Photo and words by G.
A few weeks ago, Prince announced a surprise partnership with his former enemy – Warner Bros. Records. Prince finally achieved all the things he so famously ruined his career for (by changing his name to an unpronounceable symbol in the mid-1990s) due to his unhappiness with having signed an alleged $100 million deal. He will have ownership of master recordings going forward and as of press time, “new music” has been announced in addition to a “remastered with unreleased music” 30th Anniversary Edition of the “Purple Rain” soundtrack. Prince fans far and wide are salivating at the prospect of what will be included in this new package, and before I speculate, let me tell you some things you probably don’t know about one of the most famous faces in rock and roll history.
In a 35+ year career in music, Prince has released over 30 studio albums (plus countless internet-only and one off songs) and has penned the lyrics & music or produced entire albums for dozens of artists and in the meanwhile has toured the world consistently, often playing multiple shows (with different set lists) in the same day. These statistics alone make him one of the most prolific musicians of all time, but this is merely just the Prince that the mainstream world knows about (and many of these projects were not commercially successful so even a lot of these impressive career statistics are only known amongst his die-hard fans). For every “Manic Monday,” that the world knows about, there are gems like Jill Jones’ 1987 self-titled debut, which only lives amongst die hard fans as a cult classic due to the record being criminally out of print for almost as long as it has existed.
What people also don’t know about Prince is that it’s rumored that he has recorded a song a day for the majority of his career which would equate to approximately 13,000 recorded songs in total (thinking this started when his first album was released in 1978). 13,000 songs! Having every song the Beatles ever recorded on my iPod, I have 500 songs by them in my library. The music of the 30 year plus career of Madonna’s music numbers around 325 songs and Pet Shop Boys (who’ve actually released almost twice as many B-sides as Prince has) have around 660 songs in my music library. None of these numbers come close to 13,000 recorded songs. (Note: I only have slightly over 2,000 songs by Prince on my iPod – this is not including live recordings). You can see that even with what I have, that doesn’t even scratch the surface of the number of recordings Prince has allegedly made. He has literally careers of unreleased music and he’s still making new stuff! It’s mind-blowing!
So what’s the story on these unreleased recordings? Even if the number 13,000 is exaggerated, there are definitely thousands (which again is many times over the total number of songs your favorite prolific musician has recorded) that exist in the hands of die-hard fans and ex-associates. How have the songs leaked out? That’s been subject to rumour for decades, but some of the most popular theories include:
– Prince didn’t pay the studio technicians properly and in retaliation, they made copies of what was recorded and sold them to bootleggers.
– Prince made copies of the tapes for ex-associates of what they were working on and those tapes were either lost, stolen or passed around with the proviso that “you can’t share these with anyone!”
– Prince leaked the songs himself knowing that he is too prolific for record labels to keep up with his creativity.
Whatever the case may be, every time you think you “know” Prince, an unreleased song surfaces and you suddenly see a completely new side to our beloved Gemini. He has songs that he wrote for females, (singing lines like “I even bought a new dress but when I put it on, I could still feel your touch” with great conviction), epic and utterly bizarre tracks such as “Crystal Ball” that is 10 minutes of meandering funk (that has since been released officially, years after the fact, though in edited form), unreleased jazz and fusion jams such as a side project called The Flesh (where – as of press time – only one song is available in wide circulation – the jam “U Gotta Shake Something” which is over 14 minutes in length and bares no resemblance to the later released song “Shake” which he gave to The Time), tracks like “Witness 4 The Prosecution” that fuse funk and rock so seamlessly that the song could be recorded by James Brown or The Rolling Stones and have been a hit and rehearsal recordings of things such as an hour long track called “Soul Psychodelicide” (and no less than 5 completely different studio recordings exist in the hands of die-hards). I could go on for days listing out some of the unreleased fan favorites because for every great song Prince has released, there are probably 10 great ones that never saw the light of day.
Prince, who notoriously does not like to look back (despite playing ‘greatest hits’ shows for the greater part of the last decade after swearing he was not going to play the hits anymore in several “final” tours) has revisited a handful of unreleased tracks over the years, most recently stripping the funk and soul out of beloved tracks to reflect his religious beliefs (Prince is a Jehovah’s Witness now) on songs such as “In a Large Room With No Light” and “Extra Lovable,” changing ‘dirty’ and ‘in your face’ lyrics like “….not as hard as what’s behind door… door number pants” to “ooh, I like it” making fans wonder why he would commit such a sin. But that comes with being a Prince fan.
For all the great music he’s given us over the years, it comes with a price – failed ‘membership only’ fan clubs that fail to come through on the promises they make, the announcement of last minute shows where anything can (and does) happen, making fans have to drop everything to make it to his concerts. You could see him perform 5 nights in a row and each time see a completely different set list where he pulls songs he’s never played live before into the set list and/or scorching guitar solos where he takes you with him to another planet and you’ll be reliving the moment either in your mind (or on bootleg, should one surface) as one of the best nights of your existence for the rest of your life. He announces projects that get fans salivating and they never get released (remember ‘Crystal Ball 2’ anyone?) and there’s the other douchey stuff like suing fans, shutting down fan sites, sending cease and desist letters to artists that are paying loving tribute to him in their works and going after YouTube for the removal of all content that he is featured in (does he not realize that like it or not, the way new fans discover music is via the internet?!).
