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Old 08-16-2021, 01:13 PM   #11 (permalink)
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You're very welcome. I neglected it for a while but am back working on it now, so plenty more to come.
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Old 08-18-2021, 07:43 PM   #12 (permalink)
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Chapter IV: Down and Dirty: Prince Comes of Age

The change of direction, and the change of image - he now sported short, spiky hair and a rumpled raincoat - fit in with the then-emerging look of the New Wave movement, and his managers approved, both of the look and especially of the music, one of them pronouncing it the “best stuff I’ve heard in a long time.” This was, too, the first time that Prince began dabbling in pseudonyms for himself, crediting the engineer as “Jamie Starr”. Throughout his career, Prince would hide his light under various thinly-disguised bushels, perhaps anxious not to be either associated with the different music he would write, arrange or produce, or perhaps just so that it didn’t seem arrogant to the public at large, since he already did everything on his albums.

Warner, however, were another matter when it came to the album. Ready for a follow-up to the moderately successful eponymous album, they were in two minds about this one. They certainly did not like the overtly explicit lyrics, fearing disaster with no radio airplay, and if there are two things labels like it’s airplay and not too much change; if the formula worked on album one (or in this case, two) don’t change it for the next one. Or, to be more accurate, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. But Prince thought it was broke: the music he had produced on For You and Prince, he now realised, was not him at all, but what he thought people - including his label - wanted. And he had been right. But he wasn’t just a machine churning out hit singles (well, one proper one and a few dance ones): he was an artist, and he now showed Warner, and anyone else who cared to look, what an artist looked like.

Striding down corridors wearing the trenchcoat which graced the cover of Dirty Mind, flapping open to reveal thigh-high high-heel boots and bikini briefs and not much else, makeup on his face, he was through being the quiet guy, the guy who nodded and obeyed, the label’s pet. Now he was determined to be his own man, and as his original contract with Warner was coming to an end, he wasn’t shy about showing it. He was no longer going to be grateful for the chance to make albums; now, he would be the one calling the shots, and pretty soon would make the label glad they had him, grateful to this emerging music phenomenon for hitching his star to their wagon, a relationship that would pay large dividends.

For the first time since he had begun recording music, he resisted the urge to clean up the tracks, forcing himself to leave them as they were even though many of them he was not that happy with. A perfectionist still, this was a hard thing for him to do, but he was determined the album would sound raw, stripped down, and if he began overdubbing and remixing everything it would lose that sharp edge he had sought when he had written the songs in the first place. While the album was a hit with critics and fans, sales figures bore out Warner’s fears: many record shops refused to even display the album, due to its cover, and radio stations shied from the explicit lyrics in most of the songs.

Dirty Mind would never sell millions of units. Even now, it stands at about half a million sold over thirty years, giving it a Gold certification but nothing like the quadruple platinum status of 1999 or the, wait for it, sixteen-times-platinum Purple Rain, and it didn’t even make it into the top forty, only reaching half the position the previous album had. Nevertheless, it did what Prince had wanted it to do: made him stand out, showed he was a different artist, one not afraid to take risks and brave the tumbleweed of the desert of next-to-zero airplay, and one who, above all, would fight for his art against all comers. Prince would never be labelled a sell-out, and in later years would create, not follow trends.


Album title: Dirty Mind
Released as: Prince
Label: Warner Bros
Recorded: May - June 1980
Release Date: October 8 1980
Producer: Prince
Studio(s): Prince’s home studio, California
Chart Position: 45/61
Singles Released: ”Uptown”, “Dirty Mind”, “Do it All Night” (UK only)
Singles Chart Performance: (Note: Rather than keep writing out single titles (some of which are quite long) I’m from now on going to abbreviate them).
Uptown: 101 @ BH100, 5 @ BHSSC, 5 @ BDCS; DM: 65 @ BHSSC; DIAN: (unknown)
Sales: 500,000 (US only)

Immediately we’re in different territory, more new wave/electronic or even AOR than funk or soul. There’s a thick, driving beat behind the opener, and title track, and Prince’s voice is at its best falsetto, with the usual backing vocals of himself, his vocal delivery putting me in mind of early Ric Ocasek. The drum machine adds to the electronic, almost inhuman feel of the melody, though it’s still bright and upbeat and very catchy. In fact, if anything, I feel it’s something of a marker along the road to “1999”, definitely pushing him away from his legacy sound and into a whole new way of presenting his music. Were it, in fact, not for his distinctive vocal, you might not even recognise this as Prince at all. One of the first properly controversial (and intentionally so) songs is up next, with “When You Were Mine” reminding me of the best of Blondie or even The Pretenders, and referring to a menage a trois. A little more funky than the opener, it even features some quite sparse guitar but like the previous song mostly rides on new-wave synth flourishes and arpeggios.

The Farfisa organ-inspired riffs, though not made on that instrument, lift this right back to the heady days of seventies prog, making the song sort of straddle two decades, while not really being of either. The melody is in fact quite like a slower version of “Back on the Chain Gang” by Chrissy’s band, which I’ll have to check to see which came first. I must say, despite what it says about the song being about a threesome, I don’t hear it coming through in the lyric. “Do It All Night” goes back a little to the funk pop of his first album, with breezy, peppy keyboard stabs behind a cool funky guitar and sex smoulders in the lyric, even if the music is somewhat throwaway. Kind of reminds me of seventies Carole King in places. Odd.

“Gotta Broken Heart Again” is where things slow down, on a swinging Motown melody which recalls early Jackson to some degree as well as the stars of classic Motown such as Robinson, The Four Tops and The Temptations. Nice guitar licks here, and if this is mostly an album for white fans, then if you want to be pedantic about it, this could be said to be the track on it for the black fans. It’s quite short, too, and leads into the longest on the album, at over five and a half minutes. “Uptown” has a driving, pulsating funky beat which sounds like something Huey Lewis would later expand on in “The Power of Love” and “The Heart of Rock and Roll”, also echoes of The Crusaders here and later Rose Royce.

It’s a decent song but I feel it very much overstays its welcome; most of the last minute or so is just repetition, and I don’t see why it needed to be as long as it did. God only knows how long it went on for onstage! But now we get into the real controversial material, with “Head” up first (no pun intended), a dancing, hopping synth and funky guitar against Prince’s almost croaked lyric, the kind of thing he would do later on songs like “Kiss”. Infectious synth line running through it and it surely was great for dancing to, lots of handclap percussion, with the kind of acrobatics on the keyboards that might have impressed Keith Emerson, while “Sister” stays around for one and a half minutes, and features a hurried rhythm which is almost punklike in its speed and on which the vocal speed matches that of the music. Some hard guitar for the first time on the album, reminds me of Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, and takes us into the closer, “Partyup”.

A funky guitar (yes I know I keep saying it but how else to describe it?) distant ancestor again of “1999”, this bounces along with real energy and purpose, perhaps declaring a mantra or mission statement for party people who do little else with their lives. This is the song he wrote with Morris Day, the only other composition credit being given to the title track to Doctor Fink, who had laid down the original keyboard riff. You know, as a closer it’s okay but I don’t find “Partyup” to be anything special. The beginnings perhaps of Prince’s leaning towards more political and socially aware material, the song contains a closing refrain “You’re gonna have to fight your own damn war/Cos we don’t wanna fight no more.” Can’t argue with that.

TRACK LISTING

Dirty Mind
When You Were Mine
Do It All Night
Gotta Broken Heart Again
Uptown
Head
Sister
Partyup

A very different album from his previous two, it is kind of amazing that Prince could have changed so much in two short years, and not only that, but that he had his finger on the pulse, knew what was coming, knew what was going to be popular. Over most of the 1980s new wave and electronic music would explode over the charts and bands like OMD, The Cure, Blondie and The Sisters of Mercy would dominate the airwaves. Prince was making sure that he was right there among them, and would soon eclipse them all. More than that, though, he was, without selling out or changing his sound to pander to them, courting the white fans, crossing over for the first time properly from what was popularly termed “black music” into a more conventional, commercial and all-encompassing sound that would bring millions more fans into his orbit.

I can’t really comment on the lyrical content because, though I’ve read about it, I find that here Prince has yet to really make himself clearly understood when he sings. His high voice makes it hard, for me anyway, to hear the words, and I don’t know if that was intentional, but compared to something like “Let’s Go Crazy” or “Raspberry Beret”, really, he could be singing about anything. So I’ll defer to the experts, but can’t personally make any comment on the lyrics. One thing I do note is that there doesn’t seem to be too much of them in each song, and the music more or less does the talking here for him.

Prince may have titled the album Dirty Mind - and he certainly had one, as we would see - but really that mind was more cunning and calculating than dirty, and in some ways quite cold too. While he wanted to create his own sound, he wasn’t averse to all but turning his back on his own fanbase and shooting off in a new direction, probably hoping they would come with him but perhaps not being too broken up if they didn’t. For Prince, even at this early stage in his career, it was all about appealing not just to one section of the music-buying public, not to one colour skin, not to one social class, but to everyone.

Soon enough, that dream would be realised, and this album was the first step along that relatively short path.
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Old 08-18-2021, 07:56 PM   #13 (permalink)
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Despite his resistance to Warner’s request that he meet radio DJs and promoters, Prince found, perhaps to his surprise, that most of them were genuinely interested in, and impressed with his music. Given that this was the first time he had directly interacted with these sort of people, it may have changed the way he had originally thought about them all as paid company shills and suits with no innate love of music. Still, ever the self-promoter, he used the opportunity to further craft his legend, claiming he was half white (which was not true, and surely must have backfired with his loyal black fanbase) and telling stories about his mother reading him soft porn novels, which was also untrue, and unfair, as she was working in a Minnesota school as a social worker, and this was not publicity (indeed, false publicity) she needed. He further claimed that the lyrics in his songs were all based on personal experience, especially “Head” and “Sister.” That must have pleased his sister I’m sure.

His next tour was a disaster. On the back of poor sales and ambiguous response to the songs on Dirty Mind, he nevertheless crammed his ninety-minute set with the entire album (it being only thirty minutes, this was not hard but inadvisable surely) and the result was poor ticket sales and a quickly-cancelled tour. He was frustrated. People did not get it. They did not understand what he was trying to do, bridging genres that had seldom if ever been bridged before. Rock, funk, disco, new wave, soul, jazz, electronic - he used them all in his music, but nobody cared. They didn’t want the new songs, which were hard to put into the context of what could perhaps at that time generously be called a Prince fan; they wanted the older, more accessible, poppy dancy stuff. And Prince was in no mood to pander to his fans.

His new image didn’t help. He started being branded as “gay” and called a freak. This was 1980, and conservatives like Ronald Reagan were hovering in the wings, eager to take America back to “family values”, and no great supporter of civil rights either. It wasn’t a great time to be black and experimenting sexually in the land of the nominally free. Prejudice was rife, as always, and plenty of people hated blacks, but they could muster up just a little more hatred for blacks who went around in high heels and panties and who wore makeup. Some of these people might have tacitly approved of the idea of sleeping with their sister, but only if she was white, of course. Seeking to raise his profile, particularly among white Americans, Prince did a set on Saturday Night Live.

But while middle America struggled to sort out this odd enigma and decide whether they should fete him or run him out of town on a rail, back home he was their hero. He played an impromptu gig at Sam’s, where there wasn’t even only standing room: some people hung out of the rafters of the converted bus terminal as Prince belted out his songs, and they loved him. Minneapolis Tribune’s Jon Bream crowed “Minneapolis finally has its own bona fide rock star!”

