Roundup: Prince, 1979

Roundup: Prince, 1979

(Featured Image: Back cover of Prince, 1979; photo by Chris Callis, © Warner Bros.)

Well, here we are: another album’s worth of posts complete. I’d always preferred Prince’s second full-length to its predecessor, For You, but I rediscovered it in a big way while writing about it for this blog. Critical consensus tends to cite 1980’s Dirty Mind as the moment when the pieces all fell into place, but I’d actually argue that it happened here first: whatever it is you like about Prince, you can find it on his self-titled 1979 album. Unless what you like about Prince is Tony M’s raps, I guess. You’ll have to wait about 12 years for those.

Anyway, here’s how I rank the songs, at least at the moment. Feel free to let me know your own rankings in the comments:

9. “With You” The one weak spot on an otherwise pretty damn stellar album. If he’d replaced this with, say, “Wouldn’t You Love to Love Me?,” we’d have nothing but hits on our hands.

8. “When We’re Dancing Close and Slow” For the record, there’s a big gap between this and “With You”; I gave other songs an edge just because I prefer burners to ballads. A gorgeous, dreamy, arty slow jam, brimming with potential for even better things to come.

7. “Still Waiting” Prince at his most R&B-classicist. Like I said in the original post, it doesn’t hold up quite as well against later songs in this vein, like “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?”; but it’s heartfelt and expertly crafted, and it really came alive in concert.

6. “Sexy Dancer” I used to think this song was dated because “disco”; now I listen to it and it just feels ahead of its time. Early electronic music, from Frankie Knuckles to the Egyptian Lover, owes a lot to “Sexy Dancer.”

5. Bambi” Yes, yes, the lyrics are so un-P.C., but the headbanger in me can’t resist that sledgehammer of a riff. Prince’s Grand Funk worship has never been so gloriously evident.

4. “I Feel for You” Maybe the most head-slappingly obvious shoulda-been-a-single in Prince’s discography. Chaka’s version is great, of course, but “I Feel for You” was pure pop-soul perfection from the start.

3. “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?” Speaking of shoulda-beens, the fact that this wasn’t a hit in early 1980 blows my mind, and is a testament to the absurd level of segregation (not to mention homophobia) in the music industry at the time. It’s arena-level power pop that out-Bostons Boston, but it missed the Hot 100 because the guy wailing on his guitar looked “ethnic” and dressed “queer.” Disco Sucks sucked.

2. “I Wanna Be Your Lover” Predictable choice, I know, but it’s just so goddamn good. Prince’s first major hit, and his first absolute classic song. That’s worth celebrating.

1. “It’s Gonna Be Lonely” Now, for a less conventional choice: I know I said I prefer burners to ballads, but I fucking adore this song. I don’t even have that much to say about it, specifically; it’s just so wonderfully Prince. One day, I want to listen to this song the way it was meant to be listened to: in a bubble bath, surrounded by caged doves.

As you can see, the tag cloud has shifted significantly from last time:

1978-tagcloudtagcloud-1979

André Cymone is still Prince’s most important collaborator, but L.A. is starting to catch up with Minneapolis as the center of his universe. That, of course, will change very soon. And hey, here’s a piece of data that might only be interesting to me. I was worried I was writing less about the tracks on Prince than I was about For You, so I went ahead and ran the numbers: average post length was 1,383 words for the former, 1,379 words for the latter. Guess we have ourselves a sweet spot.

I have to say, I’m super excited about the coming weeks, and if you’re reading this now, I hope you’ll stay on board. Next week, as I mentioned yesterday, we pick up with the Rebels side project; then it’s on to one of my all-time favorite records, the aforementioned Dirty Mind. And somewhere in there, I’ll be working in another experiment in alternate history, plus reviews of the new books by Ben Greenman and Mayte Garcia. This April, for obvious reasons, is a sad month for Prince fans; but we’re also lucky, because he’s left us such a wealth of material to remember him by.

