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  • feedwordpress 14:21:48 on 2018/05/02 Permalink
    Tags: , music   

    It’s like Shazam — for your face! 


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    It's like Shazam — for your face!

    Today's most fun new Glitch app is Record Player, which lets you upload a photo, then uses Google Cloud's Vision API to recognize the image and play it on Spotify.

    It works really well, but the real fun starts when you upload a selfie or a picture of yourself.


    I especially love that this was made by Patrick Weaver on the Mouse.org team, because it makes me think that kids learning computer science from Mouse curriculum here in NYC are going to start by seeing tech as enabling fun apps like this one! And you can, of course, View Source for the app and remix it to make your own variations.

     
  • feedwordpress 03:21:59 on 2017/04/28 Permalink
    Tags: , music, ,   

    Dig, If U Will… 


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    I was delighted to get to talk to Ben Greenman for an episode of "Dig If You Will The Podcast," his series in honor of his book "Dig If You Will The Picture". We go deep into Prince's influence on transforming the music industry, and if you like it, you should check out Ben's book, too.

    Oh, and of course, we talk about my favorite floppy of all time — the disc Prince sent out with a custom font when he changed his name to his famous unpronounceable symbol.

     
  • feedwordpress 23:21:59 on 2017/04/27 Permalink
    Tags: music   

    Dig, If U Will… 


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    Dig, If U Will...

    I was delighted to get to talk to Ben Greenman for an episode of “Dig If You Will The Podcast,” his series in honor of his book “Dig If You Will The Picture”. We go deep into Prince’s influence on transforming the music industry, and if you like it, you should check out Ben’s book, too.

    Oh, and of course, we talk about my favorite floppy of all time — the disc Prince sent out with a custom font when he changed his name to his famous unpronounceable symbol.

     
  • feedwordpress 16:53:20 on 2017/02/12 Permalink
    Tags: , music,   

    It’s time to discover Prince 


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    With the return of Prince’s classic 80s and 90s catalog to the most popular streaming services, now’s a great time to (re?)discover the breadth of Prince’s incredible body of work.

    Prince circa 1991, by Herb Ritts

    The full scale of Prince’s music is probably too much for any unfamiliar listener to just dive into; he released nearly 40 albums under his own name(s), regularly enhanced his single releases with extended versions, remixes that could sometimes comprise an entire EP on their own, and legendary B-sides that were often as strong as the single being released to radio. That’s not even counting the literally hundreds of songs he wrote (and often performed on) for others.

    So, here’s an easier way to dive into his catalog, broken down by the type of listener you are, and what genres of music you prefer. I’m assuming little to no familiarity with Prince’s catalog here, beyond staples like the song Purple Rain. The nice thing about Prince’s work is that there are no bad starting points; if you don’t like what you hear at first, he almost certainly made a song in the complete opposite style as well.

    The basics

    If you’ve never really listened to Prince’s work, there’s a reason his 80s albums are revered. They hold up favorably against the very best albums in pop music.

    • Purple Rain (1984)

      Spotify | Apple Music | Amazon | Tidal

      It really is that good. Half the songs on the album became hit singles, and the other half would have except they were too sexy.

    • 1999 (1982)

      Spotify | Apple Music | Amazon | Tidal

      This one will surprise you. Though Purple Rain has more, bigger hits, this is the album that shaped the sound of 80s radio. And, well, a lot of the Top 40 to this day. The songs really stretch out, and this is the album that turned a lot of casual Prince fans into diehards.

    • Sign O’ The Times (1987)

      Spotify | Apple Music | Amazon | Tidal

      If you want to hear Prince at his experimental best, this is almost every hardcore Prince fan’s favorite album.

    The greatest hits

    There are a number of Greatest Hits collections for Prince’s work. None of them are terrible, but all of them ignore the second half of his career which, while uneven, still had dozens of truly great songs.

    • Ultimate (2006)

      Spotify | Apple Music | Amazon | Tidal

      The best overall collection of Prince’s work, this includes a number of his best b-sides and extended versions, amply demonstrating why those non-album tracks were essential to understanding his range. And if you like big hits like Little Red Corvette, it shows up here in the full 8-and-a-half-minute glory of its 12" Dance Mix.

    • The Hits/The B-Sides (1993)

      Spotify | Apple Music | Amazon | Tidal

      The first compilation of Prince’s work is still the only one to collect a large number of his b-side recordings. Even if you’ve heard most of his 80s albums, there are almost certainly songs here that you missed.

    Specially-crafted starting points

    I made a number of playlists that are specifically aimed at people who feel like they’ve never really gotten Prince. I often hear people say, “I know he’s supposed to be super talented, but I never saw him live, and I don’t know what song of his I would love.” This is especially poignant for those of us who were fans because his live shows were amazing, often radically recasting his recorded material, and because his hit pop singles, while brilliant and unique, often didn’t resemble the more obscure works that won us over.

    These playlists are necessarily incomplete, because of the inconsistent way Prince’s catalog is made available. Tidal comes closest to including all of these songs, though even at its peak Tidal still omitted hundreds of Prince’s songs from its service. I’ve included Spotify versions of the playlists if most of the songs are available from the service.

    • Discover Prince

      Spotify | Apple Music | Tidal 
      This is a playlist of the most “Prince-sounding” tracks in his catalog, a great way to hear work that a lot of serious fans would say could only have come from Prince.

    • Prince: Guitar Pop

      Spotify | Tidal
      Prince’s most riff-driven rock tracks, showing off both his pop songcraft and his predilection for shredding. This list shows off how his work became more conventionally guitar heavy in this century.

    • Prince: Electronic

      Spotify | Tidal
      The signature sound Prince was known for was his extraordinary and cutting-edge adoption of the latest electronic technologies like drum machines, synthesizers, samplers and sequencers. By bringing all these tools to bear, he changed the sound of popular music. These are some of the songs that caused that change, and some showing off how he kept evolving.

    • Prince: Piano

      Spotify | Tidal
      In his final tour, Prince performed solo at the piano, reaffirming his raw showmanship and the strength of his songwriting. But throughout his career, he showed off his skills on the keys, as these songs amply demonstrate.

    More to come

    There are, of course, a nearly infinite number of ways to slice and dice a catalog that comprises over a thousand songs. None of these playlists even includes the work that Prince created for other artists. And it’s easy to imagine playlists like “Here are the Prince songs you’ll like if you love Hendrix” or “These are the Prince tracks that Justin Timberlake clearly loved the most”.

    But what’s most exciting is the idea that a new wave of listeners can find their own gems in a body of work that offers enough surprises and delights to last for decades to come. If you’re just getting into Prince, I hope these lists form a good starting point, and don’t hesitate to reply to me at @anildash if you’ve got questions or want suggestions of how to get started.

     
  • feedwordpress 11:53:20 on 2017/02/12 Permalink
    Tags: , , music   

    It’s time to discover Prince 


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    It's time to discover Prince

    With the return of Prince’s classic 80s and 90s catalog to the most popular streaming services, now’s a great time to (re?)discover the breadth of Prince’s incredible body of work.

    The full scale of Prince’s music is probably too much for any unfamiliar listener to just dive into; he released nearly 40 albums under his own name(s), regularly enhanced his single releases with extended versions, remixes that could sometimes comprise an entire EP on their own, and legendary B-sides that were often as strong as the single being released to radio. That’s not even counting the literally hundreds of songs he wrote (and often performed on) for others.

    So, here’s an easier way to dive into his catalog, broken down by the type of listener you are, and what genres of music you prefer. I’m assuming little to no familiarity with Prince’s catalog here, beyond staples like the song Purple Rain. The nice thing about Prince’s work is that there are no bad starting points; if you don’t like what you hear at first, he almost certainly made a song in the complete opposite style as well.


    The basics

    If you’ve never really listened to Prince’s work, there’s a reason his 80s albums are revered. They hold up favorably against the very best albums in pop music.