His music was so influential to my life from literally the age of 4, when I felt “different” but couldn’t figure out what to do and Prince’s lyrics (and look) were completely unapologetic and always championed being unique at all costs, which helped my life (and obviously the lives of so many people worldwide) and then Prince’s current religious beliefs found him going against all that he used to stand for. It makes me sick to see someone once so progressive and open minded literally become closed off and preachy about his beliefs. I’m all for finding yourself and being happy about it, but just don’t shove it down my throat if I choose to believe differently. For some of the public complaining I’ve done, if you didn’t know me, you’d think I was a hater. On the contrary, I am a concerned fan who does not enjoy watching someone regress and you do not need to be a rocket scientist to see that this is the case.
Back to the music…
So when the vaults are finally opened, what is going to happen? Though lots of sexual innuendo is implied in the lyrics of some of the Purple Rain songs (most famously, the lyric from “Darling Nikki” about meeting a girl “in a hotel lobby masturbating with a magazine”), there are no “curse words” per se, so will these recordings stay in tact as they were or will he try and rewrite his history with lyrics that reflect who he is today? I picked out the songs on a greatest hits compilation called “Ultimate Prince” and after he forced the label to remove the 12″ version of “Erotic City,” every review of the album says “it could have been a great collection if only “Erotic City” were included). Will he finally embrace his past when he looks back on this era and realizes that when he was 26 years old (in 1984 when Purple Rain was released) that his creativity knew no limits and he was literally changing the world? He’d just filmed his first feature film, had recorded an album with no bad moments on it (and a handful of equally killer b-sides), wrote, recorded and produced albums for The Time and Apollonia 6, was touring (and changing the set list nightly) and recorded countless songs that didn’t even make the cut because there is only so much music the world can handle in the span of a year.
The world can still not handle that much music (and if anything, the iPod generation has made our musical attention spans even shorter), so what will be included on the re-release? Is he going to fill it with songs by Apollonia 6 and The Time that were in the movie, but never acknowledged on the soundtrack? Live tracks such as the song “Electric Intercourse” which was taken out of the film in favor of “The Beautiful Ones”? Speaking of “The Beautiful Ones,” in fan circulation, there is a version that has an extra verse and there is also a 14 minute version of “Computer Blue” which shreds the officially released version (and is 10 minutes shorter). An extra verse of the song “Purple Rain” was also cut as were songs such as “Traffic Jam,” “Wonderful Ass,” “Possessed,” “Father’s Song” and the list goes on and on. No less than 25 songs that never saw the light of day are known to exist from the era (and surely there are plenty more that nobody has ever heard) and even if those songs were rescued from the vault, that would more than fill all of the allotted room dedicated to extra material.
This is not even including B-sides (like “Erotic City” and “17 Days”), the 12″ versions (like the 10+ minute version of “I Would Die 4 U”), the potential for a live concert release from the era, which again found Prince at 26 years old, out-performing legends who’d been around for decades longer. Also never released was the legendary August 3, 1983 First Avenue concert, which found Prince debuting the classic lineup of The Revolution with Wendy Melvoin on guitar and vocals as well as the first live performance of “Let’s Go Crazy,” “Computer Blue,” “I Would Die 4 U” “Purple Rain,” and was the only time “Electric Intercourse” was ever played in front of an audience. The Purple Rain score, for which Prince received an Academy Award was also never officially released, so there’s a chance that could finally come out in part or in full as well.
We live in a digital world now, so what that could mean for us is that the casual fans could buy a 2-disc physical set and be super content and for those who want to dig a little deeper, digital only releases of some of the above mentioned tracks and projects could make their way into the hands of the people that so desperately want it. What’s the point of letting it rot away in a vault, never to be appreciated while the creator of it is alive? Seems kind of silly. It’s crazy to think of the possibilities that have kept fans like me, who are not into the current direction Prince has taken musically (or religiously), hanging around in hopes that one day, the person I know that still exists inside of him will finally come outside and play with us again.
I don’t care if he swears anymore or humps the stage like he used to, I just want him to return to acknowledging the reason we all fell in love with him in the first place – because he gave us an alternative to being “ordinary.” He gave us a reason to celebrate our differences and most of all, he told us “it was ok to do our own thing and if the world didn’t like it, that’s THEIR PROBLEM, NOT OURS!” He basically helped form my strong work ethic and he made me seek out people that try and set the trend rather than follow them and for all of those things (and I have told him so in person), THANK YOU, PRINCE!!!!! If nothing, I hope the world who can barely see past “1999” and this album, come to realize, appreciate and celebrate, while he is still alive, that Prince was and is one of the most prolific musicians to ever walk among us and we should cherish it while we still can.
Prince, this is your big chance to convince the non-believers and to reward those of us who have stuck by your side through name changes and religious epiphanies. You’ve always been at the forefront of setting the trend, forcing everyone to follow in your footsteps, so you are being presented with a golden opportunity that could change the way other artists release their own vault material. PLEASE DON’T FUCK THIS UP!
I would be more than happy to assist, Prince. Give me a call!