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Purple Rain, 1984

Darling Nikki

With Albert Magnoli on board as director, preparations for Prince’s film debut finally began in earnest. The artist’s new rehearsal space on Highway 7 in St. Louis Park, Minnesota became the epicenter for a “flurry of activity from morning ’til night,” recalled Brenda Bennett of side project Vanity 6 (Bellaire 2015). Along with a stage setup and recording console, “the Warehouse” also included a small wardrobe department for Vaughn Terry and Louis Wells: costume designers, best known for their work with Earth, Wind & Fire, who had joined the Prince camp during the 1999 tour and would be instrumental in crafting his iconic Purple Rain-era look.

Soon, Terry and Wells would be joined by another familiar face: tour manager Alan Leeds, whose capable handling of the inter- and intra-band tensions during the latter months of the 1999 tour led to his being rehired to help coordinate the film’s production. “I got a call from [manager Steve] Fargnoli sometime in July, offering me the gig to come to Minneapolis,” Leeds told journalist Alan Light. “And I said, ‘Well, what’s the gig? Are you going back on the road?’ ‘Not right away. We’re going to make a movie first.’ I go, ‘Okay, you need me to come there because you’re making a movie? First of all, I don’t believe you’re making a movie. Second, why do you need me to make a movie? I don’t make movies.’ He said, ‘We got three bands: we got Prince and his guys that you tour managed, we got Morris [Day] and the Time, we got Vanity 6. They’re all in the movie. Everybody’s taking acting lessons, everybody’s taking dance lessons, and everybody’s rehearsing new music. We need an off-road road manager to coordinate all this stuff.’ ‘Okay, Steven–you’re really making a movie? Get the fuck outta here!’” (Light 82-83).

Leeds wasn’t the only one surprised by the sudden increase in scale. As keyboardist Lisa Coleman recalled, “For the longest time, we would talk about [the film] like, ‘We’re gonna make the best cult movie, it’s gonna be cool, we’re just gonna put it out there and see who responds to it.’ Then Al Magnoli came and actually kind of connected with Prince, and Al was the one who was like, ‘If we’re gonna make a movie, why don’t we make it a hit movie? It seems like we’ve got all the parts here. Let’s not just make some artsy movie, just for fun. What do we have to lose?’” (Light 91).

In aiming for a “hit,” however, Prince faced the inevitable temptation to sand away some of his rougher edges. Guitarist Wendy Melvoin, who had been a fan before she joined Prince’s band, recalled being disappointed by the new material at rehearsal: “The songs weren’t as funky to me,” she told Light. “They were pop songs; they were definitely watered down.” Coleman remembered Prince himself poking fun at his newfound populist tendencies: “He would imitate an old granny, like, ‘You could make Granny dance to this one,’ but then I think he was just like, ‘We’re leaning it too far to the granny; we still need danger’” (Light 77).

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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.

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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.