Note: In the last several weeks of writing about the songs on Prince’s debut album, I’ve been struck by the many contingencies that exist around For You, and Prince’s early career in general. If things had gone even slightly differently; if his label–or, for that matter, Prince himself–had shown even a little less confidence in his artistic development; then we would be looking at a very different musical landscape in 2016. There’s also the fact that, as I’ve noted several times in my track-by-track posts, it’s difficult to look at For You in retrospect without seeing it as just the first, not-entirely-successful glimpse at a talent and vision that would find its full expression in years to come. But what if that perspective wasn’t the default? What if For You wasn’t the first step in a long career by Prince, but in fact his first and last album? This post is my attempt to think my way through this situation: think of it as a look back at For You from a possible alternate timeline. I don’t know if I will do this for other albums in the future–or, like, ever again–but I thought it was an interesting exercise to examine Prince’s earliest days as a recording artist through a completely different lens. I hope you find it interesting, too.
In the spring of 1976, the band formerly known as Grand Central (recently rechristened “Shampayne”) recorded their second and final demo at an eight-track recording studio with an unusually fanciful name. “Moonsound, Inc.” was founded in the early 1970s, in the basement of a rented house on 25th Street and Portland Avenue (Hill 29). Its namesake was an English expatriate advertising agent, recording engineer, aspiring songwriter, and all-around renaissance man named Chris Moon, whose reasonable fees ($15 an hour, clients provide their own tape) made Moonsound a popular destination for North Minneapolis’ small but active African American musical community.
Moonsound moved around town for the better part of the decade: to another basement on Stevens Avenue, and eventually to a large, single-story structure on Dupont, next door to an automotive impound (Numero Group 2013). In between, Moon set up shop in a 1,500-square-foot former hair salon on the south end of the city, near Lake Nokomis. It was at this location where Prince Rogers Nelson would record some of his most important early work; first, though, there was the Shampayne demo.
In an interview with biographer Dave Hill, Chris Moon recalled Shampayne recording “three or four sessions. They’d come in, do the rhythm track one day, then the vocals, and then the mix and so on” (Hill 29). Moon told Per Nilsen that he found the band to be “talented, but not exceptionally talented.” Like Pepé Willie before him, however, he did see “exceptional” talent in their soft-spoken, diminutive, big-haired guitarist. “Prince would normally show up a bit earlier than everybody else, thrash around on the drums a little bit, twinkle on the piano, guitar, bass or whatever,” he said to Nilsen (Nilsen 1999 26). In Debby Miller’s 1983 cover story for Rolling Stone, Moon elaborated: “Prince always used to show up at the studio with a chocolate shake in his hand, sipping out of a straw… He looked pretty tame. Then he’d pick up an instrument and that was it. It was all over” (Miller 1983).