Time for a Change

Though his original idea to put together a band which could play music different to his, but which he would manage and basically control had fizzled out, Prince was ready to give it another shot. This time, pardon the pun, the band was The Time. The music was all his, his and his own band, but when it came to performing, he needed an actual band, and so he approached Flyte Time, who had been together since 1973 but were still gigging around clubs and trying to sell their album without success. Interestingly, the band contained a young Alexander O’Neal, who would go on to be a huge star in the world of soul and pop, but he was not interested in the project and bowed out. The remaining members were happy to go along with Prince’s idea, if only for the exposure and the chance to play to real audiences.

The idea was simple, yet brilliant. Prince would have the band play his music, but tell reporters and critics it was theirs (with his blessing). When O’Neal backed out of the deal, he recruited his old Grand Central bandmate Morris Day to replace him, and Day brought along with him guitarist Jesse Johnson. The hardest part, of course, was for Day to match Prince’s intonations and inflections perfectly, as it was his voice singing on the vocal and Day had to reproduce it exactly, and by now we all know what a perfectionist Prince was. Good enough just would not do.

Six songs completed in two weeks, Prince mixed the album in L.A. in only two days, and The Time’s first album was ready to be released. He had Warner, who foresaw in the album a return to the Prince they knew and loved (ie the Prince who sold big) and they signed up The Time without delay.


Album titleThe Time
Released as: The Time
Label: Warner Bros
Recorded: April 1981
Release Date: July 29 1981
Producer: Morris Day and Prince (as “Jamie Starr”)
Studio(s): Prince’s home studio, California
Chart Position: 50
Singles Released: ”Get it Up”, “Cool”, “Girl”
Singles Chart Performance: GIU: 42 @BH100, 6 @ @ BHSSC; Cool: 90 @ BH100, 3 @ BDH80 (Billboard Disco Hot 80), 7 @ BHSSC; Girl: 65 @ BHSSC
Sales: 500,000

The album contains only six tracks, but one is eight minutes long, one nine and one ten. Sounds more like a prog track listing to me! It kicks off with “Get It Up”, very Chic or Sister Sledge or some damn disco thing, I don’t know much about this genre. Lots of brass and squelchy keyboard, handclap percussion, and you can hear Prince’s original vocal there in the backing vocals and there’s a typical Prince guitar too. His handprints are all over this song, and probably all over the album too. Okay well this goes on way way way too long and is just another example of what would become Prince’s self-indulgence. Again, allowing for some pretty sweet guitar solos and exuberant work on the keys, it’s mostly repetition and there’s absolutely no excuse for this being nine minutes long. A pretty vacuous song, stretched beyond breaking point.

“Girl”, on the other hand, is, well, a soppy romantic ballad, with digital piano and soft organ, something a hundred boybands would infest the airwaves with over the next few decades. Unimaginative title, unimaginative song. No wonder he didn’t want to put his name to it officially. Things pick up, at least in terms of tempo, with “After Hi School”, one of only two tracks on the album credited to other than Prince, Dez Dickerson getting a writing credit on both this one and the next. Sort of a weird mix of rockabilly and new wave on this, with a piping keyboard running behind a sharp guitar riff, but again I wouldn’t be bothered. Very low-grade stuff. Sort of like the Buzzcocks suddenly and much to their consternation find themselves playing in a new wave band. Punky chant at the end sort of underlines how shit this is, and “Cool”, which runs for an excruciating ten minutes, believe it or not, is Dickerson’s other contribution.

Hey, at least it brings back the funk. It’s all very well to try to be all things to all men, but sometimes it gets not only confusing but frustrating, and if the last song had been a puppy, well sorry, but I would have drowned it.* “Cool” reminds me of “Money Don’t Matter Tonight” and “Baby I’m a Star”, with its hurried, finger-snapping beat and its blaring keyboard runs. Actually, it’s nowhere near as excruciating a listen as the opener was (I wrote that before I heard the song). It’s still way too long but it is catchy and it keeps the attention as it goes along. You’d have to say it falls very much into the category of jam though. Some spoken parts on it, perhaps nodding towards the emergent rap/hip-hop culture, though I read Prince had no time for those artists. The call-and-response is, I have to say, pretty cool: “Anybody hot? No! You know why? No! Cos we’re cool!” Indeed.

Another big ballad in “Oh Baby”, with clanging, ringing guitar and rippling piano, head and shoulders above the other ballad, which was just insipid and formulaic. This one has real heart, and looks back to the classic days of Motown with some fine backing vocals from Prince too. That leaves us with surely the most Princelike track on the album, another long one in the eight-minute-plus “The Stick”, which oozes cool and funks all over the place. It’s kind of hard not to like this. Yes, it’s another jam but it’s a damn good one. Prince/Day shouting out “What time is it?” is not quite inspired, but clever, and would also form the title of the band’s next album as well as becoming a favourite catchphrase of the band.

TRACK LISTING

Get It Up
Girl

After Hi School
Cool
Oh Baby
The Stick


Hard to know what to say about that album, other than I guess it provided a creative outlet for Prince’s music that he either couldn’t or didn’t want directly associated with his name. I find the whole idea strange; one way or another, people were going to know they were listening to Prince music, and if he thought he had anyone fooled, well, he didn’t exactly cover his tracks very well, did he? Amusing, I guess, or to quote Moe from The Simpsons, it’s not without its charm.


Anyway, I guess Prince found it fun. Filled up a few weeks putting it together and getting it going, scratched an itch, so to speak. And then of course, there was his fourth album to record. All in a day’s work.

* Note: No I wouldn't, and anyone who would contemplate such an action should be drowned themselves, see how they like it.
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Old 10-10-2021, 11:56 AM   #14 (permalink)
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Chapter V: Let He Who is Without Sin… A Controversial Time

Where other artists would take months, sometimes even years writing and recording their albums, Prince seemed to write like a man for whom, to quote an old Irish expression, God hadn’t made enough hours in the day. He always looked like he was in a rush, barrelling through each project and heading off in a new direction at top speed, somewhat like the aforementioned hummingbird, which I decided was not a good metaphor for him, but which I now think may be. Though he was a perfectionist and would not let an album be heard until he was happy with it, he does not seem to have been one who would later come back and start tinkering around with it, trying to make it better, releasing remixes and overdubs and what-have-you. Once a project was done, it was done; yesterday’s news, and he moved on to the next challenge. I once read about a writer - can’t remember who, think he might have been French, not sure - of whom it was said he only wrote 100 words every day, but that those 100 words had been honed and crafted to perfection by him, and he never had to alter them.

In the same way, Prince seemed to, once he had got the right sound he wanted on each track, each album, put them aside and never look at them again (other than playing them live). Another comparison comes to mind, from the TV science fiction show Babylon 5, in which one of the characters described himself disparagingly as “someone rushing through my life, like a man endless late for an appointment,” and this is how I visualise Prince as he hared from one project to another, never, it seemed, tiring (or at least, never showing it), never resting, never taking time out, always working, the consummate workaholic. Today his discography stands at well over fifty, not including those he produced but did not play on. That’s pretty phenomenal for a man who spent a mere thirty years in the business, and certainly indicative of someone who was never content to rest on his laurels.

For his fourth album, Prince decided for the first time his band would have input, both playing and even writing. Up until now he had been a lone wolf, sequestering himself away in the studio for days at a time, writing, playing, producing, engineering and finally, as it were, giving birth to a new album, without any help from anyone. But whether life on the road had taught him the value of his fellow musicians, or whether he was just tired doing everything himself, or even that he hoped involving the band would spark new creative flows within him, and perhaps them, the new album would not be a solo effort.

After shocking the world with his explicit references to sex in his lyrics, he confounded those who believed they could predict which way he would jump next, using political and social messages and colouring his music with religion too, and turning the album out in just nine days. It took the charts pretty much by storm, climbing to number 21 and has sold, to date, over a million copies in the USA. Critics liked it, but were unsure of Prince’s new “serious” look, and noted that it was a genuine, if contrived, attempt to leave behind the sex-and-scandal of his three previous albums (despite the title) and be accepted as a serious musician, not just a pop star.



Album title: Controversy
Released as: Prince
Label: Warner Bros
Recorded: August 14 - 23 1981
Release Date: October 14 1981
Producer: Prince
Studio(s): Prince’s home studio, California; Sunset Sound, California
Chart Position* 22
Singles Released:”Controversy”, “Sexuality” (Australia only), “Let’s Work”, “Do Me Baby”
Singles Chart Performance: CON: 70 @BH100,3 @ @ BHSSC, 1 @ BHDCS, 5 @ UK; LW: 9 @ BHSSC, 1 @ BHDCS; DMB: 46 @ BH100, 1 @ BHSSC; SEX (unknown)
Sales: 1,100,000

Now where have I seen that pose before? Looks very similar to Tom Waits’ Heartattack and Vine, right down to the bedraggled shirt and the staring eyes, to say nothing of the newspaper headlines behind him. Would I be right, I wonder, in saying this is the first time Prince wears purple? Or, at least, is seen doing so? All right, technically it’s more a kind of a mauve, but still, it’s getting there. Possibly, if I’m honest, the first time he’s worn a full suit of clothes on the cover of an album!

Perhaps taking a cue from his work with The Time, the opening track here is seven minutes long, and it’s not the only one. I see a return to the broader funk of his second album here, with a definite look forward to his next work, which would be the one which would break him. It’s a cleaner, sharper, more defined sound, and for once the vocal is clear and understandable. I feel this is a slower version of “U Got the Look”, and very indicative of the way his music was going. With a sly wink to the conservative right, he quotes The Lord’s Prayer in the lyrics, and then goes on to express his wish that there was no such thing as black or white. A very impressive start; a tune that’s great to dance to and also has a lot to say in the lyric. It’s also the first time I hear him unleash that manic scream that is kind of his falsetto climax I guess, and which would show up in a lot of his songs from now on. A real signature.

Despite its title, “Sexuality” is devoid of the risque lyric that characterised much of the previous album, a sort of “All You Need Is Love” for the 1980s I guess. A fast-paced, breathless little tune that evokes later hit “Let’s Go Crazy” in its rhythm if not its melody. In the lyric, Prince moans about the influx of tourists into America (which kind of sounds a little dangerously close to “they come over here, takin’ our women”, just sayin’) against some pretty sharp guitar licks - yes, the guitar is back. The longest track then is a ballad, written in what would become classic Prince style, and looking back somewhat to his earlier love songs. “Do Me Baby” doesn’t need too deep an interpretation of the lyric, does it? Some great faux sexual expression by the man here (might have belonged better in the other song) and despite being the longest at almost eight minutes, not in the least boring.

He hasn’t forgotten his new wave fans though, and “Private Joy” sounds like something Laura Branigan (god rest her soul) would have enjoyed singing; very upbeat, poppy and excitable with jumping, hopping keyboards and a bouncy beat. Vocal’s not as strong here, and the song is a little throwaway in some respects, but then there is that guitar solo, which is very welcome. Prince’s political dabbling continues as he asks “Ronnie, Talk to Russia” in a very new wave/gospel/um, punk hybrid that just runs all over the place and includes sound effects which sound like machine guns. The whole thing is sung in a kind of kid’s nursery rhyme style and again features a great solo with some fine backing vocals, this time actual ones, provided by Lisa Coleman. A short song, less than two minutes, but great fun.

Strutting and striding all over the place then with “Let’s Work”, which became a big club and dance hit, stabbing keyboards and falsetto vocal and stuttering synthy brass adding a kind of Earth, Wind and Fire feel to parts of the song. “Annie Christian” has the vocal pushed far up in the mix, and in fact it’s more a spoken word sort of thing than singing, which sort of takes away from the pretty good music behind it, but it further advances his social and political commentary and I imagine made him seem more a serious artist instead of someone just singing about love women and sex. Love the guitar solo in this, even if it is very short. That brings us to the final track.

