Production on Purple Rain officially wrapped in late December 1983; but as the film’s chief composer as well as its star, Prince remained on call through the post-production phase. Just about a month after the end of shooting, his services were once again required: Director Albert Magnoli wanted a song for the sequence where the Kid and Apollonia ride through rural Henderson, Minnesota on his motorcycle. So, at Sunset Sound on January 22, 1984, Prince started work on “Take Me with U.”
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.
Can you believe that the last time we had a proper album roundup it was for 1999, way back in March of 2020? On second thought, don’t answer that. I know my snail’s pace as a writer is a recurring theme in these updates, and at this point, I’m not even apologizing for it; you know what you signed up for. Still, it feels good to have another milestone in the rearview mirror, even if there’s still an awful lot of road ahead of us.
It may or may not have been evident from my individual posts, but Ice Cream Castle is an album I’m pretty ambivalent about; it has some undeniably classic tracks, to be sure, but it’s a clear step down from the highs of What Time is It? (though, to be fair, what isn’t?). With this in mind, to the Time diehards who will likely quibble with the song rankings below, I apologize in advance:
6. “Chili Sauce” I mean, no surprises here. Contrary to whatever reputation I might have acquired, I actually have a pretty high tolerance for Morris Day’s schtick; but this track pushes that tolerance to the limits, spreading an amusing monologue from the Purple Rain movie impossibly thin over damn near six minutes. Throw in Prince’s Mickey Rooney-caliber “Chinese waiter” voice, and you’ve got a strong contender for the worst Time track ever. But you know what? I still don’t skip this song when I play the album; I guess Novi Novog’s viola solo is just that bewitching.
5. “My Drawers” Now here’s where I might catch some flack. This isn’t a bad song by any means; after the two movie numbers, it’s arguably the album’s strongest contender for a “classic” Time track. But the formula is starting to get stale, and who wants stale drawers?
4. “Ice Cream Castles” The definition of “points for effort.” I would never try to argue that “Ice Cream Castles” is a more quintessential Time song than “My Drawers”; but three albums in and with half of the original lineup scattered to the four winds, I guess I’m more intrigued by their missed potential for experimentation. Imagine a whole album of the Time trying to sound like the Fixx; it may not have been great, but it would have been a hell of a lot more interesting than “The Oak Tree”!
3. “The Bird” Speaking of “The Oak Tree,” here’s Morris and company making it preemptively obsolete, and almost blowing the Revolution off the stage to boot. As iconic as this performance is, however, the main thing it does for me is remind me what a drag it is that we never got an official Time live album. Even on their last legs as a group, with permanently crippled morale, they still tear the roof off the sucker; but there are probably 10 other songs I’d rather have heard them play while they were at the peak of their powers.
2. “If the Kid Can’t Make You Come” My obligatory dark horse pick. We all know how I feel about Time ballads not called “Gigolos Get Lonely Too,” but this one took me by surprise with the sheer pleasure of hearing Prince and Jesse groove together on the instrumental. If we didn’t also have to hear Morris simulating orgasm, this may have even ended up as my favorite cut on the album… but, well, you can’t always get what you want.
1. “Jungle Love” Look, I can’t always be an iconoclast. I’m a simple man at heart, which means that when this comes on in the grocery store, I’m doing the dance in my spirit if not in my body. The Time may have been on life support when they put out “Jungle Love”; but what better way to go out?
A little quick math, before we go: I averaged 1,703 words per song on my Ice Cream Castle posts, which means at the very least that I had more to say about this album than either What Time is It? (1,377 words average) or The Time (a mere 833 words average). Will I break this record with Pandemonium? We’ll find out, eventually; but for now, it’s back to the Purple Rain-era ephemera with a track I, at least, have been looking forward to for a while. Yes, I’m obviously talking about “Sugar Walls.” Until then, adieu!
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 2014 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’” (Light 2014 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 2014 77).
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.