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Ephemera, 1984

Sugar Walls

At the beginning of 1984, Prince had a lot of proverbial balls in the air: not only his big-screen debut and accompanying album, but also spinoff projects by the Time, Apollonia 6, Jill Jones, and, soon, Sheila E. Most artists would consider this more than enough to juggle; Prince, however, was not most artists. On January 20, the day after completing the Time’s Ice Cream Castle, he was already at work on a new song for yet another protégée, Scots pop-rock belter Sheena Easton.

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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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Ephemera, 1983

Irresistible Bitch

From his debut through 1999, Prince was releasing albums at the steady clip of one per year–with side projects the Time and Vanity 6 doubling, and then tripling, his output in 1981 and 1982, respectively. But as his attention turned to the development and production of his first feature film, the release schedule inevitably slowed. The year 1983 would be the first in half a decade without a new Prince album on shelves.

As it happened, this arrangement served his record label just fine. “Warner Bros.’ pop department worked really hard to launch Prince to pop radio,” recalled Marylou Badeaux, at that time a marketing executive in Warner’s “Black Music” division. “But there never was time. As soon as something was starting to happen on pop radio, the next album arrived. The fact that we weren’t getting a new album in 1983 ended up being a tremendous blessing because it gave us more time” (Nilsen 1999 119).

For Prince himself, the “blessing” was considerably less tremendous. “Delirious,” the third single from 1999, had released on August 17 paired with “Horny Toad,” an outtake of similar style and vintage. But the fourth single, “Let’s Pretend We’re Married,” wasn’t due out until November; and Prince, who had recorded enough music that year to fill a whole LP and then some, was itching to put out something new. According to sessionographer Duane Tudahl, the hyper-prolific artist spent his time at Sunset Sound on September 16 reviewing two prospective B-sides: “G-Spot,” which he’d tracked in May and would later dust off for protégée Jill Jones; and “Irresistible Bitch,” the latest version of which had been recorded just a day earlier. “Not surprisingly,” Tudahl writes, “he chose his most recent work” (Tudahl 2018 170).

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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.