“Jack U Off” is a fast, dancy, almost honky-tonk number with definite rockabilly credentials and some fine guitar thrown in, though it mostly run on a thick organ which reminds me of Dire Straits’ “Walk of Life”. It’s a bit of a silly song to be fair, and perhaps serves to leaven out the somewhat heavier fare that has characterised this very different album, bookending it well.

TRACK LISTING

Controversy
Sexuality
Do Me Baby

Private Joy
Ronnie, Talk to Russia
Let’s Work
Annie Christian

Jack U Off

I think this is probably the first Prince album I’ve mostly enjoyed (as evidenced by the colour-coding of the tracks above) and on which there is really nothing I don’t like, though some of the songs are certainly better than others. It’s quite a transformation, a continuation of his previous album to some degree but an evolution too, certainly in the lyrical department, and again it’s amazing to think this is a guy who only two years previously was crooning about falling in love and dancing all night. While he hasn’t forgotten those messages, there are new ones to be put out, and he does this with the consummate ease, and the lack of selfconsciousness that a man ten years in the business might have trouble projecting.

The title of this journal is Baby I’m a Star, and I don’t think Prince ever once believed he would not be. He certainly worked to make it so, and all his hard work was about to pay off the following year.

But before that, it was time to tour the album.

Following the release of Controversy, Prince was ready to hit the road again. Andre was gone, having jumped ship to help Owen Husney launch his own solo career, so Prince again looked back to the musicians he had played with before landing a record deal, and chose bass player Mark Brown from a tenth grade band called Fantasy. Well, now the guy’s fantasy was about to come true, as he joined Prince on the road to promote the new album. Brown quickly saw how the fantasy turned to hard cold reality, as Prince pushed him - and everyone else - to excel. He was not a mentor, Brown found, nor a teacher. He had not the time to hold anyone’s hand. He expected you to be as good as he had been told, and if you were not, you got a chance but then you were out. There would be no passengers on the Prince train as it pulled out of the station. Everyone was expected to contribute to his growing success.

Meanwhile his shadow band were playing and Prince believed that The Time had progressed to the point where they were ready for a tour. His own big chance came as none other than the Rolling Stones asked him to open for them in the Los Angeles Coliseum, which knocked him flat. He had always been a huge admirer of the Stones, had even modelled his own performances, he said, on those of Jagger. To him, it was a match made in heaven. Dez was less certain; he knew the sort of audiences the Stones drew, and he worried the hard rock and blues brigade might not take kindly to Prince’s particular brand of electronic funky new wave. Of course, he didn’t get a say, and had enough sense not to voice his concerns.

Warner of course were delighted. Not only was it great exposure for a man who was fast becoming a real star of their stable, it was the perfect opportunity to promote the new album and get it across to far more listeners than radio or TV appearances could. However Dez’s fears proved not to be unfounded, as the sweaty, rowdy, impatient fans waiting for the Stones greeted “Uptown” with barely-restrained contempt, not to mention the little black guy standing in briefs and a trenchcoat on the very stage on which later (and not soon enough) their rock and roll god would strut and preen and growl out standards like “Brown Sugar” and “Satisfaction”. It did not start well, but Prince, ever ready to adapt when the need arose, changed the setlist and began concentrating on guitar-centred music, turning his intended funk and dance performance into the best he could of a rock one.

Had this been two years later, of course, things might very well have been different, but to the public at large, and certainly to rock audiences, Prince was pretty much still an unknown quantity, and they mistook the lyric of “Jack U Off” for “Fuck you off”, after which the barrage began. Dez got hit by a piece of fruit which knocked his guitar out of tune, Mark Brown, facing his first ever gig and his first ever developing riot, must have been scared shitless. Prince, though scared enough himself, was also angry. He recalled one “dude right in the front” who wouldn't’ stop throwing things” and remembered “the hatred all over his face”. Feeling like he had taken enough, Prince left the stage to a chorus of boos and the kind of fusilade that might have made even the Light Brigade pause before charging.

He returned though, his band having stayed onstage, and ripped off the kind of guitar solo that it seemed might pacify these guys. It did, to a degree, but though the booing turned to applause at the end, it was light, polite, an afterthought, the kind of clapping that told you your audience were glad you were gone, and hoped, unlike most rock audiences, there would be no encore. They needn’t have worried. Having walked offstage Prince had left LA and had arrange a flight home. It took Mick Jagger, desperate not to lose his support act in the middle of a tour, and Steve Fargnoli, Prince’s manager, who knew that it his client blew it here, he would never be asked on any major tour ever again, to convince Prince to give it another shot.

It was a total disaster.

Without any real rock material to replace the dance numbers with, and with Prince rather perversely and stubbornly refusing to wear something other than his bikini outfit, things were no better the second time around. Audiences still hated them, things still got thrown, people were in danger of getting hurt, Prince left the stage again (leaving his band playing) to a chorus of boos and catcalls. The truth had to be faced: Prince was not going to be able to play on the Stones’ tour, it had been a failure from the start. It was the final nail in the coffin of Prince’s suitability as a support act. Nobody ever asked him to join their tour again.

But soon, that wouldn’t matter any more.
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Old 12-14-2021, 02:23 PM   #15 (permalink)
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Chapter VI: Judgement Day - The Purple Reign Begins

November 20 1981 was the date of the first proper Prince tour, his own tour on which he had to pander to nobody and where people were actually coming to see him, his own fans coming to hear his music, and pay him homage. His own support act, The Time, would open for him. Controversy was selling well, and he was back on black radio with the title track. Critics were still divided in their opinion of the album, but it was to come eighth in a poll held by the influential music magazine Village Voice, of the best albums of that year.

Prince had also, for once, learned from his ordeal on stage opening for the Stones. Gone was the bikini, gone was the trenchcoat, and in their place was the outfit he wore on the album, including the soon-to-be-iconic purple jacket. His stage show went through some changes, including a fireman’s pole in the middle of the stage down which he slid to make his entrance, and purple smoke billowing across the front as he and the band played. In front of his own fans, he could do no wrong, and his popularity had now grown so much that Warner believed it necessary he should have a minder, a security guy who could act as a barrier between him and his legion of adoring fans, and stave off any trouble that might be heading his way.

The guy’s name was Charles Huntsberry, but he was known as “Big Chick”, and with good reason. Standing six feet eight, he weighed almost four hundred pounds, his thick white beard giving him the deceptive air of a Santa Claus, but the only gifts this man would be dishing out to those who incurred his wrath would be bunches of fives, and I don’t mean candy canes! He had previously been on the security detail for AC/DC and had been a cop in Tennessee, so he certainly knew how to handle himself. He scared everyone, including, ironically, Prince himself, who decided to let him go after a single day. Dez convinced him to change his mind, pointing out that in order to protect his boss, Chick had to look scary. But he had spoken to him, he said, and he was a nice guy. Besides, he was being paid to look after Prince, so why should be pose any threat to his employer? Unsure, Prince relented and Big Chick joined the expanding entourage which began to follow the little musician from Minneapolis, as if he were in fact a real prince.

He had his next project in sight, lining up a friend of his, Susan Moonsie, his wardrobe assistant Brenda Bennett and another employee of his management team, Jamie Shoop, to be his second shadow band, The Hookers. When he met model Denise Matthews, however, he decided to base the band around her. Meanwhile, his tour was proceeding and he had already written more songs, including “Baby I’m a Star”, which would not be used until three years later on Purple Rain. Given how much has just been written about his personal security, it’s perhaps ironic that his own personal insecurity led him to remove The Time from some of his shows, worrying that they were getting more press than him, and that people were coming to see them and not him. He might have winced, had he thought about it (if he did), how closely this situation mirrored the Rick James one he had found himself in two years earlier.

Instead he involved them in the creation of the girl group, whose name he had now changed to Vanity 6, Matthews now being named Vanity (he had originally wanted to call her Vagina: I wonder if that might not have backfired? He ditched the idea though in favour of this one). The Time sat in on the recording sessions for the band, watching and learning. You could say, without I think any real argument, that Prince was definitely using sex to sell this new band. All women, all pretty, all dressed in revealing lingerie, it wasn’t too hard to guess the kind of market he was aiming at. Prince was a master by now at knowing what sold, and how to sell it. And he sold it in August, just days before The Time were due to release their second album.

Album title Vanity 6
Released as: Vanity 6
Label: Warner Bros
Recorded: March - April 1982
Release Date: August 11 1982
Producer: Prince (as The Starr Company)
Studio(s): Prince’s home studio, California; Sunset Sound, California
Chart Position* 45
Singles Released:”He’s So Dull”, “Nasty Girl”, “Drive Me Wild”, “Bite the Beat”
Singles Chart Performance: NG: 7 @ USR&BC, 1@ USDC
Sales: 500,000

Full and fair disclosure here: the only place I could get the album was on YouTube, and the videos make it a little hard to concentrate on the music, but it’s kind of by now what you’d expect from Prince. “Nasty Girl” kicks proceedings off and it’s a lightweight funk number with plenty of synths and effects, and the voices of the girls are kind of interchangeable; indeed, I wouldn't have been that surprised to have found that it was Prince singing (though it’s not). You can hear echoes of what Prince would later mould Scottish songstress Sheena Easton into, and it’s very danceable and catchy and throwaway. Now back to those videos…


The sort of Arabic chant near the end is interesting, but Prince really goes for broke on the sexual innuendos here when he has Vanity sing “I need seven inches more.” Ah, right. Probably building a shelf or something. No? Um, well, she’s got a good stage presence; you definitely feel yourself (stop that!) being drawn towards her as the main woman, though in fairness here at least she does take the lead vocal, and the camera follows her around. And speaking of sexual innuendo, “Wet Dream” is another bouncy, upbeat number with some nice vocal harmonies, some interesting sound effects and some very happy synth lines. Couldn’t say anything is standing out (I SAID STOP THAT!) so far though; it’s all pretty innocuous musically speaking, and both the first tracks are forgotten by the time the third begins, this being “Drive Me Wild”, it’s the first on which Prince really breaks out the guitar. It’s hard funk and electronica, with quite a low-key vocal, though the version I’ve been given here is the extended version, which is over three times as long as the album version. Definitely head and shoulders above everything else so far, almost the first “serious” song on the album.

“He’s So Dull” has a very I expect deliberate early sixties sound about it, right down to the honking organ riff and the silly dance the girls do, and it’s very much a let-down after the power and majesty of “Drive Me Wild.” It takes us, if you can believe it, halfway through the album. Pure disco funk then for “If a Girl Answers (Don’t Hang Up)”, pretty much spoken (I can’t even call it a rap; part of it is but mostly it’s just talking to the music, which I don’t think is the same) and I guess an early example of what the Spice Girls would call “girl power” ten years later. The song however suffers from again Prince’s habit of overextending things, and it could lose the last minute and not suffer for it. “Make-Up” has a dark, bassy beat running under it, very electronic drums and a sort of sparse vocal with what sounds like thunder effects? Has a kind of darkwave effect sort of? Coldwave maybe. Ah hell I don’t know; something like maybe Laurie Anderson might put out if she was into dance music?

More simple and straightforward is “Bite the Beat”, with a staggering synth line and another low-key vocal, puts me in mind of Depeche Mode playing John Cougar Mellencamp. Yeah. Good keyboard solo on it and the handclap drums work well. The closer is the ballad, but in fairness it’s not a soppy love song and Prince takes the opportunity to lament the plight of women in the workplace, I think. Anyway he makes a point about the enfranchisement of women, so fair play to him. It’s also a decent song, and in fact I’d place it second best after “Drive Me Wild”.