    Purple Rain (1984)

    Spotify | Apple Music | Amazon | Tidal

    It really is that good. Half the songs on the album became hit singles, and the other half would have except they were too sexy.

    1999 (1982)

    Spotify | Apple Music | Amazon | Tidal

    This one will surprise you. Though Purple Rain has more, bigger hits, this is the album that shaped the sound of 80s radio. And, well, a lot of the Top 40 to this day. The songs really stretch out, and this is the album that turned a lot of casual Prince fans into diehards.

    Sign O’ The Times (1987)

    Spotify | Apple Music | Amazon | Tidal

    If you want to hear Prince at his experimental best, this is almost every hardcore Prince fan’s favorite album.

    The greatest hits

    There are a number of Greatest Hits collections for Prince’s work. None of them are terrible, but all of them ignore the second half of his career which, while uneven, still had dozens of truly great songs.

    Ultimate (2006)

    Spotify | Apple Music | Amazon | Tidal

    The best overall collection of Prince’s work, this includes a number of his best b-sides and extended versions, amply demonstrating why those non-album tracks were essential to understanding his range. And if you like big hits like Little Red Corvette, it shows up here in the full 8-and-a-half-minute glory of its 12″ Dance Mix.

    The Hits/The B-Sides (1993)

    Spotify | Apple Music | Amazon | Tidal

    The first compilation of Prince’s work is still the only one to collect a large number of his b-side recordings. Even if you’ve heard most of his 80s albums, there are almost certainly songs here that you missed.


    Specially-crafted starting points

    I made a number of playlists that are specifically aimed at people who feel like they’ve never really gotten Prince. I often hear people say, “I know he’s supposed to be super talented, but I never saw him live, and I don’t know what song of his I would love.” This is especially poignant for those of us who were fans because his live shows were amazing, often radically recasting his recorded material, and because his hit pop singles, while brilliant and unique, often didn’t resemble the more obscure works that won us over.

    These playlists are necessarily incomplete, because of the inconsistent way Prince’s catalog is made available. Tidal comes closest to including all of these songs, though even at its peak Tidal still omitted hundreds of Prince’s songs from its service. I’ve included Spotify versions of the playlists if most of the songs are available from the service.

    Discover Prince

    Spotify | Apple Music | Tidal 
    This is a playlist of the most “Prince-sounding” tracks in his catalog, a great way to hear work that a lot of serious fans would say could only have come from Prince.

    Prince: Guitar Pop

    Spotify | Tidal
    Prince’s most riff-driven rock tracks, showing off both his pop songcraft and his predilection for shredding. This list shows off how his work became more conventionally guitar heavy in this century.

    Prince: Electronic

    Spotify | Tidal
    The signature sound Prince was known for was his extraordinary and cutting-edge adoption of the latest electronic technologies like drum machines, synthesizers, samplers and sequencers. By bringing all these tools to bear, he changed the sound of popular music. These are some of the songs that caused that change, and some showing off how he kept evolving.

    Prince: Piano

    Spotify | Tidal
    In his final tour, Prince performed solo at the piano, reaffirming his raw showmanship and the strength of his songwriting. But throughout his career, he showed off his skills on the keys, as these songs amply demonstrate.


    More to come

    There are, of course, a nearly infinite number of ways to slice and dice a catalog that comprises over a thousand songs. None of these playlists even includes the work that Prince created for other artists. And it’s easy to imagine playlists like “Here are the Prince songs you’ll like if you love Hendrix” or “These are the Prince tracks that Justin Timberlake clearly loved the most”.

    But what’s most exciting is the idea that a new wave of listeners can find their own gems in a body of work that offers enough surprises and delights to last for decades to come. If you’re just getting into Prince, I hope these lists form a good starting point, and don’t hesitate to reply to me at @anildash if you’ve got questions or want suggestions of how to get started.

     
  • feedwordpress 00:06:55 on 2016/06/19 Permalink
    Tags: attrellcordes, music, pmdawn   

    Set Adrift: Beneath the Surface of P.M. Dawn 


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    Today, P.M. Dawn exists as a faded memory for most music fans, if they’re remembered at all. But Attrell Cordes made songs like nothing that came before. Beautiful, sweeping melodies paired with lyrics of regret, remorse, heartache and profound loss. And then there were those surreal, recurring images of water.

    Prince Be

    To casual fans, P.M. Dawn was “the big guy and the other guy.” The big guy was Attrell Cordes, known as Prince Be, who passed away yesterday. The other guy was his brother Jarrett, who usually went by DJ Minutemix until scandal pushed him from the group in the mid-90s. They grew up in Jersey City, which may be the only part of their story that sounds like a regular rap group. The standout moments of the group’s history are like no other group in hip-hop — enormous pop hits and groundbreaking production work, a deep catalog of songs suffused not just with pathos but often with genuine despair, a notorious and absurd run-in with a hip-hop legend, and a stream of profound moments of personal and professional tragedy.

    P.M. Dawn’s unique mix of extraordinary success, deep influence on current sounds, and a relentlessly heartbroken outlook raises the question: What on earth inspired Attrell Cordes in the first place?

    It’s easy to forget, nearly 20 years after they faded from view, that P.M. Dawn enjoyed both enormous commercial success and broad critical acclaim. The conventional narrative of the early 90s in mainstream hip-hop is of a time when the genre transformed from a rebellious and challenging upstart artform to the dominant musical force in culture, maturing from golden age boom bap to globally-dominant gangsta rap with only a brief detour into the Native Tongues.

    The works we associate with that moment of transition in the early 90s are still respected as classics —albums like 36 Chambers and The Chronic. But in 1993, those legendary albums sat on the charts and the critics’ lists right next to The Bliss Album…? Or, to respect the full title of P.M. Dawn’s sophomore effort: The Bliss Album…? (Vibrations of Love and Anger and the Ponderance of Life and Existence). The name alone does a good job of explaining exactly why P.M. Dawn was both beloved and mocked.

    So what is P.M. Dawn‘s rightful legacy in hip-hop history? Are they sidelined today because they were hippies? Maybe, but so were De La Soul until De La deaded the D.A.I.S.Y. age. Was it because they were too soft? After all, P.M. Dawn‘s catalog is full of overtly romantic songs suffused with heartbreak, as likely to be sung as rapped. But in a world where Drake dominates and everybody from Kanye to Lil Wayne gets some of their biggest pop hits by singing moody songs about their feelings, it seems as if history has come down decidedly in favor of the styles the group pioneered. So how did P.M. Dawn end up sinking into obscurity?

    The answer to P.M. Dawn may lie beneath the surface.

    [Content notice: This piece includes references that may be troubling to readers sensitive to abuse/violence.]

    1. Making Waves

    Baby you send me, baby you send me
    Set adrift on memory bliss of you

    Though they billed themselves as a group, P.M. Dawn was barely even a duo — Attrell was always the creative force behind the work, the lead voice on every song. Those songs typically matched samples of very white, very pop artists to thick layers of Beach Boys harmonies. More than half a decade before the artist intermittently known as Puff Daddy would become one of the biggest stars in pop (and earn the ire of hip-hop purists) with tracks built entirely around top 40 hits, P.M. Dawn was riding a Spandau Ballet song to the top of the charts. Indeed, when SoundScan was first used to calculate music sales in 1991, the very first song to be certified #1 in sales was “Set Adrift On Memory Bliss.”

    It’s hard to imagine now, but at the turn of the 90s, before the echoes of the Biz Markie suit would change sampling culture forever, many hip-hop heads policed each other’s use of samples. While the prior year’s “U Can’t Touch This” had been similarly brazen in lifting Rick James’ work in service of creating an MC Hammer hit, nobody in 1990 defied convention so profoundly as P.M. Dawn did in lifting the entire hook of a sleepy adult contemporary staple that had only faded from radio only a few years earlier.

