Saturday, July 17, 2010

Prince - The Black Album (CD, 1987/1994)

The story behind one of the most famously recalled/bootlegged/fabled albums in history is still a little hazy. This much is true: Prince put together an album - this album - that was to be his follow-up to Sign “☮” the Times. And a quick follow-up, at that: the record was supposed to be released a scant nine months later, in December of 1987. At the last minute, after initial copies had been pressed and promos had already been sent out, Prince called it off. He wanted it back.

Stories about why Prince decided not to release it vary, but it usually comes back to him deciding that it was evil, or too dark, or he took ecstasy and had some premonition or something. Whatever the reason, it immediately made the album mysterious and sought-after (the name certainly helped, I'm sure), and through a promo or two that got away, the thing got the shit bootlegged out of it.

I'm still unclear on how many actual copies of the 1987 pressing exist that aren't promos. This one showed up on eBay last week, and as you can tell, somebody really wanted it. (If the link is dead, the auction was for a sealed, longbox copy of the CD, and it went for $3,150.) They're claiming one like that hadn't been sold in fifteen years, but who knows if that's true. Even if it's not, you get the idea: it's probably the rarest and most sought-after compact disc in existence. (Please leave a comment if you know of another one in contention.) You can read a bit more about it on this site, though it hasn't been updated in forever.

I first heard The Black Album (not the official title, btw - it actually has no title) in 1994, when Warner Bros. did an official - though limited - release of it. I picked up a promo copy on cassette from my local record store, which was odd considering that I was way out of Prince mode at that point in my life, but I had heard so many rumors about this record that I just had to hear it.

Of course, like any album that you've built up in your mind as something that is so crazy that it had to be kept from the world, it did not live up to my expectations. I'm still not sure what I expected, but this funk frenzy was not it. I used to listen to the tape here and there, and after a while, I began to accept The Black Album for what it is: a totally decent Prince record.

The good stuff ("Le Grind," "Cindy C.," "Rockhard in a Funky Place") follows up on the party-time funk that Prince had mastered on his previous record. The hip hop shit ("Dead On It," "Bob George") feels forced, and strangely defensive. It's developed more of a context as the years have passed, but they still don't quite work. And the leftovers (The bizarre, mostly-instrumental "2 Nigs United 4 West Compton;" the slick synth-funk of "Superfunkycalifragisexy") feel like B-sides. (Oh, and "When 2 R in Love" is on here, too, but we already knew about that one.)

I still dig this record, and really, it's about as good as Lovesexy. So I guess that makes sense. In fact, if you put the two together, you've got yourself some nice '87/'88-era Prince. And there's nothing wrong with that. Even Prince's weaker stuff from that era is always worth listening to. Dig it.

"Le Grind"

Friday, July 16, 2010

Prince - Batman (LP, 1989)

Prince doing the Batman soundtrack seemed to make perfect sense and no sense at all. I don't consciously remember thinking it was odd, but I must have. They would have been short-lived: as soon as we all heard "Batdance" and saw the video for it, we realized that the dude got it.

In the summer of 1989, Batman was the coolest thing going, so Prince, by osmosis (or whatever) was cool as shit as well. It didn't hurt that "Batdance" was the dopest almost-non-vocal dance track since "Pump Up the Volume," and it certainly didn't hurt that the video looked as high-budget as the film. People were walking around saying "Vicki Vale" all the time, aping the way it's said in the song. I annoyed myself by doing it. I couldn't hear that name without instantly going to that. "I like... BATMAN!" It was nuts.

Whatever it was, it got Prince to churn out a cool little record. "The Future" and "Electric Chair" are both stomping dance tracks, and it's cuts like those that work the best on this record. "The Arms of Orion," a duet with Sheena Easton, is a little too "Somewhere Out There" for me, and "Scandalous" is a decent slow jam, but it lags a little around the fifth minute.

But whatever. Tracks like "Partyman," "Trust," and "Lemon Crush" bump nice and hard, and if Prince was trying to make some sweet dance jams, he pulled it off. Having "Batdance" close the record is a bold move, but of course, it makes sense. That song sounds fairly dated now, but it's still impressive. Prince really could do it all.

It's funny to hear some of the vocal samples on this record. Not on "Batdance" so much, but on some of the other cuts. They don't quite match the ones in the movie. It's hard to explain, but you can notice it if you listen close. Apparently Prince worked with a rough cut or something. This record still feels like a bit of novelty, but it's really not. There are some solid tunes here.

This would pretty much be the end of Prince for me, though that wasn't a conscious decision at the time. 1990 was around when I started getting into other kinds of music, and not relying on the radio so much, I guess. But, you know, "Thieves in the Temple" and that New Power Generation shit just didn't really do it for me. And if you've ever seen Graffiti Bridge (the "sequel" to Purple Rain, then you probably understand what I'm talking about. It's just a terrible, terrible movie. And this was when Prince started hyping Tevin Campbell - it was just no good.