I’ll see you next week for a new, “proper” post. In the meantime, here’s the Spotify playlist, if that’s your kind of thing: 

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Roundup: Ephemera, 1977-1978

Roundup: Ephemera, 1977-1978

(Featured Image: Prince by Robert Whitman, 1977.)

I’m not gonna lie, folks: this “chapter” of the blog wasn’t always easy to get through. I mentioned before that For You is my least favorite album of Prince’s “classic period,” and his outtakes from that time are, well, outtakes. If nothing else, however, this was valuable training for when I have to trudge through the parts of his discography I like even less; the other day I realized that at some point I’m going to need to spend a couple of months on Carmen Electra’s album, and I promptly broke into a cold sweat.

So, in addition to my usual “thank-yous” for reading, I’d like to also thank my readers for being so patient in the five months (!) between this and the last roundup post. I’m sure this won’t be the last time I feel some burnout on a project that, I’m well aware, will be a part of my life for the next several years. All I can do is continue to do my best and try to do the material justice, even when it doesn’t especially excite me.

And hey, in case you were wondering what songs excited me least, here’s the ranking:

11. 1978 Instrumentals No surprise here: like his home recordings of 1976, Prince’s France Avenue instrumentals are For Devotees Only. But man, what a treat that we get to hear them at all.

10. “Baby, Baby, Baby” Another one for the Devotees Only list: basically just a couple minutes’ worth of Prince strumming and scatting, and yet here I am writing about it 40 years later like it’s the Holy Fucking Grail. If this was just some guy in a coffee shop, it would be unbearable; but it’s Prince, and somehow that makes all the difference.

9. “Donna” A cute, if clearly unfinished little ditty. Also gave me an excuse to share a pretty dope photo of Donna Summer.

8. “Down a Long Lonely Road” The fact that this is ranked so high is proof that I’m being as subjective as possible: it’s barely a song, but what can I say, I like the pure and simple gospel feel. Would have loved to hear this develop into something more.

7. “Make It Through the Storm” I know this is a popular outtake, but it’s not my favorite. Still, an interesting reminder that even in the For You era, Prince didn’t sound quite like anyone else: this is the exception that proves the rule.

6. “Nadira” I bet he writes songs like this for all the girls.

5. “Miss You” My favorite of the post-For You demos by default: it’s the only one that really holds up as a complete song. Well, with one exception…

4. “Wouldn’t You Love to Love Me?” This is low-key one of Prince’s best early pop cuts, and it dates back all the way to 1976. Would love to hear the Sue Ann Carwell version one of these days.

3. Loring Park Sessions Would I care about this if it wasn’t by Prince? Probably not; like I said in the original post, it’s perfectly good jazz-funk in the Herbie Hancock vein, but nothing earth-shattering on its own merits. The fact that it is by Prince, though–recorded before his first album!–makes it a fascinating listen. I also feel like I’ve seen someone on the Internet share a link to Prince’s “mind-blowing early jazz sessions” at least once a week since last April, so if nothing else these should be easy to track down.

2. “Just Another Sucker” I never really bothered digging into 94 East before I wrote this blog, so “Just Another Sucker” is one of my favorite new discoveries. It’s no masterpiece, but it would have fit Prince’s self-titled second album like a glove.

1. “We Can Work It Out” As a blogger used to toiling in obscurity, I can appreciate an idea like this: a superbly-crafted disco-funk-pop-rock opus only meant to be heard by a handful of people; an elaborate private joke that could have been a legitimate hit. Oh, and check out the handwritten lyrics! These were acquired late last year by the Minnesota Historical Society; I hope they don’t mind me sharing the image below. I’ve also added it to the original post for posterity’s sake. Gotta love that racy doodle.