    P.M. Dawn was different from the start. They followed in the footsteps of one of their idols, Jimi Hendrix, by beginning their career in earnest in England. Signed to Gee Street records, they didn’t come up in the hip-hop tradition of selling records out of the trunk of their car, but rather rode the “Ashley’s Roachclip” beat out of the clubs in London, perhaps never to better effect than on their debut hit, “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss.” Built from a sample of Spandau Ballet’s “True”, but draped in even more layers of ethereal vocal harmonies, the song illustrates perfectly that all of P.M. Dawn’s obsessions and brilliance were fully formed from the start.

    The structure of the song exemplifies Attrell’s hit formula during the rise and peak of the group’s commercial success. There’s a classic break beat, which today sounds like pure dance but which was at the time just as evocative of serious hip-hop in the Eric B. and Rakim vein. Over the beat, that Spandau Ballet sample, which promised crossover success while still being undeniably catchy enough to bring along reluctant hip-hop fans. And then there’s the rhymes. At the same time that LL was screaming his way through “Mama Said Knock You Out”, Prince Be delivers his lyrics just above a whisper. And not LL’s sexy and urgent “I Need Love” whisper, but the murmur of someone thinking aloud while nobody else is home.

    In their signature hit, like all their songs, P.M. Dawn’s lyrics are vivid, evocative, inscrutable.

    The camera pans to a cocktail glass
    Behind a blind of plastic plants
    I find a lady with a fat diamond ring
    And then you know I can’t remember a damn thing

    The scene described is hard to place, but it does seem to loosely fit one scenario: The words can be read as a recapitulation of the opening moments of Prince’s 1986 cinematic flop, Under the Cherry Moon. Ordinarily, it’d be absurd to think the lyrics to a Top 10 pop hit include a Prince reference so obscure that Questlove would struggle to recall it, but this is from Of the Heart, of the Soul and of the Cross: The Utopian Experience, an album where one of the other songs (“Reality Used To Be A Friend Of Mine”) actually samples dialogue from the movie Under the Cherry Moon. Similarly obscure cultural references continue throughout the song, with almost deliberately inaccessible moments like the Tribe Called Quest-meets-Married With Children nod, “Christina Applegate, you gotta put me on.”

    But of course, the song dates to a time when Dennis Miller was still funny; obscure references were an even more meaningful way of signifying social belonging in the pre-Wikipedia, pre-Google, pre-Genius era. And rather than signifying street realness, Prince Be was signifying catholic cultural tastes that were unapologetically middle class, as likely to be white as black, more likely to be wounded than boastful.

    Even in an era where the Spandau Ballet sample was widely considered too brazen and too prominent to be legitimate hip-hop, the song’s charm was undeniable, and set a pattern not just for the group’s future work, but for pop radio overall. When one-hit-wonder Gerardo wanted to follow up his signature “Rico Suave”, he was shamelessly ripping off Set Adrift in his song “Love”; by the time mega-popular boy band Color Me Badd was searching for a new sound a few years later, they would go to the same well with their song “Choose”, under the guidance of hands no less gifted than super-producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.

    Prince Be himself would revisit P.M. Dawn’s signature song just a few years later, when he was asked to produce a track for the Backstreet Boys’ eponymous 1997 album—which would go on to become one of the most successful albums of all time.

    The effort yielded a revamped version of the song, complete with new lyrics, along with what was likely one of the most lucrative production gigs of Prince Be’s career.

    But at the dawn of the 90s, P.M. Dawn enjoyed a brief moment where they captured a truly new sound and the attention of the world and it seemed they would be able to ride that wave of success almost indefinitely.

    2. Got Me Floating

    I drift along in a sea of compulsion
    Whether or not I’m dead
    I have no idea

    Those lyrics pop up in the middle of “The Beautiful”, a standout on the first P.M. Dawn album, which evolves a brief segment of the Beatles’ “Baby You’re a Rich Man” into a full-fledged song, ethereal and funky and appropriately titled. It’s striking that even when starting from a Beatles hook, Prince Be finds himself afloat.

    When it came time to create their followup album, though, Prince Be began with the formula that had yielded their biggest hit to date. On “Set Adrift On Memory Bliss”, the group sampled a white artist’s pop hit from half a decade earlier and added cascading layers of harmonies on top, along with a soft-spoken and inscrutable rap. For “Looking Through Patient Eyes”, they went back to the well, using the bulk of George Michael’s “Father Figure” as the basis for their own Top 10 pop hit, albeit with lyrics that were even more abstract and challenging than “Set Adrift.”

    The only familiar element for fans to hold on to in “Patient Eyes” was Prince Be’s omnipresent obsession with water imagery in the lyrics.

    Oil and water, lust and sympathy
    I life and death my way through the sun
    Where originates all the pain
    That leaves my memory a traumatic sponge
    And sings to you

    Though that first single from The Bliss Album…? followed a familiar formula, the rest of the album challenged listeners at almost every opportunity. As Tom Breihan put it when revisiting the album a few years ago,

    It’s soft, frilly, nebulous, willfully feminine. On the album’s first chorus, Prince Be croons, “I cry when midnight sighs,” whatever that means. The only guest on the whole LP is Boy George, gently wrapping his voice around Prince Be’s on “More Than Likely.” There’s a cover of the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood” that flirts with the Beatles’ starry-eyed psych-rock the same way the Beatles, at the moment they recorded the original, were flirting with Eastern modalities. Entire songs waft by without any drums, and when drums do show up, they’re breakbeat shuffles that, in 1993, signified house music as much as they did rap, especially with the pianos P.M. Dawn loved to pair them with.

    Part of the challenge that Prince Be took on in his work was introducing his listeners to his most important influences, typically by recontextualizing their work in his distinctive style. Musical influences surrounded the Cordes brothers right from the start; the stepfather who raised them had been an early member of Kool and the Gang, their mother had sometimes sung gospel, and several of their aunts and uncles were DJs. By the time Prince Be had become a famous artist in his own right, he was legendary amongst serious collectors for the breadth of his record collection and his knowledge of sampling history.

    Despite that access to a deep and eclectic record collection, outrageously mainstream acts like the Beatles were near the top of the list of P.M. Dawn’s influences. Building on the brilliance of “The Beautiful” on their first album, P.M. Dawn decided to do a full cover of “Norwegian Wood”, ending up with a version more evocative of Prince Paul’s productions for De La Soul than reverent to the original. What was left unchanged? Well, the lyrics, of course—giving Prince Be the chance to say he “crawled off to sleep in the bath.”

    Just as important in the list of psychedelic influences on P.M. Dawn is Jimi Hendrix. In 1993, they were asked to contribute a track to Stone Free, one of the first prominent multi-artist Hendrix tributes. P.M. Dawn provided one of the highlights of the collection with what must be the only Hendrix cover that samples the Jungle Brothers’ “Jimbrowski.”

    The song? “You Got Me Floating”, naturally.

    P.M. Dawn soon became popular enough to actually work with artists they admired. One of those artists was Boy George, who duetted with Prince Be on The Bliss Album…?’s “More Than Likely.” It was George who got the standout lyric in the first verse.

    What’s the use in floating if all it does is tell
    You someone’s under you

    That duet with Boy George was followed a few months later by a duet with Elton John on his Duets album. Prince Be was saying, as clearly as possible, that he cared a lot more about his musical influences than his hip-hop credibility.

    3. A Sea of Doubt

    I can understand that the stakes are high
    But I’d really like to know what I’ve done and why
    I’m floating in a sea of doubt when it comes to that

    Like so many of P.M. Dawn’s songs, “Even After I Die” covers Prince Be’s insecurities and self-loathing in a context that’s deeply mortal. He seems to be reckoning with his legacy, a fixation that only increased after the birth of his children.