TRACK LISTING

Nasty Girl
Wet Dream
Drive Me Wild
He’s So Dull
If a Girl Answers (Don’t Hang Up)
Make-Up
Bite the Beat
3x2=6

It’s interesting I guess seeing Prince write for women for the first time - though it certainly would not be the last - while at the same time perhaps slightly cringe-inducing that he’s talking for them: Vanity 6 are nothing more than pretty mouthpieces for his music and lyrics, though they do the job well. The album was never going to break any charts and though it got to number 6 in the Black Charts it didn’t even scrape into the top forty of the Billboard Hot 100. The band broke up shortly after the release of this album and there never was another. A decade later they would change their name to Apollonia 6 (doesn’t quite roll off the tongue as easily, does it?) to reflect the departure of Vanity and her replacement by Apollonia. They, too, would release one album and then disband.

But apart from these projects Prince was also writing material for what would become his world-busting, explosive breakout album, and had already come up with the lyric and melody to what would be one of his biggest hits while sitting in Lisa Coleman’s pink Edsel waiting for her to come out of her girlfriend’s flat. Ever the innovator, Prince had moved smoothly along with the technology as it developed, and he was now using a Linn drum machine to create his drumbeats and patterns. He got more into writing music with the aid of computer software, and found he could get a lot more done more quickly. During the recording sessions for 1999 he met Lisa’s friend, Wendy Melvoin.

Wendy was always coming to the studio with Lisa, so Prince decided to let her sing backup on one of the songs, “Irresistible Bitch”. She would later become a fixture of his band, and go on to have a solo (well, dual) career with Lisa. This time around, Prince felt that he had too many ideas, too many songs, and too many of them were too good not to be used, so he took the unusual step, for an artist who had not yet truly broken the market, to record a double album. It was quite a gamble: a double album would cost not quite double the price of an ordinary one, but more, certainly. And could he keep people’s attention focussed over two full records? He believed he could, with this new music, and intended to make the first record all the dancy electronic stuff and the other one to be filled mostly with slower, ballad-like material.

Warner were of course dubious about the project, worried it wouldn’t sell, but by now The Time had recorded (i.e., Prince had written and recorded for them) their second album and it had sold well, even getting to number 26 in the Hot 100, though where it had of course made its true mark was on the black music market, where it rose to a staggering number two spot on the Billboard Top Soul Albums chart. Trusting Prince’s instincts, and based on the reaction to his tour and previous sales - and surely not wishing to be the equivalent of the people who turned down the Rolling Stones - they agreed to finance a double album. It would be one of the smartest, and most profitable decisions they ever made.
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Old 12-14-2021, 02:39 PM   #16 (permalink)
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Album title What Time Is It?
Released as: The Time
Label: Warner Bros
Recorded: January - June 1982
Release Date: August 25 1982
Producer: Morris Day and The Starr Company (Prince )
Studio(s): Prince’s home studio, California; Sunset Sound, California
Chart Position* 26
Singles Released: ”777-9311”, “The Walk”, “Gigolos Get Lonely Too”
Singles Chart Performance: 777-9311: 88 @BH100, 2 @ @ BHSSC; TW: 24 @ BHSSC, 42 @ BHDCS; GGLT: 77 @ BHSSC
Sales: 500,000

The second album from Prince’s first pet project utilised as its title a phrase Morris Day tended to use so much on stage that it became his catchphrase. It keeps up the basic funk of Prince’s earlier work, getting going with “Wild and Loose”, again recalling for me “U Got the Look” in its style, very much a “let’s party” song, with quite a lot of what I would personally consider superfluous conversation against the beat, which once again lengthens the track unnecessarily, making it a frankly ridiculous seven and a half minutes. It’s all right but it’s nothing terribly special. Some nice jangly guitar, infectious rhythm, I guess it does what it’s supposed to. Nice funky guitar opening to “777-9311”, one of the singles, feels like another meh track. At least he resists rhyming 9311 with Heaven, which is something as I expected this to happen. The song is full of braggadocio - “Come on, baby, I ain’t got all night”, that sort of thing - and to me comes across as very dated, but it seems to have gone down well. Prince certainly rips off a fine guitar solo near the end.

There’s a fast beat running through “OnedayI’mgonnabesomebody”, maybe the first time Prince uses the idea he would later champion of pushing words together in song titles, and it sort of sounds a bit silly really, as Prince is already somebody at this stage, and The Time, if they’re going to ever be somebody, are nothing but Prince’s puppets. Remember, before he picked them out of obscurity they were struggling to get by and would most likely never have made it (other than Alexander O’Neal, who made it without his help, but had to leave the band to do so), so who are they really fooling? And since it’s written by Prince, what is he saying? It can only be an in-joke, one that most people are in on, because who didn’t know this band was just an extension of Prince? There’s another joke as they shout at the end “We don’t like new wave!” and all have a good laugh. Har har. We get it, guys. It’s not worth nine and a half fucking minutes though!

Cameo-style tune next in “The Walk”, which seems to be Prince trying to get in on fashion, another facet of his stardom he would command, in a similar way to Bowie earlier, setting trends others would follow. There’s a sort of army march chant in the song which is quite amusing and a little endearing if I’m honest. It’s another jam, and features another silly conversation, which are getting annoying. I’d also have to say that maybe Prince is hiding some really almost bordering on misogynist tendencies in these songs. I suppose it’s all in good fun, but I don’t think feminists would approve. There’s a ballad in “Gigolos Get Lonely Too”, and it’s, well, it’s all right I suppose but again nothing great. Kind of get the feeling Prince was pouring any old crap into this album that he didn’t feel was good enough to be released under his own name. The final track then is “I Don’t Wanna Leave You”, which despite its ballad-sounding title is in fact a bouncy pop tune, with sprightly keyboard and a boppy beat. Nice piano run at the end. Not a bad tune, decent closer, but again it doesn’t need to be an epic six and a half minutes, when all the extra does is showcase Prince’s musicianship.

TRACK LISTING

Wild and Loose
777-0311
Ondayi’mgonnabesomebody
The Walk
Gigolos Get Lonely Too
I Don’t Wanna Leave You

Doubt I’ll ever be a Time fan, but they’re part of the Prince story so they have to be reviewed. I seriously don’t get the idea though: did he really think people didn’t know? Well, soon enough he’d have bigger, and better things to think about. His own time (sorry) was fast approaching.

Nobody can say with any certainty where Prince’s obsession with the colour purple came from, but once this album was released it would be a colour he would be forever identified with, not least due to the title of the album to follow this. There are theories that it had to do with the colour scheme used by his favourite football team, the Minnesota Vikings, however no evidence exists to show Prince was ever interested in sports. Then again, as a way of paying his dues to and at the same time promoting his hometown, maybe even subliminally there’s some mileage in that. There are also references to one of his great heroes, Hendrix, and his famous hit “Purple Haze”, but again this is all conjecture. He had written a song for his debut called “Purple Lawn”, which never made the cut, so again maybe.

One of the most compelling arguments I’ve read though is that he envisaged a battle between demons, who were red, and angels who were blue, mixing and melding together to form the colour purple, and this of course gave birth to his breakthrough single and album. Whatever the real story is - hell, maybe the guy just liked the colour - the fact is that purple would appear in song and album titles from now on, and as much as the colour black was associated with Johnny Cash, for Prince, purple would be the colour. He wanted purple on the album cover, and he wanted better videos for the songs that were to be released as singles. MTV had doggedly stuck in the fifties and sixties in terms of its mindset, despite being supposedly the “hip new channel for the kids”, the story is well known that until CBS threatened to pull all their white artists’ videos from their playlist, they wouldn’t even countenance playing Michael Jackson on their show! Sounds stupid now of course, but back then that was the way they saw it: black music was for black people, and black people didn’t watch MTV.

Prince was about to change all that. His videos would be sleek, sexy, attractive and impossible to ignore, not only for the music but for the sexy women in barely-there costumes that would be picked up upon by many bands in the future, most famously by three Texas blues players to sell their heavily-electronically-based new brand of pop rock and send them skyrocketing to the top with singles like “Legs” and “Gimme All Your Lovin’”. It might - it does - seem odd now, even unbelievable, but when “1999” was released as a lead single in September , though it went down well as usual with black audiences, rising to number 4 on the Black Chart, the pop audience yawned and afforded it a weak position at number 44.

Whether he realised it didn’t matter, that he knew he was on the brink of something huge, or not, Prince went ahead organising his biggest tour yet. His “pet bands” would be on the bill, so essentially he would be, as he had been for all his so-far young life, supporting himself and doing everything, even if now, others would be carrying out the tasks for him. He had to be the first artist in music history who was supported by two bands, both of whom played the music he had written and sang the lyrics he had crafted. In some way, you could say it was the next thing to musical masturbation. And I will. It was the next thing to musical masturbation. Why Prince chose bands everyone knew were basically him I don’t know: maybe he didn’t trust any other small band to open for him and not make a mess of things, maybe memories of him opening for Rick James were still a little too fresh and raw, or maybe he was afraid a young band might upstage him? Maybe he felt he had to have total creative control, and a band operating independently, outside of the World of Prince, the Princesphere, might not toe the line.

So he had his - let’s be unkind here, but also slightly honest - trained monkeys open for him, but not before he had literally put them through their paces. Prince was, as we have seen, a hard taskmaster, and he was the kind of man who was not satisfied with anything less than perfection. In fact, he went one further: when keyboard player Jimmy Jam of The Time had no melody to play in a song, and was just using his left hand to play the bass, Prince berated him, telling him he had to find a part to play. The music live, he told them all, had to be better than it was on the studio recordings. Improvisation was the name of the game, which, coming from such a control freak as Mr. Nelson, was an odd stance for him to take. But he pushed them till they resented him, then hated him, then realised he had after all made them go the extra mile so that they could be better. And they were better. And now grateful, and they understood. “That’s what Prince did, time and again,” Jam said. “He taught us we could do things we’d never believed we could.”

Jesse Johnson did not agree, believing that Prince played down the ability of both The Time and Vanity 6, especially their fame, contending that nobody would recognise them on the streets, which was certainly not true. In some ways, it seems he was saying “Don’t ever forget, you’re nothing without me. I made you and I can break you.” And of course he had, for what were either band without Prince writing their music, producing and arranging, playing their instruments and basically acting as their meal ticket, a one-man X Factor years in advance of that show?

And so perhaps there was after all a darker side to Prince, where he tried to keep everyone down so that he shone from among them, above them, beyond them, and most importantly, they didn’t get above themselves and start demanding more money, or better conditions. Maybe he wasn’t the self-assured, swaggering, confident, arrogant music star he made himself out to be. Could it be that he was in fact quite insecure, worried that either his fame wouldn’t last or that someone would overshadow him and end up leaving him in the cold? He was still quite young at this time, and maturity, and security would only come with age and experience, so perhaps he could be forgiven for taking such a stance, but it seems clear he didn’t consider anyone, least of all the bands he had created, to be anywhere near his level.

In that, though, he was right.
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Old 12-14-2021, 05:09 PM   #17 (permalink)
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October 27 was D-Day, when the double album from Prince hit the shelves, and though many may have balked at the price, once the hits started coming the album flew out of the record stores. 1999 would be part of a two-way assault that would finally land Prince at the very top of the charts, not just in America but everywhere, not just the black charts but the mainstream ones, and establish him at last as a bona fide star. His troubled relationship with the media remained however, as he refused to talk to reporters or journalists, afraid he might say the wrong thing or be misquoted. Perhaps sensing his big break was coming, he was much more careful about the set design for his upcoming tour, ensuring there was nothing in it that would cause offence, probably well aware he would be playing to audiences who would not be used to his bawdy moves and risque lyrics. Kind of ironic that once he became a star, and untouchable, such things would become his trademark, and they would be almost expected from him.