I Hope We Work It Out, 1977.
Photo stolen from the Minnesota Historical Society

In case you missed it, I also just wrote a rather lengthy post discussing Prince’s first band and his live debut as a solo artist:

I am You: Capri Theatre, January 5-6, 1979

Finally, here’s a song without a home for the time being. I wanted to write about “Moonbeam Levels,” the first officially-released outtake since Prince’s passing, while it was still relevant. I’m sure I will revise this post by the time we get to 1982 in our official chronology, but here it is for now:

Moonbeam Levels

And of course, it wouldn’t be a roundup post without a snapshot of the ol’ tag cloud:

1978-tagcloud

Next week, we’re finally making the leap into 1979 with a post on one of Prince’s early classics: “I Feel for You.” I’m looking forward to it! In the meantime, remember that you can always see the full chronological index of songs right here.

Baby, Baby, Baby

Baby, Baby, Baby

(Featured Image: Inner sleeve of For You, 1978; photo by Joe Giannetti, © Warner Bros.)

Last week, we talked about “Down a Long Lonely Road,” a demo from mid-to-late 1978 that falls short of being a “song” in the traditional sense. This week, we have “Baby, Baby, Baby”: another home recording from the same period, which comes at least a little closer to “song” territory. For one thing, “Baby, Baby, Baby” actually features instrumentation to go with its multi-tracked vocalizations: an acoustic guitar, to be exact, playing some funky licks reminiscent of the earlier demo “Rock Me, Lover.”

As the perfunctory title indicates, however, there isn’t much else to hold on to here. The only line Prince sings that approaches a complete sentence is, “You must know how bad I wanna be with you”; the rest of the lyrics are, well, “Baby, Baby, Baby,” along with a lot of the wordless falsetto crooning that would pepper his next four albums in particular. And that’s when he’s singing at all: for almost three quarters of the song, Prince drops the vocals and just vamps on the guitar, adding in some finger snaps and jazzy, Spanish-sounding soloing that recalls the original version of “Wouldn’t You Love to Love Me?” It’s charming and catchy, but not exactly a buried classic; just another example of Prince getting some ideas on tape in the months leading up to the sessions for his second album.

What’s interesting about this track, if anything, is the window it provides into Prince’s still-nascent songwriting process. I’ve noted before that after his debut album’s middling commercial performance, Prince explicitly wanted the follow-up to be a hit. From this perspective, a song like “Baby, Baby, Baby” can be seen as a deliberate back-to-basics move: scaling back from the eager-to-please multi-instrumental virtuosity of For You to just the bare essentials of a guitar, a pleasant melody, and lyrics about love (or at least lust) in its most basic, banal form. And Prince would indeed build from this foundation for his 1979 sophomore effort: there may not be one specific song on the record that sounds exactly like “Baby, Baby, Baby,” but its DNA is evident in pretty much every one.

Next time, we’ll look at one of the next links in the evolutionary chain between “Baby, Baby, Baby” and Prince. We’re getting there, I promise!

(Note: Once again, “Baby, Baby, Baby” doesn’t seem to be streaming anywhere. Let me know if you find it and I’ll add a link.)

Wouldn’t You Love to Love Me?

Wouldn’t You Love to Love Me?

(Featured Image: Sue Ann Carwell with Orville Shannon, then of local band Enterprize–which also featured Morris Day on drums–at 7th Street Entry in Minneapolis. Photo by Greg Helgeson for City Pages; stolen from Numero Group.)

Man, where did last month go? I’ve been meaning to post for a while now, but haven’t been able to make time between my various other projects (including, like, my actual job). I’m back, though, just in time to talk about one of Prince’s most significant early compositions: a cyclically-titled little number called “Wouldn’t You Love to Love Me?”

Actually, “Wouldn’t You Love to Love Me?” has been a long time coming for this blog in more ways than one. Some readers may have already noted its absence from my writeup of Prince’s earliest home recordings in 1976, where it made its technical debut alongside early sketches like “I Spend My Time Loving You.” But I wanted to save my discussion of the song for later, because its transformation from that primitive early demo to a much more polished second version in 1978 is in many ways emblematic of Prince’s artistic development in those two short years.

Continue reading “Wouldn’t You Love to Love Me?”