    One part of that legacy was unfortunately too clear. Even people who know nothing else about P.M. Dawn know that KRS-One bum-rushed them onstage at one of their shows. The context was deeply stupid, even in the lengthy annals of stupid hip-hop beefs. Prince Be, while doing an interview for Details in January 1991 to promote The Utopian Experience, started to ramble about not believing in reality. It wasn’t a particularly effective or clear way to argue his point, but context makes clear that he was riffing on not wanting to obey conventional social labels. From that interview:

    PM Dawn - Details magazine

    With years of hindsight, it reads as a particularly poor form of album promotion, but given that these were the words of an obscure and introverted 20-year-old artist who was dealing with press for the first time, it’s not that egregious. A few days after the article came out KRS revealed his great offense to Prince Be’s slight (and demonstrated the full hypocrisy of his “Stop The Violence” movement) by throwing Prince Be from the stage of an MTV concert at the Factory in New York.

    Legendary hip-hop journalist and critic Bill Adler wrote up the full story at length on his site, but context makes clear that KRS had been embarrassed by attacks from rappers like Ice Cube and decided to prove his toughness by…going after the softest rapper in the game.

    It’s hard to overstate how huge the reaction was. At at time when hip-hop was too scary for most of mainstream media, USA Today put the story on the front cover of their Life section.

    PM Dawn - USA Today

    But while traditional media condemned KRS for his attack, the response from the hip-hop community was nearly unanimous. The Source (then at the peak of its credibility and authority in hip-hop) convened a panel of attendees of the show to discuss the attack, and T-Money got the last word on P.M. Dawn.

    Chris Wilder, then the managing editor of The Source, revisited the attack a year later, summarizing his reaction to KRS taking the stage: “The whole Bronx was on stage and all of Brooklyn and Uptown was on the floor screaming, ‘Go! Go! Go!’ and jumping as high as I’ve ever jumped at a party.”


    In a 1996 interview for Addicted To Noise, Prince Be discussed why he had moved to largely singing on his albums, instead of rapping:

    A lot of hip-hop artists say that P.M. Dawn can’t rhyme. So I said, OK, I won’t rhyme. All criticism I take in. It either builds me up or breaks me down. I take things people write about me totally seriously. It is me, so to speak. And when I hear that people hate me, it really affects me as well. So the reason why I’m not rapping is that the hip-hop industry told me not to.

    4. Raining Cats and Dogs

    So when it’s raining cats and dogs
    I won’t complain and I won’t mind
    When it’s raining cats and dogs
    I’ll understand the reasons why…

    From the start, P.M. Dawn was presented as a duo. But what was clear was that Attrell, as Prince Be, was the driving creative force behind P.M. Dawn; Jarrett, as DJ Minutemix, seemed to be a junior partner, whose onstage role was primarily as a hype man and backup singer. Prince Be also determined their strategy for reaching fans.

    Despite a series of massive hits, P.M. Dawn had taken a blow from both the KRS-One attack and the changing style of mainstream hip-hop. By the mid-90s, the group was clearly in a situation where they would either make a hit record or fade away. Their strategy with Jesus Wept, their third album, was unconventional and bold: They would embrace a sound that might fit on alternative rock radio, which was then ascendant, and stop trying to win hip-hop credibility. Helping them was the fact that P.M. Dawn were early adopters of Internet technology, nurturing a fanbase that had started to create early fan sites and forums that connected the community.

    The Jesus Wept album had strong material, but getting alternative outlets to embrace the lead single “Downtown Venus” was a leap. The effort didn’t quite work. In an online chat for MTV a week after the third album’s release, Prince Be was morose even by his own typically pessimistic standards, as these excerpts show.

    VIIdeadsi: When did you first realize that your music made a strong impact on the current generations?
    PRlNCE BE: When I realized that there was an immense amount of people that hate me. People either really love P.M. Dawn or really hate P.M. Dawn
    JZito1364: Do you like being a role model for thousands of young people?
    PRlNCE BE: It depends. What is a role model? You tell me JZi. Is it someone that people can look up to? Or is it someone that is continuously crucified? Knows it, likes it, and takes it.
    Editor8: How do you expect your record sales from “JESUS WEPT” to compare to your previous records?
    PRlNCE BE: I don’t expect anyone to buy it. Which is pretty much what’s happening.

    The chat continued in that vein, culminating in openly hostile questions making it past the moderators.

    Jayj43: do you enjoy living as a sellout to other rappers?
    PRlNCE BE: Very much so, I mean… What’s your definition of a sell-out? A sellout is someone who does music that they hate and music that they can’t feel simply for the purposes of making money. As I’ve been saying all nightk, I’m too emotional of a person not to be in my music. I love my music, if I were making hardcore hip-hop, then I would really be a sellout, a-hole.
    Micdawg: So what do you want to have achieved when it’s all said and done?
    PRlNCE BE: I don’t know, and that’s the chicken shit answer. But it’s the truth. I’m in this game because I don’t know what else to do with my emotions. With my spirituality. And with my passion for escapism. I love you all because I hate you all because I love you all because I hate you all. Because I love you all because I hate you all. See what I mean? I don’t know diddly. When someone finds out what existence is, please let me know. I’m at the end of my rope. Peace.

    The cause for Prince Be’s despair was dramatic: His brother Jarrett, who should have been participating in these promotional activities and performances for the new album, was nowhere to be seen.

    Word filtered out just as the album was released that Jarrett had been arrested for sexually assaulting one of the brothers’ 14-year-old relatives.

    Though Jarrett had been second fiddle in the group, his arrest on such sensational charges overshadowed any chance that the music had of being evaluated on its merit.

    Prince Be was characteristically cryptic in commenting on the situation, and didn’t clearly distance the group from his brother’s arrest. It would be another decade before he unequivocally declared that Jarrett was no longer part of the group.

    But the damage was done. P.M. Dawn’s attempt to redefine its sound and maintain its relevance was completely derailed by the charges against Jarrett. The charges were later dropped, but by then Jarrett had been quietly dismissed from the group. No subsequent P.M. Dawn album received any real attention from radio or retail.

    5. Comatose

    Maybe it’s the undertow of what the tide took
    The put together scenes
    Make it all seem clean

    The song “Comatose” from The Utopian Experierence ended up being eerily prescient; In late 1992, Prince Be entered a 3-day coma right in the midst of their biggest run of hit songs. He was diagnosed with diabetes, and its complications would dog him for the rest of his life. For years, it seemed Prince Be’s worst health issues world arise each time P.M. Dawn released new work that had the potential to return them to prominence.

    Despite their commercial decline, Prince Be never stopped making music that was every bit as compelling as their work during their peak. In late 2000, they used the web to promote an upcoming album, Fucked Music, which ended up containing some of their strongest songwriting. But the release was botched and only a handful of fans got copies of the album directly from the website. Prince Be had a minor stroke not long after, and the planned proper commercial release never happened.

    A few years later in 2003, a new single called “Amnesia” popped up, this time with real distribution on legitimate outlets. It was meant to promote an upcoming album, The Jim Sullivan Syndrome, but the same pattern followed—the album never got a proper release, and health issues along with business complications kept the music from all but the most diehard fans. Though P.M. Dawn had long been influenced by Prince, it seemed entirely unintentional that they mirrored Prince’s decades-long habit of having some of his best material remain unreleased in a private vault, with fans forced to circulate illicit copies of the work. Even when considering their released work, some of the best P.M. Dawn songs were strewn across obscure b-sides, out-of-print soundtracks and as production jobs for other artists, just like one of their biggest heroes.


    In 2005, a reality TV show called “Hit Me Baby One More Time” held a competition where formerly-popular groups competed to see which could still win over the audience. For P.M. Dawn’s appearance on the show, Prince Be even went so far as to reconcile with his brother DJ Minutemix, at least enough to bring him onstage for the duration of the taping. P.M. Dawn triumphed, winning over the crowd with a strong performance of “Set Adrift On Memory Bliss” and Puddle of Mudd’s “Blurry.” Coming on the heels of some live performance dates the year before, where they had at times joined their early-90s alt-rap peers Arrested Development, the group seemed poised for a potential comeback.

