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  • feedwordpress 17:43:24 on 2017/11/14 Permalink
    Tags: 1999, , funk, , prince   

    4th Day of November… 


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    I struggled for a long time when the nice folks at the Heat Rocks podcast asked me which Prince album I'd want to talk about on their show. Oliver Wang and Morgan Rhodes run an amazing podcast, where every episode is a deep-dive into a classic album.

    Ultimately, because of its significance and relative lack of prominence amongst casual fans, I settled on Prince's 1982 classic, 1999. In the finished show, we talk about everything from how Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson were influenced by the sound of 1999 to my own personal revelations about faith, as inspired by discovering that Prince didn't actually write the Lord's Prayer.

    If you ain't busy for the next 45 minutes, please do check out this wonderful conversation!

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

    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 16:53:20 on 2017/02/12 Permalink
    Tags: , , prince   

    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 23:55:36 on 2016/05/28 Permalink
    Tags: alanleeds, linernotes, , prince   

    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 03:54:18 on 2014/07/26 Permalink
    Tags: , bobbyz, bobseger, jamesbrown, jgeils, lisacoleman, mattfink, , , , prince, 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, , prince, , 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.

     
  • feedwordpress 17:15:45 on 2014/05/13 Permalink
    Tags: danahboyd, dsri, kevinmccoy, monegraph, prince, , techcrunch, theawl, , whitehouse   

    Let’s Do More 


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    I've been trying to do more things that are unfamiliar or slightly out of my comfort zone lately. Here's a quick roundup:

    • I got to participate in Rhizome's venerated Seven on Seven conference, where I teamed up with Kevin McCoy to create monegraph. It's a system that uses the block chain technology which underpins Bitcoin, but puts it to work in service of artists, so that they can verify that a digital work is an original, with a verifiable provenance. I describe the context of the work in A Bitcoin for Digital Art, my first piece for Medium's "The Message" collection, and we also showed it off with a demo at the most improbable of venues, TechCrunch's Disrupt conference. The response overall has been great, as you can tell from the monegraph tumblr.

    A Bitcoin for Digital Art

    • The White House's working group on Big Data and Privacy released its report, which is surprisingly thoughtful and appropriately nuanced in its consideration of the issues. As danah so aptly summarized it, "[T]he conversation around the “big data” phenomenon tends to get quickly polarized - it’s good or it’s bad, plain and simple. But it’s never that simple." It's no surprise danah's take was so thoughtful; her Data & Society Research Institute was one of the most valuable contributors to the White House report. In my role on the board of the DSRI, I got to moderate a panel with Kate Crawford, Steven Hodas, Alondra Nelson, and Shamina Singh. The conversation was incredible, and so it's no surprise that our panel was cited in the full report from the White House. You can watch the panel here:

    • Over on The Awl, it's "How to Avoid Raising a Monster" which takes a look at my, uh, parenting style. This includes the question, "Can you ... provide some more examples of when you’ve been especially tempted to do things that wouldn’t be found in any guidebooks on how best to raise a child?"
    • On PolicyMic, a nice piece on 23 Ways Feminism Has Made the World Better for Men includes my least insightful comment ever: "Sex is fun!"
    • Coming up this fall: I'll be speaking at PopTech in October. If you know that conference, you know why I'm geeked out about the opportunity, especially given that John Maeda as host has chosen "rebellion" as the theme for the event.
    • Oh, and Prince finally retweeted one of my tweets, but elided my name and then removed the tweet entirely a brief while later, as he is prone to do. But still, fun for me!
    • And as always, the ThinkUp team has been rocking with a whole range of fun and ridiculous new insights in the app. If you haven't seen ThinkUp lately, you haven't seen it. You should probably sign up and give it a try.
     
  • feedwordpress 03:52:24 on 2014/02/03 Permalink
    Tags: , newgirl, prince, zooeydeschanel   

    Prince on New Girl 


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    [11:05pm] Well, that's a wrap. It's hard for me to say how that ranked as a New Girl episode, but it seemed the narrative of the show may have been subordinated to getting Prince some good lines. That being said, the little man certainly acquitted himself well, and I would absolutely watch a weekly show with Prince in character as this version of himself.

    [11:00pm] And love triumphs! Jess finally tells Nick she loves him, and does so while dressed (on Prince's advice) like Stevie Nicks. It could be Prince's lingering memories of having created "Stand Back" with Stevie back in the 80s.

    [10:55pm] A little digression: Prince's "When You Were Mine" inspired Janet Jackson's "Just A Little While", which was the lead single from her album Damita Jo, the record she was promoting with her ill-fated Super Bowl appearance a decade ago. See the video here.

    [10:50pm] The pancakes references continue, along with Prince simply nodding in response to hearing, "You're good!" Which is exactly what his actual response would be.

    I think I've waited my whole life for a music montage in a primetime sitcom to be set to Prince's "When You Were Mine". And here we are!