But for now he was anxious to win over audiences and not make any missteps, so he isolated himself from reporters and tried to avoid the controversy (sorry) that was swirling around the identity of the mysterious Jamie Starr. Finally, one of his old girlfriends confirmed it was him, and the secret was out. Ah, so apparently everyone did not know. Well, now they did. Soon afterwards it became common knowledge that both The Time and Vanity 6 were Prince projects, and him in all but name. Fans, understandably, felt cheated, but still went to the shows. Near the end of the year Prince encountered Wendy playing guitar, and was very impressed. As January turned to February, radio stations began to play his new single, “Little Red Corvette”, and for the first time Prince made a real impression on radio, not as a black artist but as an artist, and his single climbed up and up into the charts, reaching the rarefied heights of number six - and not on the black charts, either.

His success on the radio gave way to his video being played on MTV, and as his tour wound on and gained momentum he was able to book, and fill, stadiums and arenas, most of which were thronged with pale faces instead of dark ones. Now fans were screaming for him as he approached the stage, and he was playing to ten, twenty thousand a show.


Album title 1999
Released as: Prince and The Revolution
Label: Warner Bros
Recorded: January - August 1982
Release Date: October 27 1982
Producer: Prince
Studio(s): Prince’s home studio, California; Sunset Sound, California
Chart Position* 9/30
Singles Released: ”1999”, “Little Red Corvette”, “Delirious”, “Automatic”, “Let’s Pretend We’re Married”
Singles Chart Performance: Note: This is complicated. Although a hit when released, “1999” wasn’t a smash, but was then re-released several times as Prince’s fame and popularity grew, improving its chart performance. So here I have denoted this by a code: FR for first release (1982), USRR for US re-release (1983), UKRR for UK re-release (1985) and WWRR for Worldwide re-release (1999). You're welcome.
1999 (FR): 44@BH100, 4 @BHR&BHHSC, 1 @ BDCS, (USRR) 12 :BH100, 25 @UKC (UKRR) 2@UKC (WWRR) 10@UKC, 40 @BH100; LRC: 4@BH100, 15@BHR&BS, 17@BMRT (Mainstream Rock Tracks), 2@UKC; DEL 8@BH100, 18@BHBS (Hot Black Singles - sounds like a trendy pickup joint for African Americans!); LPWM 52@BH100
Sales: 5,500,000 worldwide

If you hadn’t been following Prince’s career (and I had most definitely not been) then this album, his fifth, and certainly the top ten singles that announced it seemed to have come out of nowhere. I remember seeing “1999” on the chart show Top of the Pops and thinking, who the hell is Prince? Surely I was not alone: to us non-hip non-American whites, this guy seemed to come like a bolt out of the blue (purple?) and take the world by storm. But of course as we’ve read here, his path towards fame, while shorter than most, still took several years, and this was the culmination of all the hard work, the dogged perseverance in the face of poor album sales, and the man’s unwavering faith in his own ability and destiny. Finally, it all made sense. Finally, he would show people what he could do, and finally, the world would recognise his talent.

It simply had no choice in the matter after this.

There’s no messing around and we’re right into it with the title track, a dark, slowed-down voice sounding like something out of Doctor Who promising “I won’t hurt you, I only want you to have some fun”, then those dramatic, buzzing synths dropping to that infectious, got-to-dance beat and then for the first time ever on a Prince album we hear a voice other than his, as he shares vocal duties with Dez Dickerson, Jill Jones and Lisa, but only on this one track. For all others they are relegated to backing vocals, though even at that, given that Prince usually did his own backing vox, it’s still a pretty major step for the man. And it works. Who doesn’t know this song? Bouncing along with all the energy of a party that’s never going to end (or rather, is) it established Prince, finally, as a true and proper writer of catchy, chart-topping pop songs. Finally, the white folks were taking notice.

I like Prince’s honesty here. While he has flirted with political and/or controversial topics on his last album, he doesn’t offer any solutions or preach or even decry the situation. Prince knows a million songs against war are not going to make one general or dictator or president have second thoughts about engaging in one; music may be powerful but it can, generally, only watch from the sidelines while history unfolds about it. Prince has no intention of trying to stop war (though I’m sure if he could, he, like us all, would) but he wants nothing to do with it. Here, he’s taking what I believe is the same view Tom Waits takes to life: it’s gonna happen, can’t do nothin’ to stop it so you might as well get drunk, or in Prince’s case, dance. Literally dancing in the face of Armageddon, Prince grins “Everybody’s got a bomb, we could all die any day/ But before I let that happen I’ll dance my life away.”

So it’s a song that says, essentially, don’t worry about things over which you have no control. If the world is going bang, it’s gonna go bang with or without you and you may as well enjoy yourself until it does. In some ways, it’s the ultimate un-empowerment (disempowerment?) song: you literally can’t do anything about what’s going to happen, so don’t worry about it. But in other ways it says kind of let love and fun triumph over war. It’s a measure of its popularity that even now, twenty-two years, as I write this, after the year in its title has passed, the song is still played and nobody worries that the events “predicted” by Prince have long gone and (thankfully) never came to pass - though I guess you could make a case for the fact that once 1999 had seen out the end of the millennium, we did have a whole new and darker world two years later, but that’s beside the point.

The song for which Lisa became his inspiration, and the next single, is up after this, giving no chance for breath to be caught, as we slide into “Little Red Corvette”. Here Prince reverts to form, singing the lead himself though allowing the band to take the backing vocals, as mentioned. It’s a slower, more restrained song than the opener, still dancy but with a different, almost sexual-evangelical message from Prince as he petitions the lady in the song to quit her partying ways and settle down. To a great extent I think the song’s slightly wimpy, self-satisfied and frankly somewhat hypocritical message was ignored by those who heard it, most concentrating on the melody and the danceability of the song. The handclaps add a new dimension to the song, and Prince lets loose the guitar so he can hook in any rockers who might be hanging around the fringes wondering what this is all about.

However, in placing both singles first on the album, has Prince, um, shot his load too fast? This is a double album and we’re only at the beginning of it. Can he keep this sort of quality up all through the remainder? This is surely the question critics and fans were asking as they listened to the new album, and indeed we have another single next, and then another, so we kind of really don’t find out if the album can stand on its own merits until about five tracks in. “Delirious” is another handclap-driven, almost rockabilly song in a way, with squeaky synths and a pulsing bass line, bopping along like the best of the Stray Cats or Matt Bianco. It’s a little throwaway if I’m honest, and I don’t see why it was chosen as a single, but there it is. Kind of reminds me of “Everybody Needs Somebody” - you know the one from the movie The Blues Brothers.

I suppose it was because the age of the CD had yet to arrive that this had to be made into a double album, but by today’s standards it has few tracks, only eleven in all, and though some of them are longer than normal - one nine, one eight and one seven-minute song as well as two that edge over six - it still only comes in with a total playing time of about seventy minutes, not that huge for a double album. The seven-minute track is up next, also the fourth single, and “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” is a catch little upbeat number with a sort of lower-key vocal and again a sense of rockabilly in the beat, with synths sprinkled all over it and Prince utilising what would become his trademark moans and sighs, with a sort of foreshadowing to some degree of the main beat and melody from “Let’s Go Crazy”, though not really.

He uses the basically innocuous melody to slide in some pretty graphic sexual imagery, and also starts spouting about religion, one theme which had already been part of his image, the other which would become increasingly more so as his discography grew. Sequences continue as we go from the seven-minute song to one of the eight-minute ones, with the longest, nine-and-a-half-minute “Automatic” following that, but first it’s “DMSR”, recalling the best of Harold Faltermeyer in the bouncy, squeaky synth and also tipping a nod to Herbie Hancock, the sexual content continuing in this, with the title being an abbreviation of “Dance, Music, Sex, Romance”. Another super-catchy beat makes this one that would be popular on the dance floor, had it been released as a single, which it was not. Hmm. This is one of the first, I think, to feature what would become recognised as Prince’s trademark scream and features questionable lyrics such as “Work your body like a whore”, “strip right down to your underwear” and “wear lingerie to a restaurant”, which may very well have precluded its being chosen as a single, though the length might have had something to do with that.

Prince is obviously confident and self-assured now of his own fame being secured that he can wink “All the white people clap your hands on the four” and get away with it, singing next “one, two, three, one, two, three” with wicked abandon. The longest track, as mentioned, is the new-wave infused “Automatic”, running for nine and a half minutes, with whistling keys and hooks aplenty, and again within the simple melody there’s a tale of bondage and submission as he sings “It's strange, I'm more comfortable around you when I'm naked, can you hear me? I wonder if you have any mercy, don't torture me”.

It’s odd, but for a song of this length the same basic melody and phrases run right through it, with no real verses and certainly no chorus as such, but it doesn’t get boring. Some interesting sped-up vocal effects, lots of murmuring, and again plenty of handclaps. Beautiful smooth guitar solo just puts the icing on this particular cake.

One of the shortest tracks is next, just four minutes of “Something in the Water (Does Not Compute)” with swirly computer sounds made on the synth, a staggered beat and a low vocal, pretty stripped-down really, other than when Prince lets loose an animalistic screech, then we’re into the first of two ballads, with “Free”. A thick heartbeat rhythm introduces scratchy drum machine beats before a simple piano takes the tune for a simple be-thankful-for-what-you-have song with more than a little Lennon in it. Prince sings this in what will be his usual voice, the high-pitched falsetto he would become known for, the song a nice breather from all the dance and funk and soul going on; there’s a nod back to seventies soul too, then things hot up with the final eight-minute track.

“Lady Cab Driver” is another funk jam, stuffed with more handclap beats, synthy brass and a deep, thrumming bass line and frankly, some rather embarrassing, um, sounds of female pleasure. Not so sure about this one. Way too long for what’s in it. That leaves us with “All the Critics Love U in New York”, the first track on his first real commercial album to use the practice he would start of replacing words with numbers and single letters (2 for to, 4 for for and so on). It’s a pleasant little sort of whistling tune that hums along nicely, with what might very kindly be called a rap of sorts in it, some good guitar riffs, and you have to wonder if the title is a sort of sly dig at his fractious relationship with journalists, reporters and critics before the release of this album?

The final track then is the second ballad, the bluesy, soul-infused “International Lover”, driven mostly on piano and synth, which sways along with smouldering sexual energy as Prince goes a little ballistic on the vocal, screeching and shrieking out the lyric and generally having a whale of a time. I like the idea of him comparing love-making to an airplane journey too. Good way to end the album: opens with - if we’re going with the overall sexual motif running through most of it - a powerful ejaculation (sorry but there it is) and ends with a slow, satisfying… you know what? Let’s, ah, just leave it at that, shall we?

TRACK LISTING

1999
Little Red Corvette
Delirious
Let’s Pretend We’re Married
DMSR
Automatic
Something in the Water (Does Not Compute)
Free
Lady Cab Driver
All the Critics Love U in New York
International Lover

This may be almost the pinnacle of Prince’s recording career already, but great as this album is, it serves to illustrate why I personally am not a bigger fan than I could be. I haven’t heard all that many of his albums, true, but the ones I have heard, including this, always tend to have weak tracks. Certainly, I could listen to his greatest hits and have no complaints, but it would be a rare Prince album I would listen to all the way through otherwise. They always seem to fall short of greatness for me, and while there are undoubtedly great songs and many hits on various albums, I’m still the sort of person who, where Prince is concerned, would prefer listening to a compilation rather than an actual album. That may change as we go along, who knows, but right now that’s where I am with Prince.

But that doesn’t matter. 1999 demolished all previous barriers and walls that were holding him back, and as the singles and the album rose in the charts, he was assured of having announced his arrival, even if to him it was four years and five albums later. People were now talking about Prince: the radio, magazines, music shows, and had the internet been around at this time no doubt it would have been buzzing. But Prince, of course, having reached what for many other artists would be considered the summit of his career, was not satisfied and was determined to go far further, always bending genres, always setting trends, always showing there was something new he could do. All but a black Bowie, he refused to stand still and was already planning his next project.

