“The MUSIC segues into a fierce BEAT. The CROWD lets out a ROAR! Prince strips off his guitar, streaks center- stage. The Band launches into ‘Baby, I’m A Star.’
“…And the CROWD laughing, dancing, shouting and loving. The CLUB is ALIVE!
“And the MUSIC continues…forever…”
Draft screenplay for Purple Rain by Albert Magnoli, 1983
In the spring of 1983, Prince’s contract with managers Cavallo, Ruffalo, and Fargnoli was up for renewal. They had, on the face of it, little reason to worry: the 1999 tour was selling out arenas, “Little Red Corvette” was in the Top 10 of the pop charts, and 1999 was well on its way to Platinum certification by the RIAA. By the end of April, Prince would make the cover of Rolling Stone: a coveted opportunity for which his managers had netted a Richard Avedon photo shoot without granting an interview. “I thought we did an incredible job, we had a creative relationship, I’m sure he’s gonna sign another contract,” Bob Cavallo later told music journalist Alan Light. But Prince sent his main handler, Steve Fargnoli, back to Cavallo with a surprising ultimatum: “he won’t sign with us again unless we get him a movie” (Light 51).
If you visited princesongs.org over the weekend, you may have already noticed that D / M / S / R’s long-delayed migration from WordPress.com to a self-hosted blog is finally complete! Well, mostly complete, anyway: I’m still working on getting the podcast feed back up and running, and I still need to figure out how to transfer a couple of stray comments over from the old site. I’m also having issues setting up the Patreon WordPress plugin–ironically one of the reasons I originally decided to self-host–so for now we’re going to have to handle Patreon-exclusive posts the same, slightly inelegant way we did on the old site.
But still, D / M / S / R looks and feels different now, and I hope you like it. I personally think it’s a lot slicker-looking and more readable; the WordPress theme I used (their default 2020 theme, believe it or not) puts a lot of emphasis on the content, and I followed their lead by cutting back on the sidebars and other bells and whistles. Also, you may notice that “Dance / Music / Sex / Romance” is now properly capitalized; this, like my original decision to use lower-case letters, is 100% based on what I think looks better with the default font.
But enough about that. We’re here to check in on my progress on this crazy project, which I started just about four years and one month ago. Last year, you might recall, I was wringing my hands over producing only 26 posts from June 2018 to May 2019. I had hoped to improve my output for 2019-20, but, well, you know what happened; a confluence of internal and external factors, most notably but not exclusively including a global pandemic, resulted in my taking an unprecedented three months off of all nonprofessional writing. In case you’re wondering, my total number of posts for this past year was 21, counting the Patreon-exclusive “bonus track” post for “You’re My Love.”
This is normally where I would start wringing my hands and making apologies and promises and self-deprecating jokes about being done with the project in 2036 (a number, by the way, that I am increasingly considering to be a genuine ballpark estimate). Here’s the thing, though: if the last year has taught me anything, it’s that shit is unpredictable and mostly outside my control. We’re all lucky to have made it past the halfway point of 2020 at all; worrying about “productivity” in times like these is just going to make my hair go gray more prematurely than it already is.
So this year, I’m not making any apologies or promises. Instead, I genuinely want to celebrate what I achieved in the past year, which was as challenging a year for me as any in recent memory. First and foremost, I got through three albums:
Besides that, the Patreon I launched last year–despite being suspended for almost as many months as it was in operation–has held more or less steady at a very respectable 20 monthly supporters. In fact, I want to welcome two new patrons, Alexander Ostroff and Anthony John Battaglia, who came on board just in the last week. The Patreon, you might recall, was meant to help my productivity, and on sum I think it has; this year has just been such a bastard that it’s hard to point to any objective evidence to support my gut feeling. As always, I’m appreciative of any support (including non-monetary), and not in the least offended if my work is not a priority for you to pay for at any given time. Do what you’ve gotta do! But I am going to be earning those Patreon dollars this month, and in the months to come, with a mix of early and exclusive posts that I think you’ll like.
Last but not least, the blog relaunch finally gave me the opportunity to make those revisions to old posts I’ve been promising for, oh, about two years now. I made a bunch of tiny formatting tweaks to almost every post, but if you’re interested in seeing some more substantial revisions, they’re linked below:
Now, for what to expect in Year Five: I recently put together a rough plan for what might be called the “long Purple Rain era,” which includes Purple Rain proper along with Around the World in a Day, the Time’s Ice Cream Castle, Sheila E’s The Glamorous Life, and the self-titled albums by Apollonia 6 and the Family. It comes to a total of 75 posts–roughly three years of writing, at my recent pace. My ambitious goal is to get it done a lot sooner: I’d love to wrap up Around the World in a Day by December 2021, so I can be writing about Parade by 2022. I think it’s technically possible if I can stay close to a post a week in the next 17 months; but, again, I’m not going to make any promises. A lot can happen (or not) in a year.
What I can say is that I’m feeling more invigorated about this project than I have, probably, since the year I launched it; and whether I make my ambitious goal or not, I want to make the fifth year of D / M / S / R its best yet, in terms of quantity but also (and more importantly) quality. Thank you to everyone who has supported this blog in any way since 2016; I hope you keep reading and enjoying it in the years to come, however many there end up being. I’ll leave you with this video I put together for last month’s DM40GB30 symposium, which I think does a good job of encapsulating my current philosophy about the blog:
(P.S. One last bit of housekeeping: the move to self-hosting unfortunately means that, if you subscribed to email alerts for my old WordPress.com blog, you’ll need to resubscribe for this one. Scroll down to the footer and you should see a box that reads “Subscribe to Blog via Email.” I promise this is the last time I’ll be relaunching like this in the foreseeable future, so this should be a one-time inconvenience!)
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:
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 as well as 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.
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 Princethan 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 new books by Ben Greenman and Mayte Garcia. 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 playlists, if that’s your kind of thing:
I’m not gonna lie, folks: this “chapter” of the blog wasn’t always easy to get through. I’ve mentioned 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 trudge through the parts of his discography I like even less; the other day it sank in that at some point I’m going 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:
10. “Baby, Baby, Baby” Another one for the devotees: just a couple minutes 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 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…
3. “Loring Park Sessions”Would I care about this if it weren’t 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 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.
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:
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:
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.
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 nascent songwriting process. I’ve noted before that after his debut’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!