ROCKHARD IN A FUNKY PLACE
ROCKHARD IN A FUNKY PLACE
So the CD is dead. The artist I'm about to discuss believes the internet is dead and the CD, mounted to a magazine or newspaper, is alive and well (and living in Minneapolis) - but he's wrong. The internet has killed the CD just as assuredly as the CD killed the cassette and video killed... er, never mind that one.
So now that it's dead, let's celebrate its weaknesses. Prince fought with his record label, which is no big deal, really, but it means that an actual 'ultimate Prince' compilation, one that takes from all phases and stages of his career, will never happen. We'll never see a CD containing both WB-era and NPG-era music, with the result that the NPG-era stuff will forever remain on the sidelines, and 'Prince's greatest hits' will be a term describing music primarily released during the 1980s.
This is sad. Prince has continued to release great music, over the decade and a half since leaving WB. Much of it was released not under the name Prince but under the 'name' of an unpronounceable symbol that made him a laughing-stock. It doesn't matter: Prince is still Prince, whatever he calls himself.
Which also means that this compilation not only considers every phase of his career, plus looking at singles and b-sides as well as album tracks, but it also looks at material released under other people's names as well: when Prince worked with another artists, in most cases the song was written, produced and played entirely by Prince: making the only non-Prince contribution in many cases the lead vocals. This these are 'Prince songs' too just as much as anything bearing either of his own names. And so they're under consideration here.
It's important to mention at this point that this is nothing more than a 'fantasy CD collection', me using my imagination to collate what I believe would be a great collection of Prince's work. No such CD exists, and I in no way advocate the free distribution of such a work. All songs mentioned here are under copyright and should be purchased from their rightful owners through legitimate channels. As no copyright infraction is intended here, this discussion also avoids using the actual symbol that Prince at one time used as his name, since that image is also under copyright protection. Two of the songs described here are not commercially available, and I also in no way endorse the distribution of unreleased recordings. The album cover images included are provided under fair use rules to illustrate the material in question and are of such a size and resolution that they offer no competition with the legitimate covers accompanying the actual released material.
DISC ONE ('UP')
DISC TWO ('DOWN')
The first CD is called 'Up'. It's an oversimplification to say it consists of 'spiritual' song and 'love' songs, but by and large it consists of messages that people might see as 'positive'. Dichotomy has always been a central part of Prince's oeuvre, and it's the underlying logic behind how these two CDs are programmed. The first disc starts with When Doves Cry (in its single edit), that groundbreaking Purple Rain number one that largely created the Prince phenomenon in the first place. Raspberry Beret was the main single from Purple Rain's less commercial and less successful follow-up Around the World in a Day, but this breezy pop beauty is as commercial as they come, and successful as well, hitting number two.
After two glory-days hits, the collection moves to the 'symbol' era, for the 1996 3-CD collection Emancipation and the song In This Bed I Scream, a tribute to Wendy and Lisa and other nadmates and friends from the Revolution era. The beautiful Parade outtake Old Friends 4 Sale has much the same theme, even if it's only from 1985. This song was released in 1999 with less personal lyrics, but this is the previously-unreleased original version. How Come U Don't Call Me Anymore?, a b-side from 1982, follows the theme. A beautiful soulful piano ballad quietly tucked away on a b-side.
Anna Stesia, the centrepiece of 1988's Lovesexy (though not a single), moves the album from relationship topics to spiritual ones - in a manner of speaking. It's followed by Thieves in the Temple, one of Prince's classic 'weird pseudo-religious numbers', from 1990's Graffiti Bridge soundtrack. Following that, 2005's S.S.T., a single-only release intended as a charity release to support Hurricane Katrina victims. The song is not actually religious, and thus sticks out in the track placement, though it fits musically.
The hard-rocking Dolphin, from 1995's forgotten The Gold Experience, Prince's first release as the symbol, brings back the spirituality. The very strange 7, from the 1992 album that bore the symbol as its name (though it was attributed to Prince and the New Power Generation). As a single, it reached - surprise, surprise - 7. 1991's Love... They Will Be Done, sung by Martika and released under her name but otherwise 100% a Prince song, bridges the spiritual and the romantic, as do so many of Prince's greats. Forever in My Life, from 1987's meisterwerk Sign 'O' the Times, does much the same trick, and is equally wonderful, despite being little more than a drum machine, a mass of miscued vocals and a melodic swipe from Sly and the Family Stone.