The attitude of his manager, Steve Fargnoli, reminds me of that scene in the Simpsons episode where Bart becomes “The I-Didn’t-Do-It Kid”, and Krusty the Klown, realising how big this kid is about to get - and the profit he can make - grabs him in front of reporters and cameras and yells “He’s mine! I own him and all his marketing potential!” or something similar. I don’t remember exactly the quote, but the idea is the same: once your client hit the big time, it was time to start squeezing him or her for cash. And so it went with Prince, as only he and Fargnoli travelled on one tour bus and the rest of the band in another, making the now-called Revolution feel as if they were being sidelined. Mark Brown put the feelings of the band into words: “Steve only cared about Prince and his money.”

Tensions continued to grow. Dickerson was a devout Christian, and like Gayle before him, felt somewhat conflicted at the message the band was putting out, or to be more accurate, they were putting out for Prince. He used to pray for forgiveness. Meanwhile, Morris Day was pushing for a raise, Vanity was sulking because she had to share Prince with Susie, one of the other members of the trio, and Wendy was angling to replace an increasingly frustrated Dickerson, who looked bound for the door. When a writer for NME, the New Musical Express, one of Britain’s most influential and respected music magazines of the time, flew in to spend some time with Prince and write about him, the newly-minted star basically ignored him. The girls took care of him - he had come all the way from England, for god’s sake! - while Prince did his thing, but Barney Hoskyns, the NME writer, noted that it wasn’t only him that Prince was ignoring, and that there appeared to be a gulf between the main man and his band and supporting cast.

When two members of the Time missed a gig due to a snowstorm, Prince did not accept the excuse, annoyed that they had been off seeing another band, which he saw as disloyalty. He fined them three thousand dollars each. They really were just his employees, and he wasn’t happy about them making decisions he had not authorised. Soon after he pulled the band from his support slot.

Prince did all of this without apology, concern or possibly without even taking note of how it was perceived. He already had a much bigger project in his sights, and Hollywood beckoned. It would be the next to fall before the mighty Prince juggernaut, proof that at the tender age of twenty-eight, there really was just about nothing this kid could not do.
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Old 02-25-2022, 06:57 PM   #18 (permalink)
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Chapter VII: Baby I’m a Star: This is What It Sounds Like

You can view it as supreme confidence, total arrogance or complete hubris, but Prince wanted a movie. He had made videos of course, but that was a far cry from making a feature film. His management team had no experience in movies, no contacts in the world of tinseltown. They knew music, not movies. He was however adamant: get him a movie deal or he would walk, and his contract was coming up for renewal just as his star really began to rise. This would be the very worst time to let him down, be fired by him, and sit on the sidelines watching his meteoric ascent into the pop - and perhaps movie - heavens.

It was not an easy sell. Music and movies do sometimes mix, but not that often, and the two worlds are usually quite separate, so no movie director or firm even knew at this point who Prince was. They weren’t about to offer him a movie deal. Who the hell was this upstart kid? Nobody in Hollywood knew him or could vouch for him, and to be completely fair, Prince had never acted - properly acted - in his life. His music, though gaining much traction among white audiences, was still mostly predominantly listened to by black fans, and though it has slowly and grudgingly changed over the last five years or so, Hollywood was never a bastion of black talent, so nobody cared about him. Movie studios want primarily to make money, and how were they going to do that with a (to them) unknown kid from - where did you say? Minne-fucking-apolis? What the hell ever came out of Minneapolis? Who even knew where that was? Sorry buddy, take it somewhere else, we’re not interested.

Meanwhile the single of “1999” was re-released to take advantage of the success of “Little Red Corvette”, and began to climb the charts. The album continued to sell, but no movie studio wanted to touch Prince, so in the end Bob Cavallo turned to his own label and asked Mo Ostin to bankroll the movie. Warner of course knew Prince’s potential, and agreed. He personally lent Cavallo the money; he didn’t even ask to see a script. He knew which way the wind was blowing, and he wanted to sail along with it, not watch it sail over the horizon under someone else’s flag. As the tour began to wind down, Prince and the band arrived in L.A. and Prince headed off to see Stevie Nicks, who had asked him if he could help her out on her current album, which he agreed to. He was only in the studio for a short time, tapped out an improvised melody, and was gone. The song ended up being “Stand Back”, a big hit for her on her second solo album The Wild Heart, and you can hear Prince’s influence on it, although the record label decided to keep his name off the credits for fear of upsetting Warner.

As they took a break from recording, Prince began working on the third album for The Time. This was to be called Ice Cream Castles but would proceed without Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Still infuriated by their independence, and what he saw as both disobedience and disloyalty to him, he accused them of helping The Whispers to record “Keep On Loving Me”, which they didn’t deny, but didn’t admit to either. He fired the two of them, and that was that. When it came to man management, Prince could be and usually was ruthless, even cold. The fact that these two had come up riding on his coat-tails, in his mind, meant he could dump them whenever he liked, and find replacements easily. The boost The Time had given to his career, the support slots, the way they had looked upon him as a mentor, meant nothing once he had been defied. Cross him, it seemed, at your peril, and don’t think you’re his friend just because he helps you out. You’re nothing but a number, a worker in a factory, and as easily dispensed with.

Understandably, this did not go down well with the remaining members of The Time. They had all come up together, originally working the club circuit, and with one gone they all walked. But it was a sweet gig to leave behind on principles, and they had to eat, so some of them went back. Prince wanted Lewis back, but not Jam, but showing admirable loyalty to his bandmate, Terry told Prince they were a team and it was both or nothing. Prince chose nothing.

Putting all this to one side, he and Fargnoli met William Blinn, a TV producer who had worked on, among others, Fame, and who they now approached with the idea of his writing Prince’s movie, which he agreed to do. He was to write the script and direct the movie, while Prince turned his attention to the next Vanity 6 album, which would never see the light of day. He met Dez Dickerson, aware the guy was uncomfortable with a lot of what he was playing, but nevertheless hit him with an ultimatum: commit to a three-year deal with the movie or jump now. If he wanted to do his own solo thing, Prince said, he understood and would help him. Dez thought about it, prayed for guidance, envisaged another three years with Prince and decided he’d had enough. For once, Prince parted company with an ex-employee on the best of terms.

Another man who had had enough was William Blinn. Not in any way familiar with the world of music, constantly stood up by Prince as he cancelled meeting after meeting to discuss the film, he finally gave up and left Minneapolis, telling them where they could stick their movie. Back to square one then. But Prince wasn’t prepared to leave it at that. Realising that for once he had pushed too hard and too far, and was dealing with someone who was not used to his ways, an outsider really, he actually approached Blinn and convinced him to come back, talking about his family life, letting Blinn in on the music he intended to have in the film, tentatively titled Dreams and Blinn, seeing he was serious, decided to give it another shot.

All this time, Prince was competing against the other major black artist trying to cross over, the King of Pop himself. Michael Jackson’s Thriller had come out at about the same time as 1999, but Jackson had a better pedigree than Prince, through his association with The Jackson 5 and having had a hit album already in Off the Wall, and the services of production supremo Quincy Jones. It was looking like an uphill struggle for Prince, as Thriller topped the chart, its title track and other singles ruling MTV (somewhat to their chagrin I imagine, considering how badly they had treated Jackson and other black acts) and everyone had the album in their collection. 1999 was selling really well, but Jackson’s album was still pissing all over it in terms of sales. In the end Thriller would sell over 34 million units in the US alone, going thirty-four times platinum, more than twice the figure Prince could manage, and 70 million worldwide. It was at the top of the charts everywhere, from the US to Italy, Sweden to the UK. It seemed Prince was destined to lose to his major rival.

He must have been pretty pissed too that Jackson had patented a new dance, the Moonwalk, which outshone any moves Prince could make, and his appearance on - not to say complete takeover of - NBC’s TV special Motown 25, celebrating, as you might expect, a quarter century of the music out of Detroit, watched by 45 million people, would not have helped. But Prince would have something Michael would not, if the stars aligned for him, and he worked hard on getting his film off the page and into production. Blinn had the script sketched out: Prince’s character would simply be known as “the Kid”, and the film would concentrate on his trying to get into the music scene after having witnessed his father shoot his mother. Vanity would be his love interest, and Blinn warned them that the movie was looking like it would get an R-rating, but they didn’t care. Since when had Prince shied from controversy? In fact, he thrived on it and in his music it was almost expected of him; his first movie should be no different.

Prince began having his new look created, centred, of course, around the colour purple, and hired a professional fashion designer to make him look his best. He also insisted the band - including those from The Time - take acting lessons, and learn how to dance properly, not just, as he called it “step along”. A huge warehouse on Highway 7 at St. Louis Park became their studio, and here Prince and the band created the music that was to accompany and drive the film, while Prince marshalled and drilled all three bands - The Time, Vanity 6 and The Revolution. It was, said Matt Fink, “like boot camp.” Prince never seemed to sleep, was a bundle of energy, dedicated to creating and realising his vision, and showing everyone - presumably including, most importantly, Michael Jackson - that he could do anything once he had decided to do it.

His new lover was Susannah Melvoin, Wendy’s sister, who came to visit and stole his heart. Even though she already had a boyfriend, that didn’t matter to Prince, who showered her with flowers sent to her home every day, which, it must be said, she did not return or berate him for. It would seem the other boyfriend’s days were numbered. Again, what Prince wanted, Prince got.

And now he wanted the word “purple” in the title of the movie. Blinn thought it was odd, but shrugged: it was the kid’s movie after all, who was he to argue? He settled on the title as Purple Rain, but shortly afterwards Blinn deserted him, called back to TV land when NBC greenlit the hoped-for new season of Fame, an event he had been waiting for. Seems pretty unprofessional to me, but I’m sure there was more to it. Nevertheless, Blinn was gone and Prince was left with nobody at the helm, so his managers began scouting for replacements. The script was mostly done, but they needed someone to polish and finish it off, and of course they needed a director. They settled on Albert Magnoli, whose student short film Jazz, chronicling the lives of black musicians, impressed them. However things rarely run smoothly and Magnoli was called back to Paramount, but Cavallo made a last attempt to keep him. They had a meeting in which Magnoli outlined how he saw the script ending up. Prince was impressed with Magnoli. “I don’t get it. This is the first time I met you, but you’ve told me more about what I’ve experienced than anybody in my life,” he said and hired Magnoli there and then.

The main change Magnoli made to the script Blinn had begun was to dump the killing of the Kid’s parents, and instead include them in the storyline. I don’t know what they, or Prince, thought of Magnoli depicting his father as an abusive, gun-toting drunk, something that was as far removed from John Nelson’s character, as we have seen in the first chapter, as would be the case were Magnoli to have made him a white man instead of a black. It surely could not have gone down well with his parents, had they seen the film and recognised themselves in the characters, and you would imagine Prince would have been loath to denigrate them this way on the silver screen, but he doesn’t seem to have cared. After all, we’ve read about how he belittled his mother earlier; perhaps this was a Jim Morrison “mother I want to fuck you” state of mind, not saying Prince wanted to do that physically, but mentally, as in, fuck his parents up. Or maybe he really was that cold and didn’t care as long as his movie got made. Either way, for me it shows the heart of selfishness that drove much of what Prince could be at times. Nobody and nothing got in his way, not even the truth.

He now started to envision how he should travel in the movie, and decided on a motorbike. It would certainly draw rockers and bikers, was a symbol of strength, leadership and virility, and the motorbike, as we all know, had more or less taken the place of but fulfilled the same role that the knight’s steed had in the middle ages. He would be, in the parlance of the fifties and sixties, the leader of the pack. And now he began to actually delegate work, to apportion out sections of the songs he was writing, including the band not only on playing and recording but also composition. It was a new feeling for him, working with others instead of alone, and it brought a whole new dimension to the project.