    Just before their triumph on the show, Prince Be endured a massive stroke that left him partially paralyzed. But as his condition worsened, he was unable to capitalize on the promising new bout of attention; from that point on, P.M. Dawn’s few live performances were handled by Gregory Carr, one of Attrell and Jarrett’s cousins who had begun backing up the group in the 90s under the name Doc G. Today, most of P.M. Dawn’s social media presence is maintained by Doc G, who also put out a handful of unremarkable releases using the P.M. Dawn name, with no apparent input from Prince Be.

    In the final half decade of Prince Be’s life, Doc G carried on the P.M. Dawn name (perhaps not entirely with the blessing of Prince Be’s family, depending on the accuracy of online rumors), while Prince Be endured a further series of health setbacks. Another stroke, dialysis, and a leg amputation all took a heavy toll.

    Though his body was challenged, Prince Be’s work was undergoing a renaissance. The obvious influence and foresight of his work inspired a new wave of young creators to reappraise P.M. Dawn’s catalog.

    In 2002, Brandy and Ray J covered “I’d Die Without You” on her album Full Moon. Then in 2013, Alicia Keys released her own version of “Die Without You”, recorded in 2007 during sessions for her As I Am album. Perhaps most dramatic was Childish Gambino’s 2014 cover of the song, which led to Donald Glover performing the song live a number of times in some of his most prominent media appearances.

    A new generation of artists had declared their appreciation for P.M. Dawn, and started to undo nearly two decades of disrespect.

    6. Now I’m Underwater

    Oh, I apologize for all the things I’ve done
    But now, I’m underwater and I’m drowning
    Is it my turn to be the one to cry?
    Isn’t it amazing how some things completely turn around?
    So take every little piece of my heart
    Yeah, take every little piece of my soul
    Yeah, take every little bit of piece of my mind
    Cause if you’re gone, inside, I’d die without you

    Though “Set Adrift On Memory Bliss” may be P.M. Dawn’s biggest hit by raw numbers, the group does enjoy the good fortune of being best remembered for their best song. “I’d Die Without You” was a standout even on the all-killer, no-filler Boomerang soundtrack where it debuted. (How good was that soundtrack? Another of its biggest singles was Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road.”)

    Lush, vulnerable, and idiosyncratic (the song opens with a 20-second-long meandering piano instrumental) it captures all the wonderful contradictions of P.M. Dawn in one song. As in so many of his lyrics, Prince Be is both deeply in love and deeply apologetic. Musically, the vocals are as ethereal as pop gets; the background vocal here is Prince Be’s sister Cheryl Cordes, not DJ Minutemix. But the pulsing bass fits right into the Jeep Beats sound of hip-hop of the era. It’s one of the greatest love songs of the decade.

    But it’s not a regular love song. Indeed, it’s easiest to understand P.M. Dawn’s catalog as largely a collection of love songs, but almost none of them are romantic love songs. As the title of 1998's Dearest Christian, I’m So Very Sorry for Bringing You Here. Love, Dad makes clear, Prince Be was not afraid to write love songs that were about love toward his son, or his children, or as odes to those long lost. While the elliptical lyrics of course make it hard to be sure, it’s likely that most of P.M. Dawn’s songs aren’t written with an eye toward a romantic partner.

    So who are all these love songs written to?


    Certainly Attrell Cordes loved god, as he understood gods and religions to work, and it’s clear a few of his songs were about loving god. Some of P.M. Dawn’s work seems to be directed to the memory of Prince Be’s father, who is said to have died of pneumonia when the boys were very young.

    But then there’s the sad footnote that shows up in many of the earliest interviews with Prince Be. He recounts a story of having watched his younger brother Duncan Cordes drown when Duncan was only two years old. Understandably, most interviewers of the time didn’t press too hard on the subject when simply trying to write a story about a new album release, so little was said about how the incident happened. The only hint of something deeper lay in an Associated Press story that came across the wire on May 10, 1978.

    Duncan Cordes


    Attrell Cordes is survived by his wife Mary, and their three children: Christian, Mia and Brandon.

     
  • feedwordpress 23:55:36 on 2016/05/28 Permalink
    Tags: alanleeds, linernotes, music,   

    Prince’s Own Liner Notes On His Greatest Hits 


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    When Prince’s first greatest hits collection was released, Prince made private comments as a guide for the liner notes. Later briefly posted on his website thedawn.com in 1996, Prince’s comments have been lost for the last 20 years, but now provide a rare first-person insight into how he saw some of his most famous songs.

    Prince - The Hits / The B-Sides


    In 1993, just as Prince had changed his name and began wrangling with his record contract, he agreed to his first-ever collection of greatest hits, released as a 3-disc set, The Hits/The B-sides. Prince’s longtime manager Alan Leeds wrote the liner notes for the box set; already an industry legend for his work with James Brown, Leeds had won a Grammy for his extraordinary work on the liner notes for Startime, the definitive James Brown box set released in 1991.

    But Leeds’ notes on Prince’s work included a number of mentions of anecdotes and inspirations that Leeds couldn’t have been privy to first-hand, and a few that only Prince himself could have known. When liner notes for The Hits were posted on thedawn.com three years later, fans were shocked to see that, rather than simply replicating Leeds’ writing, the notes on the site were clearly Prince’s own thoughts. The notes omit many tracks, include mention of songs that weren’t included in the box set at all, and include what appear to be editorial suggestions for Leeds.

    Prince often refers to himself as “PRN” (Prince Rogers Nelson) throughout. This was likely both reflective of his longtime habit of trying to issue his pronouncements as coming from a larger, vague collective rather than just himself, and the fact that the notes were likely captured as recited to an assistant. However, it could also have been a deliberate stylistic choice in reference to his then-recent name change; at the time this was published, his public position was that “Prince” was dead.


    Update: Alan Leeds himself has weighed in, on Reginald Hudlin’s Facebook page, saying he hadn’t known these notes were ever posted online, but confirming that he did use these comments from Prince to inform his work.

    Interesting — I’d never seen this before and wasn’t aware P had posted these comments. For the record, I had volunteered to Warner Bros. to help assemble and sequence the 3 CDs. However, they were stuck on “their” sequence — I never knew for sure if Prince liked or was involved in the sequencing. I believe it was put together by WB’sr in-house catalogue maven, my friend Gregg Geller and I doubt he had much dialogue with Prince. However, Prince did call me to write the notes. I told him it was an honor but only if he’d answer a few questions so I could add some background that wasn’t common knowledge among fans. He agreed but asked me not to write like an interview. So I simply incorporated some of his “revelations” into my notes. When I sent him the finished notes, he called to say “thanks, nice job” and that was it. He surprisingly did zero editing. It’s wonderful to hear directly from Alan on the role these notes played in his incredible work.

    Prince - The Hits / The B-Sides Booklet.jpg


    LINER NOTES

    “I WANNA BE YOUR LOVER” -
    originally recorded as a demo 4 Patrice Rushen’s album. PRN had a mad crush on her at the time and the song is about her.


    “HEAD” -
    was only used as a concert tune. This song was picked as Lisa Coleman’s initiation into the band. Gayle Chapman quit because the material of the Dirty Mind period got 2 strong 4 her. Prince figured if Lisa could sing the lyrics to head she could handle anything. The song as a demo as was all the Dirty Mind LP.


    “DO ME BABY” -
    the 1st time Prince turned the control room into a bedroom. Candles were lit, chiffon veils were hung and all the doors were locked.


    “Controversy” -
    write about the first time U heard reflective notes


    “LITTLE RED CORVETTE” -
    after another marathon all-night recording session PRN wrote this in the front seat of Lisa’s pink car (brand of car can be gotten from her) whom PRN drove when she was in LA. PRN always considered the song a dream because it was written between 3 or 4 catnaps and he was never fully awake.