The Holy River, an epic from Emancipation, appears here in the full seven-minute version. An amazing and personal tale of love and spiritual enlightenment, it needs to be heard in full or not at all. The Morning Papers, also a story of love for then-partner Mayte, is a logical follow-up, though being released on the 1992 'symbol' album it came first chronologically. Adore, appearing here in the edited version from The Hits / The B-Sides as opposed to the full-length Sign 'O' the Times version, is probably Prince's most-cherished slow-jam love song. It's followed here by Nothing Compares 2 U, the original version. Or rather, the original version of the original version: this famous song first appeared on side-project The Family's 1985 self-titled album. That sparse, minimalist version was a last-minute mixing-desk decision, and this is instead the previously-unreleased, earlier and lusher mix.
The CD concludes with two guitar-pop songs from opposite ends of the Prince story: When You Were Mine, a tale of lost love from 1980's Dirty Mind, and Resolution, an upbeat discussion of war from Planet Earth, 27 years later.
CD two is called 'Down'. It's not just as in 'down and dirty' but also, in that there's a lot more funk here, as in 'get down' too. Prince might like to balance the sacred and the profane, but it's the latter that has gotten the majority of the press down the years. The CD starts with Purple Rain's other side-commencing number one, Let's Go Crazy, a bit of end-of-the-world paranoia that starts with a church sermon. Its armageddon message makes it an obvious brother to 1999, the epic from the 1982 album of the same name, also presented here in its single mix. The CD has fully seven 'single edits', a slightly controversial move, but necessary not just to fit 18 songs on a single CD but also to maintain, in most cases, the 'punchiness' of classic pop singles.
Kiss appears in its single edit as well, which is no big deal as it's almost the same as the album version, just with a fade-out ending. From 1986's Parade, this was also a number one single on Billboard. Supercute, a single-only release from 2001, might seem like an odd follow-up, but the laid-back funk groove and playful flirtation fits.
Little Red Corvette is a bit of a strange segue at this point (the middle part of this CD kind of hops sylistically around the map) but it's an obvious 'classic' that needs to appear on any Prince collection, also from 1982's 1999. The guitar gets heavier for Chaos and Disorder, a bit of a strange choice from the 1996 album of the same name, Prince's last for Warner Bros. (though he was using the symbol at the time). Guitars remain though the feel gets much lighter and poppier for the Sign 'o' the Times-era number-ten single I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man, the single edit which cuts three minutes off the album version but loses little.
Count the Days is technically not a Prince release, being released on the New Power Generation album Exodus in 1995. A surprising blues with choral vocals and very MF-heavy lyrics, it's still Prince all the way. Erotic City presents another bizarre segue, going back to 1984 for this most infamous of b-sides, presented perhaps unfairly in its single edit. The single edit helps If I Was Your Girlfriend, though, a gender-bending midtempo groove that bombed as a single from Sign 'o' the Times in 1987.
There then follows a two-track 'slow jam' set, songs that define the word 'steamy' and bizarrely are both connected to the Batman movie project. Scandalous, from the 1989 soundtrack to the Tim Burton film, was a top-five hit on the R&B charts but ignored elsewhere. It makes dissonance sexy, and is featured here in its 'full length' six-minute version, which is still a far cry from the 19-minute version that also exists. I Love U in Me brings sex to a nursery-rhyme style instrumentation and is absolutely gorgeous, way too gorgeous to have been wasted as a Batman-era b-side.
There ought to be a few seconds of silence here as this song fades out in its fragility before being replaced by the bawdy in-your-face Rockhard in a Funky Place, by far the most drastic mood-shift in these two discs. From The Black Album, released in 1987 or in 1994 depedning on how you do your math, this song rings in the 'funk' segment of the disc. It's followed by Koo Koo, with lead vocals by Sheila E. and released on her self-titled 1987 album, though it's a Prince song in all but name.
The funky Pope, by comparison, is a symbol song in all but name, being released under the name Prince as a bonus track on his The Hits / The B-Sides collection of 1993. It's followed by two songs actually released under the symbol name, Face Down, the story of the 'slave' years from Emancipation and Prettyman, a funky The Time-style jam which was released as a bonus track on 1999's Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic, the last album released under the symbol moniker.
The final track, 1991's Gett Off is presented in its full-length eight-and-a-half minute version just because it's such a brilliant song that cutting off even a few seconds feels like sacrilege. It's rude, crude and impossible not to love. Brilliant.