But the 80's were good for Prince. Damn good.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Prince - Lovesexy (LP, 1988)

Yes, the cover is ridiculous. And whether that alone was the determinant in making this one of Prince's least commercially successful releases up to this point is unclear, but it certainly couldn't have helped. It could also be the fact that next to Sign "☮" the Times, this record just doesn't hold up that well. It's still a great record, but it's just not one of Prince's greatest.

Lovesexy holds the slot in Prince's discography where the fabled Black Album was supposed to go, before it was hastily recalled at the last minute. Prince was obviously having some internal battle between good and evil, hence the release of this upbeat record, and hence its underlying themes involving God, Satan, all that mess. Those lyrics don't really interest me too terribly much, but I can tell you that there are some great songs on this record, regardless of goofy content.

The LP starts strong, with the one-two combo of the mighty fun "Eye No," and the rap-dance anthem that is "Alphabet St." "Alphabet St." remains a great song, and at five and half minutes, the album version cleans the clock of the radio/video edit. (When this came out, I had the cassette single for "Alphabet St.," which had the radio edit on the first side, and the remaining part of the song on the second side. Pretty cool.) Such a catchy tune, and Prince really knows how to get the most out of the hook.

It's followed by "Glam Slam," which I've never been a fan of. Prince went so far as to make it a single, which really makes me wonder if I'm missing something with this one. In fact, in my opinion, it's one of the weakest tracks he released up to this point in his career. Maybe this is where Prince started losing me. Either way, a very generic song from the little guy.

"Anna Stesia," the next track, isn't too great either, which may be evident from its cornball title. (Not that that's ever stopped Prince songs from being good.) This is where he starts spouting his "God is love" stuff, and it drags. Thankfully, "Dance On" (One of the stronger songs on the LP) and the title track follow it up, and they get shit back on track a little bit.

"When 2 R in Love" is the only track that is on both Lovesexy and The Black Album, which makes me think Prince felt strongly about it. He should have; it's a solid slow jam with a nice refrain. It's followed by "I Wish U Heaven," which is an okay three-minute pop tune, and was the third single from this record. Makes sense. The album closes with "Positivity," which is seven minutes long and a bit draining.

This is the first record - I'm fairly certain - where Prince mentions the New Power Generation. They weren't officially his band at this point, but he was working towards it. This directly coincides with where Prince starts losing me. That and the 90's, I guess. Either way, he seems to get more and more jumbled after this point, and for the first time, I found it hard to go down the weird-ass roads with him.

Well, actually, we took one more ride. Wait - maybe two.

"I Wish U Heaven"

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Stallion Alert at the Movies: Sign "☮" the Times (1987)

The only thing that could have made Prince's best record any awesomer would have been if he released a movie to accompany it. So, because Prince is awesome - and because he probably wanted to wash the taste of Under the Cherry Moon out of society's mouth - he went ahead and dropped this bad boy.

I've been trying to think of theatrically-released concert movies that top this one, and all I can come up with is Stop Making Sense by Talking Heads. And while I'll probably always give that one the nod, Sign "☮" the Times is a very close second. Like I said: Prince was untouchable at this point.

Though there's a few tidbits of a storyline sprinkled throughout this thing (kind of hard to explain), it's really just a straight-up concert video. And though it's not simply footage of a one-off show (much like Stop Making Sense isn't), it's made to feel like one, and that's just as good. Prince is in rare form in this movie, and it's fun as shit to watch. He even gets behind the drum kit, for cryin' out loud.

Prince and his band barrel through 12 tracks from Sign "☮" the Times, and also throw in a short version of "Little Red Corvette" and a Charlie Parker cover. The album cuts are almost all different from their recorded versions, which makes this thing even more interesting. Lots of weird intros, outros, extended jams, and even a few songs mixed together ("Forever in My Life" and "It"). This was during the short-lived Sheila E era, and she's featured prominently in this thing, banging the shit out of her drums. The lady's an ass-kicker. The whole band is full of ass-kickers. And Prince plays plenty of guitar throughout, which is always a good time.

The fact that this movie has yet to see a U.S. DVD release is a real crime. Apparently it's available in Canada, but it's a bare-bones release, so I'm not too intrigued. The word is that a bunch of other songs were filmed and not used, so I'm holding out for the deluxe edition that will probably never arrive. Until then, I'm still the proud owner of a VHS copy. And I watch it every once in a while. And it never disappoints.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Prince - Sign “☮” the Times (2xLP, 1987)

Prince's crowning achievement came at a time when things could have easily gone in a completely different direction. He had just parted ways with most of his longtime band (Dr. Fink stuck around), his latest film had just flopped, and his identity was becoming more and more hazy. The fact that he pulled together an album as flawless as this is just further proof of Prince's genius.