    “DIRTY MIND” -
    Dr. Fink came up with the original keyboard line which PRN heard and wrote lyrics 2 that same night. PRN and Dr. Fink came 2 rehearsal the next day proud of their creation. The band flipped when they heard it. The centerpiece was in place.


    “WHEN DOVES CRY” -
    originally recorded with bass, backing 2 sets of keys and guitar. Frustrated with the mix, PRN sat discouraged in the studio (Sunset Sound). Jill Jones came 2 visit, saw the long face and asked what was wrong. PRN was said to have said, “if had my way the song would sound like this.” He then shoved down the bulk of the instrument faders and left up only the drums and the xylophone, when the voices began to sing the chorus. Jill then asked PRN why he thought he couldn’t have his way with the mix. There was no reply. Everyone who passed by the studio was enthralled by the strange sound coming out of Studio 3 that day. The next time Jill heard the song it was on the radio and it was bassless and stark. PRN had his way.


    “KISS” -
    PRN after recording this shelved it because he thought it 2 strange a production 4 human consumption. It was included in the Parade album was an afterthought. PRN thought it never quite worked on that album. Every time he plays it live he changes the arrangement. Probably still feels the same about the public’s acceptance of the sound. It concert it’s never sounded like the record.


    “U GOT THE LOOK” -
    a friend of PRN used 2 jump up and dance whenever Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” came on. As a test this song was recorded to find out of the friend would dance 2 a similar groove or just chill because it wasn’t a hit. Sure enough the friend didn’t like the song until it was in the Top 10.


    “SEXY M.F.” -
    the song that made PRN abandon computers just before he retired. Proof that nothing beats the feel of a live band of funky M.F.’s.


    “CREAM” -
    PRN wrote this standing in a mirror.


    “DAMN U” -
    one of the songs PRN is most proud of; he adores it. Used to play it live even fore it was released. Through the years this has been the indication of his feelings about a new composition.


    “I FEEL 4 U” -
    another demo written 4 the Patrice Rushen project. PRN tended 2 write more Top 40 when writing 4 other artists.
    “WHEN U WERE MINE” -
    written in a hotel room in North Carolina on the Rick James tour. This was not a happy period. PRN didn’t want to do this tour but he needed the exposure cuz his record was breaking R&B first. He was ready 2 headline his own tour but had 2 wait.


    “UPTOWN” -
    a favorite concert number during this period. The anthem 4 all the freaks and funkateers of the Dirty Mind generation. Vocal recorded in one take, no punching in after PRN in his 16 trackhome studio set up the song on the board, plugged in the mic, and left his leather coat on the chair. He went to get pumped at a movie and when it was over walked straight into the studio, donned the leather coat, and sang it straight out. He didn’t listen 2 it until the next day and then began finishing it.


    “1999” -
    was meant 2 be a group vocal. Lisa, Dez, and Prince actually sang the whole song every line. When Prince mixed it he made the decision 2 split up the lines. That’s why the melody keeps changing. Jill Jones 1st big vocal assignment. She does the ad libs on the vamp. Prince loved her voice. Vocally he said she was a ‘cliffdiver.’


    “LET’S GO CRAZY” & “PURPLE RAIN” -

    “POP LIFE” -
    the jam in the ‘hood.


    “ADORE” -
    inspired by Patti LaBelle & Luther Vandross who Prince was digging at the time. Patti - “if only u knew”…


    “SIGN O’ THE TIMES” -
    written, recorded, and mixed in one day.


    “ALPHABET STREET”
    Prince always called this an ‘aural cartoon.’ Recorded during the LoveSexy period.


    “BATDANCE” -
    originally a 12” 4 the song “200 BALLOONS.” This song with every sample just grew and grew. Listening 2 “200 BALLOONS” Prince commented “this sounds like it came from BATDANCE - not the other way around.”


    “DIAMONDS AND PEARLS” -
    written as a duet with Rosie Gaines. Prince vowed never 2 performs it with anyone else. As much as Prince wanted Rosie 2 go solo he hated the fact that he wouldn’t be able 2 peform one of his most prized possessions, Diamonds and Pearls, until they were 2gether again. Prince has called Rosie one of the greatest singers of all time. He most likens her 2 Ella Fitzgerald. Range, speed, and styling. Rosie’s got it all.


    “7” -
    Jevetta Steele asked Prince 4 an explanation of this song. He only smiled.


     
  • feedwordpress 16:15:38 on 2015/10/10 Permalink
    Tags: , , music, quincyjones, rockwithyou, rodtemperton   

    A little less rocking with you… 


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    After talking to a friend about how Michael Jackson's "Rock With You" is so romantic if you just focus on the strings, bass and vocals, I was inspired to mix down the tracks to feature just those elements.

    Obviously the original is a perfect masterpiece, but there's a lot you can hear more clearly without the drums and (most of) the guitars. I also lowered the lead vocals so you can more clearly hear the harmonies. One of the biggest things that stands out is that Rod Temperton is kind of amazing and that Quincy Jones is a complete genius. Nothing else sounds like this.

    These songs hold up because there's so much substance, and that's why I, and so many others, love this song so much.

     
  • feedwordpress 03:54:18 on 2014/07/26 Permalink
    Tags: , bobbyz, bobseger, jamesbrown, jgeils, lisacoleman, mattfink, , , music, , purplerain, stevienicks, wendymelvoin   

    I Know Times Are Changing 


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    Prince performing on August 3, 1983

    0:00 — 0:10

    In the summer of 1983, Wendy Melvoin was just 19 years old. She’d flown halfway across the country from Los Angeles for her first professional gig as a guitar player, joining her girlfriend Lisa Coleman in the band where Lisa had been playing keyboards. Almost from the moment she landed, Wendy was thrown into the grueling rehearsals that were taking place in a warehouse in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, right where West Lake Street meets Highway 7.

    Rehearsals in the warehouse involved learning dozens of songs, with many of them being created or rearranged on the spot; it was weeks and months of rigorous practice before Wendy was deemed ready to play with the band.

    Her debut gig was a fundraiser for a local dance troupe, the Minnesota Dance Theater Company. The temperature on the night of the show was as sweltering as one might expect in early August. The six members of the band made their way over to First Avenue, the evening’s venue, to charge their way through a dozen songs over the course of 70 minutes.

    The band challenged the audience with a setlist where half the songs were brand-new, premiering more than 45 minutes of material that no one had ever heard. After almost an hour, Wendy began the penultimate song of the set. A few slow chords, heavily chorused, served to introduce the audience to a new, unfamiliar ballad. For the first ten seconds of the song, the only sound heard was Wendy’s guitar ringing out.

    Ten months later, on June 25th 1984, the world got its first listen to those broad, mournful chords as the title track of a brand new album: Purple Rain.

    0:50—1:00

    A few weeks later, Wendy and Lisa were back in their home state of California, joining their boss Prince, who was having a very auspicious visit to Los Angeles. On August 20, less than three weeks after the charity gig, Prince had been asked to come onstage at a James Brown concert, at the behest of Michael Jackson, who had been singing with Brown onstage. It was the only time the three men would occupy a stage together, and seemed an almost-explicit anointing of Prince by both the funk legend and the man who was then enjoying the height of Thriller’s success.

    But despite the recognition, Prince and the Revolution were focused on their work. A few days after the James Brown show, Wendy and Lisa conducted a string section to record a string and piano accompaniment for Purple Rain that Lisa and Prince had arranged. In addition to Lisa adding a much more expressive piano part, there was a three-piece string section which included Lisa’s brother David Coleman on cello. It’s this string part that we can hear rising so dramatically behind the first chorus in the song.

    The full version of this orchestral accompaniment track is over ten minutes, matching the original length of the song and then continuing into a more complex coda. But by the time these sessions in Hollywood were done, both the new orchestration and Purple Rain itself would be shorter, to better focus on the purpose for which they were created.

