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Old 04-03-2021, 09:43 AM   #7 (permalink)
Trollheart
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Chapter II: It’s For You (If You Want It)

Timeline: 1977 - 1978

Having recorded three songs, “Make it Through the Storm, “Baby” and “Soft and Wet”, Husney secured the assistance of Russ Thyret of Warner Bros, and they auditioned the tape. But some labels were sceptical that this was just one guy doing everything, and a kid at that. Prince soon demonstrated that it was indeed all his own work. Others shied from his demand for a three-album deal, while still others balked at his insistence on producing his own albums. In the end, it was Warner with whom he signed, on June 25 1977. His deal, thrashed out between him, Thyret, Warner Chairman Mo Ostin and A&R man Lenny Waronker, called for three albums in twenty-seven months, the first due six months from the signing date of his contract. For a cost of USD 180,000 over the three albums, it was hailed by Owen Husney as one of the most lucrative deals ever offered to an unknown, and one of the biggest record contracts of that year.

Now all the young unknown kid who had landed the big deal had to do was produce the goods.

Still wary, Warner insisted Prince have a producer, and suggested Earth, Wind and Fire’s Maurice White, but Prince refused, determined to produce himself. Eventually they both compromised - one of the few times Prince ever would again - and executive producer Tommy Vicari, who had worked with Santana and Billy Preston, oversaw things. He moved them into The Record Plant Studios across from the Golden Gate, and Warners rented a home for them in Corte Madeira, with great views of the bridge and the bay. Prince had, however, one request, which he made seriously of Lenny Waronker: don’t make me black. Prince knew that he would be restricted, musically and commercially, if he was marketed as a black act. Certain avenues would not be open to him, or would be discouraged. He wanted to appeal to everyone, not only his own people.

October 1 1977 he began recording his first album with the same intensity, single-mindedness and, some would say, arrogance and martinet attitude that would characterise every album he recorded. As he added overdubs, extra backing tracks, effects and vocals, the budget spiralled out of control. Way out of control. He had been expected to make the album for USD 60,000 (three albums for a total of 180,000) but by the time [i]For You[/i ] was finally finished, it had almost used up the entire budget, costing just short of USD 170,000. For one album! And it sold poorly. Very poorly. Despite a media saturation campaign, it was, after all, the debut from an unknown black kid (try as he might, Prince would for some time be seen as black and only black) with no big chart hits on it. Three months of recording and two more mixing resulted in the album being released on April 7 1978 and reaching no. 21 in the Billboard Soul chart, and a terrible 163 on the main chart. Nobody had anything particularly encouraging to say in the few reviews, and it sold barely 150,000 copies.

Still, you work with what you’ve got, and Warners released “Soft and Wet” as a single, gaining him a number 12 position on the soul charts, which resulted in his being mobbed by black fans at a record store, taking him completely by surprise. The reaction of fans seems to have simultaneously pumped him up and frightened him, as well as leaving him baffled as he asked “How can they love me? They don’t even know me.”

Let’s take the opportunity then to hold the story there, and review that first album, the one that started it all, not with a bang, but with a sigh.


Album titleFor You
Released as: Prince
Label: Warner Bros
Recorded: September 1977 - February 1978
Release Date: April 7 1978
Producer: Prince
Studio(s): Sound 80 (Minneapolis, MN) The Record Plant (Sausalito, CA) Sound Labs (Hollywood, CA)
Chart Position* 163/138**
Singles Released: “Soft and Wet”, “Just as Long as We’re Together”
Singles Chart Performance: “Soft and Wet”: 92 @ Billboard Hot 100 (BH100) 12 @ Billboard Hot Soul Singles Chart(BHSSC) “Just as Long as We’re Together: 91 @ BHSSC
Sales:* 150,000/ 2,000,000

(First figure refers to before Prince’s death, second after)
* * If no other chart position (other than prior to and after death) is shown, this is taken to be the chart position in the USA only.