Sign “☮” the Times is not only Prince's best record, it's the best "mainstream" record to come out in the 80's, and arguably one of the greatest albums of all time. It's 80 minutes of non-stop awesomeness, tackling pop, rock, and funk in a way that was both musically complex and extremely palatable. That had always been part of Prince's M.O., but the ways in which he pulls it off on these 16 songs is unsurpassed by any other record in his catalog. This is post-Revolution, pre-New Power Generation Prince, and if he felt alone, his back against the wall with something to prove, then there's no denying that the man works wonderfully under pressure.

There's not a weak spot throughout the entirety of these two LPs, and while Prince had certainly been fairly consistent up to this point, this was a whole 'nother level. Every track on this album is a winner, and though the singles it spawned (the title track, "U Got the Look," "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man") are representative of the album's brilliance, they only tell part of the story. This is a collection of tunes that demands to be listened to from beginning to end, and once you do that two or three times, you'll be stuck on this thing for a year. Yeah, I talk big, but seriously: it's that good.

I'm going to track-by-track this one, just so I don't miss anything.

"Sign “☮” the Times" - Though this is fairly dour lyrically (as far as Prince songs go), the melody and stark drum track are just too dope to let it become depressing. The two little bridge parts ("Is it silly no/ When a rocket ship explodes...") are just too good.

"Play in the Sunshine" - And, here's where the party gets started. If people had been waiting for Prince to get back to some straight-up feel-good shit, here it is. Huge song.

"Housequake" - The first song on the record where Prince uses his squeaky "Camille" voice, this track lets you know that apparently "Play in the Sunshine" was just a warm-up. Hearing Prince yell "Bullshit!" is never not fun.

"The Ballad of Dorothy Parker" - The warbly keys and spazzy drums on this ballad-y cut are abstract, but Prince's clean vocals complement the whole thing perfectly. Contains the classic line "Yeah, lemme get a fruit cocktail - I ain't too hungry." His falsetto on this one is gold.

"It" - There are songs I'll never get sick of, and this is one of 'em. The melody on this song is nerve-wrackingly cutting, and the orchestral stabs in the background are just way too dope. And man, those drums sound like guns.

"Starfish and Coffee" - The most out-and-out pop tune on this record, and it's a pretty one. The shortest song on the album at under three minutes, and it comes at a perfect point in the sequence.

"Slow Love" - The Prince slow jam to end all slow jams. If you can't get laid to this song, turn in your boner.

"Hot Thing" - When a track like this is relegated to b-side status (it was the flip of "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man"), it's only another indication of how incredible this record is. The drums slam, Prince sounds pervy, and it all rules.

"Forever in My Life" - Another track with buzzy synths and badass drums, and another one where Prince just slays it with his vocals. You think it's going to build and then he jukes you. Sweet.

"U Got the Look" - Another Prince-doing-Camille cut, and one of the catchiest singles dude ever released. Prince managed to make Sheena Easton cool. Now that's something. And "Your body's heck-a slammin'" remains a classic.

"If I Was Your Girlfriend" - One of the more odd singles that Prince ever released, though it should have been way more popular than it was. Prince - again as Camille - just wants to know why these ladies won't change their clothes in front of him. Fair enough.

"Strange Relationship" - If you're in a tumultuous relationship with a chick, put this one on a mix for her. It'll score you big points. Or get her pissed. Hard to say. Either way: great song.

"I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man" - Probably my favorite Prince song, and the album contains the sweet six-and-a-half minute version, which is far superior to the radio edit. Prince absolutely slays it on guitar during the breakdown on this one.

"The Cross" - Love Prince, love his weird religious shit. Regardless of the message, this is a classic Prince ballad.

"It's Gonna Be a Beautiful Night" - This one was apparently recorded live, but I have my doubts about how "live" it actually is. It doesn't matter. This is nine minutes of sweet, sweet funk complete with Sheila E rapping.

"Adore" - A great closer for this record, this is Prince getting all sultry and smooth, winding things down.

So there it is: the peak of Prince. At least as far as I'm concerned. If you're going to own one Prince record, this should be it. It just refuses to get old.


Monday, July 12, 2010

Stallion Alert at the Movies: Under the Cherry Moon (1986)

Proof positive that Prince could do whatever the fuck he wanted at this point.

How about a noir-style cutesy-drama, shot in black and white, directed by and starring Prince, that features only half of one song as a musical performance? Clearly, no one was going to say no to him around this time, but they had to have known this wasn't going to work out.