    1:50—2:00

    Though the idea of “blue states” and “red states” wouldn’t catch on for another two decades, it’s an appropriate framework for Purple Rain’s goals; The song was designed as a perfect amalgamation of red and blue tastes. Much has been made of Prince’s pioneering role in bridging white and black music, of bringing together funk and soul audiences with more conventional rock fans. But little has been said about exactly how he achieved this effect.

    Prince simply made use of one of the most potent and consistent techniques of his career: careful appropriation of popular trends in pop music, filtered through his unique sound.

    Traditional evaluations of Purple Rain’s songs have tended to describe it as a particularly original creation, given that it includes such distinctively Prince-ly works as When Doves Cry and Darling Nikki (both of which he wrote and performed entirely by himself). But Prince was always watching closely to see what was popular around him, and he put those observations to use in creating the album.

    J. Geils Band’s Freeze-Frame, the title track from their 1981 hit album, and likely in the set of the shows on October 9 and 11, 1981, where they shared the bill with Prince.

    For example, Prince had shared the stage with the J. Geils Band in 1981, as part of a legendarily ill-fated opening gig for the Rolling Stones where Prince and his band were pelted with objects by the crowd while being booed offstage. A scarring incident, to be sure, but Prince must certainly have noticed that Geils did not get booed offstage. And with good reason — the band’s single Centerfold had just been released two weeks before the Stones show, and would top the charts not long after in February 1982. On the heels of this hit, the band would release Freeze Frame, which was nearly as successful and got to #4 on the Billboard Top 100. Even more striking, the song’s b-side, Flamethrower, went top 20 on the soul charts. The band had an unlikely appeal to both black and white audiences, crossing over in a mirror image of what Prince was striving for.

    The “Special Dance Mix” of Let’s Go Crazy, originally available in 1984 on the 12" release of the single.

    Little wonder then that Let’s Go Crazy, written just a year later, would incorporate the same staccato organ stabs and driving beat as Freeze Frame (heard quite clearly in the full-length version of Let’s Go Crazy), substituting Prince’s trademark Linn drums for the more conventional sounds of the Geils song, and replacing the “freeze frame!” shout with a similarly percussive “oh no, let’s go!” refrain.

    Similarly, in rehearsals from the summer of 1983, we hear Prince referencing what he heard at Paradise Garage, the legendary NYC nightclub. In 1983, that would certainly have included Laid Back’s White Horse, which topped the dance charts that year. Prince‘s creation myth for his song Erotic City was that it was recorded after he and Sheila E. attended a P-Funk concert together and were inspired to stay up all night making the song. And while there may be elements of truth to that story, it’s obvious that he also wanted to create a pastiche of a hit song that was doing well in the clubs.

    Erotic City remained a staple of black radio for years after its 1983 release, despite being a b-side and ambiguously containing the word fuck/funk in its chorus.

    Laid Back was, of course, a white group (they were from Denmark, a homeland as white as Prince’s) succeeding in a very black genre, synth-driven dance music. It’s little wonder that Erotic City would try to mirror that success, and perhaps inevitable that the song ended up as the b-side to Let’s Go Crazy. Both of Prince’s songs ended up being bigger hits than the earlier works that informed their creation.

    But though it’s established that Prince would seek out references as inspiration for his concerted effort at crossing over, who could provide sufficient inspiration for the anthemic title track that his upcoming movie required?

    For this, we can again look both to the acts Prince was seeing on the road and what was hitting on the charts in the summer of 1983. During the tour for the 1999 album, which had only ended a few months prior, Prince had been playing in many of the same venues as Bob Seger. Revolution keyboardist Matt Fink explained the appeal to a circumspect Prince: “It’s like country-rock, it’s white music. You should write a ballad like Bob Seger writes and you’ll cross right over.” In perhaps his least Prince-sounding quote ever, Prince mentioned Seger when both were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, “We are both midwesterners and Seger had a lot of influence on me at the start of my career; he certainly influenced my writing.”

    It’s not just Seger that was influencing Prince to move into rock balladry. Chick Huntsberry (the giant Santa Claus seen at the James Brown concert above) who was then Prince’s bodyguard and was becoming close to Prince, had been encouraging him to move in the direction of the country-inflected pop ballads that were then all over the charts. Tour manager Alan Leeds recalls Huntsberry’s reaction after first hearing Purple Rain, “He said, ‘Wait until you hear the song he did last night. It’s gonna be bigger than Willie Nelson.’.” Indeed, the guitar solos and even Prince’s vocal inflections of rehearsal versions of Purple Rain show far more of a country-rock influence than the final version.

    Stevie Nicks, no stranger to country-informed rock ballads, has also attested that Prince sent her a demo of Purple Rain while he was still in the early stages of creating the song, either for her to write lyrics for or to use as her own song. They certainly knew each other at the time (Prince had contributed synths to “Stand Back” earlier in 1983), but it seems likely that he was refining the song for his own use rather than offering it to her.

    Then there is perhaps the clearest antecedent to Purple Rain. Just four months before that August concert where Purple Rain was debuted, Journey released Faithfully, which despite only peaking at #12 on the Billboard charts was recognized as a signature anthem for the band right from its debut. It was reaching its peak airplay in the summer of 1983, just as Prince was creating Purple Rain in the warehouse rehearsals with the Revolution. Though Faithfully is anchored by its opening piano riffs rather than a guitar, it’s not difficult at all to hear echoes of the structure and progression Jonathan Cain wrote for Journey in the final version Purple Rain.

    The debt owed to Cain may even have been acknowledged by Prince. In a hard to find Swedish interview in early 2012, Cain claims that Prince asked if it was okay that Purple Rain makes use of the same chords as Faithfully, with Cain demurring that the songs were sufficiently different.

    All of this evidence makes it clear that Prince was deliberately scouring as many different sources and influences as possible to design a rocking guitar anthem with maximum mainstream appeal. That goal is never more obvious than in the two key events that happen at 1:50 into Purple Rain.

    It is at this point we hear Prince’s guitar enter the song for the first time. Until that point, he had only been contributing vocals. From that point on, Prince’s guitar only increases in importance and centrality to the song, cementing its place as a rock song architected explicitly to appeal across racial boundaries.

    Just as important is what we don’t hear. Elided in this transition is an entire minute of the original recording, removed during the same sessions when the string accompaniment was added. This editing serves to erase an entire original verse from the song.

    All summer long, Prince had been toying with the lyrics to this lost verse, never quite resolving them into a coherent form, but consistently including them as part of the song. The night of the definitive performance, they were vague, if passionately delivered:

    Honey I don’t want your money, no no no.
    I don’t even think I want your love.

    If I wanted either one, baby, I would take me some money and buy it.

    I want the heavy stuff. I want the purple rain. I want the purple rain.

    In rehearsals to that point, Prince would often sharpen the final line into “I want the heavy stuff... I want to see what you’re made of.” But, in addition to the contradiction contained in the lyrics (“I don’t want your money… I would take me some money and buy it.”), the message of this verse contradicted the song’s role in the narrative of the film.

    And so, the verse was cut, affirming that Prince was doing whatever he could to construct a song which could serve as a signature song not just for an album, or for a film, but for a career. While the Purple Rain album was full of abbreviated edits of songs that he would later perform in their full versions during live performances, that wasn't the case with this missing stanza. After the Hollywood sessions where these edits were made, Prince would never again perform these lyrics as part of Purple Rain.

    Purple Rain lyrics

    Prince’s original hand-written lyrics for Purple Rain, including the deleted third verse.

    2:45—2:55

    During the weeks of rehearsal of the Purple Rain material, the band’s sound had been captured almost every day on a simple 24-track recorder that served as the destination for the many cables snaking around the warehouse. The mix for those recordings was managed on a console that was balanced on a few road cases. These machines were usually staffed by David Leonard and David Rivkin. Rivkin was brother to Robert Rivkin, better known as Bobby Z in his role as drummer for the Revolution.