I originally reviewed this, and several other Prince albums in my main journal, but while those reviews are in-depth and I hope well written, they were composed at a time before I had read Prince’s biography, and though I knew he played everything on this album, it wasn’t until I read about him that I realised exactly how MUCH he plays, composes, sings, arranges, produces, mixes, overdubs - it’s actually nothing short of phenomenal.

So rather than just transpose my original review here, I’m going to be going into this in a lot more depth, armed with what I know about the man now, and with a greater appreciation for what makes this not just the debut album from a new talent, but something of a game-changer in the world of pop music. An album that marked Prince out already as a genius, and though it landed with more a damp plop than a resounding bang at the time, it has gone on to be acknowledged as one amazing album.

Right out of the gate we’re hearing what can’t possibly be one guy, but is: multi-tracked vocals in a beautifully arranged harmony, the title track is just over a minute long but immediately it grabs your attention, and would do even if this were a full band. The production on just this one minute and eight seconds of vocal music is amazing, and when you add into the mix the fact that the kid is only nineteen (though he deliberately took two years off his age so as to appear even more of a prodigy than he was) it’s literally breath-taking. It’s like you’re listening to one of those old soul records from the sixties or seventies, something that has four or five backup singers and is produced by someone who has been doing this all his life.

Unbelievable.

And then the album starts properly.

“In Love” has that funky vibe to it, with upbeat keyboards, a thumping bass line and then Prince’s rapid vocal, and of course backing vocals coming in too, which are also him, making it seem like there’s a full band here. There isn’t. There’s not a trace of self-consciousness or nervousness about this, his first ever introduction to the world, and it’s like he was born to do this. He makes it seem effortless, though by all reports by the time the three months were done - three to record the album, two to mix, so five in all - he was shattered. Who wouldn’t be?

A very upbeat but kind of low-key in its own way kind of song, it’s a joyous celebration of love, but with already what will become Prince’s trademark graphic lyrics: “Ever since I met you,” he sings in the opening line, “I’ve been wanting to lay you down.” He then goes on to use his flowery metaphors, singing “I wanna play in your river.” Yeah. Let’s be brutally honest: they’re not the greatest lyrics ever written, are they, though that would of course change over time, when Prince would put into words emotions and feelings in a way few of us could ever hope to.

The single is up next, and “Soft and Wet” opens with another suggestive line, as he grins “Hey baby I got a sugarcane I want to lose in you.” Uh-huh. It’s squelchy synth and bouncy bass, another funky danceable number, and on the vocal he drops from falsetto to baritone (maybe; I’m not sure, but a deeper voice anyway) giving the further impression that there’s more than him here. An almost computer game music-style keyboard solo then we’re back into it. To be fair, I can see how the single did well on the soul chart and I can equally see why it caused barely a ripple in the mainstream one. It’s okay, but honestly it’s nothing terribly great, and in terms of mainstream appeal, perhaps something like the acoustic ballad “Crazy You”, with its soft Latin beat, might have been a better choice. Mind you, I guess neither he nor Warners would have wanted to have marketed him as a Latin artist, so maybe not. Much better song though.

The other single they went with, which bombed totally, is “Just as Long as We’re Together”, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s okay, but it’s nothing a dozen soul/disco bands hadn’t already released by now. It’s got a nice, fast, infectious beat, and again you really have to give Prince credit for making it sound like there’s a whole band there, but other than that, meh. Great guitar solo for sure, but other than that it’s kind of wholly unremarkable I feel. It does have an extended instrumental outro, being the longest track on the album at just over six minutes, and this gives Prince a chance to really show what he can do.

“Baby”, despite its title, isn’t just another love or come-on song, but actually a remarkably mature attitude to “a mistake” that ends up getting a girl pregnant. Prince laments “I never would've thought that this would happen to a very careful man like me” yet he intends to stand by the girl, a kind of a rarity, one would feel, in the late seventies, even rarer for a new, hip singer to be preaching. Good for him. Kind of a doo-wop feel to the song, a sugary ballad very much in Rose Royce territory. Really nice strings accompaniment (that’s him on one of his many synths, no doubt) and again I could have seen this as being a far more successful single.