Aside from the frustrating lack of musical numbers, watching this movie now is actually fairly entertaining. It's certainly an ego-driven mess, but viewed as a document of where Prince was at in 1986, it's so strange that - at times - it's infatuating. Still, do I want to sit through this thing again anytime soon? Nah.

Prince and Jerome Benton (from The Time) star as two money-swindling playboys who apparently play music for a living (though you don't see much of that). They fall for a girl (Kristen Scott Thomas) who's due to inherit a large sum of money, and all sorts of tomfoolery ensues. The film keeps getting pulled between Fellini-esque abstractness and madcap comedy, but they never lean hard enough to either side. There's a loose plot, but the whole thing is based in this weird fantasyland where it's 1940 and 1985 at the same time, and you never feel grounded enough to believe a bit of it.

Still, like I said, watching Prince do his thing is entertaining enough, but you quickly find out that it's way more entertaining when there's the promise of a musical performance ahead. As it stands, a lot of the songs from Parade make their way into the movie, but they're almost all relegated to background status.

If you've got the patience, this thing is worth watching. If nothing else, you can just marvel at the fact that it exists. It really does seem like some strange, Prince-led dream.


Sunday, July 11, 2010

Prince and The Revolution - Parade (LP, 1986)

At this point, Prince was in the zone. Parade may not be as fondly remembered as some of his other albums from his classic run in the 80's, but I'm not sure why. It's just as ambitious as his previous record; possibly even more so. But while Around the World in a Day relied on pop when all the "psychedelic" stuff was stripped away, Parade doesn't always follow suit. I'd argue that that's a good thing, but it also doesn't shock me that this album wasn't a huge success.

1986 was the year of Sophisticated Prince, where everything was stark and slick, classic-styled, and more about jazz and orchestration than funk and guitars. It was a sweet move, though one that might have confused his fans a little bit. Remember: this was only two years after Purple Rain (a little less than, actually), and a year before this, Prince was borderline kaleidoscopic. Now he was black and white? It was a lot to keep up with. But if you were willing to stick with the guy, it always paid off. Most people were more than willing to latch onto "Kiss," but I guess the rest of this record didn't hold the same appeal. Of course, like most Prince records pre-1990's, it's aged brilliantly.

The first four songs are all around two minutes in length, and they blend together to form a nice little intro. Each one features big-ass drums, especially "New Position," which is devastatingly catchy. "Under the Cherry Moon" is the classy-jazzy end to the suite, and it rolls into "Girls & Boys," which should have been a huge hit, but Prince didn't release it as a single in the U.S. for whatever reason. "Life Can Be So Nice" continues with the thundering drums, and is a bizarrely blistering tune. It's followed by the sweet little instrumental "Venus de Milo," which finishes up the first side.

"Mountains" begins the second side, and though it doesn't sound like a typical Prince single, it'll grow on you if you let it. I'll be the first to admit that it's one of his most generic songs, but I dig it. "Do You Lie?" is the apex of Prince's classy vibe on this one, and just one more song that sounds like the inspiration for Andre 3000's The Love Below. (Pretty sure he was listening to this record a lot when we was writing that thing - or so my theory goes.)

Parade ends even stronger than it begins, with "Kiss," the smooth-then-rugged "Anotherloverholenyohead," and one of my favorite Prince ballads, "Sometimes it Snows in April." It's a throwback to some of the softer shit on his first two records, but it's way more fully realized. And hearing Prince with an acoustic guitar is always awesome.

This would be Prince's last record with The Revolution, most of whom who had been with him even before he was putting their group name on the records. They had planned one more album, and apparently even recorded most of it, but it never saw release.

Oh, and this album is also the soundtrack to Under the Cherry Moon, but barely. Although the stinkiness of that movie may have accounted for this record's relatively lackluster sales. Anyway, forget the sales: this record is damn good. Pick it up on the cheap if you can. And you can.


Saturday, July 10, 2010

Prince and The Revolution - Around the World in a Day (LP, 1985)

The world barely had to wait to find out how Prince would follow up on the mega-success of Purple Rain. Released less than a year later, Around the World in a Day remains one of Prince's most underrated records, and one of the coolest things the dude ever did.

The record was released with hardly any promotion at all. It just showed up in record stores one day. No advance single to build up the hype, no big announcement - just a record in a store. Now, considering that this was to be one of the most highly anticipated albums of the 80's, I think that was a pretty sweet move.

Also a sweet move: the weird-ass album art. The CD versions have gone on to have this little kid holding a balloon with the title of the album and the name of the band in it, but the original LP cover doesn't have him. I think maybe they put this sticker on the shrink, though. Not sure about that. But I do know that the spine is blank, and the song titles and artist/album name are on a strange wrap-around thing that is perforated and goes around the right side of the record cover, where the gatefold opens. (You can sort of see it on the right in this photo.)