    There were new combinations of gear being rigged up for the band on an ongoing basis. Prince’s signature sound to that point had been due in no small part to his use of many of the earliest drum machines, and the show relied on drum machines that didn’t yet allow for the advanced digital controls that bands rely on today. So Prince’s tech Don Batts was forced to hack those primitive drum machines to allow Bobby Z to control a wider range of instruments live on stage.

    Linn LM-1 Drum Computer.jpg

    A Linn LM-1 Drum Computer, the same model Prince used in his early 80s work. (Wikipedia<)

    That same kind of seat-of-the-pants recording technology was used to capture the First Avenue show. The charity show was being recorded thanks to the last-minute addition of a mobile recording truck, brought in from the Record Plant in New York at Prince’s behest. (The Time’s performances of Jungle Love and The Bird earlier that evening, recorded under the same conditions, would be used as the basis for their hit singles and album in 1984 as well. Five major pop hits were recorded in one truck in less than three hours.)

    When Prince created When Doves Cry for the album seven months later, he was famously able to remove the bass line from the song in the studio because he had cleanly recorded all the tracks at Sunset Sound’s studios in Hollywood. By contrast, recording conditions for the tracks used on Purple Rain were rife with all the imperfections of a live show.

    At 2:45 into Purple Rain, the precarious recording conditions become particularly obvious, when feedback from Prince’s guitar starts to seep into the track. Obviously, given the screeching solo that is to follow, some amount of feedback was necessary and desirable. But nothing attests to the truly electric nature of the song’s creation better than the unexpected feedback that pops up throughout the second half of the song.

    4:40—4:50

    While Prince and the Revolution had been carefully rehearsing Purple Rain all summer, adjusting each detail of how the song was structured and played, Prince’s nearly-unequalled ability to spontaneously take a live performance to the next level was certainly on display that August night.

    Exemplifying this ability is the repeated lilting motif that Prince begins playing on his guitar at 4:40 in the song. For all the countless times they’d practiced the song, even earlier on the same day as the First Avenue performance, Prince had never played this riff during Purple Rain before. In the original live show, it’s clear that Prince realizes he’s found something magical, returning again and again to this brief riff, not just on guitar but even singing it himself during the final fade of the song.

    Just as striking is how this little riff shows the care and self-criticism that went into making the song Purple Rain. Like any brilliant 25-year-old guy who’s thought of something clever, Prince’s tendency when he thought of this little gem was to overdo it. In the unedited version of the song, Prince keeps playing the riff for almost another minute, pacing around the stage trying to will the audience into responding to it.

    But during those same sessions where the strings were added to the song, Prince ruthlessly chopped down a riff he clearly loves, keeping just enough to serve as a stirring melodic hook for his guitar solo, and leading the song to its soaring vocal climax.

    5:15—5:25

    At any Prince concert of the last 30 years, the highlight is typically the audience’s singalong to the descending falsetto line that crowns Prince’s guitar solo. But the origins of that signature line are a little more obscure.

    Matt Fink, famously rechristened “Dr. Fink” in his role in the Revolution after the surgical scrubs that became his sartorial signature, had been in Prince’s bands from the earliest days. Indeed, Fink’s place in the band was deeply rooted in many ways—the warehouse where the band was rehearsing that summer was just half a mile from the high school he had attended only a few years prior.

    It was during the sessions in that warehouse that Fink had first added a descending piano line to the coda of the song. Even as late as a few days before the First Avenue performance, this was merely a striking countermelody adding drama to the end of the guitar solo in the song.

    Prince and the Revolution - Warehouse rehearsals

    Still from video footage of rehearsals at the St. Louis Park warehouse. Robert (Bobby Z.) Rivkin on drums, Matt Fink on keyboards, Prince on guitar, Wendy Melvoin on guitar.

    But by the day of August 3rd, when the band was performing its final rehearsal preparation, Prince had realized the power of Fink’s melody. In practice just hours before the public show, the melody became a soaring vocal hook, evolving in the final performance into perhaps the most affecting part of the song, expressing all of the emotions too powerful for Prince to capture in a lyric. Like Journey’s earlier Faithfully, or U2's later 80s anthems, it also provided a perfect stadium-ready sing-along line, again telegraphing Prince’s ambitions for the song while remaining true to the artistic intent of the piece.

    6:40—6:50

    Purple Rain is a particularly unusual song for the length of its instrumental coda. Before it fades to a series of striking and unexpected chords performed by the string ensemble, it has one last great hook, a simple piano motif performed by Lisa Coleman.

    Given Prince’s legendarily controlling tendencies over his intellectual property, it is perhaps no surprise that the song Purple Rain has almost never been substantially sampled by other pop artists.

    But clearly some songwriters consider the tinkling piano at the end of the song to be up for grabs, perhaps because it’s not one of the more obviously recognizable parts of the song. As a result, that piano melody has unexpectedly become the part of the song which lives on in pop radio. Alicia Keys made it the very first thing we hear in her 2007 single, Like You’ll Never See Me Again.

    Similarly, Mariah Carey’s first single in 2014, You’re Mine (Eternal) opens with those same notes. Both songs have a pleading, even regretful tone that leaves no doubt their songwriters were making use of the motif to explicitly evoke the emotional context created by Coleman’s work in 1983. Both artists have also covered Prince’s songs from this era, with Keys covering the 1982 b-side How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore early in her career and Carey including her version of Purple Rain’s The Beautiful Ones on a 1997 release.

    8:30—8:40

    As Purple Rain fades to an end, the last thing we hear is the audience’s applause. While parts of the track had additional applause dubbed in to cover for the original audience’s subdued reaction to the then-new song, it seems clear this final applause is the actual response that Purple Rain inspired at its debut.

    Just over a month after the Purple Rain album was released, the film Purple Rain debuted on July 27, 1984. Later that summer, Prince would simultaneously have the number one film, album, and single in the United States. On September 26, 1984, the song Purple Rain itself was released as a single, reaching number two on the pop charts, kept from the top spot by Wham’s Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, and going gold with over 500,000 copies of the single sold. The Purple Rain soundtrack album has sold over 20 million copies in the last 30 years.

    Though Prince has half a dozen singles that did better on the charts than Purple Rain, the song has obviously become Prince’s signature work. It has taken different forms over the years; At an intimate show at his Paisley Park studio in 2002, he did a one-off piano rendition that omitted the famous guitar solo. In recent years he’s even let guitarist Donna Grantis solo on the song. Prince has trotted out Purple Rain to open the Grammy awards with Beyonce, and to shut the Super Bowl down with its best halftime performance ever, complete with a marching band.

    Prince - Superbowl

    Like the album it completes, Purple Rain has remained provocative and affecting. The song has aged over the last 30 years, especially extraordinary given that Prince was only 25 when he composed it.

    During the filming of Purple Rain, a few months after the song was recorded, a love scene between Prince and the movie’s female lead Apollonia was filmed, taking place in a barn. The literal climax of the scene featured a rainstorm, with the sunlight filtering through the storm to provide an image of purple rain.

    By the final cut of the film, that scene had been edited from the film. It had been deemed unnecessary.

     
  • feedwordpress 03:31:09 on 2014/06/24 Permalink
    Tags: , floppydisc, fonts, music, , , typography   

    My Favorite Floppy of All Time 


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    After at least 15 years of debating whether I should spend money on this, I recently took the plunge and acquired one of my most-desired Prince collectibles.

    Part of the reason I decided to actually acquire this disk was that I'd revisited Parker Higgins' great post about how Prince's signature glyph might have been represented in Unicode if it were able. Even better, once I'd shared the photo I'd taken of the disk, Paisley Park's then-head designer Steven Parke, and Chank Diesel, the Minneapolis type designer whose typefaces would later become stalwarts of Prince's packaging design, both jumped into the thread.

    I was pretty surprised to see just how much interest there was in this artifact, but it was a great opportunity to bring out some of the fascinating, innovative work that Prince was doing two decades ago, and to note how fun, funny, and resonant it remains to this day.

     
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