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.
The sole ballad recorded for the Time’s third album, “If the Kid Can’t Make You Come” is also a rare example of a “proper” song seemingly inspired by a comedic sketch, rather than the other way around. According to sessionographer Duane Tudahl, basic tracking for “Kid” (then titled “If the Boy Can’t Make You Come”) began on Saturday, April 16, 1983: two days into the laborious Sunset Sound sessions that also produced the extended skit “Chili Sauce.” That track featured Time frontman Morris Day subjecting his date to a series of 17 propositions, the last and most successful of which was, “Baby, if the kid can’t make you come, nobody can.” “Kid,” then, picks up where “Chili Sauce” left off–right down to the return appearance of actress Sharon Hughes as the aforementioned date, who finally gets to show off the full extent of her breathy moaning chops here.
It’s tempting to assume that the filler tracks Prince penned for the Time–of which there was at least one on every album–were dashed off quickly, without the level of care and attention he reserved for his own music. But, while that may have been the case sometimes (looking at you, clumsy edit at the end of “I Don’t Wanna Leave You”), it wasn’t always. See, for example, “Chili Sauce”: my personal vote for the most egregious filler in the group’s discography, and yet also the subject of a staggering five nights of sessions at Sunset Sound in Los Angeles.
According to Duane Tudahl’s essential studio chronicle, Prince and the Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions: 1983 and 1984, Prince started work on the unnamed instrumental that would become “Chili Sauce” at 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 14, 1983, after completing a mix for the ill-fated “My Summertime Thang.” He began with a sleek, sinuous Linn LM-1 pattern, reminiscent of the one he’d used on “Electric Intercourse” in January–or, for that matter, the one he would later use on “The Beautiful Ones” in September. From there, he layered on more tracks, before ultimately deciding that the song needed live strings–a sound that had been absent from his discography since “Baby” on his 1978 debut album.
Upon his return from Los Angeles in May of 1982, Prince’s first task was to upgrade the basement studio in his home on Kiowa Trail in Chanhassen: replacing the original 16-track console with a new 24-track Ampex MM1200 machine. According to biographer Per Nilsen, this project took about two weeks, overseen by Prince’s go-to home studio tech and engineer, Don Batts. Astonishingly, within hours of the new studio’s setup, Prince had recorded the basic track for one of his most enduring songs, “Little Red Corvette.” “It was incredible to build the studio in that short time and then come up with that tune so quickly,” Batts recalled. But, as he also acknowledged, “That’s how fast it generally went” (Nilsen 1999 100).
Indeed, much about “Corvette” seemed to emerge with almost supernatural ease, as if Prince had merely plucked it from the ether fully-formed. According to legend–and like other 20th-century pop standards, the Beatles’ “Yesterday” and the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction”–the song first came to him in a dream, while he was dozing off in the front seat of keyboardist Lisa Coleman’s 1964 Mercury Montclair Marauder. “I bought this vintage pink Mercury at a car auction,” Coleman told The Guardian in 2008. “It was so bitching-looking that Prince used to borrow it and dent it, which I’d make him feel bad about. He slept in it one time and came up with ‘Little Red Corvette’… even though it was a pink Mercury” (Elan 2008). Prince wrote in his unpublished liner notes for the 1993 compilation The Hits that he “always considered the song a dream because it was written between 3 or 4 catnaps and he was never fully awake” (Dash 2016).
Beginning with his third album in 1980, Prince had been steadily building up a mythology–occasionally bordering on a philosophy–for himself. Dirty Mind had “Uptown,” a clarion call for hedonism that eradicated all racial and sexual boundaries. 1981’s Controversy, of course, had its epic title track, a declaration of selfhood through the negation of fixed identities; as well as “Sexuality,” a return to the themes of “Uptown” with a new quasi-religious fervor. For his fifth album in 1982, he offered something even more blunt and to the point: a musical manifesto based around the four words, “Dance, Music, Sex, Romance.”
Though it was never released as a single–and was, in fact, left off 1999’s original CD release due to space constraints–“D.M.S.R.” holds a privileged position in Prince’s discography. Dance Music Sex Romance was of course the title of Per Nilsen’s 1999 biography and session chronicle, long considered definitive by fans of Prince’s mid-’80s imperial phase. It’s also, obviously, the title of this very blog, because I figured if Per’s not going to use it anymore, somebody’s got to. Its attraction to writers on Prince is self-evident: as Dave Lifton writes in his post on the song for Diffuser’s 365 Prince Songs in a Year series, “Dance. Music. Sex. Romance. Add God into the mixture and you’ve more or less got the formula for every song Prince released in his life” (Lifton 2017). Way back when I first started d / m / s / r in 2016, I posited that it would make a great title for a career-spanning collection like Johnny Cash’s Love, God, Murder, with a disc devoted to each theme.