A run-through of the songs they had recorded for the movie, given to a specially-invited audience of fans in First Avenue, a Minneapolis club that would appear in the movie, all proceeds going to the dance school that was teaching them their moves was a huge success, but disaster struck later. Vanity, unhappy about how she was being treated by Prince and, now that her star was on the rise and she was in demand, pushing for more money, left the project. Prince’s love interest, and that of “the Kid”, was gone, and would have to be replaced.

Despite his rivalry with Michael Jackson, it always seemed to Prince that the biggest recording star in history at the time was unaware of him, so it came as a hell of a surprise when, as Jackson was invited up onstage at a James Brown concert, he whispered to the soul legend and Brown shouted out for Prince, who was sitting at the back, watching the show. Somewhat uncomfortable at being singled out, Prince made a sort of fumbling attempt at a few riffs, made some gestures, then dived off the stage, in the process knocking over a fake lamppost, and legged it to his waiting limo outside.

Notwithstanding this highly public embarrassment though, Prince’s popularity continued to grow, and Scottish singer Sheena Easton asked if he would write a song for her, which he did, it becoming a big hit for her and changing her image in a way Nick Cave or Michael Hutchence did for Kylie Minogue. “Sugar Walls” was unlike anything the prim and proper Easton had ever attempted before, and just like that, she had become another creation of the music phenomenon that was Prince. His existing creations though, were less than happy. Morris Day was tired of being micromanaged and annoyed that he was not making as much money out of The Time as he believed he should be. Prince’s reaction was to double down, write and play every note of the new album and give Day guide vocals, but the singer had had enough and walked out.

Prince didn’t have time for this. He needed a replacement for another of his “pets” who had departed, and so a casting call began for the role of his love interest in the movie. Over 700 women auditioned, but the pornographic nature of much of the role was too much for many of them. Then came Patty Kotero, a small-time TV actress from West Hollywood with Mexican parents. After checking out her dancing and singing ability, Prince hired her as Vanity’s replacement. He renamed her Apollonia, told her and the remaining duo in Vanity 6 that they would now change their name to reflect hers, becoming Apollonia 6, and would perform in the film under that name. He engaged some break-dancers, the fad being relatively new and something he wanted to feature in the movie, and also hooked up with Dez Dickerson again.

Dickerson had a new band, the Modernites, who were, unsurprisingly, managed by Prince but for once not necessarily under his control, in other words they wrote their own songs and enjoyed autonomy from the Prince music machine. Dickerson’s band was to feature in the movie too. Production mostly wrapped by the end of December, but there was nobody to distribute the movie, so Cavallo persuaded Warner’s film arm, Warner Bros Pictures, to invest in the movie and distribute it in theatres. Aware that Prince had millions of fans by now, it wasn’t too hard a sell to the moguls, and so everything was ready.

Having more or less wrapped the movie, he turned to Apollonia 6’s first (Vanity 6’s projected second) album, and also worked with drummer Sheila Escoveto, who would become famous by dropping all but the first letter of her surname. He had met her backstage in 1979 and asked her how much she would charge to be his drummer, and she had named a figure which he had grinned and admitted sheepishly that was way out of his range. Only five years later though and he was more than ready to hire her, and so she began working for, and with, him, but not necessarily as a drummer. He wanted her to sing on a song called “Erotic City”, which she did, and then he began thinking that, as Apollonia was tiring of his demands, the songs he was writing for her album would perhaps better suit Sheila. He said to her, “You should do an album.”

Attending the 26th Grammy Awards ceremony, Prince again found himself second-best to the best, as Jackson scooped award after award for Thriller, and took all the limelight, leaving Prince feeling out in the cold and decidedly second-rate. It seemed he would never be free of the shadow of the King of Pop, and would always be the Prince in Waiting to him. But let’s stop here for a moment to consider something.

Prince had been working on music for the movie, and later album Purple Rain. He had written the third album for The Time, was working on Apollonia 6’s next record, writing music for Sheila E and encouraging her to make a solo album, and also - get this - writing music for his next album! In the midst of all this he would write two number one songs, and future hits. To be fair, Jackson’s fame rested now entirely on seven hits from the nine-track Thriller, and while that album has lasted in popularity right up to today, and is rightly cited as changing the world of pop music, let’s be blunt here: that’s all he did. He wrote - well, he wrote four songs, the others were written for him - but he worked on nine tracks, nine tracks that would make his fortune and place him at the very top of the pop music tree, and a multi-millionaire. But in terms of work output, Prince had him beaten hands down, up, and off. If Jackson could be called a hit machine, then Prince was a music machine, and he churned out more in a year than Jackson would almost in his entire career.

In fact, he was writing and producing so much music that he believed the time had come to create his own music label, which would be distributed, by an agreement therewith, by Warner. His home studio he had renamed Paisley Park, and so this also became the name of his new label. It was too late to sign Sheila E to the new label, but his bassist Mark Brown had been moonlighting with a band called Mazarati, and, though initially worried Prince would “find him out”, Brown was eventually convinced by the guitarist to make the first move and tell his boss about it. Instead of being angry, Prince went to some of their shows and then decided this was the first band he wanted to sign.
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Old 04-13-2022, 02:48 PM   #19 (permalink)
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Album titleThe Glamorous Life
Released as: Sheila E
Label: Warner Bros
Recorded: 1984
Release Date: June 5 1984
Producer: The Starr Company
Studio(s): Sunset Sound, Los Angeles
Chart Position* 28
Singles Released: “The Glamorous Life”, “The Belle of St. Mark”
Singles Chart Performance: TGL 7@BH100, 1@USDCS, 9@USHBS, 98@UKC; TBOSM 34@BH100, 68@BHR&BHHS, 18@UKC
Sales:

Being rather literal here, Prince, kicking off with an actual bell tolling! And anyway, it’s a different kind of belle, isn’t it, with an E (Sheila E?)? Anyway, once it gets going the Prince influence is immediately evident, with boppy, squeaky synth hopping all over the place, and a great hook which is hard to get out of your head. It seems to me to have a kind of Spanish/Mexican feel to it, though I do have to wonder at the title. Belle usually/always refers to a woman (Southern belle, belle of the ball and so on) but here Prince makes the belle male. Hmm. Gender fluidity in an age before the concept was even thought of, or Prince just messing around? Guess it doesn’t matter, as it is one killer song, and not surprisingly was released as a single, doing better, oddly, in the UK than the USA. Great start to the album, which has a mere six tracks, but if they’re all this good I’m sold.

The cleverly-titled “Shortberry Strawcake” kicks off with a very Prince guitar, a slower, raunchier song with more of the rock/funk in it than the electropop of the opener, reminds me a bit of Janet Jackson’s “What Have You Done For Me Lately”, with The Time’s Jesse Johnson handling guitar duties as he does all through the album. You can see where studying under Prince has taken him - assuming that’s not actually Prince, as you never really know one way or the other. Guess it’s an instrumental, as there have been no vocals yet. I like the dancing synth line keeping pace with the often manic guitar riffs. If he doesn’t play on this (it says he sings backing vocals on the title track, though uncredited - probably his choice) his mark is still all over it, with Jill Jones and also Brenda Bennet from Vanity/Apollonia 6 playing on it, and as already mentioned Jesse Johnson from The Time.

The ballad is again pure Prince, and it’s titled “Noon Rendezvous”, with a soft drumbeat that reminds me of “Thru These Walls” by Phil Collins and gives Sheila the chance to croon and show how well suited her voice is to softer songs too. This is one of three songs written by Prince (or at least, three he admits to) - the opener and closer being the other two, so at least Sheila retains some sort of compositional control over her debut album, not a claim many others could make once Prince got involved. Usually, almost always to their benefit, it has to be said, but still. There’s a definite sense of Gloria Estefan here too. The ghost of Janet is back though as “Oliver’s House” gets going, with a healthy dose of Paula Abdul too, though the biggest influence is of course Prince. I can’t help hearing “Overcoat” when she sings the chorus/title though. Hur hur. But if I have a least favourite track on this short album - and so far it hasn’t put a foot wrong - this is it. Just don’t like it. Very throwaway. I’m told there’s a cello in it, but I don’t see where it will go.

Okay well there it is in the fifth minute, and there’s still another and change to go. Pointless, as it really adds nothing to the song and it’s way too long as a track, stretched to breaking point for nearly six and a half minutes, in true Prince style, though it says she wrote it. Perhaps odd that on an album with only six tracks there are two ballads, but of the two the far superior one is “Next Time Wipe the Lipstick Off Your Collar”, a heartbreaking tale of a woman putting up with her man’s philandering and cheating, ready to forgive him as long as he doesn’t make it obvious. It’s a beautiful tune with a very savagely almost misogynistic message in the lyric. Maybe odd that it’s written by two women, Sheila and Brenda Bennett.

The closer is the title track which was such a hit in the US, getting to number 7 and to be honest I thought it did better over here, but I read it only got to number 98! Well it certainly got a lot of radio airplay, is all I can say. It gives Sheila a chance to unleash her prowess on the skins, and also features saxophone and it’s really, let’s be honest here, a Prince song in all but name. He wrote it, and it has his pawprints all over it. But it’s a great song, and it’s possibly a brave decision, or else a stroke of genius, to leave it till last. Very dancy, very pop/soul, it’s a great closer but is it too long at nine minutes? You decide.

TRACK LISTING

The Belle of St. Mark
Shortberry Strawcake
Noon Rendezvous
Oliver’s House
Next Time Wipe the Lipstick Off Your Collar
The Glamorous Life



Even though Sheila retains some control over this album, and it is hers, you can’t help thinking that it would not have been half as successful without Prince’s input. In fact, as we read, without him pushing her there probaby would never have been an album. Which would be a pity as this debut illustrates the old adage, that good things often come in small packages.

Meanwhile, things were not going well with The Time. Morris Day, who had already left once, continued to have itchy feet, wanting a solo career, and Prince was finding to his dismay and anger that it can often happen that when you raise children, musically speaking, they grow up and want their own lives. Like a controlling parent, Prince wanted everyone to be subordinate to him, and the idea of anyone going solo did not sit well with him. Considering The Time’s third album was nearly ready, this was bad - and I’m sorry for saying this - timing. To add to his woes, Jesse Jackson was also thinking in terms of bettering himself, and it looked like both might soon leave the band. This did not fit in with Prince’s plans, the idea being that if Day left then Johnson was to be his replacement.

He celebrated his twenty-sixth birthday, but did not seem to enjoy it. Though his mother and stepfather attended, mostly it felt like a choreographed event, with people all but paid to be there, no real emotion or feeling. Talk about an entourage, all dutifully singing “Happy Birthday Prince!” Days later he accepted an award at the Black Music Awards for “Most Valuable Player”, but must have felt upset that he was still relegated to winning awards based on his colour than his talent. He couldn’t break into the Grammys, despite how popular his last album had been. Jackson had it all sewn up, and if any black artist was to be - grudgingly - accepted by the mainstream music crowd, it was the King of Pop. Watching Mazarati, Mark Brown’s band, receive rapturous applause at the ceremony, he decided to sign them and handed his ex-bassist a contract. They would be the first band to be signed to his new Paisley Park label.

Impressed with the all-girl pop group The Bangles, Prince decided to give them a song he had originally intended for Vanity/Apollonia 6’s second/debut album, but which he now told Warner would not be included on the record. It was called “Manic Monday”, and to forestall any arguments from the label he asked The Bangles to credit it to “Christopher”, but everyone would know it was him anyway.

