University of Salford, and I’ve been absolutely thrilled with the results. But all good things must come to an end, so I had planned to make this chat with writer Erica Thompson the last of my post-conference podcasts. It would have been a great choice, too; Erica’s presentation was the result of many years of research for a book project on Prince’s spiritual journey, so our conversation was less about the conference in particular and more about her findings more generally: a nice segue into future, less Manchester-centric episodes.

But just when I think I’m out, they keep pulling me back in. Contrary to my own statements in this episode, I have already set up another interview with a few presenters from one of the conference’s gender and sexuality panels. So basically, expect me to keep interviewing scholars from the Purple Reign conference until the next milestone in Prince scholarship comes along. And in the meantime, please enjoy my and Erica’s conversation about the importance–and, sometimes, difficulty–of understanding Prince’s religious faith in relationship with his art.

As usual, I invite you to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or Google Play for mobile listening; you can also stream episodes on Mixcloud. And keep listening, because there’s good stuff–Purple Reign-related and otherwise–coming up in the near future!

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