Not only did Prince go the weird route with the cover art and the nonchalant release (which must have driven his label crazy), he also made a record that was nothing like Purple Rain. People like to think this record is a bit more psychedelic than it really is, but compared to his previous work, it's borderline experimental. And, of course, Prince totally revamped his look, revamped the look of his band, and reinvented himself when people would have been more than happy to have more of the same. In true Prince fashion, while everyone was going nuts for Purple Rain, he was already recording his next record and moving on to the new shit. Awesome.

And the songs here are awesome. "Paisley Park" should have been a huge hit, and I'm not sure why it wasn't. Prince never really flirted with sounding like The Beatles, but this was as close as he ever came. "Condition of the Heart" is a sprawling ballad that can be a little much, but it's such a weirdly layered track that it ends up being pretty cool. "Tamborine" is frantic, hammering, and just crazy good. This is Prince inching towards his next musical step, and it's great.

"America" is a bit of a funk throwbacker, but not enough to sound regressive. A cool song. And "The Ladder" is a huge, gospel-y ballad that makes it all work. We also can't forget "Pop Life" and "Raspberry Beret," the two big singles from this record. "Pop Life," especially, is just an incredibly infectious tune, and one that seems to sum up some of Prince's thoughts on the current time. ("What you putting in your nose?/ Is that where all your money goes?") The album wraps up with the supremely weird "Temptation," which somehow makes perfect sense.

This is a standalone Prince record that really isn't like a lot of his other stuff, and I've always been drawn to it for that reason. I can see why it's overlooked a bit here and there, but it shouldn't be. Get with it.

"Raspberry Beret"

Friday, July 9, 2010

Stallion Alert at the Movies: Purple Rain (1984)

Prince's film debut should be way shittier than it is. I'm sure there were plenty of critics who enjoyed panning this flick, but I'll tell you what: I've seen this movie probably five times in my life, and I never have any trouble sitting through the entire thing, front to back.

Part of that, of course, is the music. A good portion of the film is dedicated to live performances from Prince and The Revolution, and given the quality of the soundtrack and the flimsiness of the script, that was a good move. (Although the live performances are usually just lip-synced versions of the album tracks, but whatever.) Prince isn't a terrible actor in this movie - he ain't great, either - but when the dude's on stage, he's never more at home. So the fact that every song from the soundtrack gets played in its entirety during the course of this movie is not surprising. ("When Doves Cry" and "Take Me With U" are played during montages, but not performed live, however.)

The story isn't great, but when it's constantly being interspersed with sweet-ass songs, it makes it a lot more interesting. It's like music porn, basically. You sit through the piddly story to get to the good stuff. And really, while the story isn't mind-blowing, it's fun as shit to see Prince still living with his parents, writing songs in his lonely bedroom while snacking on Doritos. Seeing him backhand Apollonia across the chops is a little awkward, but I think it's meant to mirror how similar he is to his wife-beating father. Still: a bit much.

You also get a funky-fly Morris Day and his hilarious lackey-boy Jerome, Wendy & Lisa, and Appolonia getting her skank on. These are all good things. I need to pick up the two-disc deluxe edition of this thing, stat. My full-screen one-discer just ain't cutting the mustard anymore.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

Prince and The Revolution - Purple Rain (LP, 1984)

Purple Rain kicked down the door of the world in 1984, which was right around the time that I started to become really interested in popular music. I don't really remember listening to the radio when I was kid without the possibility of Prince coming on. I vaguely recall taping (with a tape recorder held up to my parents' stereo) "Let's Go Crazy," so I could listen to it over and over.

Prince was a struggle for my mom. She seemed to like the music, but once she caught a glimpse of the naked little guy crawling out of the bathtub, dripping wet and on all fours, in the "When Doves Cry" video, she began to have some serious reservations about me listening to his music. I wasn't allowed to own a copy of the record, but in 1984, Prince was inescapable. Everybody else had the album, and if I ever had a chance to catch a glimpse of MTV (we didn't have it at our house), he was almost guaranteed to be on. And since over half the songs on this record were getting radio play ("Computer Blue," "Darling Nikki," and "The Beautiful Ones" were the only ones that weren't - though I guess "Baby I'm a Star" was never officially released as a single), it wasn't hard to at least hear Prince. I think my mom just didn't want me looking at him.

I remember hearing that at this time, Prince was the first artist to have the number one song, album, and film, all in the same week. Not sure if that's true, but even if it isn't, there's really no denying that this record ruled the summer and fall of 1984. It was just immense.

And rightfully so. This record almost plays like a greatest hits album. Even those songs I just mentioned that weren't getting radio play were incredible. It's just that the other songs were so unbelievably good that they forced the merely great ones into the backseat.