He made an announcement to The Time, telling them Morris Day was out, but instead of appointing Jesse Johnson as the new lead singer he chose a relative newcomer, Paul Petersen, who was white. The other band members did not agree, sure that their loyal fans would not take to a white man singing their songs and leading the band, and all left. It was the end of (The) Time (sorry). But Prince was determined to pick up the pieces, and created a new band, The Family. His new girlfriend, Wendy’s sister Susannah (guess the other guy got kicked to the kerb) would share lead vocals with Paul, now renamed St. Paul, and having attended a Springsteen gig, Prince was taken with the idea of a sax player. Alan Leeds had a brother who played the horn, called Eric, but he wasn’t too thrilled with joining a pop band, being a jazz player. Alan had to convince him - like we said before, what Prince wanted Prince got - and he was added to the lineup as Prince headed into the studio to begin writing the debut.

Meanwhile, his new album, the soundtrack from the movie which would stand alone as an album in its own right, but always be linked to the film was released. The world was about to be drowned in Purple Rain.
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Old 04-13-2022, 03:07 PM   #20 (permalink)
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Album title Purple Rain
Released as: Prince and The Revolution
Label: Warner Bros
Recorded: August 1983 - March 1984
Release Date: June 25 1984
Producer: Prince
Studio(s): First Avenue (Minneapolis), The Warehouse (St. Louis, Minnesota), The Record Plant (New York), Sunset Sound (Hollywood)
Chart Position* 1/7
Singles Released: “When Doves Cry”, “Let’s Go Crazy”, “Purple Rain”, “I Would Die 4 U”, “Take Me With U”
Singles Chart Performance: WDC: 1@BH100, 1@USBR&BHHS, 1@USDCS, 4@UKC; LGC: 1@BH100, 1@USBR&BHHS, 1@USDCS, 7@UKC; PR: 2@BH100, 3@USBR&BHHS, 1@USHRS, 6@UKC; IWD4U: 8@BH100, 11@USBR&BHHS, 50@USDCS, 58@UKC; TMWU: 25@BH100, 40@USBHBS, 7@UKC
Sales: 25,000,000 worldwide (yeah, that's 25 Million)

I expect most people in the world have heard this album (or at least the singles) and perhaps in ways it’s like trying to review Dark Side of the Moon or Hotel California or something, but I’m going to approach it in the same way I’ve done with all his albums so far, and assume someone reading (there’s someone reading?!) has not heard it. So…

The first sound we hear is a warbly, almost off-key organ before Prince’s voice declaims “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to get through this thing called life…” and slowly, as he talks on, taking the persona of a preacher and the organ rises and falls, with the odd glissando, the percussion comes chugging in, then he lets loose on the guitar as “Let’s Go Crazy” kicks this monster off. A high-tempo, somewhat manic song (in keeping with its title) it rips and roars and bounces all over the place, and I guess it has to be said that he sort of emulates his great rival here with a few screams that sound right out of the Michael Jackson playbook, but he makes them his. That’s the only real similarity to the King of Pop though, as this is very much a Prince song, and you couldn’t see Jackson singing “Let’s go crazy, let’s get nuts/Work for the purple banana till they put us in the truck!” Great guitar solo here too - Prince don’t need EVH ripping off riffs on his album!

There’s a big powerful finish and a clever link as he screams “Take me away!” and we pile into the next single, the much more restrained and yet uptempo “Take Me With U”, originally supposed to have been on the Apollonia 6 album. It’s a simple enough song with for I think the first time a duet, Prince sharing vocal duties with Apollonia, the synths squeaking and bopping away, though as on the previous album this is the only song on which Prince allows another person to sing lead with him, and in fact it’s Apollonia’s only contribution to the album. Wendy and Lisa do provide backing vocals for some of the other songs, but from here on in Prince takes it, as usual, solo. A lovely stilted little piano and sweeping synth takes in “The Beautiful Ones”, Prince at his most Smokey Robinsonesque on the first ballad on the album, slow, bouncy drumbeats and almost orchestral strings. Prince seems to emulate James Brown near the end with some real screamed histrionics which I’m sure the Godfather of Soul would have approved of.

Prince pays tribute to his father on “Computer Blue” by including part of a riff John wrote, and affording him a writing credit on the song, which is new-wave electronic mixed with funk and disco, a bouncing drumbeat as the tempo rises again, though not to the levels of the first two songs, and has never been one of my favourites. I wouldn’t say it’s the weakest track by any means (that’s next) but in terms of what I would skip when listening to this album it’s on the list, though that list is admittedly quite short. A sort of Lizzyesque guitar solo merging with an idea of proto-prog in ways and even a little AOR thrown in, “Computer Blue” certainly has a lot of ideas in there, but for my money they’re all jumbled up and the song comes out as confused and incoherent. Or not cohesive, at least.

“Darling Nikki” slows things down, not in a ballad-like way, and as I intimated above, if there’s a point where the album starts to flag, it may have started with “Computer Blue” but reaches its nadir with this track. Just never liked it. Lots of sharp growling guitar, a sparse drumbeat and plenty of howling, but not the kind of thing I enjoy personally. The backwards masking at the end is just ridiculous and entirely unnecessary. Luckily though that’s the end of any track that’s even less than perfect, and if you wanted this album to finish strongly, you need have no fears on that account as we kick off what was side two with the number one smash “When Doves Cry”. Who doesn’t know this song, or hasn’t at least heard it? One of the few pop or rock songs ever recorded without the assistance of bass, it’s a sparse, drum-machine-driven ode to a breakup that truly established Prince as a remarkable artist and a real hitmaker.

Even people who had somehow missed “1999” or “Little Red Corvette” sat up and took notice when this hit the charts, and it has hit single written all over it. The vocal harmonies - all sung by Prince - the references to his parents, the sexual imagery, the Depeche Mode-like drumbeat, all marked this as a real step forward in the evolution of Prince, and the addition of string-like synths really add something to the track, to say nothing of the rocking guitar solo and the screams at the end. Superb. Couldn’t be anything else, really. After that, it’s hard perhaps to rate “I Would Die 4 U”, but it’s a good uptempo pop song that rushes along breathlessly, with rolling drums and handclaps, nodding back to the best of seventies soul like Earth, Wind & Fire and Chic with another irresistible hook. Prince’s vocal here is quite understated, certainly compared to his screeching and howling on the previous song.

You know, it seems to me (and I never noticed this before: odd) that the melody for “I Would Die 4 U” segues directly into and mirrors the next track, “Baby I’m a Star”, making it sound quite similar when it gets going. It is different, but there’s a definite sameness about the two. There’s certainly a real sense of exuberance about it, and you get the feeling Prince realises that this is the album to make him that star he’s been dreaming of being. And so it will. A really effusive guitar solo rounds this track out and takes us to the closer. You know what to expect.

Perhaps not the ballad to end all ballads, but certainly the ballad to end all Prince ballads, and a power one into the bargain, the closer and title track is pure blues and rock, a big echoing guitar chord opening it, drumbeat slow and steady, Prince’s voice soulful and sad, but triumphant too. The strings are used to gorgeous effect here, and for once I’m going to say that its nine-minute length is justified, very much so. It’s very much a song of testifying, an apology and an invitation, a statement of intent, proud and humble somehow at the same time, with a vocal delivery from the main man that just quivers and shivers with emotion, and feels, well, real. The beautiful, evocative solo at the end goes on for almost five minutes, and I could listen to five more, and then some. It’s telling that as I listen to this on Spotify it shows as having almost three hundred million plays, the most of any track on the album, including the singles, and I’m sure would have more if Prince had not been so cagey about allowing his music to be released to the streaming platform. As it is, it’s clearly the favourite song people listen to from this album, and by some considerable way. I wouldn’t argue against that. Possibly one of the greatest album closers of all time. Prince, to use a football analogy, leaves nothing on the field, gives it his all, and sounds drained, physically and emotionally by the end, which I feel I am too. Almost a religious experience, and I don’t even believe in God.

But perhaps I believe in Prince.

TRACK LISTING

Let’s Go Crazy
Take Me With U
The Beautiful Ones
Computer Blue
Darling Nikki
When Doves Cry
I Would Die 4 U
Baby I’m a Star
Purple Rain



With this album, Prince had finally, emphatically arrived, and he had done so in his way, on his terms, and by following his own instincts and believing in his own talents. The public backed up his confidence in himself: the album sold so well it remained not only in the charts, but at number one for six months, easily outstripping the sales of 1999 in a few weeks. It was the biggest success Prince had had with any recording, and with “When Doves Cry”, released in advance of the album five weeks earlier, nestling comfortably at number one also, he really had the world at his feet.

And the movie hadn’t even been released yet!

However, as per usual, all was not well in Paisley Park Paradise, and Apollonia was getting tired of Prince’s controlling ways. She even claimed he ordered her to eat what he did, promise not to date anyone until the movie came out (even though technically their own relationship was all but over) and do as he said. She revealed later “he wanted to make everyone a clone of himself.” He wanted her to study the Bible, and made her give up the relationship she was having with Van Halen’s Dave Lee Roth. Cracks were showing, and widening, when the movie was previewed to a special audience, among whom numbered somebody called Jackson. Typically stealing the limelight and focussing all the attention on himself, he was late, and left before the movie ended. Questioned outside by reporters as to what he thought of it, he shrugged.

“The music’s okay, I guess. But I don’t like Prince. He looks mean, and I don’t like the way he treats women. He reminds me of some of my relatives. And not only that,” he added. “That guy can’t act at all. He’s really not very good.”

You have to wonder, when Jackson says “he”, is the King of Pop referring to the character or the actor? If the former, he does realise this is a movie, doesn’t he? I mean, he knows this is fiction, even if based loosely on truth? He knows Prince isn’t actually like that, as such? If, on the other hand, he is talking about Prince, in a context outside of the movie, and just saying generally that he doesn’t approve of how Prince, and not the fictional “kid” he plays, treats women, then why bring that up in an interview about how much he enjoyed, or didn’t enjoy the movie? Would you, for instance, say, having seen a Mel Gibson movie, “yeah I enjoyed it but I don’t agree with his comments about Jews”? Why would you? And “He looks mean”? That’s the voice of a child speaking. Mean is a word usually used to describe a badass (“that dude looks mean, I wouldn’t cross him!”) but when children say it it’s a pouting sulk (“You’re mean, I hate you!”) and again, Mister Jackson, it’s a fucking movie! He has to be talking about the Kid here, and yes, the character is moody and withdrawn and sullen, but so fucking what?

That could, I guess, be read as jealousy, as Prince was upstaging him by doing something he had never done (the video for “Thriller” was a mini-movie, yes, but this was a full one, a proper one) or he could have been remembering the embarrassment Prince put him through at the James Brown gig. Maybe he resented Purple Rain taking top spot and emulating his Thriller. Either way, his comments read to me as petulant - nobody would ever claim Jackson could act; dance, yes, certainly, but act? Not sure why he felt qualified to criticise Prince’s acting when he himself couldn’t act his way out of a paper bag. Remember the opening for “Thriller”? Hardly Academy Award material, was it? They also go to show that while in another world they might have been friends, even collaborated on something (how cool would that have been?) they were now not enemies, but certainly rivals, and would work to best one another.

It surely would not have helped matters that Prince later attended one of the Jackson 5 (now simply The Jacksons) reunion concerts, labelled “The Victory Tour”, and proved to be almost as popular as Michael, with girls screaming and running after him when they realised who he was. Warner had now released the second single from the album, and people had taken the message in “Let’s Go Crazy” to heart, and sent it to number one, making it his second record to hit the top, and both from the same album. Jackson may have had coverage with his brothers and his own top-selling album, but Prince was about to have his movie released.

And there was nothing the King of Pop could do about that.
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