“My Love is Forever” is another basic soul bopper, again concerned with romance, some nice sort of fluting synth added into the melody and what sounds like brass too, with those by-now-familiar multi-tracked vocals. This track is notable for being the only one of which he shares any kind of writing (if uncredited) as Chris Moon helps him out here. Good soaring guitar solo, though it kind of really doesn’t get a chance to get going. Hey, this is soul and R&B after all! “Purple Rain” is a long way away yet. Okay, now he’s breaking out the guitar there at the end. Nice. Very nice. Almost rocks the track up. That leaves us with “So Blue”, which has a really nice acoustic guitar and what sounds like trumpet or something, then Prince’s high voice is soft and sweet as honey in another gentle little ballad that brings things down to earth after the somewhat rambunctious previous song.

I feel at times he really sounds like a young Michael Jackson on this, something which I’m sure, were he still with us, he would not thank me for. Actually, probably holds true for both of them, as they did have a kind of rivalry going on through their careers with each other. But it is quite evident, to me anyway. Definitely a certain sense of slow jazz in this, and of course plenty of soul, while “I’m Yours” finishes the album on almost a rock anthem, as Prince confesses “Never have I ever made love before” - whether you’re supposed to believe him or not is another thing!

A definite precursor of the way Prince’s music would morph into rock via Purple Rain and bring him world-wide acclaim, this closer must have come as something of a shock to those who had bought the album as a soul record, and probably enjoyed it up to that point as one. Hey, they probably loved it, but I’m willing to bet there were more than one set of raised eyebrows as Prince racked off the kind of solos you normally get on hard rock or at least melodic rock albums, perhaps taking advice from his future self and going crazy.

As such, then, “I’m Yours” stands almost as an anachronism on this album, like Jackson later roping in Eddie Van Halen to scream out a scorching solo on “Beat It”, or Debbie Harry throwing in a (perhaps ill-advised) rap into “Rapture”. Takes you by surprise, turns the album upside-down, defies expectations, knocks you upside the head, and announces in no uncertain terms that Prince has arrived.

TRACK LISTING

(Favourite tracks are marked in green, ones I hated or really did not like in red, all others remain in black)

For You
In Love
Soft and Wet
Crazy You
Just as Long as We’re Together
Baby
My Love is Forever
So Blue
I’m Yours


I can’t remember what I wrote about this when I heard it originally: I seem to remember being very impressed, and I still am. However, take away the one-man-band idea here, and this is, to be fair, a very ordinary soul album, albeit with a hell of a sucker punch at the end. It’s no surprise it hardly set the charts alight, and even the R&B ones weren’t interested. Not only that, but after Prince’s untimely passing, the album still only struggled to way outside the top 100. That’s poor, considering the circumstances, and it perhaps underlines how, viewed even through the prism of the past, this album, while a good, decent debut, doesn’t quite stand the test of time.

If this had been released by a band, I doubt anyone would have been that enthused about it. As it was, being all the work on one man, and a kid at that, it’s highly impressive but still, that fact doesn’t necessarily sell albums, otherwise every multi-instrumentalist who released material would have gold or platinum records. Some, like Mike Oldfield or Deadmau5 do, or have done, but even so, a lot of their work gets passed over. Basically, the novelty factor quickly wears off, and unless you have the product to shine through despite your gimmick - if gimmick it is - you’re likely to keep languishing at the bottom end of the charts, if you get in there at all.

Which is, I assume, why Prince’s later albums did much better. He wrote better songs. He extended himself, crossing genre boundaries as well as racial ones, pulling in the “white folks” as well as the rock community, neither of whom would, I feel, touch this album, or his next two or three, with a barge pole, had they access to such an instrument. It would take another four years before Prince would break big, and the world at large would learn that something else had come out of Minneapolis other than, well, whatever else Minneapolis was famous for before then. If anything.

And now, back to the story…
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