You know all of these songs, so I won't bother to say too much about them. But talk about an album where everyone could find something to love. Parents dug it, and Prince still remained mysterious enough so the kids found him infatuating. And just to put it all in perspective, Prince had just turned 26 when this LP was released. And what have you done with your life?

"Take Me With U"

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Prince - 1999 (2xLP, 1982)

Hey, remember when all of Prince's videos looked pretty much the same, like they were shot at the same sound stage? There was "Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?," "Dirty Mind," "Controversy," "Sexuality," and a few more that we'll get to off this record. I'll point them out. Anyway, what the hell was the deal with that? Oh, Prince, you are one of a kind.

So, I'm starting to see things working in twos for Prince, and if For You and his eponymous album were Phase One, and Dirty Mind and Controversy were Phase Two (they were), then 1999 would be the beginning of Phase Three. And it was.

Phase One: Get your foot in the door; hook up with Rick James. Open some shows for him until you realize you're way better than him and you don't like drugs. Get the fuck out of there and vow to take over the world on your own.

Phase Two: Work some new-wave-y shit into your music to hook the kids, but also make the lyrics ultra-dirty and wear nothing more than a trenchcoat, black speedo, and thigh-high boots. Suddenly you're a topic of conversation. Oh, also write some really good songs.

Phase Three: Put some damn pants on and write songs that are so good that mainstream radio can no longer afford to ignore you. Make hacky allusion to used condoms in a song that is ostensibly about a sports car. Laugh as middle-aged people everywhere lap it up, buy your album, and then find out that you say things like "I sincerely want to fuck the taste out of your mouth" on it. Cash huge checks.

Again: Only Price could pull any and all of this off. He somehow kept getting better and better, managing to not only remain filthy as fuck, but also to get some serious mainstream play. Both "1999" (check the soundstage video!) and "Little Red Corvette" (soundstage) were big hits, and yet this record was his most musically challenging yet. It was also his best record yet, by a long shot. His previous two were mighty solid, but man, 1999 is a whole different beast.

With seven of the eleven songs clocking in at six minutes or over, and the two "short" songs running at a solid four apiece, it was clear that Prince wasn't really interested in the two-and-three minute pop jam anymore. Not that he was ever really reliant on that, but considering that this record was longer than his two previous ones combined and contains five fewer songs, you can certainly feel the shift. And it's great, because once again, it feels like a whole new Prince. "D.M.S.R." and "Automatic" (enjoy the soundstage - and the perviest Prince video yet) are both over eight minutes long, and they're rarely repetitive. Yeah, they feel a little self-indulgent in parts, but fuck it: it's Prince.

"Something in the Water (Does Not Compute)" and "Lady Cab Driver" must have satisfied the shit out of Prince's fans who thrived on the weird shit, and "Free" and "International Lover" brought the slow jams to a whole new level. But, as always, it's the catchy melodies - which Prince was a mastermind of by this point - that make this record so incredible. "Delirious" is pure pop brilliance, a surprisingly simple track that squeaks just right. "All the Critics Love U in New York" isn't nearly as formulaic, but it's just as catchy. A really cool song.

But it's "Let's Pretend We're Married" that really steals the show on this LP. The title track and "Little Red Corvette" will always be more well-remembered, but it's the superior song. In fact, I'd have to say it's Prince's best song up to this point in his career. Just an amazing track.

As you can tell, I highly recommend this record. In fact, it's probably my second-favorite Prince album. It's always been overshadowed by the one that came after it, and that's more than understandable. But don't forget about this bad boy.

To help you remember, here's a video shot on a soundstage:

"Let's Pretend We're Married"

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Prince - Controversy (LP, 1981)

Released almost exactly a year after Dirty Mind, Controversy is partly a continuation of what he started with his previous record, but it also features he and his band (The Revolution, though they weren't officially called that at this point) moving towards the kind of songs that would make him crazy-famous in the next few years.

The title track is catchy as all get-out, and it's one of two seven-minute-plus songs on this record. Dude was starting to sprawl out, and it was a great move. "Do Me, Baby" is the other one, and both tracks have middle sections that let Prince really show off his songwriting/musical chops. "Do Me, Baby" is a little much in parts, but it's a solid slow jam.

And it's about as laid-back as this record gets. Prince sounds amped-up and excited throughout this thing, with cuts like "Sexuality" and "Private Joy" taking the fast-ass pop song approach and yielding some sweet dance tunes. "Ronnie, Talk to Russia" was probably his most overtly political song up to this point, but it's mostly just a great two-minute pop track. The stabbing keyboard bits and machine gun sound effects are nuts, but they somehow work.

"Let's Work" is sparse funk, which Prince had completely mastered by this point. The drums are huge, the vocals are used only when needed, and the arrangement is fairly complex. "Annie Christian" is easily the most abstract track on this record, and though I've never fully embraced it, I do enjoy how all-over-the-place it is.