    The ping pong thing there is not some affectation created by the writers; it's an affectation that Prince actually lives and breathes. For example, here's a terrifying and wonderful anecdote from Jimmy Fallon about being summoned to Susan Sarandon's hipster ping pong club in Manhattan (I walk by this a couple times a week) for an impromptu table tennis ass-whooping. [Trigger Warning: Jay Leno]

    [10:45pm] Hey it's a pancake reference! Thanks, Dave Chappelle.

    Little bit of trivia: eight years before Chappelle Show did its Charlie Murphy True Hollywood Story about Prince that introduced the pancake narrative, a then-mostly-unknown Dave Chappelle was featured in a special where Prince took over VH1 for a few hours. And the pancake thing took on enough of a life with Prince that when his most recent single, "Breakfast Can Wait" was released, the cover was, you guessed it, actually Dave.

    breakfast-can-wait.jpeg

    [10:40pm] Prince appears! Do note: I have absolutely no respect for people who would actually lower themselves into freaking out when meeting Prince. You're obligated to be cool about it.

    This question comes up a lot with casual fans, but yes Prince really is his real name. Prince Rogers Nelson.

    [10:38pm] The first failed attempt by Jess to say "I love you" ends in her passing out, to the sounds of Andy Allo's "People Pleaser", which was produced by Prince in late 2012.

    [10:35pm] Playing in the background here as our heroines enter Prince's party is "Give 'Em What They Love" a Prince duet from Janelle Monae's album The Electric Lady. Late last year Prince said her album was the best album of 2013.

    Here's Prince anointing Janelle's album onstage after they played together in late December:

    [10:25pm] And we're off! We've got the setup, based on Prince's manager almost running over our heroines and making it up to them by inviting them to a party at Prince's house. This is plausible; Prince has a few young women who manages some of his affairs, like Kiran Sharma. No word from her yet if she's ever nearly run over Zooey Deschanel.

    [10:00pm] Prince was of course chosen to star in this post-Super Bowl episode of New Girl due to his performance in Super Bowl XLI being the greatest halftime show of all time. I wrote a brief introduction to that performance before it aired.

    Prince tends to optimize his entire career around maintaining control, which regularly puts him in the position of shutting down videos and streams of his work online. As a result, there's no high-quality version of his Super Bowl performance online. But for right now, you can see a shoddy-quality video of it here:

    The playlist featured Prince's own "Let's Go Crazy" and "Baby, I'm A Star", along with covers of Hendrix's version of Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" and Foo Fighters' "Best Of You", but the undeniable highlight was Prince performing his signature "Purple Rain" in, you guessed it, a purple rain.

    [9:30pm] Now that the Super Bowl is over, we can get on to the main event: Prince's appearance on New Girl. I've never seen New Girl, but I don't think that should hurt my ability to document the important part of this episode, which is Prince.

    The premise of this episode is that Jess and Nick are going to tell each other they love each other, but are struggling to do so. This will be resolved by Jess consulting with Prince for advice after the crew ends up at a party at Prince's house. Prince did use to regularly hold house parties at his Los Angeles house, which he called "3121" and had named an album after. (True story: I got invited to a party at Prince's house in L.A. once. I had to get a purple raincheck, and ended up going to his Oscar party instead.)

    If you haven't kept up with Prince in a while, don't worry: He's timeless. Here's a comparison of his appearance at the beginning of Purple Rain (which was released 30 years ago), and his appearance in the episode of New Girl tonight.

    Prince in Purple Rain and on New Girl


    On the day of the Super Bowl, one of the most commonly-search-for terms on the Internet is the obvious question: What time is Prince going to be on New Girl? The popular Fox sitcom will be featuring the iconic pop star this year, and so it's natural that people across the Internet would ask, "What time is the episode of New Girl that features Prince?"

    Fortunately, this is a very easy question to answer. This special episode of New Girl, featuring Prince, is on after the Super Bowl. That's on the east coast. On the west coast, the Prince episode of New Girl is on after the Super Bowl.

    Stay tuned here at approximately 10:00pm to 10:30pm Eastern Time, when the special Prince episode of New Girl will begin. We'll have live-blogging coverage of the event as it happens. You can follow along by refreshing here.

    Related Reading

    • Heaven, Hell, Marvin, Prince and the Party: A rumination on the role that Marvin Gaye and Prince's fathers played in their spirituality and work ethic, and how this is reflected in the way they partied on some of their signature records.
    • A Golden Era of Prince Scholarship: There's been a renaissance (a Revolution?) in taking Prince's work seriously in recent years; Here's a brief glimpse at the wonderful results of that flowering of research.
    • Toure's I Would Die 4 U was a great look at Prince's place in the larger cultural canon, and I was delighted to be quoted it.
    • Why not spare an hour and a half to hear Questlove, Toure, Danyel Smith and Alan Leeds talking about their uniquely informed perspectives on Prince's career? It's totally worth it.
     
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