And, of course, there's the let's-make-everyone-uncomfortable pop perversity of "Jack U Off," which still seems out of place as the closer to this set of songs, but it's such an over-the-top juxtaposition of poppy pop and dirty words that I'm just thankful it's on here at all. Seriously: one of his most squeaky-clean pop songs musically, but, as you can tell from the title, there's nothing sterile about the lyrics. I'm assuming that was the idea. Only Prince could pull that off.

At this point, Prince was famous, but from what I gather, still kind of cult-y famous. His next record would be the one that brought him one big step closer to legendary-famous.


Monday, July 5, 2010

Prince - Dirty Mind (LP, 1980)

I'm not sure what happened to Prince when the 70's turned into the 80's, but a switch was clearly flipped. Within the first 30 seconds of the title track, the first song on this blazing 30-minute LP, it becomes very clear that this is not the same Prince that released those two disco-ish records.

"Dirty Mind" is easily his best song up to this point. The production is much more stark, all the fluff has been clipped away, and the beat and the melody are left there to kick everyone in the nutsack. It's really the moment where Prince becomes Prince. The song sets the stage for the rest of this record's lyrical filthiness, and the decidedly new-wave groove makes its point early. Prince had tried it the Soul Train/Rick James way. Now it was time to do something that didn't sound like anything else. And it worked. Man, did it work.

"When You Were Mine" has been covered by what seems like hundreds of people (probably most notably by Cyndi Lauper), but Prince's version still rules. "Do It All Night" and "Gotta Broken Heart Again" are solid tracks, though they're both build-ups to the second side of this LP, where shit gets a little wacko.

The three-song suite of "Uptown," "Head," and "Sister" is one of the main reasons this album is so damn cool. The music in each of the songs in fantastic, for sure. But this was really the first time that Price cut out the innuendo and just decided to let everyone know what a freaky perv he was.

"Uptown" is actually fairly tame compared to the other two, but I include it here because all three of these songs blend together. And, I guess it's sort of a warmer-upper. It's a catchy tune about Prince meeting a chick who asks him if he's gay (no way!), him telling her no, and then the two of them going to place where acceptance is cool as shit. Or something like that.

"Head" is about Prince meeting a girl on her way to get married, she blows him, and he's just so awesome and "full of spunk" that she marries him instead. Now there's the Prince we know and love.

"Sister" is one that, I'll admit, maybe I don't fully understand. Because to my untrained ear, it seems to be a song about a 16-year-old Prince (or whoever the voice of the song is) fucking his 32-year-old sister, who then wants to be his pimp. That's the short version. Of course, the song's only about 90 seconds long, so I guess there's not that much more to it. Anyway, it's a freaky-deaky one. I love the song itself, though, so I just try to roll with it.

The album wraps up with "Partyup," which is a classic Price party track (no shit!) that must have blown the roof off the sucka back in 1980. A great tune. And a great end to a great little record.

For most folks, this is probably the place to start with Prince. I like to have his first two records around, and they're not bad, but this is where shit starts to get awesome. And it is only the beginning of Prince being awesome throughout the 80's.

"Dirty Mind"

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Prince - Prince (LP, 1979)

This is basically Part II of the Early Prince saga, and it's another LP where he still seems to be finding his way. Released about a year and a half after his debut, this record isn't a whole lot different stylistically than his first, but it's a bit more potent with the hooks. If Prince knew he was going to have to get some radio play to make it (and I'm sure he did), he certainly made it his priority here.

The disco-ish stuff is still here, especially in the first track, "I Wanna Be Your Lover," which would be Prince's first semi-hit single. But, you can also hear the synths starting to take over, and the beat is a bit harder than a standard dance track. The same can be said for a lot of the rest of this record. There's plenty of slink and R&B, but the pop and rock is starting to work its way in. "Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad," another single from this record, lays on the guitar pretty thick, and it's one of the first tracks where Prince starts to really sound like Prince.

"Sexy Dancer" works along the same lines, and so does the ultra-catchy "I Feel for You," which most of us remember from Chaka Khan's version that came out five years later. Prince's version sounds a little safe if you're used to Khan's crazy belt-it-out hip-hopped take on the track, but I still dig the shit out of the original.

My favorite track here, however, has got to be "Bambi." Hearing a young Prince wail on his guitar smack-dab in the middle of a record that's immersed in R&B is just nuts. It's one of the most ass-rocky songs of his career, and it's just fantastic. (Check out a sweet 1990 performance of it here.)

Other than that, there are a few ballads on here that are solid enough (with "Still Waiting" probably being the standout), but it's the closer, "It's Gonna Be Lonely," that makes it worth sticking around till the end. A big track with a great build-up, and a quality ending.

All in all, another nice effort from Prince, but it wouldn't be until his next record that shit would get major. Oh, and extra points to the little guy for self-titling his sophomore LP. Always an odd move.

And do yourself a favor and check out this awesome performance:

"I Wanna Be Your Lover"/"Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?"

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Prince - For You (LP, 1978)

You ready for some Prince? Settle in - we're taking it from '78 to '88 (possibly '89), or what I consider Prince's Decade of Dominance. Possibly excluding his first two records (this being one of them, obviously), the dude was flawless for the better part of ten years, and prolific-as-shit to boot. Let's get to it.

Only Prince could take a few major-label albums to get warmed up. Don't get me wrong: this album and its follow-up were both modest hits, but we all know it wasn't until Dirty Mind that the little guy finally found his groove. Still, this record is notable for a number of reasons. First off, it's Prince's debut record, and he recorded it when he was 19. He was still a teenager, for chrissake. And, of course, he was already writing, producing, composing and performing the whole damn thing by himself. (He certainly had some help on this record and many others, but it's always been fun to believe that he truly is the one-man show.)

How this kid convinced Warner Bros. to let him produce his debut record is beyond me - though I'm sure there's some story to it - but it's pretty damn cool. And apparently he spent three times the money he was allotted for the recording, which is hilarious to me for some reason. This brash newcomer, etc...

1978 was a rough year for music in general, and for someone who was clearly looking to make a name for himself, Prince must have felt confused as to which direction to take. It shows in the songs on this record, which flutter between R&B pop crooners ("Baby," "My Love is Forever"), delicate balladry ("Crazy You," "So Blue"), full-on disco ("Just As Long as We're Together," "In Love"), and incongruous funk-rock (the awesome "I'm Yours").

"Soft and Wet" ended up being the only semi-hit, and though it's a bit disco-fied, it's the pop aspects that make it memorable, as well as the innuendo-filled lyrics. Price must have noticed this, because it's an angle he would go on to work into his signature sound.

This record sounds mad dated now, but I still think it's cool as shit. If nothing else, it's Prince's debut and he's rocking a sturdy 'fro on the cover. You can love it for those two reasons alone.

Oh, and I should probably mention that Prince is very un-YouTube friendly, so if any of these audio links get pulled, I apologize.

"Crazy You"

Friday, July 2, 2010

Primus - Pork Soda (CD, 1993)

I distinctly remember buying this CD from Musicland in Salem Center when I was 17. It must have just come out, because I recall feeling excited about spotting it and having no idea that it was out. I made big plans to love it.

I never really did, though I do recall enjoying it for a short time. This album is ridiculously front-loaded, with the last five (maybe six, or even seven) songs being rough to listen to all in a row. Tracks like "Mr. Krinkle" and the title track were probably very fun for the band to play, but listening to them can be a bit grueling. And the eight-minute "Hamburger Train" is all kinds of wanky. But, I bet there are plenty of Primus fans who were way into that sort of thing. Some people just want to listen to Les Claypool slap the shit out of his bass for hours. Hence their shows over the last decade, which are like three hours long.

I always liked "Bob," "Nature Boy," and "Welcome to This World," but it was never enough for me to really hand myself over to this record like I had wanted to. And that's fine. I don't think I'm really the type to be a Primus fan anyway. I do remember buying Tales from the Punchbowl on cassette a few years after this, but I never got into that, either. Guess I hadn't learned.

I went to see Primus a few years back - think I mentioned this already - and they played a full set and performed the entire Frizzle Fry album. It is one of the only times I've left a show early. And by early, I mean at least two hours after it started. I gave it a go. Apparently that's my deal with this band.

"My Name is Mud"

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Primus - Miscellaneous Debris (CD, 1992)

Primus was hot shit when I was in high school, and they should have been. They sounded like nothing else, and they were exactly the kind of band that us "alternative" 90's youths loved. My friends had Suck On This, Frizzle Fry, and Sailing the Seas of Cheese, and I spent some considerable time with cassette copies of those albums. Apparently I was never persuaded to make the CD purchase. But Miscellaneous Debris seemed like a good way to go, so I picked it up. (It was probably the EP pricing that persuaded me.)

I don't really car for Primus much anymore (even though I saw them live six or seven years ago), but I've always liked this little group of cover songs. "Making Plans for Nigel" is the standout, but their version of the Meters' "Tippi Toes" is fun, and "Have a Cigar" is good, too.

Man, I have not listened to this in forever. I remember always being annoyed that it was only 18 minutes long. But you get what you pay for. My love affair with Primus was never as intense as I wanted it to be. I always liked them a lot, but I never go full-on nuts for them. That's probably for the best. Keeping up with them at this point seems like too much work. Though I do own one more of their albums...